About a month or so ago, I traded for the very excellent game, Imperial. I’ve played twice now, with another game to come this weekend. So far, I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve seen. It’s tight, nuanced, intense, and very rich. It’s got loads of interaction, but it’s not so open that the game is fragile. So as I do with any game that has gotten a few plays, I go on Boardgame Geek to rate it, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what rating it should get.
This seems trite, and it is. I mean, no one is holding a gun to my head and asking me to rate a game on a scale of 1-10. And it does nothing to improve my enjoyment of a game. I would still love Cosmic Encounter, even if it never occurred to me to rate it at all. And yet there I was, staring at the little module on Boardgame Geek, and thinking about how I wanted to rate Imperial.
So why rate games at all? I can only speak for myself here, so bear with me. For my own part, it helps me organize my thoughts on games. When I’m able to understand my own ranking scale, sometimes a numerical rating helps me to articulate my own opinions on the game. Here’s a rough idea of my own ranking system. You can view my ranked games on Boardgame Geek here.
- 10 – These are games that I would consider to be classics. That usually means that I just enjoy the game that much (as is the case with Innovation), or that the game is mechanically amazing (like Acquire). Usually, it’s a combination of the two. Want an idea of what I think are the best games of all time? Look at my 10’s.
- 9-8 – Here we get into games that are really great, without any major issues for me. There might be a small-ish problem that prevents them from raising any higher, or there may just not be quite as sublime for me. Either way, these are games that will usually get a recommendation without any caveats.
- 7-6 – This is the realm of “good-except-for.” I will say they are good games, but that recommendation will always be followed by an “if” or a “but.” I try not to hold onto any games that fall below this threshold. And if it’s falls here, it’s dangerously close to the trade pile.
- 5-1 – For me, there isn’t much difference between these five rankings. If I don’t like the game, but I could have with just a minor adjustment, then that’s probably about a “5.” Go down by degrees from there, and it bottoms out with a game that is painful to play, which would be a “1.”
(I only use whole numbers in my rankings. One could split hairs all day long, so you need to draw the line somewhere. I also cannot fathom the difference between a game that is ranked 9.1 and one that is ranked 9.2.)
Sometimes the rating helps me understand my own thoughts, but it’s never the totality of my thoughts on that title. If you’ve read my reviews, you know that I don’t put a rating in the actual review. There are a couple of reasons for that. The more basic one is that whenever someone puts a rating on their review, everyone plows to the end to see what they thought. The review itself usually isn’t read at all. My hope is that a well-written review will speak for itself perfectly well. I’m probably not good enough to really pull that off, but I went to the trouble, so I’d like for people to read the whole thing. But the bigger reason is that opinions aren’t numbers. My feelings on games aren’t clear-cut, and neither are anyone else’s. If someone wants a quick thought on a game, then that’s what they can get from my ratings on the Geek. I also haven’t reviewed nearly as many games as I’ve rated, so it’s a good way to get a basic idea out there without too much fuss or time on my part. But if you want to know the more nuanced feelings that the game engendered, then the review is what you want, and when I write a review, that’s what I’m trying to impart.
Looking at my little rating breakdown, I’m sure that some readers will see it, and say that it’s purely opinion. Well done, you’ve finally figured out how game ratings and reviews work. In the absence of many solid standards about game quality, the only thing I can go on is my own opinion. A game could be really well-made and look terrific, but if I didn’t enjoy the game, that’s really all there is. We obviously all hold games to a certain standard, but that standard will be different for everyone.
So why am I even writing about this? Well, to some extent its the board gaming world we live in. Boardgame Geek has moved the hobby more and more towards an obsession with numbers and rankings. It does very little good to rail against that, so I hope that by discussing it, we can elevate the conversation a little. There will be those who have no use for ratings at all, and that’s bully for them. For my own part, I like the process of organizing my thoughts on games that I’ve played, and I like learning about how others do the same thing. It fosters a greater understanding of the people with whom I game and discuss games, and this hobby is always best when we focus on the people around us.