Cult of the Overrated

meh

Healthy skintones? Overrated.

Last night some friends and I had a conversation over a board game, as is our tendency. The chitchat wandered over to games that for whatever reason we didn’t like much. Eventually this turned to my well-documented dislike for 7 Wonders. Most people at the table weren’t big fans of the game either, but none of them had quite the depth of my own antipathy. So for the sake of conversation, one of my friends began to offer up counterpoints to my complaints, just as a way to show me that it’s not as bad as all that. One of his points is that the game is so well-loved that it clearly struck a chord with a lot of people, which is true though not much of an indicator of quality. But thinking about that got me unreasonably annoyed. Rather than just not liking 7 Wonders and moving on with it, I found myself getting irritated that there were people out there who do like it. This is, of course, asinine. There’s no reason why other people enjoying a game should bother me. And yet I still found myself just a little resentful that a game I didn’t like was successful. My perception clearly doesn’t match with the prevailing opinion. As a game, I would call 7 Wonders “overrated”.

In a purely unscientific assessment of internet discourse, I feel like the word “overrated” gets thrown around a lot. We use it when talking about music, movies, television, books, any number of topics. Board games get the same thing, but there is one big difference between board gaming and the other pursuits I listed. In board gaming, the line between the critical hegemony and the end user isn’t really there. I write about board games every week, and I’m probably what most people would call one of “them,” the ones who proclaim what games are good or bad. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m basically just an avid board gamer who somehow finds a way to string together 1000 words about the hobby on a weekly basis. I’ve been doing it for close to seven years, but that’s about the only qualification I have. In fact, nearly every board game review you read is just a hobbyist who can work a word processor. There really is no “they” in board gaming, not like there is in say the movie industry. Almost every award is either some unique recognition from a blogger or podcaster, or else it’s the Spiel des Jahres.

It makes sense to me that a movie would be overrated, because there’s a lot of “official” recognition that goes into the movie industry. But popular board games are mostly popular because a lot of people like them, regardless of whether those people are some kind of authority. And yet I see a lot of threads asking if such-and-such game lived or didn’t live up to the hype, or whether whatever title is overrated or not. In a hobby where the only authority is that of the crowd, asking if something is overrated is basically asking “Everyone else liked this game. Will I?” That this question is being asked to websites filled with strangers who don’t know the original poster doesn’t seem to be an issue for most people.

Of course we’re dealing with the shadowy realm of expectations here. Games can be disappointing when they don’t live up to the hopes we had, or even if they defy them. Seeing a game in the top ten on the BGG Top 100 is often enough for new gamers to buy any old title, and that’s a good way to end up with a lot of games that everyone owns and you don’t like. Experienced gamers are usually smart enough to not care where a game is ranked in that maelstrom, but they can still be built up by individual reviewers. One of the strangest feelings I’ve had as a reviewer is finding out that someone tried a game that I reviewed very well, and didn’t enjoy it. This must happen all the time without me knowing about it, but I felt an inexplicable guilt, as if I had let them down somehow. I obviously only give a positive review if I really mean it, but experiences like this make me wonder if I am just a little culpable for the Cult of the New. A couple times I’ve actually  been asked to answer for why a game worked for me and not for the reader. Answering something like that is a descent into madness, but I still feel like I owe a response.

That’s probably because there’s a sense of betrayal when a game doesn’t pan out how we hoped. Maybe it’s because a lot of us invested time and money in trying to make it happen. In that sense the stakes for not liking a board game are higher than not like a TV show. But for me, I think that calling a game “overrated” is a way for me to make myself feel better about being an outsider. I consider myself a discerning gamer, so when I don’t like something that everyone else enjoys it feels just a little like there’s something amiss in my own game tastes. It’s fun to belong, and it’s fun to take part in enjoying a game. Maybe discovering that we don’t like everything that everyone else likes is a sign of board game maturity. In my case, I’m pretty sure it just means I’m becoming an old crank.

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4 thoughts on “Cult of the Overrated

  1. About a year ago (I think), I was looking for a new game and I saw 7 Wonders getting lots of buzz and good vibes on BGG. I went and bought the game and the first expansion.

    On the one hand, I was pretty stoked to get in on a game early in its cycle. I didn’t play PowerGrid or Dominion until they were pretty established. By the time I got into Dominion, there were already too many expansions for my budget to handle.

    So, I was glad to be “in” on a new game. I don’t hate the game, but it’s definitely been on my shelf collecting dust for longer than I’m comfortable with. It just didn’t grab me (or the people I play games with) and make me want to play it anymore. Gave it a few tries, didn’t love it.

    I’m not sure that it’s overrated though. People like it, it’s almost always getting recommendations on the boardgames subreddit. Feels like, for most people, it’s rated appropriately.

    Now, if you want to talk about things that are overrated, I’d list three things: The Simpsons, Jars of Clay and U2. Kidding.

  2. Oh, how I don’t care for 7 Wonders, as I’ve said time and time again. To me the big selling point that everybody just about soiled themselves over was that 7 people can play it at once! Woohoo! Big whoop. Game still stinks. It’s bland, un-engaging and lame.

    As I’ve said, I’d rather play the “Sit Around and Shoot The Breeze” game.

    I think what upsets me over the “hype machine” is that it’s not based on fact. A lot of it is generated by savvy game producers to boost sales. Which is what they should do. But I find the B.S. quality of it to leave me feeling irked…especially if I fall for it like I did with Star Trek: Fleet Captains. Hailed by T. Vassel as the best game ever made but as it turned out was one of the worst purchases I ever made.

    As to BGG ratings, the only time they make a difference to my perception is if the game is out of the “new shiney” phase and still has a high rating on BGG. Twilight Struggle is a good example. Been out for years and still high or the highest game on the ratings.

  3. I have had the same reaction to other games (looking at you, Tzolk’in), so I know where you are coming from. I don’t always share your opinion on games, but I actually had the opposite reaction to my first play of 7 Ages- and opposite expectations. This was right after it had come out; I was very hesitant to join in because there were already a lot of players (I filled up the last slot) and I hadn’t heard of it before. I was looking for players for a different game, so I sat down just thinking I’d slog through it until a real game came out. Often in those situations I don’t give a game a fair chance, but it sucked me in and I thought the game was an absolute blast.

    Maybe the safest thing is to try and avoid the cult of the new and then be surprised when you find a game you genuinely enjoy? Easier said than done, I know.

  4. Very Good Opinions. Thanks!

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