If you know where to listen, you might hear some weird murmurs in the board game media space. "2018 wasn't a good year for board games," one might say. "Too many half baked ideas, not enough development," says another. Not everyone feels this way, but I hear enough whispers about it that it got me wondering if this was actually the case.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times
Now, there's no real way to define if a year was "good" or "bad". Everyone has their own subjective way to look at it, and most of the time comes down to how the reviewer "feels" about the board games they played that year. I decided to try and find a way to objectively compare years in board games, but I acknowledge that my method has its faults.
First things first, I ran to boardgamegeek.com (BGG), the capstone of the board gaming hobby and filled with a huge database of most of the games that come out every year. I figured that the best way to get a gauge of how the year went was to look at the ratings of all the board games that came out and average them together. Users rate games on BGG from 1-10, using the following guidelines:
10 – Outstanding – will always enjoy playing and expect this will never change.
9 – Excellent – always enjoy playing it.
8 – Very good – enjoy playing and would suggest it.
7 – Good – usually willing to play.
6 – Ok – will play if in the mood
5 – Average – slightly boring, take it or leave it
4 – Not so good – but could play again
3 – Bad – likely wont play this again
2 – Very bad – wont play ever again
1 – Awful – defies game description
I spent many hours trying to look at the BGG help guides to find a way to automatically pull the data I needed, but it required programming knowledge that far beyond my abilities.
So – I did the tedious method of listing every game (not including expansions) that released in 2018 and copy/pasting the information into Excel. This information was gathered from BGG in Mid – December, so its possible information could have changed since then. According to my findings, 3,738 different board games on BGG are listed as being released in 2018. When you average ALL the ratings together, you get an Average User Rating of 7.38. Looking at our rating scale above, that puts 2018 as in between "Good" and "Very Good" - sounds like a good year? But how does it compare to other years?
How did other years compare to 2018?
With my limited skills, I really didn't want to copy and paste every game from every year to get a grand scale. But how could I make a decent comparison between years? I decided to only pull games from each year that had a good amount of user ratings. I'm not a statistics expert like Hunter Tomalson from By The Numbers, so I went to https://www.qualtrics.com/blog/calculating-sample-size/ to figure out what would constitute a "good enough" sample size of users. Based on 1,561,879 BGG Users as of Mid-December, a 90% Confidence Margin (I'm not super confident on this) and a 10% Margin of Error (because there's a lot of room for error here), I came up with a statistically relevant Sample Size of 68 reviews on BGG.
Ok, so let's double check this. How did 2018 look with our sample size of 68 reviews on BGG? This filtered the 3,738 games down to 435 games, this time with an Average User Rating of 7.36. So 7.36 versus the 7.38 calculated above – that sounds pretty legit! Time to take this method back in time and see how other years compared. I started with year 0 B.B.S., or Before Boards & Swords, my tabletop gaming podcast. You know this year as 2013. Here's how every year stacked up:
Number of board games with higher than 68 user reviews: 564
Average User Rating: 6.57
Game from 2013 with highest board game rank: 17 – Caverna: The Cave Farmers
Number of board games with higher than 68 user reviews: 636
Average User Rating: 6.68
Game from 2014 with highest board game rank: 26 – Orleans
Number of board games with higher than 68 user reviews: 759
Average User Rating: 6.77
Game from 2015 with highest board game rank: 2 – Pandemic Legacy: Season 1
Number of board games with higher than 68 user reviews: 761
Average User Rating: 7.86
Game from 2016 with highest board game rank: 4 – Terraforming Mars
Number of board games with higher than 68 user reviews: 710
Average User Rating: 7.28
Game from 2017 with highest board game rank: 1 - Gloomhaven
Wow. So looking at these numbers, 2018 didn't do so bad. In the past 6 years, it comes in at number 2, just behind 2016 and above 2017. The "worse" year in gaming during this time frame is actually 2013.
What can be gained from any of this?
1) "Cult of the new" effect?
Possibly, but that would mean that users are going back and editing reviews of older games they've played and changing their rating. Too much work for me, so I'm expecting most users to be as lazy as I am, so I think this is unlikely.
2) More people playing games in the years following their release?
This is probably a more valid point – not everyone can play games when they first come out, so the longer the game comes out, the more votes it gets and "settles" into a lower score? Lets look at average number of votes per game in that same time period.
2013 – 1092.2
2014 – 1358.2
2015 – 1137.9
2016 – 940.5
2017 – 735.4
2018 – 382.5
Okay, maybe there's a substantial argument there, as the number of reviews tend to increase over the years, which could dilute the total year's rating. However, looks like even with this taken into account, 2013 was not a great year.
3) Publishers should aim for 68 BGG reviews?
Yes and no. Yes, it seems like for your game to have any statistical relevance, you need about a 100 BGG reviews on your game, but this is like the bar to entry. A 100 BGG users is like getting a D on a test – you passed, but did you really?
4) Only time will tell if 2018 was good or bad?
Probably the biggest takeaway. It's hard to tell in the moment how a year compares. A couple of years from now if we are still talking about some of the big hits from 2018 like Reef and Root, then yeah it was a good year. If the games fade away into the distance, then maybe it wasn't.
5) Who cares?
Okay I lied. This is the biggest takeaway. Did you have fun playing games in 2018? Why or why not? Ultimately, what I or any of the "experts" online say means nothing in the grand scheme of things, the only thing that matters is people having fun playing games.