Since I started playing board games as my main hobby a few years ago, I’ve ranked every game I’ve played on BGG. It’s kind of a fun thing to do. Thanks to the wonders of technology, it takes mere seconds to load up the the BGG site on my phone and record my rating right after I finish playing a game (or sometimes during a game – yes, I am sometimes that guy with my phone out during play).
What? I rank games right after I play them? I justify rating a game so quickly, sometimes after only half a play, because I’m not really ranking the game itself. I’m more focused on how the game experience made me feel. [Yes, after more plays, my rating sometimes shifts. However, more often than not, I find that my gut instinct about a game pans out after multiple plays.]
But, why even bother giving a number rating to a game in the first place? It’s a way to help me think about and evaluate how much fun I had playing a game. I could say after playing something, “well, that was fun”. Some people are content to leave it at that, and that’s cool. For me, though, I like having the mental tool to be able to codify and assess how much fun I had. “That was a 7” helps me gage, for example, how much I want to repeat the experience or recommend the game to a friend.
I also like having a basis for comparison to other games. If I have two dice games on my shelf, which one do I want to play more? If I find one dice game more fun than the other, why am I keeping both? Ratings help me answer all that. Again, lots of people don’t need ratings to make those decisions. It helps me, though!
Some people rate games based on some kind of objective judgment about the quality of the mechanisms or the design. For example, some people would give 7 Wonders a 10 because they think it incorporates card drafting in the most elegant way they’ve seen in games. Fair enough. I don’t pretend to know nearly enough about game design or mechanisms to make that judgment. I am, however, an expert in how something makes me feel.
Before I go on to explain my own ranking system, I’ll note that BGG’s own explanation of its ranking system leans more towards the subjective rather than the objective, although in a slightly different way than I’m talking about. BGG emphasizes a player’s willingness to play a game, rather than talk about a player’s subjective emotions. A 10 for them is “always want to play”, while a 1 is “won’t catch me dead playing this game”. I think that’s a decent way to think about it. However, it runs into the problem that I don’t always want to play any game. My mood about playing a game shifts and changes. Sometimes I’ll get tired of my truly favorite games and want to play something I might have ranked a 7 instead.
It might sound a bit weird, but I find that evaluating emotions about a game is a bit more stable and grounded than measuring willingness to play. I may not always be in the mood to play my favorite game, which happens to be Pandemic. However, memories of playing Pandemic, or news of new variants or big updates for the app version, always make me smile!
Anyway, enough with the preamble. On to my explanation of 1-10 rankings.
1 – Utter revulsion. Playing this game made me mad at something, either at the designer of the game or at myself for not having the guts to leave the table. Thankfully, I haven’t had a board game experience that I’d rank as a 1. However, I’ve played other games, seen movies, and done activities in other areas of life that have made me feel this way. I can imagine a game being so bad that it made me mad enough to want to incinerate it.
2 – Active Avoidance. As opposed to a 1, I understand why this game exists and don’t necessarily want to see it incinerated. However, I really, really try to avoid playing it if I could help it. Further, it hurts me a little inside to see other groups playing it. If I see a group playing a game that I rank a 2, I either assume that they just don’t know any better games, or they are the type of people I don’t want to game with too often. The only game I have rated this low is Cards Against Humanity. The jokes in that game have gotten so lame and tired for me that I cringe whenever someone suggests it.
3 – Boredom/ Frustration. I am still in territory where a game evokes some kind of strong negative emotion from me. For this rating, though, I acknowledge that my displeasure is more of a taste thing, rather than believing the game is inherently horrible. I’d be more apt to say “I just don’t enjoy that” at a 3, rather than make any kind of judgment about people who enjoy this game. A good example of a 3 game for me is Eclipse. Man, I cannot stand playing this game. I find it long, dry, unexciting, tedious, and punishing to new players. However, I (grudgingly) accept that people like and play this game. Hopefully, they will not ask me to play and spare me the need to say no.
4 – Disappointment. Now we are starting to get into games that I might derive some itty-bitty level of pleasure from. I might even be talked into playing it again, depending on who is in the group. However, I give ratings of 4 to games that, I feel, could be so much more than what they are. Exploding Kittens is a good example of this for me. It’s light and mostly harmless. But it’s basically like War, which is a game I’d rate a 5. For the platform that Exploding Kittens had, and for how many other card games manage to be light and fun while still allowing players to make a meaningful decision or two, it could have been much, much more than it was.
5 – Meh. These games encompass two different experiences for me. Either they’re games that I find flat and lifeless from the start, or whatever fun I had was completely negated by thematic or design issues to the point where I just shrug my shoulders at the whole experience. I consider a lot of mass-market games, or kids games like Chutes and Ladders, as examples of “flat” games. I can’t get mad at these games. They do what they do. They just leave me feeling cold.
The original Zombicide is an example of a game with lots of pluses and minuses. I had fun mowing down zombies by the boatload, getting cool power-ups, all that stuff. However, the targeting system and other fiddly issues negated any cool experiences I got from it. Zombicide Black Plague fixed that… but then it made you play 6 characters. Sigh.
6 – Acceptance. Now I’m starting to have actual fun. I’m apt to say something like “that was ok” about a game I rate a 6 and not feel like I wasted my time playing it. I could even be talked into playing a 6 game again without too much trouble. However, at this level, I still experienced some kind of issue in the game that’s dampened my enthusiasm for it and made me not want to seek out another play of it. Also, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a 6 game; I’d find something similar to recommend instead. I have played LOTS of games that I’ve rated a 6, and I’m sure you’ve played a lot of 6 games as well.
Unlike games I give a 5 rating, though, if someone says that a game I rate a 6 is actually one of their favorites, I can probably accept their opinion and do the “agree to disagree” thing. 5 games are games I genuinely think are “meh” and could be replaced by other games. For a 6 game, I acknowledge that the game is good enough on its own to be enjoyable by different people, and I can accept their tastes.
6.5 – Recommendation. I use decimals in my rating system because I don’t only feel ten different emotions about a game. I will only go as far as .5, though, since I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of too many decimal places. .5 helps me split the difference.
A 6.5 game is one I feel a little better about recommending it to other people, even if it wasn’t exactly for me. I rated Splendor a 6.5. That game got old for me after only a few plays, so I won’t seek it out. However, I recognize how good the game is and would happily recommend it to a group who I thought would have fun with it.
7 – Approval. A 7 is a good, rock-solid game experience, to me. It’s a game where, although I may not necessarily feel the need to go back to it, I nevertheless enjoyed it, had a lot of fun, and could easily be talked into a second play of it. Looking at my BGG rankings, I’ve rated more games a 7 than anything else. That sounds about right – I know what I like (coops, baby!), and I always make sure to gravitate towards games I’m likely to enjoy.
Also, while I’m not likely to go out of my way to buy a game I rate a 7, I will if it fills a slot in my collection. I don’t love social deduction games as a rule, but I enjoy Cash ‘n’ Guns, for example.
7.5 – Intellectually Curious. When I rate a game a 7, I’m saying that I liked it and would happily play again, but I’m not necessarily drawn to do so. When I give a 7.5, though, I think about the game after the fact. Maybe I want to play a further scenario, or I lost the game and want to go back to and get better at it. I’m not fist-pumping with excitement at this point, but I feel some kind of desire to crack open the game again and get better at it. I wouldn’t shed a tear if I never played Castles of Mad King Ludvig again, but I do find myself thinking about how I could have made my castle better after a play of it. Also, this is my cutoff for owning a game, or at least not selling it – when I want to get more play out of it.
8 – Excitement. I admit that I probably get more excited about games than some gamers out there. When an 8 hits the table, my eyes get wide and I get pumped because I KNOW I’m going to have a good time with it. I like to think that a quieter person feels the same way about an 8 game of theirs, but they keep it inside better than I do. With any game below an 8, I can teach it and show it to people without necessarily caring if they like it. At 8 or above, though, if I teach it, I feel myself start to evangelize a bit. Not only do I love 8 games, it would make me happy to see other people liking it as well. I will say stuff like “this game is awesome, you’ll see!” during a teach. I really like Tiny Epic Galaxies, but I wouldn’t think one way or the other if you didn’t. If I’m teaching you Abyss, though, I’m going to sell that game to you with enthusiasm.
I have a wide variety of games that I rate an 8 – economic engine games, conflict games, coops, party games, kids games, all sorts of stuff. Even if those particular genres aren’t my favorite, I feel the game is good enough to get me excited about playing it regardless. If my entire game library were comprised of games I rated 8 and above, I’d have a wide variety of games, not just my favorite types.
8.5 – Attachment. There are certain games where I have an extra level of enthusiasm for them because I have a personal attachment to some element – style, theme, mechanism, or what have you. I LOVE cooperative games, as I’ve said, so Flash Point, Dead of Winter (I’m fine with semi-coop, too!), and a couple of others get the half point bump from me. Also, I love civ building as a theme, so I also gave Through the Ages the half point bump. I highly doubt I’d feel the same about TtA if it had, say, a space theme. Those tend not to appeal to me as much.
[I know, I know, this all sounds very subjective. I warned you in the opener that my rankings would be highly subjective!]
9 – Passionate Attachment. These are “must own” games for me. I love them dearly, always have fun playing them, and will suggest them to any group where I feel the game has a chance of playing well. These are games I would rate 10, but they might have some niggling issue that holds it back. Sentinels of the Multiverse has too much stuff you need to keep track of during play. Ghost Stories is a bit too punishing in unfair ways. Stuff like that. Still, if I lost my entire game collection in some kind of fire, flood, plague, or other act of God, these are the games I would immediately try to replace in some form or fashion, if possible.
9.5 – Uh, I don’t have any games rated 9.5. 9 is already pretty high for me. If I feel super great about a game, it’ll just rocket to a 10 for me. I suppose that, once I feel this level of excitement for a game, I won’t split conceptual hairs. I dunno, maybe I’ll run into a 9.5 in the future. I’ll tell you all about it at that point.
10 – Irrational Adoration. These games are personal favorites, games I completely adore. Distinct from my 9 games, I fully admit to being completely irrational about any flaws or limitations in my 10 games, like a parent watching his 8 year old at a dance recital. [Isn’t my kid the best?!?!?] Obviously, if someone criticizes one of my 10 games – Pandemic has a massive alpha player problem, for example – I won’t actually jump down their throat and challenge them. Probably. But a small part of me will want to! Also, these games tend to generate my most noteworthy and memorable game experiences. I won’t forget completing the last mission in Pandemic Legacy, or finally completing my first successful game in Mage Knight.
So, there you have it! My rationale when I rate a game. What do you think? Are you as touchy-feely as I am when it comes to rating games, or do some more objective criteria factor into your rating?