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January 6th, 2003

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11:58 pm - Datatastic, mate
I admire collectors, categorisers, organisers, comparers and list-makers. lambertman produced weekly personal music charts for some time and I would say that more (at least, more male) Friends and other blog-writers I read keep some sort of list in this way than don't.

Between 1990 and about 1993 I kept monthly or two-monthly charts of my top forty TV shows of the day. At about the same time, in a sphere of interests then far, far away, somebody decided to try to measure which the best board games were by which people most frequently chose to play. After all, it's easy to get the usual suspects to make lots of "best of" lists, but what good is a game that is highly-regarded but seldom actually played? Ever since then, unduly-organised numerically/statistically-minded board game players - which would be, er, most of us - have kept lists of what we have been playing over the past year.

It's fair to assume that a hobby that you're a reasonably active participant in will consume, on average, one evening of your life each week and a few extra whole days each year, so something like perhaps 200-250 hours a year. (By comparison, I'm reasonably sure I've spent at least 300-400 hours reading and writing to LiveJournal since last June.) Thus anything which gets takes up more than 10-20 hours of that is a pretty significant chunk of your gaming time; any game which gets five plays over a year is important and interesting, ten plays over a year doubly so. Most people print their five and ten lists and the overall results describe the board gaming zeitgeist. (At least, among the self-selecting sample, but this is the best you'll get.)

Anyway, I've been pursuing this myself since the start of 1998 and so now have five years of data to work from. Fewer than some (and you might care to note that the year his wife had a baby was the last year for which he has data) but more than most.

You might like to look at the list of board games I played last year. There is so much data that I have put it all in a spreadsheet. I recommend you grab the Excel version (a feeless viewer application for Windows is available) but if you'd prefer something a little less Microsoft, a generic comma-separated values version is also available.

I played a total of 331 games over the year, 119 different, about 60 new to me. I estimate the total duration at a little over 341 hours, probably made up of something like 45 weekly four-hour sessions and 18 nine-hour convention days.

In this spreadsheet, I have wildly optimistically tried to back-extrapolate the number of times I've played each game ever since I was born. By arbitrary accidental convention, I have included RPGs but excluded play-by-mail games, online games and all those not played face-to-face. Really, only the first seven columns (name to '98-'02 total) are hard data, the rest is hand-waving.

The light green column includes my personal rating on the traditional one-to-ten scale. This figure principally rates the extent to which I am keen to play the game again rather than an assessment of the greatness of a game. (I say this before you slaughter me for only giving Go a 7 and Chess a 2.) There's a lot of ceteris paribus involved here; there are many people who can make playing even the lamest game fun and I should certainly rather play a 4/10 game in 8/10 company than an 8/10 game in 4/10 company. There have also been a few occasions where I've said something reasonably positive about the quality of a game only for my true opinion to be signified as a low rating. Ah, tact. *whistles innocently*

As usual, these blunt figures are less useful and less interesting than the reasons behind them. By way of explanation, in my 2000 list, I reviewed 205 games each in one word; in my 2001 list, I reviewed 291 games each in 20 letters. There's helpful for you. (Admission: I inadvertently used one word twice in 2000.)

From thereon, I have estimated a mean duration for each game in the light-blue column K, in an attempt to redress the natural balance that it's rather easier to play a short game many times than it is to play a long game many times. There have been experiments to identify the (mythical) best games in terms of those which you have spent the most time playing and in terms of other functions. One which has found some popularity is the "happiness metric", which is essentially number of times played * average duration per game * quality of game. The hour-point (sometimes known as the Huber after its progenitor) could be said to be the Imperial unit of board game happiness; after all, we all know what the metric unit of happiness is. It's about €1.53 right now.

I think this happiness metric is inaccurate, because playing a favourite game is considerably more fun than playing a merely good game. Incidentally, a 10/10 game isn't necessarily perfect; I recognise perfection at both ends to be impossible and assume the 1-10 scale to actually be a (>0, <10) scale with everything rounded up to the next integer. My happiness unit, the dobber - a generic British term for pawn or other playing implement - awards 16 units of utility per minute for playing a 10/10 game, 12 for a 9/10 game, 8 for a 8/10 game, 5 for a 7/10 game, 3 for a 6/10 game, 1 for a 5/10 game, -1 for a 4/10 game, -3 for a 3/10 game, -6 for a 2/10 game and -10 for a 1/10 game. This is based on an axiom that playing a 5/10 game is marginally more interesting than standing around and chatting with gamers about which game to play next, which is marginally more interesting than playing a 4/10 game. Experiences with playing games of all levels of satisfaction have convinced me that the other figures assigned are at least reasonable even if not necessarily completely correct to within better than a factor of 2 or 3.

Incidentally, Matthew Gray, who is a nice guy and a very smart cookie, proposes the considerably simpler month metric, "in which a game receives 1 point for every unique month in which it is played". Matt comments that "The other nice thing about this metric is that I find it is (probably unsurprisingly) heavily correlated with all of the other metrics discussed (# plays, total time playing, "happiness")." He's almost certainly right and the metric is a lot easier to administer, but creating metrics is always rather more fun than using them.

There are reasons why I don't always get to play my favourite games. I don't own a copy of Kohle, Kie$ & Knete, which is over five years out of print and significantly expensive; these days, board games are generally so inexpensive that the biggest cost of playing them is the time that you could have spent playing something else. Die Siedler Von Catan: Stadt und Ritter (available in English as The Settlers of Catan: Cities and Knights - the English version is strongly preferred, which is not as obvious a statement as it may sound) is too long a game of Settlers for my regular group, plus few have sufficient liking of auction games for Modern Art. My joy with the Oxford University live role-playing campaign may well have been primarily a case of the right circumstances and a particular case of being unable to disentangle the enjoyment obtained from the game from the quality of the co-players. Furthermore, there's always the thrill of the unknown; finding a brand new 9/10 game or a brand new 10/10 game is as exciting as several games of an old favourite 9/10. Ratings do change, but seldom more than two points between the first game and the fifth game and then a point or two per year after that.

After those happiness figures, I have listed the size of each game I played. I tend to play four-player games more than anything else, but five-player games come a close second, with six-player beating three-player ones. (Nearly seven-player ones, too.) This is roughly as I'd expect - I do have a definite preference for larger games, up to a point, over smaller ones. (The point in question is involved with downtime - "gap between turns" - issues which affect some games worse than others.)

The next game features a brief description of what each game involves. Admittedly there were about fifteen cases where I couldn't remember what a game involves from its name and had to look it up, but at least 380 games are instantly recogniseable from their names. I always confuse Reibach and Company with Heimlich and Company, which would be very embarrassing if I ended up performing the Reibach manoeuvre on someone. A large part of the reason for this column is that it's unrealistic to expect people to know most of these games which are frankly frequently very obscure; you might find a game whose brief description you like and which you decide to investigate further. You might decide that my recommendation, positive or negative, is a good indicator that you might enjoy any of the listed games yourself. If there are any you'd like to know more about, or know my comments on them in greater detail, feel free to ask.

I do enjoy reading other people's experiences with their games and the statistics they keep about games. Some people do track their opponents and their game results, which strikes me as taking this in an undesirably competitive direction. Likewise, I don't recall the individual games to "After he'd thrown a three and a two I threw a six and a three" levels. Anyone who thinks I have reached those levels already... might have a point. Possibly.

There's always the thought that if I can keep this up for another forty-five years, it might be eligible for an Ig Nobel Prize :-)
Current Mood: geekygeeky
Current Music: *thinks* wish I'd remembered to upload my "games" icon

(17 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:January 6th, 2003 09:05 pm (UTC)
You keep referencing me in your journal, and people are going to mistakenly assume I'm interesting!
[User Picture]
Date:January 8th, 2003 06:56 am (UTC)

Buck up. He gave me my code and I am most definitely NOT interesting.
[User Picture]
Date:January 8th, 2003 07:00 am (UTC)

From the this-is-a-compliment-no-really dept.

Yeah - do you two think I'd hang round with you guys if you weren't deadly boring?

Er, wait a minute...
[User Picture]
Date:January 8th, 2003 07:53 am (UTC)

Re: From the this-is-a-compliment-no-really dept.

oooch! *doubles over*
[User Picture]
Date:January 6th, 2003 10:41 pm (UTC)

Just a few thoughts

Your list contains a VAST number of games I have either never played or never even heard of. Some of my favourites get marked right down. Why don't you like Risk? Have you ever played "Mine-a-million / Business Game"?
And, more importantly, have you asked Alvin of http://www.vintage-games.co.uk about Kohle...? He doesn't have a copy at present, it seems, but I bet he'd be your cheapest source eventually. He was recommended to me by another expatriate Englishman in New Zealand and as a result I'm currently waiting for delivery of Mine-a-million, seeing as I couldn't find my old copy when I was home in September.
So what games did I bring back? Go for Broke! and Ulcers. Flutter was already safely in the cupboard here. I see you had a game of Flutter this year yourself, and liked it 45 dobbers.
By the way, in Australia and New Zealand, a dobber is an informant, either to the police or to mummy. The verb is "dob in". "Are you going to dob him in then?" "No, mate, I'll let him off this time - I'm no dobber." Just thought you might be interested.
[User Picture]
Date:January 7th, 2003 07:30 am (UTC)

Re: Just a few thoughts

I was expecting to have to defend my low mark for Risk. :-) It fails on several grounds for me.

My main objection to it is that there is very little variety in gameplay. You do the same thing turn after turn: attack, attack, attack. Coupled with this is the length of the game - you'll see how many of my favourite games clock in at about the hour mark, whereas Risk always has the reputation of being rather a long player. It also seriously hinders my opinion of the game that I'm not terribly interested in the thought processes that this brings about; I would rather play at being a nation developer or a trader than a general and (very) generally have a preference for constructive, developmental games over destructive ones.

Secondly, it's an elimination game, a game mechanic which I don't enjoy. There is an argument that most players' chances of victory will eventually tend to zero when playing a game and when this happens there is no need for them to be playing any more - indeed, they can only affect the game by helping to decide who wins independently of who has played better - but I find the concept of people being told that they are no longer allowed to play the same game as everyone else to be undesirable.

I also suspect there is not a great deal of depth to the game, though I know this is a weak argument to make when you know you aren't a particularly strong player. :-) I perceive, possibly incorrectly, that most games tend to fall into a reasonably similar sort of pattern. It would be churlish to complain about the extent to which the game is dependent on luck given how much dice-rolling or card-drawing is included in some of my favourite games - and the amount of dice-rolling involved in Risk is large enough that reasonable variances become close to the mean in percentage terms - but the turn sequence of decisions-then-dice rather than dice-then-decisions still leaves a bad impression on me.

Suspect I haven't played Mine A Million. A friend has owned Ulcers, but I suspect we never got round to playing a full game of it by attempting to follow the rules, which is why I erred on the side of not including it.

Flutter does stand up in court these days. It probably subconsciously helped that I won my game of it, too.

Hadn't come across Vintage Games before (thank you for the link!) though it looks like he tends to deal almost exclusively in English-language games rather than German ones; KK&K is famous enough as a treasure that it's not one of which he's likely to have stumbled across a stray copy. The concept of Michael Miles' Take Your Pick from 1958 sounds good as do the other game show home games, but probably not good enough to be worth spending money on. (Interested to know what his 3M games are, though.)

I had a Neighbours habit early in my teenage years and so am quite familiar with your neck of the woods' use of the word dobber :-)
[User Picture]
Date:January 7th, 2003 01:13 am (UTC)


Interesting list. I've still not played any variant of Liar's Dice - clearly I should !

But one thing bothers me... The games I play do not correspond very well to the games I would like to be playing. This is simply because of availability of other players. For example, of the top three things I wanted to be playing last month:

1) Bridge - Very hard to get (exactly) 4 decent players together.
2) Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG - Only a handful of possible opponents and often people aren't in the mood.
3) Timesplitters 2 [deathmatch] - Doesn't mix well with chilling out and casual conversation.

What I do play lots of is Lord of the Rings because whenever you have 3-5 people with nothing else to do they're probably up for it.

So I think in some ways people's "best games" lists are more worthwhile than you make out. Even if it does worry me that the relatively shortlived "Settlers of Catan" is rated so highly by some ofthe people you link to above.
[User Picture]
Date:January 7th, 2003 07:51 am (UTC)

Re: Games

1) Have you considered joining a bridge club? I know time is pressing, but I always think of bridge as being one of the games where this is least a concern. However, I perceive that Bridge is more exacting than most games in terms of requiring players who are at about the same level of competence and seriousness for best results.

2) Not being snotty with regards to Yu-Gi-Oh! CCG players' ages, but are there no RPG / CCG shops near you where card gamers tend to hang out? Can't remember wheter WotC have any branded stores in this country, but this (c/o /friendsfriend vintagefury) may very well amuse.

3) Multi-player computer and video games don't seem to have taken off as a competitive or organised hobby nearly as well as logic suggests they should have done and I can't understand the reason why.

Settlers: heh, heh. Settlers now has seven years behind it and so perhaps we can start to make an informed assessment that it really will turn out to have been "the real thing", "a breakout hit" and so forth. It doesn't have the same degree of fame and level of play as Monopoly or Chess even in its native Germany, but it genuinely is only one step behind - a Game of Life or an Othello, if you will. The Settlers range has sold six million games worldwide, of which probably two-thirds will be the original set.

I am also biased in its favour for what might be called political-promotional reasons. There is a reasonably well-established Settlers tournament circuit in the UK; in 2002, there were about nine or ten tournaments in the game. I ran two of them and played in two. (The overlap is one.) That's a pretty chunky number and probably puts Settlers in the lower reaches of the top twenty most active tournament mind sports in this country. It's the most active "hobby board game" these days, at least - the position that Diplomacy held five or ten years ago.

I have organised the Settlers tournament at OxCon for six years, this year's event seeing thirty-six players. It's a game that suits tournaments well, the different initial layout in each game offering sufficient variety to make it worthwhile for players to want to play four or five games in a row. It's still only a 9/10 game because (a) from time to time it can really stink for reasons almost completely beyond your control and (b) the Cities and Knights / Stadt und Ritter expansion makes it so much more interesting.
[User Picture]
Date:January 8th, 2003 07:50 am (UTC)
I want to thank you for the spreadsheet, if nothing else you've used a wonderful color scheme. More importantly it allowed me to fiddle with it and arrange it so that I could see what games are what (lord knows I've heard of very few aside from the standards) and which games you've enjoyed. The biggest prize is comparing what games intrigue me to your ratings of said games. I'm a fan of any game that comes with the stigma of "hose-your-buddy" and now I can see that Matschig (Muddy) is probably the best way to go. Of course I'm going with your opinion basically on blind faith, but your argument for why/what you like seems reasonably similar to mine. Other games that caught my eye:
Battle Cattle - How can I not be interested?
Sherlock Holmes - I like mystery games and I like card games
How to be a Complete Idiot - I think I could absolutely excel at this. Know idea why.
Cannibal Pygmies In The Jungle Of Doom - Not that interested in the game, but I will now seek out the movie

None of those ranks terribly high, but they caught my attention. When it comes to games, I am very much a fan the smallest turn around between turns or the faster moving the better. After a bit of scrutiny I would guess that my best choice would be Montage. Any other recommendations?

Have you played Euchre? I ask because I adore this game above all others but it's player base seems to be almost embarrassingly centralized to the Midwest and the central Midwest at that. This game is similar to Hearts and as I'm finding out, very similar to Whist. Actually it would seem intelligent to assume that Euchre is a derivative of Whist in some form or another. Finding a foursome of any talent is terribly difficult even as close as Chicago. It does have a good sized community online, but that takes away the fun of any card game, the interaction. I have little point other than to whine of the lack of tie I get to play. I appreciate your indulgence.
[User Picture]
Date:January 8th, 2003 03:16 pm (UTC)

Game selection consultancy, first part

Absolutely - that's the reason why I wanted to see the data as a spreadsheet. When I want to know which five-player game I played most frequently in 2002 that I hadn't played in 2001, this becomes a trivial task.

Matschig is a silly game and I mean that in an entirely complimentary manner. Players have cards representing earth and water; playing complementary quantities of earth and water produces mud which you can sling at another player. Certain cards allow you to duck the mud, to splatter the mud (so it hits everyone else), to use an umbrella or ward off mud with the sun or the wind. If you can't avoid the mud then you get hit by it (translation: take penalty points). The player who gets hit by least mud over the whole game wins. Alternatively, the rules suggest a party version of the game where you dab some real-life mud on the face of the highest (worst) scorer in each round, three dots causing elimination.

Battle Cattle is essentially an old-fashioned miniatures war game played using miniature model cows, sheep and so forth instead of soldiers. Certainly of interest if you happen to own a collection of miniature model cows, sheep and so forth.

Sherlock Holmes Card Game isn't great. It's essentially dressed-up Switch (card game where you can follow the four-of-spades by a four or a spade, etc.) with lots of extra twiddly bits. Unfortunately the twiddly bits tend to end up being fiddly bits, the exceptions are not particularly well categorised, there's more luck in the game than might be desirable and a general lack of control.

How To Be A Complete Idiot isn't nearly as interesting as it sounds, unfortunately. It sounds like there is all manner of scope for Dare-like wacky stunts and forfeitry, but it's really a very mundane guessing game.

Cannibal Pygmies In The Jungle Of Doom is nominally a film-making card game - all the players are trying to make their own B-movies. You need a character in a location to find the treasure before you can roll the credits and end the round. Various characters in the game can attack each other with an assortment of wacky weaponry and there is considerable buddy-hoseage involved.

There is a sci-fi B-movies version of the game available, called something like Space Zombies (fx: Googles - it's actually "Grave Robbers from Outer Space") and entertainingly the two games are completely interchangeable with each other so you can get Skippy the Wonder Dog fighting off the Nymphomaniac Nuns on the planet Jupiter. (I may have been making up the bit about the Nymphomaniac Nuns, but the "Carry On..." movies are a saucy new expansion kit just waiting to happen.) Lots of cute ideas but the gags tend to wear thin fairly quickly and the game isn't strong enough to attract lots of attention on its own without the jokes.

[User Picture]
Date:January 9th, 2003 08:02 am (UTC)

Re: Game selection consultancy, first part

I knew my mother should never have thrown out my miniatures collection of farm animals. Woe is me.

Matschig sounds great, though I was hoping for a more insult-themed definition. It does sound like a great party game, which is really the only time I play. Parties allow for alcohol to become a factor, which really helps for too many American young people to let loose and really enjoy. Of course there's a line that's almost always invariably crossed where it all goes straight to hell. When I'm involved I always try to avoid that and steer toward other avenues of entertainment before full-on inebriation takes over the room. I've sat through many a good game that loses all it's fun because of beer-induced lack of focus, I'm rambling. I will now seek out Matschig. Thank you for the rec.

The other games sound reasonably stupid and shall be avoided. Except for Cannibal Pygmies. That sounds like gold.
[User Picture]
Date:January 8th, 2003 03:18 pm (UTC)

Part two

Montage is a tremendously clever, imaginitive game, but I fear almost forty years out of print. It's extremely rare and I suspect the going rate would probably be in excess of US$100. I've played only once so this description may be confused, but here goes. It very much has the feel of a game show that the players in turn host.

Imagine a 15x15 board made up of a 3x3 square of 5x5 grids of circles. Some of these circles are blocked off (a different pattern in each game) and others are covered The game is strictly played between two partnerships. On your turn, you have one minute to find an unclaimed line of circles on the board and decide a word which would fit into that line of circles, subject to the colour restrictions (red circles can only be filled with the letters A, B, C, D or Z, orange circles can only be filled with the letters E, F, G, H or Y, yellow circles can only be filled with the letters I, J, K, L or X and so on). You then come up with a cryptic clue which conveys the word to your partner.

However, you must not make your clue too easy as there's a system whereby your opponents can sometimes steal the word. (Effectively you're simulating a game show's buzzer system by the low-tech methodology of the players hitting the table.) I can't remember the precise rules as to when opponents may try to steal off the top of my head, but they do work.

The team which wins the word gets to claim the circles on the grid and under certain circumstances another turn; claiming sufficient (ten?) circles from a 5x5 square earns the whole square and three squares in a row wins the game.

I've certainly seen the rules to Euchre a number of times, but there seem to be a lot of similar games (inquire within at http://www.pagat.com/ for many rulesets). Whine away, please.

Recommendations: I would generally point you at the trading game genre (not the trading card game genre - that's something quite different!) because the trading sessions within the game tend to keep everyone interested all the time. Bohnanza and Settlers of Catan would be safe places to start; Bohnanza takes 3-7 players and is a fairly twisted sort of card game (first difference: you don't sort out your hand of cards, you must play with them in the order they are dealt) that lasts about 60-75 minutes. NB: expect your first game of anything to take at least 50% longer. Settlers of Catan is best with strictly 4, though playable with 3 and you can get a 5/6 player expansion; it takes 60-90 minutes.

Let's see if this fits within the character limit. :-)

It didn't until I split it into two. 5550 characters, limit 4300.
[User Picture]
Date:January 9th, 2003 08:20 am (UTC)

Re: Part two

Montage sounds absolutely brilliant. I am very unhappy that it's out of print. Hopefully one day I will come across it.

I love games with a great balance of intellect and excitement. I am a big fan of Cranium, which apparently has taken the country by storm. I didn't see it on your spreadsheet. Did I miss it? It seems like something you'd enjoy.

Thank you very much for the Euchre link. It's terribly insightful and offers strategy books, which my circle has been in search of for quite some time. Also I love to see terminology for stumping people at the table.

Trading games are intriguing, but I'm not sure anyone I know will have the patience to learn. I'm going to have to work around that or you know, get new friends.

Thanks for the ever in-depth, intelligent responses. I wish I could reciprocate but I'm deadly boring. It's a fault.
[User Picture]
Date:January 9th, 2003 09:59 am (UTC)

Re: Part two

Rest assured that if it is reprinted then I shall whoop and holler about it to the extent that you will be able to hear me, let alone read me.

Never played Cranium, largely because I hang around with not-sufficiently-Starbucks-o-mainstream sort of people, alas. I do know the guy who edited the questions for the UK version of Cranium, though. Not that I've played it.

There are at least four highly reputable and well (though none perfectly) regarded games mail order companies in the US: Funagain, Boulder, FairPlay and the other one which escapes me. The German Games Company are well-regarded in Canada. Boulder are selling the Rio Grande Games edition Bohnanza for $8.80 plus postage, which looks like a bargain and a half to me. Incidentally, Rio Grande Games are a company who take German games and produce English-language editions of them, so purchase them with confidence.
[User Picture]
Date:January 4th, 2006 12:22 am (UTC)

Re: Part two

I recomend Thought Hammer as the game site that has the lowest prices... I just a few minutes ago finished spending all my xmas loot there.
[User Picture]
Date:May 2nd, 2011 04:22 pm (UTC)

Montage is set to come back in print after 38 years!

On the wild, wild off-chance that this still reaches you somehow, Mr. Picklepuss, please be advised that Montage is set to come back in print this year! Eight years ago I assured you that I would whoop and holler in the case of a reprint; consider this to be the clanging of bells and the sounding of sirens.

If this does reach you, I do hope that you're happy, well and thriving!
[User Picture]
Date:January 4th, 2006 12:21 am (UTC)
Kohle, Kie$ & Knete <- I played that one on Friday night.

I am seriously starting to consider taking an adult education german class. What they really need is a "German for Gamers" class.

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