Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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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 :-)
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