Ratings, yawn…

I played Pillars of the Earth tonight, and had a good time playing it. It got me to thinking about how I rate games. Since I realize this is a boring subject, you can tune out now – maybe I’ll have something a little more pithy in a future entry.

I use two different rating systems. On BGG I am forced to use their 10 point rating system. But here at home we use a home-made system at the Bistro. Here it is:

Poor – a game you would prefer to avoid.
Okay – a game you might agree to play, but would never request
Good – a game you enjoy occasionally
Excellent – a game you very much admire and wish to play repeatedly
Personal Endorsement – a game perfectly suited to your tastes in games.

For me, I have been relating the BGG 10 point scale to the above system, something like this:

9-10 = Personal Endorsement
8 = Excellent
6-7 = Good
5 = Okay
1-4 = Poor

This stance has largely worked for me. But I’ve also grappled with the “novelty factor”. Most games are good for a handful of games, as you learn how to play them. Honestly, with the large variety of games at hand, many games never get played enough to properly evaluate them, as we never give them 5 plays in relatively quick succession.

Another issue in ratings is the “owner’s bias”. I’m aware that I have it, and I’ve perceived it in other too, or so I believe. And this seems human. I just bought this game, so naturally I am predisposed to like it…

Whatever the rating system, it’s the nuances between good to great games are the ones that seem most interesting. Using the 10 point scale, I don’t see much advantage in exploring the nuances between a game I rate a 3 vs. a game I rate a 4. Either way, I’d prefer to not play them.

But the nuances between a 6 and a 7 seem still a bit blurry at times. I think, for me, the owner’s bias may be the first filter. “Do I like this game enough to own it?” If yes, it probably graduates to a 7. If not, it probably falls to a 6. But there are (hopefully) great games I don’t know about yet. So the owner’s bias seems to only apply to “Good, but not great” games. Another counter-example is the merely okay game that I still like enough to own. Im Zeichen des Kreuzes is a personal example. I’d say this game is merely okay on a strict interpretation of my enthusiasm of the game. But the unusual theme (recreating the 1st Crusade) is such a great hook, that I find the game compelling enough to own, even if I don’t play it much (if ever). So I rate IZdK a generous “6”, which is often below the cut, as I generally want to only own games I rate a 7 or higher.

One other filter I apply to my BGG ratings is how recently I have played the game. An 8+ rating is especially prone to being marked down if I consistently don’t play it. There was a time when I was rating Carcassonne: The City as a 10. But after a several months of never playing it, if finally descended into the 7 zone – reflecting it is a game I like enough to own. Other games that I own which maybe never soared so high in my personal estimation can slip even further. I owned Manila for a while. Nice game, I rated it a 7, I suspect. But over time, as the novelty factor wore off, and it sat unplayed, I degraded it to a 6. And this is my signal to consider if I should sell/trade or gift a game. Eventually Manila left my collection, and I haven’t especially missed it. But it is a good game, and should someone ask me to play it (on their copy) I would happily agree. And if I were playing at the Bistro I would unhesitatingly rate it “Good”.

So what have we learned here? Beats me. Write me a comment if this made any sense to you.

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