Rating Games

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I do a lot of reviews of games for the Boardgame Opinions channel.  Different reviewers haven’t different styles, but the way I do it is to give a very brief overview of how the game plays followed by people’s opinion of the game.

After everyone’s given their opinion though, I always ask for everyone’s rating out of 10.  I think this rating is very helpful, but a few people object to rating games in this way.  Today we take a look at different ways of rating games and why I think they’re important.

One of my gaming friends dislikes rating games (or anything in fact).  His view is that a rating doesn’t really tell you anything.  A game may have great mechanics, not much theme and terrible artwork, and then you somehow combine all those different aspects into a single number.  How can you do that fairly?!

In all honesty, you probably can’t, but I still find them very useful.  The whole point of the Boardgame Opinions channel is to discover what people think of games: people’s opinions.

There’s two key aspects to that.  Firstly, we don’t spend a lot of time explaining how to play.  As long as viewers have a reasonable idea of what’s going on, that’s fine.  But more importantly, we’re not trying to objectively assess how good a game is; we’re giving biased opinions.

Everybody’s opinion is biased.

The phrase “biased opinions” is a tautology really: everybody’s opinion is biased.  However, people often take umbrage at these kinds of opinions – particularly the ratings – as if rating a game 4 out of 10 declares it to be a bad game.

I may really dislike a game and give it a very low rating, but (and this is so key!) that is just my opinion – it doesn’t mean that the game is objectively bad.  If 1000 people all dislike a game, that’s a different matter though.  In that case, I would feel far more confident declaring it a bad game.

BoardGameGeek, the Wikipedia of boardgames, allows users to rate games out of 10.  On every game’s page, right at the top, it displays an average of all the ratings people have given it and, crucially, tells you how many people have rated it.

Monopoly, for example, has been rated by over 19,000 people and has an average rating of 4.4 out of 10.  That says a lot.  It gives you a clear idea about what a LOT of people think of it.

So when providing reviews of games, I try to obtain a selection of opinions.  I don’t mind if people are hard-core gamers or new to the hobby.  I don’t mind if they’ve only played it once or a hundred times.

You can usually tell the background people are coming from pretty quickly when they start giving their opinion of a game.  But everybody’s opinion provides a useful perspective.  Some games suit hard-core gamers far better.   Some games can be off-putting the first time you play.  These aspects often come across with a variety of opinions.

Different reviewers use different systems for rating games.  From thumbs up/down, to star ratings, to percentages, but I always come back to the rating out of 10 as my personal preference.

I had one player who rated a game as 5 out of 7 once!

My friend who dislikes ratings just says he “likes it” or “dislikes it” when I ask for everybody’s rating at the end of a video.  I even had one player who rated a game as 5 out of 7 once.  It took us a moment to work out that she liked it!

There are two main reasons I like the rating out of 10 so much.  Firstly, it’s very easy to understand.  People are used to seeing ratings out of 10 in all sorts of contexts.  People instantly know that 1 is bad, 10 is great and 5 is just okay.

BoardGameGeek even has a detailed description of what each of the rating numbers mean (eg. 4 = “Not so good – but could play again.”), but you really don’t need it.  Everyone understands the idea.

The other reason I always ask for ratings though, is because people’s verbal opinions can sometimes be deceptive.  I know a couple of gamers who naturally focus on the aspects of a game that they don’t like.  Eg. “It’s a solid Euro, but it’s a got a runaway leader problem, I don’t like the artwork and the theme is wafer thin.”  And then you ask for their rating and they give it an 8 out of 10!

Even some people’s demeanour can seem downbeat and unenthused.  They come across as if they didn’t enjoy the experience, but their rating at the end says otherwise.  It can be hard to assess what people really think of something when they talk about it, but the rating nails it down.

As long as you realise that every rating that anybody gives is a biased view of the game from their perspective, then I think ratings are great.  I find them very useful for working out if I’m likely to enjoy a game myself.

What do you think of ratings?  Do you find them useful or do you ignore them completely?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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