A few years ago, Tom Vasel started releasing a video series called “Tom Vasel’s Top 100 Games of All Time”. I was intrigued. Each video covered 10 games and he gradually worked his way down from his 100th favourite game of all time to his number 1.
I found it very interesting to watch, but never really considered doing it myself. 100 games is a lot! Tom Vasel carried on doing it every year and it was interesting to see how the positions of different games changed from year to year as new games were released and old games lost their appeal.
More recently Ricky Royal released his “Top 30 Solo Games of All Time”. This was equally engaging and 30 games felt far more manageable so I spoke to my co-presenters (Mark and Steve) on the Boardgame Opinions channel and suggested we do our own.
Watching Tom Vasel’s Top 100, the bottom half always felt fairly arbitrary. He mentioned himself on several occasions that there isn’t really any difference between his 74th favourite game and his 75th favourite game, for example.
He has a system for ordering them, but I always thought that once you got past a certain point you hit this band of games, which are all good, but none of them is great, and the order doesn’t really mean much.
I wasn’t quite sure where the band of merely ‘good’ games would start, but I thought it would be somewhere around 30. It’s also difficult to retain the viewer’s interest through 100 games, so for all these reasons, 30 games felt like the sweet spot.
Mark and Steve were keen, so we’ve each gone away to make our “Top 30 Games of All Time”. I’ve really enjoyed the process, although it was more difficult than I thought!
I won’t spoil the full list, but I’ll link to the videos below as they’re released. You can always subscribe to the channel if you want to be notified as they come out. What I wanted to do in this post was to make a few observations on the list-making process itself and a few patterns that emerged.
I quickly ran into a few issues.
I rate games after very few plays typically. With some games, I can play them once and immediately know what my rating is. I know that playing these games more frequently won’t affect my rating. These are typically straightforward games that feel familiar. I’ve played many other games that provide a similar experience and I know how I feel about those games.
However, some games feel different or are far more involved. Games with novel mechanisms or a complex set of interacting mechanisms are much more difficult to pin down. I will often play these games a few times before deciding on my rating.
It would be very rare for me to still be undecided about my rating after four plays, say. Usually, the only games that would I would be hesitant to rate too early would be legacy games that develop over a large number of plays. I didn’t rate Pandemic: Legacy until after we’d finished the campaign for instance, which was approximately 18 games.
The problem is, over time, some of these ratings change. That’s not because the game has changed; it’s because I’ve changed. My experiences have changed me.
Playing a game with a brand new mechanism feels fresh and interesting. However, if this mechanism becomes popular and many other games start using it, and using it better than the original, then going back to play the original game can leave you feeling… disappointed. You remember it being better.
We talk sometimes about how well games ‘age’. As game design develops, games become more streamlined and clunky mechanisms are phased out. Like going back and watching an old film, you notice the poor quality of the video now that modern video quality is much better.
Games can reveal hidden depths as you play them more.
Other games can reveal hidden depths as you play them more. Hanabi was definitely one of those for me. I liked it when I first played it, but the more I played it, the more I discovered ingenious ways of giving clues. There was a level of communication that was possible between experienced players that I was never aware of during my first few plays.
Some games can lose their appeal because you’ve simply played them too many times. You’ve overdosed and the thought of playing them again leaves you feeling flat. They were great games. You remember really enjoying them, but now? Now you’d rather play something else.
For all of these reasons, I looked at some of my ratings on BGG and thought, “What was I thinking?!” If you rate games on BGG, I recommend going back over them sometime. You might be surprised at the ratings you gave to some of those older games.
So I re-rated my games, re-ordered them and then discovered that there were several games missing, ie. games that I really like, but for some reason I haven’t rated. I pulled up the list of BGG’s top ranked games and went through the first 200 games, rating any that I had missed.
Finally I had an accurate list of rated games, in order. At least, the groups were in order (all the 10s together, all the 9.5s together, etc.). So I went through each group and simply asked myself for each game, “Do I prefer this to the one above it?” If so, I moved it up and asked the question again. If not, I compared it with the one below.
I was pretty happy with my list by the time I finished, but then I started noticing some strange groupings. Many of the heavy Euros were all next to each other. The co-ops tended to be next to each other as well.
Co-ops are my favourite genre of game.
This allowed me to draw some conclusions about the kind of games I liked best. Without giving away too much, it seems that co-ops are my favourite genre of game. This is obviously a broad genre these days, but 4 of my top 5 games were co-ops!
The second thing I noticed is how much I like games with strong themes. I think I realised this already, but 7 of my top 8 games all have strong themes.
After the thematic games come a block of heavy Euros. I really like heavy Euros, but of the half dozen or so that made my top 30, I find it hard to differentiate between them. I would be quite happy rearranging the heavy Euro block in any order at all.
I don’t seem to feel strongly about two-player games one way or another. There were 7 two-player games in my top 30, but they were spread out throughout the list, rather than being grouped in any one area.
I don’t seem to love abstract games in general. There was only one game in my top 30 that could be described as an abstract game. Although, it’s quite an exception as it was my number 1 game!
I’m not a big fan of party games. There are one or two games on the list that might be classed as party games, but that’s stretching the definition a bit. There aren’t any social deduction games on the list at all.
I like new games: 10 of my top 30 have been released within the last year. I think this is in line with my belief that game design improves over time. I don’t like games simply because they’re new: I genuinely believe that games are getting better.
I also seem to like older games: 6 of my top 30 are more than 10 years old and a further 10 games are between 5 and 10 years old.
Have you ever tried compiling your Top 10/20/30 Games of All Time? Can you guess any of mine from the breakdown?