I first started using the BoardGameGeek (BGG) website about 10 years ago. However, I never actually registered an account on BGG until about 5 years ago. In part, this was because I found the whole site overwhelming. Finding content I actually wanted was like finding a needle in a haystack sometimes.
In essence, BGG is the Wikipedia of the board gaming world and I now find it indispensable. If you’re not familiar with the site though, it can seem at times outdated, esoteric and frankly bizarre. Today we take a look at the definitive boardgames website and how you can make the most of it.
I came across BGG originally because I was looking for reviews of boardgames. More and more boardgames were being published, but I had no idea if they were any good. YouTube had barely started back then, so there was no plethora of video reviews like there is now – all the reviews were written.
When you first arrive at the BGG homepage, you are confronted by an assortment of content blocks that still don’t make any sense to me:
- Sponsored Contests
I think you can win… something, but I’m not sure what and it’s always for games I’ve never heard of.
I understand the concept of news, but it isn’t like any news you’ve ever come across before and seems to be full of obscure references that I never understand.
- Gone Cardboard
It’s a random collection of images of game components (all from different games) as far as I can tell. I’m not sure why anyone would be interested in this.
The content blocks go on and on… and on. The graphic design looked dated when I first started using the site and it hasn’t changed. The feeling it gives is of a wall of text where every single word is a hyperlink. It’s such a shame because BGG is an absolute goldmine of resources and information if you know how to use it.
Ignoring the content on the homepage (I always do), you might notice a small search bar near the top of the page. In here you can type the name of any boardgame and after selecting the correct one from the search results (where you discover that they made far more versions of Catan than you ever thought possible), you arrive at a page dedicated to the game.
At this point, it feels like you’ve been taken to a different site. They seem to be in the process of upgrading the site (and have been for a while now) and all the game entries have a new (and greatly improved) layout. It tells you basic information like when the game was published, how many players it’s for, how long it takes to play, how ‘heavy’ or complex the game is, an aggregated rating, etc. There is a description of the game that explains briefly what it’s about and what kind of game it is. Then you notice the world of tabs.
You need to undergo a paradigm shift when using BGG.
Originally, I was after reviews, but there is no review tab. I couldn’t believe it when I first came across the site, and it still baffles me now, but you need to undergo a kind of paradigm shift when using BGG. It’s not designed (like most websites) to provide content for people to consume. It’s more of a database – a repository of information on games. Like entering a giant library, you really need a librarian to show you round.
To find written reviews, you have to go the Forums tab, then select the Reviews category. These days, most people after reviews will want to watch video reviews, so in that case you would go to the Videos tab, and again select the Review category.
A key concept to understand, through all of the BGG site, is that of ‘hotness’. Registered users can post in the forums, or add videos, and then people can ‘thumb’ items that have been added. If a particular video review is very good, it will get ‘thumbed’ a lot by users (this is like upvoting), which makes it ‘hot’.
You can sort reviews (and all kinds of other things actually) by ‘hotness’, so you can quickly identify the quality content from the dross. This is much more difficult to do on YouTube, which defaults to sorting by some combination of relevance, popularity and recentness.
The other key idea here is the ‘hotness’ bar that is permanently displayed down the left-hand side. This is a measure of activity. The more forum posts, video and image uploads, and general activity there is on a game’s page, the higher it will rank in this list. So you can see which games everyone is talking about very easily. I find it very interesting to look through this list from time to time.
Now that you understand roughly how the site works, let me tell you about some of the things that you can do with the site. You can register for the site, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities, so I’m going to split this up into things you can do without being registered and things you need to be registered for.
No Registration Required
- Game Information
As previously discussed, you can search for any game. They really do seem to have an entry for every game ever made! You can then find out key information for the game very easily.
Registered users can rate games (out of 10) and as well as seeing the aggregated rating for an individual game, you can see lists of the top-ranked games. You can even narrow these down by type (eg. Family / Strategy / Thematic)
A geeklist is essentially just a list of games with a comment on each game, but users will compile these lists according to a particular theme usually. I find the best way to access these is simply to scroll right to the bottom of a game page and it will give examples of geeklists that that game appears on.
For example, at the bottom of the Star Wars: Rebellion page, it links to a geeklist titled, ‘Games that FIRED other Games’, in which the author recommends recent games that are similar to older games, but are better (in his opinion). These lists can be a great way of discovering new games that you’ll like.
From rules questions to strategy guides, the forums are very active and contain a wealth of useful information. The game designers/publishers will often participate on the forums for their games so you can get the answers you need straight from the horse’s mouth sometimes.
Once you’ve played a few games, you might notice a particular designer who has designed several games that you like. Me personally, I love pretty much everything designed by Vlaada Chvátil. If you want to find other games that a certain designer has done, you can click on their name in the game page’s basic info section at the top and it will take you to a page all about that designer, which will list (among other things) the other games that they have designed. This is another good way to discover new games you might like.
Maybe you’ve lost the rules to one of your games, or maybe you’d like to look at the rules to a game before buying it. If you go to the Files tab on a game’s page, you should be able to find the rules, which you can usually download as a .pdf.
You can mark any game on BGG as ‘owned’ and it is then added to your ‘collection’. This can be useful if you have a lot of games and want to quickly find a game for a certain purpose. Eg. You could search your collection for games that will take 5 players and it will list them all without you having to look up the player counts for each one.
You can rate any game on BGG and it will keep track of all your ratings. In your account area you can view all the games you have rated and sort by rating. Very handy if you ever fancy compiling a Top 10.
As a registered user, you can obviously contribute to forums or upload videos if you fancy becoming a reviewer. There are lots of ways to take part in the community that surrounds BGG.
You can subscribe to virtually anything on BGG and the site will notify you (eg. by email) when new content is added. So you could subscribe to a particular forum, or a geeklist, or a game, or even a user. This is very handy for keeping up-to-date with the things you’re interested in.
The more you use BGG, the more useful it becomes, but it can be hard getting into it initially. Try playing with a new feature every couple of weeks and it will continue to surprise you. It’s very much built on functionality over form, but if you can navigate past the bad design, there’s gold in them thar hills!
Can you think of any useful features that I haven’t mentioned? Which aspects of the site do you use most?