Why Are My Ratings So High?


I recently compiled my Top 30 Games of All Time.  As part of this process, I went through all the games that I have ever rated on BoardGameGeek (BGG).  I don’t always remember to rate every game I play, but I try.

It was a very informative process and I talked about certain trends that I noticed in the accompanying post.  I noticed something else while analysing my ratings though: my ratings were all fairly high.

Many reviewers always seem to give positive reviews and personally I find this to be off-putting.  If they are always positive, then their opinion doesn’t really mean anything.

I started to worry.  Was I one of these interminably positive reviewers?  Was I undermining the validity of all my opinions?  To answer these questions, I had to dig deeper.

The chart below gives a breakdown of all the games I have rated on BGG.  It demonstrates a nice bell-curve as you would expect.  I don’t often give very high ratings, but equally I don’t often give very low ratings.

Ratings Breakdown

A breakdown of my boardgame ratings from BGG

However, the peak is the worrying thing.  Rather than peaking around 5, it peaks around 7.  In fact, my average rating is 7.3.  I have rated over half the games I have played somewhere around 7 or 8.  Why is that?  I don’t feel overly generous with my ratings.  I’m quite happy to criticise games that I don’t like.

In attempting to answer this question, I started reading around the subject and found an interesting post from Rahdo (of Rahdo Runs Through fame) where he attempts to address accusations that he never gives negative reviews.

In the post he says that he receives many games from publishers asking him to do run-throughs.  However, before filming a run-through he reads the rules and if he thinks that he (and Jen) won’t like it, they don’t even play it, never mind film a run-through of it.  “Life’s too short!” he says.

I have a lot of sympathy with this view.  Reviewing games isn’t a full-time job for me.  I have a limited amount of time and I don’t particularly want to play bad games.  Having played hundreds of games from a wide variety of genres, I can usually tell whether I will like a game before I play it.  Not always, but usually.

My gaming group at The Dice Cup are fairly democratic so if one person expresses a lack of interest in playing a particular game, they’ll generally just play something else.  There are just too many good games for us to feel obliged to play something that doesn’t look promising.  We’d rather play something we’ve played before that we know is good.

I don’t usually play bad games.

So this goes some way to explaining why my average rating is so high: I don’t usually play bad games.

It provides me with a fresh respect for someone like Tom Vasel though, who reviews all kinds of games.  He clearly does play bad games and is happy to call them out when he does his reviews.  He is full-time though, so I guess he has to take the good with the bad.

However, there is another issue that occurs to me, which is one of wanting to provide objective opinions.  As I’ve discussed before, the idea of ‘objective opinions’ is an oxymoron.  If you’re giving your opinion, it is subjective by definition.

That being said, I try to consider a wide variety of people when giving my opinion on a game.  As I discovered when compiling my Top 30 Games of All Time, I’m not a big fan of social deduction games.  I don’t dislike them per se, but I’ll usually choose a different type of game if I can.

Some people love social deduction games though.  Even though I don’t, I can still see that some social deduction games are better than others.  If I play a social deduction game and it’s the best social deduction game I’ve ever played, I’ll rate it highly.  Even if I’d rather play other kinds of games.

I want to remove as much personal bias as I can.

It feels fairer somehow.  I want to comment on how good/bad the game is and remove as much of my personal bias as I can.  That being said, you’re never going to eliminate personal bias and I would always make the point with anyone who disagrees with my opinion that it is just my opinion and nothing fundamentally objective.

This comes back to the point about only playing good games though.  If my gaming group is playing a social deduction game, it’s still likely to be a good one, even if I’m not so keen on it.  Most of them would have even less interest than me in wasting time playing games they don’t like.

What if a publisher sends you a game that you don’t like though?  This is obviously a fairly obscure issue that most people will never have to worry about, but we (Boardgame Opinions) have accepted games from publishers and I was astonished at the feelings evoked.

I can’t escape the feeling of being indebted to the publisher when receiving a free game.  You feel like you’ve received a gift.  Rahdo always contacts the publisher before doing a run-through of a game he doesn’t like.

Although he tries to only play games he likes, sometimes you read the rules and the game looks promising, but when you actually play it, it falls flat.  In that case, Rahdo asks the publisher if they still want him to do a run-through, knowing that his opinion will be negative.  Sometimes they say, “Sure, go ahead” and sometimes they say no.

While I completely understand his position, I don’t know that I can do this.  It further explains why so many of his reviews are positive.  Personally, I would want a more balanced set of reviews to my name.

I can’t live in fear of what others think.

As well as the feeling of indebtedness though, there’s also the feeling that if I give a negative review of a game, the publisher won’t send me any more of their games.  Well, in the end, I decided that I can’t live in fear of what others think.  If they stop sending me games, then that’s okay.  I have more than enough games to play as it is anyway.

It may well be that in the future as I play more games from publishers that my average rating drops.  Although I (and my gaming group) would try to avoid buying bad games, I would certainly play a game we get sent at Boardgame Opinions.  It provides experience if nothing else.

For now, hopefully that provides a modicum of justification for my rather high ratings.  Or am I just hopelessly positive?

Have you ever looked at your ratings breakdown on BGG?  What’s your average rating?

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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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