Ranking nostalgia

Carcassonne rankings fluctuate over time due to nostalgia, but its long term appeal is unmistakable.

One of my pet peeves for ranking games on any database is that games and gamers evolve but the rankings do not. The rankings for games in the past may not be true in the present day. Rankings themselves in a way are somewhat meaningless unless constrained by some parameter that makes sense. A high ranking game published in 2005 is different from a high ranking game in 2021 and passage of time and experience usually shifts your perception of the game. Yet, unless you replay all your ranked games over time to reevaluate their standings, there is no way to conclude that a “10” in 2005 is the same “10” in 2021. That’s really a tall task. At least for me.

My criteria for ranking games have changed significantly over the years. This is not exactly surprising. As players start the hobby, games feel fresh and exciting and every single game is the best thing since sliced bread. These days, gamers are faced with a glut of games each year. The choices out there are phenomenal and pretty much there is a game out there for everyone. Overall, I think that is a wonderful development for the hobby even though the attention given to each game is short-lived.

I started off ranking games on Board Game Geek website in my early days of gaming using the scale, from 1-10, that the site recommended. The scale is accompanied by a description of what a rank of 1 or 10 meant in terms desirability. A 10 meant that the game was “outstanding and the desire to play will never wane” while a 1 meant that the game was “broken beyond description”. I followed this ranking diligently, even assigning a decimal place for my rankings. While I knew it was impossible to quantify how much I enjoyed a board game, I tried quite hard to place a numerical value to each game I played or owned for many years.

Over time, the numerical rankings themselves become less and less meaningful. For one thing, games in the top 100 were constantly being replaced by up and coming games. That meant that as the gaming scene evolved, the ranking would no longer be a true reflection of how much I would enjoy a game. BGG used to be dominated by Euro gamers and while that might still be true, a huge influx of global gamers really bumped up the diversity of the site. While this is a great thing overall, it does somewhat dilute the rankings for German/Euro style games. What was once highly ranked games such as El Grande, Princes of Florence are now obscured by games such as Gloomhaven or Scythe. Still, I think the rankings are a pretty decent snapshot of the current board gaming tastes.

As I transition into a mature gamer, I wanted to simplify my rankings in order to eliminate the nostalgia gap by choosing to discard numerical rankings. Rather than peg a number to each game, the objective is now to describe how I feel after the game and the primary question now becomes: do I want to replay the game and if so, how strongly do I feel about replaying it? At the moment, it is much easier for me to tell which games I want to replay and how strongly I feel about it. The feeling is actually quite clear cut. There are some games that I perpetually want to bring down from the shelf and play. It may be that after playing, the feelings will subside for a couple weeks, but they come back strong. I can clearly look at my shelf and point to these games. Then there are games that I look at and figure I want to replay them soon, but maybe there is no need to do that this week or the next. And then there are games that I know are there, but have very little desire to play, but still hoping to get it tabled at some point. Finally, there are games that I constantly gloss over and almost have no desire to pull it out. Case in point, 7 Wonders. As hyped and glorified the game may be, and I have played it several times when if first came out and and since then, I have no desire to table the game at all. It’s now gone from my collection. Perhaps it is less a ranking than it is rating. So, I started rating the games through 4 criteria: Great (always want to replay), good (want to replay soon), average (want to try again at some point), not for me (it’s ok, a single experience is enough). If these ratings sound familiar, it is because it is very close to how the Opinionated Gamers (see Resource page) rate their games. If it is good enough for them, then it’s good enough for me.

While I am comfortable with the way I rate games now, I feel that I some point, I need to simplify that even further to just: “I like it” and “not for me”. Boiling it down to a binary choice of whether I should keep or sell a game. Who knows, perhaps at some point, I can even escape the tyranny of rankings and find joy in the simple act of just playing… a game, any game, with folks that I care.

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