Wouldn't it be cool if user comments on games could become starting points of discussions?
This seems a reasonable request at first, but there are a few snags which make an implementation harder than it appears.
- A user comment is a personal opinion. People should not feel hesitant about giving it.
- Comments are subject to considerable change. Discussions could easily become pointless and confusing because the the comment author rewrote his own text.
- Most comments would not attract discussion in the first place. Why create infrastructure for a feature which won't be used much?
Ultimately the suggestion seems more about the convenience of starting a discussion in place without having to go through the trouble of a bigger general forum. But surely a simple Geekmail is just as convenient?
The way BGG computes rank is wrong. Here is a system I devised which does it right...
If that system is anything other than fitting a Bradley-Terry-Luce-type equation to millions of pairwise comparisons with some quasi-intelligent guesses either supplied by the user or by some Big Data-like clustering algorithm... then your system does not do it right. Oh, it will produce results without doubt. But it won't be structually better than what BGG currently employs. Rating data are ordinals, not cardinals; and have to be dealt with appropriately. Put another way: If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about you shouldn't be attempting to 'improve' upon matters.
Why that odd calculation for a game's rank anyway?
Historical reasons. Recap: The game's raw votes were originally summed up and averaged, but this had the unpleasant side effect of having a very jumpy Top-10/50/100 as new games rolled in. So in the site's Dark Ages, Aldie declared that a rank would only be computed for games having 30 votes or more, and that they'd also be weighed down by a number of 'average' votes from that point onward. The original amount was 30-ish, I believe; but was relatively quickly raised to 100. This is the Bayesian, a crude yet admittedly somewhat functional idea that a game's rates will be biased towards the positive end, and thus need to be 'corrected' in some way. However, by what amount is a speculative guess which on this site mostly depends on getting things to 'feel' good.
Later on shilling became an issue, so Aldie devised an algorithm, kept secret on purpose to avoid gaming it, to have rates excluded from the rank calculations. Its exact workings are unknown, but it is speculated to look at things like rating pattern of an account, site activity, and login times. Note that the votes stay as they are: they will be present in the calculation of the game's raw average. But they will be dropped, silently, from the calculation of rank.
Unfortunately, the original idea of the Bayesian was forgotten over the years, and now we have the unpleasant situation that the number of Bayesian rates is a function of the number of actual rates, starting out at 500 (!) votes once a game attracts sufficient user votes to become ranked. For games having tens of thousands of rates, the number of Bayesian rates can easily number in the thousands... which is patently ridiculous. The effect is clearly discernable: at the time of writing the top-500 to top-1000 even can only be reached by games which are popular, i.e. attract a good deal (thousands at the very least) of rates. Getting to the top on the strength of the game's qualities alone (thus causing it to receive disproportionate amounts of high user rates) is only possible in exceptional cases which occur once every few years.
There may have been other additions to the calculation in the meantime, but by far the biggest contributor is still the Bayesian.
So where does that leave me?
Nowhere, I'm afraid. Unless your tastes align with what is popular, your best best is simply to ignore rank when it comes to finding new games to play. It's no longer useful nor important.
Why not have the system exclude rates older than or untouched for more than x years from the ranking calculation?
If it were a user-selectable option, then why not. As a system-wide default, it's definitely a Bad Idea. The rationale for this suggestion is invariably that rates are given with respect to the games available at the time the rate was given; obviously future games which in some way build or improve upon the game's underlying ideas will not be taken into account. Thus over time the rate's value deteriorates in one way or the other, necessitating the aforementioned correction. But there are a few problems.
- Once a user has gained some experience with her own preferences in gaming he tends not revise the rate of a given game much. Only if it becomes clear that there have been massive oversights will matters be changed. In other words: new titles do no longer cause massive reevaluations of older titles. There's a simple analogy: continuing to (dis)like a particular song even though it is already old and not aired as frequently as before.
- Another issue with invalidating older rates is that save for a tiny handful of evergreens, games tend to be played less and less over time. If rates were invalidated then at some point no more would be available, thus leaving someone interested in the old title to guess at the game's status. Even if there were an aspect of rate degradation present, having some rates is better then having none.
- Forcing users to reevaluate their rates ever so often creates an unpleasant burden for those who have rated many games.
As indicated however there is very little reason why interested users should not possess the ability to filter out rates according to particular criteria they themselves supply (such as, for example, the age of a rate): this is in fact a long-standing suggestion for improvement which one day might get instated.
I get really upset by all those hate rates, shill rates, nonsense rates, and the like. The game isn't even out, for Pete's sake! Aldie, Do Something About This!
— (Booming disembodied voice) No.
— Why not? It makes a mess of the ranks, it's not fair, rates mean something...
— Still no.
— Anyone can give any rate to any game for any reason is the rating motto on BGG. The only thing not allowed is using multiple accounts to rate the same game multiple times.
— But... but... but...
— Look: Hate and shill rates occur at the top end of the rating scale too. If a game becomes sufficiently popular then the number of 'hate' rates will eventually be drowned out by the number of 'genuine' rates. By then the game has such a high rank that it will manage quite well on its own. And if it is ranked very low (say, below #2000 or so) noone is interested in the precise rank anyway. Finally, is your appreciation of a game conditional on its rank?
— Oh. Eh, no, not really.
— See? Now go play and have fun. Be a classy ambassador for whatever interests you: far more productive.
It would be very useful if other metrics—game complexity, influence of randomness, learning curve, ...—were introduced.
Yes and no. The idea sounds attractive: finally no need to ask others anymore, just clean and objective numbers which tell the whole story right there and then. Rules length 3.5, first time complexity 2.7. Random factors? The rate says 4.2, so that's good. What are you waiting for? Pull the trigger, and let's play that baby at the first opportunity!
The problem with such numbers is the same as with any aggregate opinion (including the overall average): What do they mean? And what do they mean to you? Answering those questions depends in large part on knowing what the people who rated the various aspects themselves meant. The algorithm computing the average certainly doesn't, and does not attempt to correct for it. So what is it computing, exactly?
The answer is that we simply don't know. You may now argue along the lines of: Well, perhaps we don't know but if the number of rates / votes is large enough then surely the average calculated thusly becomes a measure of the 'true' average had we asked everyone instead of just a subset of people. It may not be ideal, but at least it's something! Yes, quite true, but it doesn't make the underlying problems go away. There is still a need for understanding what the numbers mean, and what they mean for individuals. Only if you know that your tastes align with whatever it is that the algorithm delivers can you use the results, but even here you must be very careful. BGG does offer something of a solution though: Geekbuddies. But instead of just Geekbuddies for the average rate, we'd now need a rules length geekbuddy, a first time complexity geekbuddy, a random factors geekbuddy, ... . It would just become a complete mess, let alone that you'd be able to find so many geekbuddies in the first place. It is already difficult to do on the basis of the much better supported overall game rate.
There are more issues. One is that with growing experience gamers tend to find rates less important. They know their own preferences and have learnt to watch out for certain key words in order to judge whether or not a game is something for them. Second is that with the exception of popular games, new metrics will attract a good deal less votes than does the overall rate. This seriously undermines any aggregate calculation, yet it is precisely the unfamiliar and unpopular title that this system is meant to discover.
The question then becomes whether it would make sense to devote scarce computing resources to tracking the information in the first place. And the answer to that is simply 'no'.
But I'm a new user! These features are not yet useful for me because I don't know what to look for and/or have too few rates of my own, so I need those numbers!
Ahm, no, you don't.
First of all welcome to this little corner of the Internet. Hope you have a good time here.
Second, if you are new then a) you yourself don't have an idea of your own preferences yet, so how can the system possibly know any better?; b) the regular Top 100 of games or the Top 10 of every boardgame subdomain are then as good a starting place as any to garner some (common!) experience; and c) it really doesn't take much effort, an evening or two most, to look for a few capable Geekbuddies to bootstrap your interests. And if all else fails there is always d): posting a message on the Recommendations subforum. We don't bite, honestly. Just a nibble here and there.
The bottom line is that the problem of finding new interesting items based on preferences and dislikes for a known set using an automated system is surprisingly difficult. Major websites like Amazon and Netflix would offer their proverbial nuts for something which does this with any accuracy. To expect a minor site like Boardgamegeek to have something similar is truly unrealistic. But Boardgamegeek has an ace up its sleeve in the form of a helpful community. It is admittedly messier and not as convenient as punching in a few numbers... but the results are quite good for such a low-cost solution. So the sooner you learn how to use it, the quicker you get to play games you like, and avoid games you dislike.
I would like to have more privacy controls.
I'm sure you would. Regrettably / unfortunately, the odds of them appearing are approximately zero. And that's just some random Internet guy saying so: it's the admins saying so.
BGG was conceived in an earlier age of the Internet, when privacy was just something you had in the master bedroom of your home. Nearly everything on this website is public information: Geekmail is private, you can have private Geeklists, and there is a small section of private information attached to every copy of every game you register with BGG. That's it. It wasn't until much later that privacy became an important topic of debate, and by then dozens of equally important issues were vying for the attention of the admins. Since adding privacy to something which has been conceived from the ground up as having no privacy is a recipe for bugs and issues, it was decided to leave matters be, at least for the time being.
It is not all bad, though: the fact that there is openness everywhere means that there are no difficult settings to deal with either. And apart from the Marketplace you can use BGG as anonymously as you desire: you are not required to be truthful with your first and family name, can access the site through proxies, and for most activities do not even need to register at all. Apart from that, this is a website about boardgames. What needs to be shielded from prying eyes in the first place? (I know of just one exceptionally pathological case where this turned out to be a genuine issue. Oh, and there's saucy opinion in the RSP subforum... but truly, aren't there better places to get your debating kick?)
I would like to be able to filter out anything 'Kickstarter'.
So would I. If you've found a simple solution, let me know.
So why don't you like Kickstarter?
I'm not against the principle in generl: the ability to crowdfund things seems a logical one in a networked society. No, it's how Kickstarter has turned out in relation to boardgames. I had hoped that we would see games of Splotter-like quality created by enthusiasts who knew they'd never be able to interest a publisher because of the perceived sales numbers. In all honesty miniature games seem to have followed this path pretty well: they are horrendously expensive, but attract a good number of enthusiasts. But not so the regular boardgames: instead we see everyone with a design idea beg for money to make it a professionally produced reality. Unfortunately it highlights pretty painfully that game design is hard, and that making a good game much harder still. Enthusiasm is a good thing to have... but it doesn't compensate for not knowing what needs doing. Figuratively speaking you don't hire a five year-old to handle the design of miniatures, yet that is mostly what is happening with ordinary games.
What I would like to see happening is that budding designers do simple things first. For those designs then get a bit of feedback from the boardgaming community, from interested people, from people not in their own group. And when you get to your fourth, fifth design that actually works out a little... then consider putting it on Kickstarter.
My group has 7, 8, 9, 10, ... people. Please recommend me a game for all of us: not a party game, taking about an hour and a half or so to play.
— Sorry, no can do.
For various reasons. One is simple material cost: players need bits and cards and boards, and every added player adds to the game's production cost (as well as its encumbrance!). It gets hard to defend the necessity of all that material if it won't get used by the intended audience. Second is related to game design principles: if you count the number of interactions between the number of players n, then in a first approximation you'd conclude that they scale as n^2. Every player must be able to influence any other, after all. Playing a game more or less amounts to having a sufficient number of interactions before a winner is declared, meaning the playing time of the game increases very rapidly. Downtime increases to unacceptable levels too. Unless you keep the actions small and relatively meaningless—in other words, like those found in a party game—you cannot combine all the desired characteristics. It truly is a case of large number of players, acceptable playing time, strategic depth: choose any two. If strategic depth or playing time are important to you, your best bet is simply to split up into groups of at most 5 players. Yes, boardgaming is a social activity, but it's about being social in small groups.
That all said, there are of course exceptions to the above rule, but these invariably 'cheat' with the number of interactions. In 7 Wonders for example every player has only two others to contend with, and in VivaJava the players group together to the point where there are, from the game's point of view, only two left. Even given this relaxed constraint the number of games supporting the requested number of players is very, very small.
Kingmaking is Bad // You should play for 2nd, 3rd, ... place when you can no longer win // Quit and you're no longer welcome at my table
With some regularity discussions are started using (variants of) the phrases above. They are, in fact, all instances of a single, fundamental issue with boardgaming: that when playing with more than 2 players, the game is no longer zero sum.
To illustrate 'zero sum', take any non-cooperative two player-game, played by A and B. Any move that A makes is intended to further his own position, whereas it equally deteriorates B's; and vice versa. This is 'zero sum'. One player benefits, the other does not. Of course if there is a skill difference then the more skilled player will be able to pull initiative and subsequent victory to his side: zero sum has nothing to do with one party eventually winning, it is a very 'local' or 'tactical' phenomenon. Now whenever a third player C is added, games in general are no longer zero sum. The benefits of a move made by any one player may not always result in equal sized drawbacks for the others. The drawbacks need not be equal in size; there needn't even be a drawback in the first place for a single opponent. If the latter situation persists throughout the game, then that player gets a boost and will be a stronger contender for the win through no actual effort of his own. And that's really just the first in a long list of possible consequences for a non zero sum game: Kingmaking and playing for 2nd place appear on that list somewhere too.
Kingmaking, the act of making a move for no obvious personal game but having the side effect of making an opponent win, is usually frowned upon. Often it is assumed that such moves are made for retaliatory purposes: You blocked me earlier in the game, so now I'm going to block you. Payback's a bitch! But that only tells half the story because it ignores that alternatives might have had similar outcomes, or that they were clearly disadvantageous for the kingmaker. In a multiplayer game it is simply impossible to control precisely how much each of your opponents is going to be helped or set back through your own actions. Playing for second, third, whatever place when you conclude you can no longer win seems like a reasonable idea, especially if it is agreed upon prior to playing the game exactly what those places mean. (Contrary to what you may believe straight VPs are not the only option.) But what is usually implied is that as soon as you start playing for any other place than #1, you should leave the contestants for the top spot alone to prevent dreaded kingmaking. They should win on their own devices, not through a boost from an opponent. And avoiding that is normally not possible because the game is not, you guessed it, zero sum. And when you do the honourable thing to avoid favouritism, namely quitting ('withdrawing' really), you get ostracised by your fellow players for not seeing through the 'social contract' you seem to have signed in a virtual sense when you started playing. What they mean is that their fun and competition may come at the cost of denying you yours, and that you really need to STFU right now. However, being stuck in an unplayable position with contradictory goals isn't fun at all, and the fact that the game is no longer in a healthy state (too much material and space for too few players) is also apparently not an issue.
There is no solution to games not being zero sum, nor will there ever be one, so the topics will recur indefinitely. Games for more than two players simply cannot be expected to behave in the nice fashion where everyone is in the running for the win until the very final moves. Of course that hasn't stopped designers from trying their hand at it. The best alternative is to make players think they actually are in the running by hiding the score and then having everyone pretend that noone can remember the score, much less act on the information. The alternatieve is to make it genuinely hard to calculate the score in the first place. Players then allow themselves to believe that the game has been turned into a few simultaneous 1 vs. many-systems where nastiness is magically spread out evenly across all the players. And in the event that it doesn't: well, you know what they say, see no evil ...
Is there any positive side to a game not being zero sum? Of course: more ways for players to interact besides withholding resources and direct attacks on positions. There is cooperation, collusion, extortion, ... all of which are difficult concepts to master (thus increasing replay value), but also concepts which are nearly by definition alien to and thus impossible to train in 2 player games.
Semi-coops are inherently flawed
In recent years, developers have begun to experiment with a class of game called the semi coop, in which the conventional notions of winning and losing are challenged. What usually happens is that the game introduces multiple 'levels' of victory and loss: for example in Archipelago—the game which started it all—there is 'all win, with one grand winner', 'one wins, the rest loses', and 'all lose'. The underlying idea is that people would prefer to end up winning rather than losing even if it means that someone else wins 'more'. After all, people tend to play for second, third, ... place in non-semi coop games when first place is no longer attainable, right?
There has been an incredible amount of bitter, angry debate about this seemingly simple idea. It touches profoundly on what it means to play a game, and what the motivation for making moves actually is, also in case a win is deemed no longer possible. Some people will namely value a loss for all higher than a shared win with a grand winner, the reason being a loss for all is a more equal outcome than having someone placed above you even though you 'won'. Upon criticism that such nuclear options go against 'playing for fun', it is countered that 'gaming for fun' and 'playing to win' are two different things (see below), and that 'playing to win' might actually result in more interesting games. Counters that people wouldn't behave like that in Real Life are met with the response that this is a game, not Real Life; upon which it is argued that because the rules simply say that winning ought to be ranked above losing, we should follow them.
It is at this point that it can be invariably shown, using only logic present in the game (maths is there, so logic is too), that the whole set of ideas and mechanisms supporting the idea of multiple win levels breaks something important in the game: either gameplay, or an important mechanism, or the multiple win levels themselves (by rendering obsolete one of them), or the thematic background. It's like trying to fit a carpet to a room which is not the same size. Thus the concept of a semi-coop, so attractive in theory, is inherently flawed. And the only way to solve matters is to get another carpet, hire a constructor to alter the room, or collectively decide to not go where the Bald Spots are. In my opinion the best solution is to remove the competitive element, in other words the desire to win, and make the whole about the experience. In other words, an RPG.
Archipelago Study Case
In Archipelago players receive hidden objective cards detailing requirements they must meet for them to end the game, as well as what gives them VPs. When the game ends, all VP sources listed on all objective cards in play are used to award players VPs. The rules emphasise that it is of utmost importance that these hidden objectives and sources remain hidden.
One of the hidden objectives is the Separatist. His VP source is unique: should the game end in a successful push for independence / revolt, which is tracked using a so-called colonial stability board, then the Separatist alone wins the game while the other player lose. The Separatist may or may not be dealt at the beginning of the game: only the player owning him knows that the character is in the game.
The game recognises three victory scenarios. One is that it ends by one player meeting his finish objective without there being a revolt. All players then win, with the player having the highest amount of VP deemed the grand winner. Two has been discussed above. Three is that the game ends in a revolt without the Separatist present: in that case all players lose.
At first sight this all seems very reasonable. There is a team victory with a team captain, there is a traitor victory, and there is shared loss in case there is no traitor. But weird things start to happen as players are beginning to pin down exactly how they ought to play the game, i.e., what their motivation for certain moves ought to be. Obviously a non-Separatist player will strive to become grand winner, then plain winner, then loser (abbreviated GW > W > L). The Separatist will strive to become sole winner, then grand winner, then plain winner (SW > GW > W). The Separatist's unique ability is therefore that he cannot be made to lose; but also that being W, the second most desirable outcome for any other player, is actually his worst possible outcome! Unfortunately, since the Separatist has no VP objective as do the other players, he is missing his own source of them should the game end in an all win-scenario. So while it is still possible that the Separatist becomes GW, it is not likely. This means that the Separatist plays the game rather differently than do the others, making his presence the easiest to spot. That needn't be an immediate problem though, as it can be argued that ferreting out what objective a player is aiming for is part of the game.
Now suppose that a player without the Separatist decides that certain opponents are doing 'too well' by realising that unless progress is checked, he will not make it to GW but remain W. You might consider it poor play, or the result of punishing mechanisms: let it be a lesson learned! If so, then eventually, over several hands played the game ends up in a situation where the determinination of who becomes GW and who becomes W is impossible. There is literally no point anymore in distinguishing between the two levels, thus rendering obsolete the multiple win level mechanism.
Thus we have to assume that there is a legitimate reason to find out prior to the game's end that someone else is likely to become GW. The player remaining W is now for all intents and purposes a kingmaker. If kingmaking is considered problematic then Archipelago creates another hurdle here. The kingmaker might bet on opponent error, of course, but this is a very passive strategy which most players would consider boring and off-putting. But at first glance there seems to be an alternative: pretend to be a Separatist, so that the players are 'blackmailed' into giving him more resources and windfalls thus allowing him to become more competitive again. At the same time if he pushes his luck too far, he will not be playing according to the rules, because going from W to L is a strict degradation. Seems pretty solid, right? At second glance however it is seen that the only player who can go all the way is the Separatist, so the other players have a foolproof (= 'broken') way of dealing with any feet dragging: call the blackmailer's bluff. The necessity of avoiding L will see him abort his intentions. Thus the Separatist stands out even more, to the point where he can simply announce himself right at the beginning of a game. The whole hidden objectives aspect subsequently comes crashing down, because an open Separatist cannot defend himself against a team of others.
What if more players begin dragging their feet? If the Separatist is present, it will only deal into his hand, which is very risky. Not only do the players become L, they become L to SW, which is even worse than L for all. If the Separatist isn't present, the game might not be recoverable in time, and everyone can start pointing fingers at each other for not doing enough to keep it afloat, and thus going against the rules. Without revealing the roles (strictly forbidden!) these discussions are futile because the perception of each and every player to determine what is 'enough' is different. In the latter case the degenerate case where people don't actively participate any longer because they will become W anyway, as insured by those who still do contribute actively to prevent all L, ruins the game for obvious reasons.
Suppose now, in the final case, that W is removed from the game and replaced by L. The endings are then GW + L, SW + L, and all L. Curiously enough, after GW all L is the best possible outcome for anyone not holding onto the Separatist card, because there is noone better in this case. But because the Separatist thrives in this environment and appears at random the players cannot be certain whether they act as kingmakers for SW or not if they start pushing for all L. Consequently where they end up is a lottery, resulting in a pointless whole again. Similarly, agreeing to not push for all L prior to playing the game renders obsolete the Separatist objective because he's too limited in power to make the revolt happen on his own. Finally the Separatist himself is still facing the difficulties of becoming GW as opposed to SW, so an eagerness to push for his own SW win might give him away, and nullify his game presence at the same time.
There is literally nothing in Archipelago any player can do to play in a logical fashion without upsetting a mechanism, a rule, the gameplay, or the multiple win levels somewhere en route to the finish. Only by having the players agree upfront to not play in a certain fashion, or by altering rules, or by simply playing for the experience rather than the competition can the game be made to work.
We play for fun, not for winning.
That's nice. Don't ever sit at my table then, please.
Frankly, the amount of vitriol these simple sentences unleash from the most easy-going of gamers is astounding. Before a 'winner' knows what's happening, he's been tagged as anti-social dork, a rules fetisjist, a ruiner of friendships, and someone incapable of understanding what the word 'fun' actually means. At the heart is a simple issue of motivation: What drives you to play games? Well, they're fun, and socialising is, too. But at the same time the motivation in the game is 'to win'. That's what drives everyone's moves. Most games break down horribly when people no longer play to win, nor do you need to be an anti-social rules-lawyering dork to play to win. That you find it difficult to win is not the issue: you give it your best shot. You do not play to, say, collect the most red pieces, or to create a symmetrical connected graph. A difference in skill level has nothing to do with playing to win or not: it is simply a difference in skill level which can, if the players so desire, be equalised with a handicap.
If on the other hand you actually do not care about winning, and just play moves because they look interesting, or because you just want to reach a particular spot, or something else, then I have to conclude that this and my point of view are simply incompatible. I would be frustrated by your lack of effort and will to win (because your moves don't make sense in that respect), and would wonder why you'd actually bought the game and not some Lego, Fishertechnik, or Playmobil; you would be frustrated by my inability to just, well, wing it, and have a bit of exploratory fun with bits. Hence my kind but resolute request to avoid sitting down at my table: we'd just get annoyed.
I've since adapted the motto I game for fun, and play to win, which sums up the above neatly and concisely.