Board games have had several renaissances. The recent ones contain a lot less human sacrifice than the earlier ones.
It’s hard to define exactly when ‘board games’ started. Squares in white coats will tell you Go was one of the first board games, originating roughly 5,500 years ago in ancient China. After being beaten by a puny-minded robot, no-one really wants to give Go any more more medals.
If you define a ‘board game’ as something with moving pieces and high stakes, you could look to Ulama. Originally played the Mesopotamians, it was a way of solving an argument between two cities without violence. Well, without war. The losing ruler would be ritually murdered in front of both cities.
As we civilised as a global population, and rationalised our ritual murder in the name of self-gain, our games also became more nuanced and less bloodthirsty. Mass production let every American play the wholesome family game of Monopoly in their own homes.
At the turn of the century, until 1930, an average of 30 games were released each year. In the last 30 years (also known as ‘the downfall of human empathy’), over 2,000 games were released on average. Last year, there were over 5,000.
The great early-20th century ‘golden age’ of board games died off by the mid-century as things like cinema and dying in war were in vogue. The internet boosted interest in board games as it became easier for nerdy people to share nerdy information about nerdy things on a nerdy platform.
If we take the last 5 years as a trend, there should be over 6,000 new game this year. In 2023, there will be over 10,000.
Discussing games on forums, fan-sites and the board game bible BoardGameGeek.com, enthusiasts’ conversations and opinions are public. That’s why we can present data about all 84,164 games on BoardGameGeek’s here.
Within the tens of thousands of games that users discuss, there are a huge amount that they love. There are well over a thousand that have a score of 9 or above. 79% of games are rated 5 or above on by users.
Some of ultra-high 9+ games include Plague Inc: The Board Game, based on the app you’ve probably played and forgotten about. Also, there’s Lock ‘n Load Tactical: Heroes of Normandy, which you’ve probably never heard of.
These games have less than 20 reviews, where some games have multiple thousands. It’s easy for some unworthy games to slip into the ultra-high rated section, which is why we’re now only going to take into account the weighted scores.
When you look at the more statistically robust figure, you find that most games are pretty mediocre. The vast majority are rated between 5 and 6. Be honest – would you trust anything rated 5.5?
In the 1950s (where there were about 80 game releases a year), every game was mediocre. The 60s birthed some of the only games which get a weighted score below 5 – some real shockers.
Those who love classic games, stop reading now. Here’s some of the lowest rated games in history: Monopoly, Operation, Snakes and Ladders, Tic Tac Toe, Bingo, The Game of Life and – lest we forget – Candyland.
After the the plastic-clad games of the 1960s satisfied the gaming needs of the simple proletariat, things started getting a little better. As you can see in the chart above, the proportion of games rated above 6 and 7 climbed throughout the second half of the century.
2012 was the best year for board games we’ve ever had. And we might not see such a great year again.
We’re headed into the danger zone.
In 2012, Suburbia was released. 7 Wonders: Cities was released. Terra Mystica was released – and went on to win 7 awards, find a place in the top 10 games on BoardGameGeek.com and is one of the few games to have a weighted rating above 8.
There are only 9 other games which have the coveted 8+ rating. Pandemic: Legacy is one, released in 2014. Twilight Struggle – an epic strategy game that can take hours to play out – is another.
The number of extra-special gems released each year is slightly increasing, but it’s plateauing. Truly great games represent a smaller and smaller part of the year’s releases.
Sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are mainly responsible for the surge in (questionable quality) board game releases. Without needing to convince a publisher of a game’s worth, any chump can get his name on a box by convincing a few hundred people to throw $10 their way. It helps if you have a wildly successful webcomic.
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Next time: Why Old Board Games Aren’t Valuable