Every so often, we like to inspect the data behind what makes a good game – or indeed, a bad one. Most of you will be familiar with the website Board Game Geek, a service best described as the IMDB of board games. It features all sorts of data; lots of it provided by the user community. We have searched through some of this data to answer questions about board games. For this article, we want to know – what is the optimum player count in a board game?
Now, we’re not naïve. We know that playing an intense head-to-head game of Twilight Struggle is not comparable to the hilarious banter of a game of Monikers among good friends. Nevertheless, we still think it’s interesting to find out whether, in general, people favour games for bigger groups or smaller ones.
Unfortunately, even though Board Game Geek offers ‘best played with X number of players’ data, it’s impossible to obtain this at scale – or at least we don’t know how. So one way of looking at the data is to plot out average ratings of games (as submitted by the BGG community) against the maximum number of players a game supports. The graph below is for the top 10,000 games on BGG by number of user-submitted ratings.
Is this interesting? A bit. To us, this suggests that – generally speaking – the larger a game scales to, the worse it gets. This is especially the case after games that cater to eight players or more, with most of the titles larger than that appearing to rate slightly lower than those designed for eight or fewer.
Critically though, the vast majority of games are actually designed for no more than six players anyway. Here’s the data again, focusing on just this segment.
Here’s where it begins to get a bit juicier. Looking at the average rating of games, those that cap at 2, 4 and 5 tend to rank higher than those designed for 3 or up to 6.
Perhaps this is unfair or opaque, looking only at the maximum. Let’s take a look at the minimum instead.
Here we see a return of the earlier pattern. Broadly, the higher the minimum requirements for number of players, the worse the average rating. What can we conclude so far? It does involve some conjecture, but it isn’t unrealistic to suggest that, in general, games played with fewer players are more likely to be enjoyed (or at least critically acclaimed) by players.
There’s one more way we can slice up the data, and that’s to look at the average number of players for each game – the midpoint between the minimum and maximum limits. So if a game supports 2-5 players, that would make it a game for 3.5 players. You still with us?
Hmmm. Well it’s not entirely clear, but once again does seem to support the hypothesis. For the most part, small games are more likely to be good.
On average, the smaller the player count, the better the gaming experience.
Well, what are we supposed to do with that information? Go and play a board game on your own, ya loser.