User ratings on BoardGameGeek are not a hard science and should be treated with the same skepticism as (video) gamers do sites like Metacritic, but they play a significant role in guiding people towards games that they would like playing, buying, and debating.
The site, a priceless resource that serves as a community forum, wiki, and assets platform, invites all gamers who have experienced a game to provide their thoughts on it. Even though the rating system isn’t perfect—this 2019 post has a very good guide to the system’s pros and cons—most people, myself included, can’t help but look at a game’s rating and feel that it has some kind of impact. This is because the more people who rate a game, the more valuable that rating becomes.
It stands to reason that after more than two decades online, dozens if not hundreds of games would have made their way to the top of BGG’s popularity rankings. Oh no! Only eight games have managed to reach the top spot in the ratings since the site was live, or since the rating system was implemented.
Lists 1–7 are as follows:
- Paths of Glory
- Tigris and Euphrates
- Puerto Rico
- Twilight Struggle
- Pandemic Legacy Season 1
The largest board game of the last decade, Gloomhaven, has been at the top of the charts since December 2017, but it was dethroned this month after a five-year reign. Not by a brand new game, but by the 2018 release Brass: Birmingham, which completely reworked the genre. Though I never got around to writing a review for the site, I did play the game for a little while in 2019 and found it to be rather enjoyable. Not the best ever, but then again, that’s why collecting reviews is such a challenge.
This SUSD review of Brass: If you’re curious about the types of games that tend to receive such high marks from board game enthusiasts, consider Birmingham instead-
The point difference between Gloomhaven and Brass: Birmingham is so small that BGG predicts they “will likely swap spots for a while,” as well as Pandemic Legacy (also right up there), so new blood might have to wait a while.
In addition to the change itself, BGG’s announcement piece offers some excellent guidelines for review aggregation in general and across all platforms:
It’s not like any of these rankings are fixed in time or that a game lands in its “proper” spot and never moves again. The rankings don’t indicate absolute greatness, but rather greatness for a good number of people who are fans of that particular game or game genre.
Gloomhaven, for example, isn’t a game that casual game players will pick up on a whim, but rather an experience that calls out to those who might be interested in what it specifically offers. I don’t fall into that bucket, so I’m unlikely to ever play the game, which means I’ll never add my (likely low) rating to the game page. You could get a “proper” rating for a game only if you forced everyone in the world to play it and rate it — and coerced ratings probably aren’t a reliable measure either, so let’s not go there.
Rankings and ratings have meaning only insofar as your tastes match the tastes of others. Don’t assume that all highly-ranked games are recommended for you, and don’t avoid that low-rated game that seems like a perfect match for your tastes. You do you, boo.
Here’s the top 10 as it stands today if you’re interested in seeing the full list of games that get BGG users really excited:
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