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What Makes a Good Board Game?

A Matter of Opinion

With the recent Essen Games Fair gone and Christmas coming up, my mind has wandered to the question of ‘what is a good game?’ There appear so many factors and opinions. Does a good game to me, mean a good game to someone else? Does a good game need to look good or does it need to be fun or require skill to play?

Limited Expose of Board Games in the UK

When people find out I like board games they will often extol their favourite game – invariably Monopoly or a licensed product from a TV show or film. Occasionally, I might be asked do I know a game called Carcassonne or Settlers of Catan. This is due to the limited exposure in the UK mass market. On the other hand, when at a convention, too many demo people inform me, or others about a fantastic game that I will like. This is their opinion and enthusiasm overriding my potential tastes or experience of games. This brings me to my first point; good games differ according to their target audience. An analogy could be with cars, my petrol head friend might rave about an exotic sports car being the best car ever, but would it be for my elderly mother? I might think Through the Ages is an amazing game, but it would be completely inappropriate for someone whose experience of games were limited to mass market games and Carcassonne.

Settlers of Catan Board Game - GamesQuest

Settlers of Catan Board Game

Fun Games can be Better….

I have always enjoyed Pandemic, the game is difficult to beat and if you do, it will generally come down to the wire. The mechanics of the game are clever and work incredibly well. Over the last year or so it has been played less than Flashpoint: Fire Rescue. Flashpoint is a more random game, but with a lot of very familiar mechanics to Pandemic. I think the game is less tight and the randomness can overcome good play. For our games group it is the increased difference in roles, trash talk, and general level of fun with the game that has made it hit the table more often. Is it a better game? Probably not from a design point of view, but yes from a fun sense. Going back to my first point, other people I know do not like the randomness and subsequent lack of control and would rate Pandemic clearly better. Some people love Go – skill over fun, others love Buckaroo – fun over skill. Personally, I feel fun games with an element of skill are better than random fun games and have more longevity.   My second point is good games have skill and/or are fun.

Flashpoint Fire Rescue Board Games - GamesQuest

Flashpoint Fire Rescue Board Games

Expensive Does Not mean Better….

Within these two elements, good games depend on their target audience and have elements of skill and/or are fun, price and appearance are also points to consider. I am fortunate enough to have a Collector’s edition of Settlers of Catan, but it is rarely used. It looks fantastic but takes longer to set up and is less practical than the basic version of the game. The looks do not really enhance this game. In contrast, the Puerto Rico Anniversary Edition has lovely coins, a better graphic design and higher quality components. This version hugely enhances the game. I would always prefer a nice looking game over a cheap looking one, but looks do not necessarily make a game better. The original Carcassonne was very cheap and has seen so much play it is probably one of the best value games by minutes played per pound cost. Contrastingly, Le Havre which I also really like has been fairly expensive per minute. Consulting Detective is a unique game, clever and really interesting. It has limited replay value, so value for money is finite – but in comparison to buying a DVD is similar.

Making Your Own Mind Up

So how do you find a good game for you? If you ate the same meal each day, food would get boring. Likewise, trying new games adds variety and can expand your horizon to new tastes. The obvious answer is to play the game first, if you enjoy it and can see yourself playing it again, it is probably a good game for you.  Unfortunately, this is not always a possibility. BoardGameGeek is a fantastic web site to find out about games, but there are a few things to be aware of. Firstly, it is a niche site and ratings are skewed by people who are heavily into games, so be aware that the higher rated games are often more complicated and longer games suitable for more experienced board gamers. In addition, new games often have a lot of high ratings before they normalise after a reasonable number of ratings. I would recommend ignoring ratings and reading reviews to find out about the game. You can also look at personal comments, if you do, it is worth looking a few pages on towards the ratings in the middle and reading the more balanced comments. There are a lot of great games that are not in the top games on the site.

by Jonathan Bruton 20/11/2013


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By Day - Director of online Games and Toy Store Gamesquest. By Night - Father to two girls and husband to one wife! Board Gamer, Blogger and general dogsbody!