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Thinking Out Loud

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

To Game, Or Not To Game ... That Is The Question.

Over the course of my life as an avid boardgamer, I have often said "It's better to play a bad game than no game at all." But the longer I've been in the hobby, the more I'm starting to reconsider this position.

Why? Well, simply put, there are some real stinkers out there.

The more games there are, the greater the chances for a fairly standard bell curve of results based on the quality of a game. There are far more games crowding the first standard deviation, that generic 68% which occupies the common ground and creates the average. Necessarily, there are now more games occupying the further extremes... And once you get to the third standard deviation (on the right of the bell curve), you're dealing with the elite, cream of the crop games -- or if it's that third standard deviation to the left, the worst of the worst.

With more than 500 games in my collection, and access/exposure to a good 200 or more games via my friends' collections, that's a large sample size to draw from. Granted, it's not purely random sampling, as the nature of the collections introduces a bias -- hopefully screening out some clunkers before they make it that far.

But that's not always the case with my collection. I'm prone to grab games that simply sound neat, are new and shiny, are from a publisher/designer I like, or just happen to fit my budget at that time. So while my collection may be skewed ever-so-slightly toward the right and become more of a camel-hump curve than a true bell curve, it's good enough.

In a true bell curve, the first standard deviation block (one SD left, one SD right) accounts for 68% of the results. So from my 520 game collection about 354 games are one SD from the true average, making up the bulk of my games. In BoardGameGeek rating terms, these are probably the 5s and 6s (and probably 7s) in my collection -- games I'd play, usually never turn down, and tend to enjoy when played occassionally.

The second SD, when added to the first, encompasses 96% of the total sample in its range. That means a total of 28% of my collection sits here, 14% to the left and 14% to the right. That's about 73 games that are below average (games rated 3s and 4s), and another 73 games above average (games rated 8s and 9s). The high end are games I'd almost always play, will often suggest, and enjoy a great deal.

The third SD (and for all intents and purposes the final deviation) encompasses 99% of the results, accouting for 3% of the overall sample, 1.5% on the far left, 1.5% on the far right. That means only 7 or 8 games that are absolute trash (rated 1s and 2s) or are the Holy Grail of gaming (rated 10s). Those elite games are paragons of design, entertainment and boardgaming goodness.

So why this long drawn out example? Why these skewed, biased and overall meaningless stats and breakdowns? Well, first it was kind of fun to do. But more importantly, it shows the sorry state of affairs of my collection and the dilemma I face.

With a good 80-90 games that are far below average, and with more new games being added to the sample size all the time, it's getting harder and harder for each individual game to make a good impression. I'm loathe to stick to just a handful of the top tier games and play them repeatedly, as I think I'd get burned out fairly quickly. But if that's the case, are they truly exceptional games?

And for those games scraping the bottom of the barrel, would it really be better to play those stinkers than to relax and read a book? Is the social context rewarding enough to warrant trudging through the mire? Adding to the complexity of this is the fact that each of my gaming friends' bell curves are slightly different, and the ratings don't always overlap in some neat, tidy Venn Diagram. So a game in my 1st standard deviation to the right may be a game in someone else's 2nd SD left, or 3rd SD right.

I have no idea where I'm going with this, to be honest. But it kept me up all night long. In that regard, perhaps it would have been better to play, say Time Control, than lose sleep.


  • That is why I'm willing to spend an "unreasonable" amount of time researching a game before buying it. The more games I collect, the less I am willing to take risks.

    By Blogger ekted, at 11:24 AM  

  • I just don't believe in buying games that I think I'd eventually trade away.IMO A good euro collection, holding only quality games, should not go past 200.

    If I were you. I'd at least get rid of everything under a 4. Do you even play anything you've rated less than a 6?

    By Blogger hibikir, at 9:13 AM  

  • When I eliminated 150 games from my collection last year, I moved out most of those that I knew I would never play (again or for the first time). I'm not into statistics, but I know my collection ratings are definitely skewed to the right, because those are the games I kept and plan to play, for the most part. The only balancing of that group are those old games we've had in the family for ages and that were kept for family history reasons and a few that I just have too much emotional attachment to and can't make myself dump.

    By Blogger gamesgrandpa, at 5:41 PM  

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