I recently saw a comment that suggested that a game could not be all that good considering that it was rated just above a 7 on Board Game Geek (BGG) and ranked in the 300's. I would dismiss this as a passing comment by a naive individual if it wasn’t for the fact that I hear and see this same misuse of the BGG rating and ranking system time and time again. And I know I am not the only one as I have heard many other bloggers and vlogs refer to similar experiences, including Tom Vasel from the dice tower who is quite vocal on this topic.
The ranking list on BGG is a great tool and one I use often. However, this does not mean that a ranking system is a flawless tool that perfectly decides what makes a good game. Using rankings and ratings, especially those on BGG, to decide what is a good game for you is dubious at best. I doubt the ranking system was ever designed to be used in this way, instead, it is helpful to consider the following when looking at a game ranking on BGG.
Firstly There are thousands of games rated and ranked on BGG, over 8000, and this is not including the pages of games without a rating or rank. This is a ridiculously large number that can result in a game being rated quite high and still not make it into the top 500. While many of us like to look at the top to see what is there, I guarantee that any experienced gamer could scroll into the games ranked among the thousands and still find cherished and beloved games; in fact, I have done just that. Diamonsters is a game that I introduced to my Junior School Board Game group and it sees nearly weekly play. I enjoy playing it myself and often look for a spot at the table when a game is on. I have also recommended it to many friends and written articles for this very website; Diamonsters is rated 5.6 and ranked 9591.
Secondly, the ranking system is determined by gamers who both use BGG and take the time to rate their games. This may seem painfully obvious but it is a significant point. There are many gamers who do not use BGG and many who do use the service that do not rate their games. I have been a user for three years now and only recently started rating games in my collection. The type of community member who does this is usually someone heavily invested in the community and gaming hobby. It is unlikely that casual gamers take the time to fill in their rating. This means that the pool of contributors is limited to a certain type of community member. When you look at the top 10 this point may seem more evident. Pandemic Legacy and 7 Wonders Duel are the lightest games on the list with the other eight games made up of heavy games that involve complex rules lasting from an hour and a half to four hours. This indicates a very specific type of gamer rating these games and the ranking system reflects this.
Finally, the rankings do not necessarily correlate to popularity. This may seem like I am saying the same thing as before but when I look at the list there are many games rated as 6 and lower that are selling in way higher numbers their better-rated competitors. As an example, Exit: The Game - The Secret Lab, is one of the games currently on the hot seller list and part of the series of games nominated for this year's Spiel des Jahres award; it’s ranked 1456 with a rating of 6.180. Even lower on the list is Munchkin (ranked:3022, rated 5.95). Munchkin is without a doubt Steve Jackson Games' best-selling product every year. It seems there is a new I.P. being adapted to the franchise every other week. These games have a huge share of the current market and are clearly popular with gamers, yet their ratings and rankings would not demonstrate this.
I love perusing the ranking list. I have many games in the top 100 and beyond. But their rankings have never been a determining factor on how much I enjoy them or how good a game I think they are. In fact, I would not even use the rating/ranking system to aid in a purchase. It may be a matter of prestige for a game to be high on the list but it is clearly not a reliable source for making purchases.
My best recommendation when making a purchase begins with being willing to play lots of games. As you get experience with a broader variety of games you will begin to develop a sense of what you like and dislike and how to identify these features in games you are new to. But not all of us get a chance to play games before we buy. As a result, I next look to advice from gamers who I trust and share similar tastes to me. This includes reviewers in my book. Not all reviewers will have the same taste as you and some only provide positive reviews. The only downside to this suggestion is the fact that you can only find out if you share an interest with friends or reviewers through experience, and this usually means having to buy games and find out. I know that I share a lot in common with Tom Vasel and consequently trust his opinion. I have bought blind on his opinion many times and only been let down once. But this took time. The final thing I recommend is watching playthroughs. Many new games will get someone to play their game and post it on YouTube. Board Game Geek, Dice Tower, Table Top, and many others do full plays of games so you can see what it looks like. All of these are more reliable when making a purchase than the BGG ratings and rankings. I always think it is a good list to look through, but never for making a purchase. Recently I bought Treasure Hunter, it's ranked 1225 and rated 6.279 and I LOVE the game. It has a great blend of mechanics and provides a fun gameplay with a lot of laughs. Of course, the only way you can know if I am right is to go play it yourself. Have fun!