Now you’ve started looking at boardgamegeek.com (BGG), let’s look at a game page. This is a long post. I’ve tried to edit it down, but this is the heart of BGG and so there has to be a lot here. We will go over the site’s front page later, but for now let’s get to the nitty gritty.
It is worth emphasising that almost all the content on BGG is built by Users. Almost all are very generous with their time and experience and the more you interact and support the site, the more other Geeks will help you. BGG is an amazingly positive site, and very international, over half the Users are outside the USA, and just skimming around BGG is very rewarding.
Go look at a game page, any game, just search on a game you like. Again, there’s a lot on display and it does seem complex. But really, it breaks down into simple areas. Each area is contained in a module, a boxed section with a blue banner. If you register, you can customise which modules appear and in what order (we’re assuming you are not registered or are logged out for now). Otherwise, you get the default page set-up.
Right at the top is the Entry banner, which includes elements from below as a digest. Then below are the modules, covering lots of things. There’s technical information about the game (Information, Description, More Information, Versions, Statistics, Linked Items), there’s media (Images, Videos), there’s retail (ads, BGG Marketplace, eBay), community elements (Forums, Linked Forums, Blogs, Recommendations, Files, Geeklists, Web Links, Tags), and finally the personal module User Information, that only becomes accessible after you register or log in (another day).
Let’s start at the top.
The Entry contains a summary of the stats about the game as recorded on the site. Ratings is an aggregate of Users’ ratings, and this average rating places the game in a Board Game Ranking list. So you can easily see roughly how popular the game is. It’s worth noting a User bias towards new releases, known as the Cult Of The New. A newly released game may start out with a high rating and ranking, as the early adopters are obviously fans, but over time the ratings slip down as more players try the game and find fault.
The Entry also shows the name of the game, but this is altered to reflect the current US edition name, not necessarily the original name of the game. So Die Seidler Von Catan shows on the Entry as The Settlers Of Catan.
Entry also has a list of links to all the modules, so you can jump to the section you want to look at. Let’s use that to jump to Info, the next module down.
Information holds a lot of data about the production of the game. The game Designer, Artist, Publisher all show the names of the people or firms involved in actual versions of the game. Sometimes a game is slated for production and never actually appears but there are only a couple examples I know of on BGG. Invariably, Information represents accurate data about real editions over time. (Note, registered Users can submit corrections and directly edit wiki elements of the page).
It’s all obvious stuff. The parts after the technical data relate to the BGG database, like Mechanics, Family and so on (we’ll discuss them another day). Take note of Alternate Names – those are the various names the game has been published under, now and in the past, around the world. This affects your searches, because the foreign name you search on will be in this list, not at the top necessarily.
Also in the Information module, there’s a series of buttons linked to Twitter, Facebook and so on, and a Subscribe button. Subscribing to a thing on BGG is a whole other story we will cover later.
The next module is Description. This is usually written by Users, but might be product description or from Wikipedia. It should be attributed anyway. Be wary of bias in the Description, Users tend to write about games they like. There can also be glaring errors or omissions. This is one area that BGG is actively cleaning up. Note the little tabs Edit/History. The Description is a Wiki, that means you can go and edit it directly if you are a registered User.
Let’s look at a few other modules. Go down the game page and see if it has Versions. This is relatively new on BGG, so lots of older games will have no data here. But when a new game has been added, it will have at least one Version. Because the same game get produced by different companies in different languages in different forms over the years, this is where those particular Versions can be found. If a Version turns out to be quite different, it may be spun off into a separate game page (likewise, games that turn out to be Versions of each other get merged). Again, Versions is a good place to find the particular copy you own, especially if you are recording your collection on BGG.
Statistcs is the most useful module of all. Apart from the build up of ratings over time, it also shows you if Users own the game (great if you can’t find a translation or have a question), and if anybody is looking to trade or sell the game. But best of all is Personal Comments. This should be in flashing neon letters 10 metres tall. Personal Comments tell you more about a game faster than anything else on BGG. When a User rates a game, they can also write a short note about their own opinion and experience of playing the game. This is GOLDDUST!!! This is actual experienced players who generally know what they’re talking about, and have actually played the damn thing, giving you the straight talk in short bursts.
Before you click on Personal Comments, how many are there? And what is the average rating? If the game is rated very high or low, and there are only a few Comments, suspect bias. If there are 20+ Comments, then you should get a good balance (some Users use Comments for other purposes, such as watchlists).
Now click on Comments. It shows you the comments in ranking order, with the 10 raters first, heading down to the zero raters. This means you get the game lovers first, the haters last. Always always always look at both ends of the spectrum. You will learn as much about the game from the person rating it 3 as the one rating it 9. Generally you can scan through quickly and see, is the game easy, long, fun, hard-work, too lucky, too random or uncontrolled, over-complex, fiddly, good for large groups (a party game), language dependent, good value and so on.
There are lots of opinions here, and you will see that many Users have avatars (the little picture on their profile). When you use the site often, you gradually learn to recognise Users by their avatars and then you learn who thinks like you and who doesn’t. Then you know who’s opinion you trust or not, or rather, if X likes this game, I will like/hate it. (BGG actually includes a GeekBuddy system). It’s important to note that negative opinion counts as much if not more than positive. BGG attracts fanboys, the high raters obviously love the game. The middle and low raters are more picky, and often more experienced and harder to fool.
But the broad range of opinion in Comments is so valuable. It’s where the game’s hidden faults come out. Do the rules make sense and work together? Is the production good or faulty? Does it seem good value? Crucially, would you play it again? Gamers may rate a game highly, out of respect for the game’s qualities, but not feel like they want to play it soon. If you have to be picky about what you buy, Comments tells you if the game will get played much. Regular Users will return to their Comments and Ratings and make changes over time. Comments gives you a better, broader, more realistic view than a Review.
There are two more modules worth checking out now. Files and Forums. In the Files module, Users can upload various document types which you can access. Crucially, this is where you will find translations of rule sets. Sometimes these are quick and dirty, and sometimes they contain bad mistakes and omissions, but often the Comments associated to the file upload will tell you this. Nowadays, BGG Users are amazingly productive and talented. They will provide translations as full-colour PDFs, using all the graphics and lay-out of the original published rules. They also make player aids, extra pieces, boards, maps, cards, score-sheets, variants, re-themes, software, spreadsheets, tuckboxes and more. Some publishers have forced BGG to remove content because they cite copyright infringement (note, BGG does not allow scans without written authority). But many publishers embrace their fan support and recognise that it reflects enthuisiasm, and promotes the original product.
Forums is an obvious module, where Users can start threads to discuss many aspects of the game. Again, a crucial place for settling questions about Rules, especially ambigious or confusing rules. Crucial, because frequently the actual game designer will answer your question directly. Lots of the modern game designers are BGG Users, and naturally subscribe to their games. So any time a User posts something on the game page, the Designer gets an alert. Sometimes, a rules query comes from translation, but often it just needs a little clarity and the designers are very pleased to help. Note too, that BGG is very international, and you will find lots of native speakers ready and able to give good interpretations of foreign texts. You can even find Users willing to translate stuff on the fly, or by email outside BGG.
Secondly, Forums is where you will find lengthy, detailed Reviews of a game. Some BGG reviewers are prolific and very popular, and many publishers send them review copies, and this may affect their view. You might find a review written by somebody that only does a few reviews to be more reliable, or you might think they don’t have much experience to judge by. Pictorial and video reviews might give you more content for you to consider.
The Images module is obvious, but note the tabs Game/People/Creative and so on. Images get classified, and this saves you wading through pages if you just want to see the game box for example.
As the website admin make changes, these modules may alter, and new modules might appear (Videos is fairly recent). It’s worth remembering, the site was started by and is maintained by geeks, coders mainly, and they like technical and statistical stuff.
PHEW! That’s was a lot, but it is worth bouncing around a game page. After you get used to it, you can skim a page quickly. Check out the Rating, check out the Comments, read the Reviews and other Forum threads, look at the photos. The rest of it we will look at another time. Geeklists are a whole world of their own, which we will look at after the benefits of registering.