While they are not a hard science, and should be viewed with as much scepticism as (video) gamers would look at a site like Metacritic, it cannot be denied that the user ratings on BoardGameGeek play a huge part in helping people choose which board games to buy, play and/or argue about.
The site, a priceless asset that is everything from a community forum to a wiki to an assets platform, allows anyone who has played a game to give it a rating. The more people who rate a game, the more valuable that rating becomes, and while it’s far from a perfect system—this 2019 post has a very good guide to the ratings’ 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.
You’d think that, with the site being over 20 years old, there would have been dozens, or even hundreds of games that have risen to occupy top spot on BGG’s ratings chart. But no! In the site’s existence—or more accurately in the time that the ratings system has been in place—only eight games have ever clawed their way to the top of the pile.
The first seven are:
- Paths of Glory
- Tigris and Euphrates
- Puerto Rico
- Twilight Struggle
- Pandemic Legacy Season 1
Gloomhaven, the biggest board game of the past decade, had been #1 since December 2017, but this month was finally dethroned, bringing its five-year reign to an end. And not by a new game, either; it was instead overhauled by Brass: Birmingham, a game first released in 2018. While I’ve never got around to reviewing the game on the site, I did play it for a bit back in 2019 and thought it was pretty good! Not best of all time good, but then, that’s why review aggregations are a tricky business.
In lieu of a Kotaku write-up, then, here’s SUSD’s review of Brass: Birmingham instead, in case you’re wondering what kind of game can find itself collectively rated so highly among board game nerds:
In case you’re wondering what game might next achieve this feat, BGG say that the point differential between Gloomhaven and Brass: Birmingham is so minute that they “will likely swap spots for a while”, as will Pandemic Legacy (which is also right up there), so fresh blood might have to wait a while.
BGG’s post announcing the shift also includes some very useful advice for review aggregation, regardless of the medium:
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:
While I never got around to reviewing Brass: Birmingham, I have reviewed a number of other titles on this list—including Pandemic Legacy, Terraforming Mars and Rebellion—and you can read those here.