The master game ratings list on BGG is the target of quite a bit of fuss from time to time. Why is this game rated so high? Why is that game rated so low? How can these 2 games be rated the same? As usual, I have several thoughts on the matter.
E Pluribus Unum
BGG is a melting pot of gamers with different tastes in game genres, themes, mechanics, play times, components, and weights. The image above is meant to show the various groups in varying degrees of overlap. It is not intended to represent reality, nor to imply that any given person is only in a single group. The number of ratings and the values of those ratings depends on how active that group is on BGG.
Just look at the kinds of disparate games that all appear in the top 50: Puerto Rico, Battlelore, Die Macher, Go, Tichu, Crokinole, Ticket to Ride, ASL, Dune, and Blood Bowl. Where else are you going to find these 10 games together? It's unlikely that many people rate them all highly. Yet they all share the status of being loved by--at least--the fans of their respective kinds of games.
As with political elections, BGG's rating system allows anyone to "vote" regardless of how "informed" they are. In saying this, I don't mean to criticize. But it is certainly true that a person's gaming experience is going to affect their perspective.
Settlers of Catan is rated by over 11,000 people. I would be very interested to see a graph of the number of ratings given by these 11,000. I would say that the "core users" of BGG (those who login every day, play many different games, etc) numbers well under 1,000. I could be wrong.
My point is that I think that, in many cases, the ratings by the core users is a small fraction of the data, the largest being "drive by" input. This, in addition to the melting pot effect, further complicates any sort of meaningful information.
One particularly bad effect of ratings is the need for people to validate their tastes. You hate Puerto Rico, yet it's ranked #1. So now it's your job to attack it at every opportunity. You love Monopoly, but it's ranked #3921. You must defend every post made against it.
Many games I like quite a bit are ranked 500 or worse. I couldn't really care less what others think of them as long as I can find opponents.
This is a tough one. I suppose the ratings could be one factor of many when looking for games. I would not count it very high, but I supposed viewing the game list from #1 on down until you find something that appeals to you for other reasons is not a bad way to go.
A much better way to find games is to use the GeekBuddy system, or to read GeekLists with topics that interest you.
The one positive thing to be gained from game ratings, other than pure entertainment, is discussion. When two people on opposite sides of the fence are discussing a game's merits and failings, a lot of useful information might be conveyed to others reading the thread.
It may also be discovered that a person who disliked the game may have been playing it incorrectly, and that this very mistake was the cause of the dislike.
Some say, "Either I like it, or I don't." Some use a slightly wider scale. Some use 1 to 10 with decimals. I use 2 different scales depending on the context.
On BGG, I rate games from 1 to 10, but then differentiate game on the same level using increments of 0.25. This granularity is useless in a practical sense; there's no real difference between 8.25 and 8.5. But when I consider the two games in question, I still feel that one is slightly better than the other.
In my head, I use a 4-tiered system:
A: Games I will suggest and play almost any time.You would think that the D games should be a non-factor, but there are enough popular ones in that category for me that I still run into them quite often.
B: Games I won't suggest, but will play if they are suggested.
C: Games I will argue against if suggested, but will play if out-voted.
D: Games I simply will not play.