The BGG website (boardgamegeek.com) is the most comprehensive source of information and collection of commentary about board games anywhere ever… and it feels like it. Asking a simple question about a game on BGG is a bit like asking for the most common use of a word and having someone cart in the all of the unbound pages of the OED in a stack and saying, “Here, find it.” OK. So maybe not that bad, but it can be almost as intimidating to a new user.
Tabletop media has complained, criticized, and suggested improvements continuously for years now, so I don’t need to pile on any more than I already have. This article is not that. We will touch on the general sentiments and suggestions a bit for context, but this is not intended to be piling on.
Instead, let’s consider what a perfect BGG world might look like. Will there be a rush on rainbows and unicorns in that perfect world?
Round 1: My Early BGG Experience
I had been a big tabletop game fan for a very long time, but for most of the early “noughties” I was primarily a video and online gamer. (I’m looking at you Blizzard). So I wasn’t searching out board games online. We still played games almost nightly and twice on Sundays, but whatever the local “It’s Your Move” had was sufficient for me.
My earliest recollection of BGG is in 2011 when I discovered and loved Dixit and wanted to find more games like it. I might have found the sight earlier than that, but the experience was not memorable. Fortunately it wasn’t terrifying. After 2011 I visited the BGG site occasionally, but I didn’t get really interested until the Viticulture Kickstarter in September-October 2013. As a lover of wine and board games, I was really interested in Viticulture and wanted as much information about it as I could find. I had also never Kickstarted anything previously so had trepidations about the whole process and was looking for reasons to be confident. I wanted that game…
By January of 2014, I had jumped into BGG with both feet and created an account so I could track my data. (Note: I had created an account previously, but lost access to the email that I had used to set it up, so started over). The site was a bit overwhelming and scattered, but I am not intimidated by software or websites, so dug deeper. I remember thinking about how convoluted the site seemed and what I would do to improve on it. I do have professional experience in this area, so my thoughts weren’t just centered around my personal wants and needs, but I had those, too.
Round 2: Landing Zone
If you have read many of my previous articles (particularly those with the Analysis Paralysis tag), you know that I have very high needs and expectations of the BGG database. In that regard I am not the typical user with the typical questions. However, like any user I also have personal desires and wishes for how the site can keep me informed.
The dialog in table top media regarding the BGG website has included endless suggestions for improvement. There are many ways that one might finish, “Wouldn’t it be great if BGG…?” One of the most common areas of concern is the accessibility of the site. Those of us who go to the site frequently probably have our favorite place bookmarked (our collection or the top 100, etc.). But have you gone to the main page recently? (Go ahead, try it. BGG). Wow! If you aren’t sure what you are looking for and how to get to it, this page is not going to help you. This is not an accessible page for regular users, much less nubes.
Fortunately, most nubes are likely directed to the site via a search engine (OK, we can accept it that is Google). That link will more often take them to a game page. This is my guess as to one of the main reasons why the BGG web admins started here to make-over the site. Around May 1, 2016, the game page got a major facelift. These are much more accessible now; with primary information on the landing page and different information contained on different tabs to keep things cleaner and less intimidating. (I think it is still too busy for the nube user, but it is significantly better).
Round 3: Wouldn’t it be Great?
Since so many “in the hobby” think that almost everyone is a boardgamer inside and only needs to be shown the way, the accessibility of BGG is very important. For the purpose of this article, let’s assume that the new game page is perfect for the new or infrequent user and that the rest of the site eventually gets migrated to a similar, accessible look and feel. So now our question of, “Wouldn’t it be great if new and infrequent users could go to BGG and easily find whatever they need?” has been answered. “Yes. Not only would it be great, but it is great.” Those not “in the hobby” or on the fringes are now regular users of BGG. They now have access to all this great information and exposure to the greatest games ever designed and published. We will make converts of them all!
Round 4: Careful What You Wish For
What if everyone interested in playing a board game visited BGG regularly? What if BGG became the focus of all game reviews, not just the hobbyist gamers? What if BGG became the “Yelp” of cardboard entertainment? What if the most common comment was along the lines, “I just love my Uno…”?
Would the new BGG user community adapt their game playing habits and favorites to the games that are the most popular among the hobbyists currently using the site or would the site become a reflection of the sentiments and habits of the masses still playing Uno or Phase 10 (Tom) every night?
There is currently a peer review of contributed video so there is some community based editorial validation, but as the user community changes, could the on-site video eventually look more like dash cams and other extremely popular user contributed content on YouTube. Could we see a barrage of “[insert popular game here]: Epic Fail” videos?
Round 5: Full of Ideas
Although this question and potential outcome came to me some while back, it was really driven home as I prepared the recent articles regarding the “hate rating” of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. (Start with Community Focus: BGG Ratings Part 1: Know Thyself for the full story). There are divisions within the BGG universe today that cause some odd behavior and those divisions will surely increase as the universe grows to include other communities.
I don’t think the answer is to stop the growth or silence everyone that doesn’t think like me, but I think some answers in the form of web solutions might be appropriate, if not required. I am full of ideas about what could or should be done, but I said I wasn’t going to rattle off a list. However, I think the most basic, biggest bang for the buck solution is to concentrate on codifying, developing, and extending the user communities and game categories (Subdomains) on the site. This can be facilitated through the use of facets (like on shopping and other recommendation sites). This will enable like-minded people to find and discuss similar games. A category like “Strategy Games” doesn’t mean much when it includes Twilight Struggle and Burn in Hell. Actually, the Strategy game Subdomain is pretty tight compared to others, but some complain that Twilight Struggle and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 are put head-to-head in this category.
As I write this, I wonder about the intelligence of my own suggestion – segregation – as that has not been a good solution to anything else I can think of. But if I go to Yelp for a recommendation on a Mexican restaurant, I am not likely to find reviews that say, “This place sucks because they serve Mexican food and I hate Mexican food.” Or maybe I would see that…
In case you didn’t notice the satire, I am not recommending that the BGG site is better if it stays in its current encrypted state, requiring a geek decoder ring, forever. However, the question of BGG’s future use as it becomes more accessible is an interesting one and the answers may not be what some would assume.
Note: This is one of the articles that I started a while back, but abandoned when life got in the way, but is still relevant. So I have revised it for current posting. I had originally attempted to write this post in a form reminiscent of “A Modest Proposal,” but in the interest of time opted for the more expedient, uninventive text you see. In any case, the article is intended to raise the question without supporting any possible conclusion or solution. I guess I am not so full of solutions.
Do you find BGG to be “accessible”? Do you feel comfortable directing your new or infrequent gamers there for information? If you want them to watch a “how to play” video, do you send them to BGG or to YouTube? What do you think BGG would look like if it was as popular to use as Yelp or YouTube?