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Essen 2012 Releases and the BGG Top 100

Jesse Dean
United States
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
The Essen 2011 Crop: One Year Later
Last year about this time I wrote an article where I looked over the games released at Essen 2011 and predicted where they would end up in the BGG Top 100. Now we have a new crop of games, and have had time to see where previous ones have settled.

Last year, I decided that the following games had a strong chance of making the BGG Top 100:
Mage Knight: The Board Game
Ora et Labora

All three of them are now in the BGG Top 20, having successfully maintained their momentum and finding a pretty wide fan base. Eclipse and Mage Knight: The Board Game were even successful enough to make the BGG Top 10.

I thought that Dungeon Petz, thanks to its designer and the game’s structure was likely to make the BGG Top 100. It has not quite made it, as it currently stands at #117, but at this point I think it is simply a matter of time. It may not stay in the Top 100, but getting there seems to be a pretty sure deal.

Three games I indicated would make Top 100 or not depending on their distribution:
MIL (1049)

Trajan made BGG Top 100 even before it got distribution in the US, but I am sure that the US distribution did help to propel it to its current position of #55. Neither Vanuatu nor MIL (1049) got an especially wide US distribution. Based on their current ratings, it is possible, though unlikely, that a wider distribution would have helped Vanuatu get into the Top 100. It is no longer possible that MIL (1049) will achieve this position.

The last three games were ones that I thought were “possible” based on initially strong ratings if they were able to maintain this momentum and get effective distribution:
Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas

None of these games were able to maintain their momentum, though Hawaii was “trashed” by some reviewers.

Looking over the BGG Top 100, the only other 2011 games that are present are ones that were released prior to Essen 2011: The Castles of Burgundy, Summoner Wars: Master Set, A Game of Thrones (Second Edition), The Lord of the Rings Card Game, and A Few Acres of Snow. So I think I did a pretty good job of picking out the games that were likely (or somewhat likely) in making the BGG Top 100 based both on quantitative and qualitative factors.

The Essen 2012 Crop

Last year I established a criterion for determining which Essen releases have a shot of making the Top 100. Based on its success last year, I am still satisfied with it so I will be using it again:

Generally, for a game to be able to make it into the BGG Top 100 it has to get pretty strong initial ratings. An initial neutral to negative response from early adopters can slow down the game’s momentum, and barring something extraordinary, prevent it from ultimately getting the quantity and quality of ratings it needs to make the Top 100 as people will get scared away from a game that rates poorly. This is particularly true since initial ratings tend to be from early adopters who are more likely to rate a game well. Once it hits a wider audience, average rating almost always goes down, meaning that the earliest ratings frequently indicate the highest average rating this game will ever get. So for the purpose of this blog, I am going to look at those games that I consider being in the running for the Top 100 and am outright rejecting games that have below a 7.80 average rating. This average rating is higher than that of many games that currently are in the BGG Top 100, but as noted above, it is reasonable to expect these ratings to decline over time.

In addition to high average ratings over time, a game needs to be able to get a sufficient quantity of ratings in order to reach the Top 100. A game with a low number of ratings but a really high average rating, like the War of the Ring Collector’s Edition, can get there, but generally you need to have thousands of ratings in order to break past the dummy ratings and have a shot at getting into the Top 100. This means that games with a wide distribution, particularly with the American audiences that are the most common on BGG, have a definite advantage in getting into the Top 100. This wide distribution comes with a cost though, as a game with one is also more likely to encounter people who do not like it, bringing the average rating down.

2012’s Essen crop is significantly weaker (from a rating perspective) then 2011’s. I am not expecting any great shake-ups in the rankings or any new games (much less two new games) in the BGG Top 10. That being said, I think there are a few contenders for games that will make the Top 100.

Very Likely
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar (8.25 average; 204 ratings)
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar is the only Essen game that I feel is almost certainly going to make the BGG Top 100, and is definitely the only one that I think has a shot of making the Top 25. Part of this is of course just due to its average rating. 8.25, while not an exceptional start, is still a strong indicator that it will do well. CGE is a well-regarded company, and even though Tzolk’in was not designed by Vlaada Chvátil, its attachment to CGE and the savvy marketing campaign that they have conducted has definitely caught people’s attention. Having played Tzolk’in I can say that its combination of a unique timing structure with a fairly typical resource combination back-end is one that will probably do very well. It is interesting and innovative enough to get people excited, but is grounded enough in familiar territory that it is still fairly comfortable.

Ginkgopolis (7.85 average; 85 ratings)
Ginkgopolis designer, Xavier Georges, and publisher, Pearl Games, have one game that has had significant results in the BGG rankings: Troyes, and another one that has done well, but has not quite made the BGG Top 100: Carson City, which is ranked 155. In addition to continuing popular enthusiasm for Troyes, Ginkgopolis also has a fairly unique hook: players are collectively laying tiles to build a city both outwards and upwards, adding a three-dimensional spatial element. There is still lingering excitement for Pearl Games and there is a lot of talk about how “fresh” and “different” it is. That is usually a good sign.

Myrmes (7.94 average; 112 ratings)
Myrmes and Suburbia (below) both look like they have an opportunity to take the “middle-weight hit” title. Myrmes biggest advantage appears to be how thematically well-integrated it is. There are not a lot of anthill management board games out there, and the main one I am familiar with (Antics) handles the anthill problem much differently. If anything is going to sink it, it will be the games replayability. I have already heard rumblings that the game has a low amount of interplay variability, but I admit this may end up being irrelevant. It matters a lot to me, if it is true, but will not necessarily matter to other people.

Suburbia (7.97 average; 194 ratings)
Suburbia has a number of things going for it. It has an absolutely great looking graphic design and the fact that it has a city building theme which, while popular, has not yet seen an extremely successful implementation yet. A 7.97 rating is also pretty solid, particularly since it has a significant (for an Essen release) amount of ratings. It has also been sitting pretty high on the “Hotness” rating, indicating that it has maintained some level of momentum post-Essen. It has caught people’s attention, and this is likely to create a bit of a snowball effect that could make or break its overall chances in a very short period of time. Since I have played Suburbia, and quite liked it particularly for a medium weight game, I think it is more likely to fall on the “make it” side of the equation. The only question is whether it will be able to maintain its current high average rating, or if it will see a steeper decline that is more typical of Essen releases.

Distribution Dependent
Keyflower (8.15 average; 71 ratings)
Keyflower has a high initial average rating, but I consider it a bit of a “soft” rating. 71 ratings is usually less strong of an indicator then 200, which is usually at about the point where you can get an idea whether a game really has a shot at hitting the Top 100 or not. Still, an 8.15 average rating is a good start, and if it can maintain this level, while getting put in front of enough gamers, it will end up making it all the way. If anything ends up holding it back, it will be the fact that it does not really bring all that much that is “new and different.” Most recent games that have been successful have had some sort of hook to catch people’s attention, and I suspect that Keyflower’s lack of such a hook might prevent it from getting an exceptional ranking.

Terra Mystica (8.18 average; 117 ratings)
Terra Mystica has come out of Essen with a lot of buzz, getting 2nd on the Fairplay poll and also doing well on the Geekbuzz. Uwe Rosenberg is also listed as contributing to the design, and while not all his games are hits, he has enough winners, that it can be counted as a positive factor in how likely it is that a game will do well. Beyond that there are no strong “indicators” it is going to be a big success. Neither of its designers have published anything that has previously made the BGG Top 100 (though I enjoyed both Kaivai and the Scepter of Zavandor) and the publisher is not an established name. I personally, am pretty excited by this one though, and I have strong hopes that the initial reaction to the game at Essen will be sufficient to indicate that the game is both of high quality and will be able to climb into the Top 100 once it gets more publishing partners.

Al Rashid (8.06 average; 58 ratings)
Al Rashid falls into the same category as Keyflower in regards to the overall reliability of its ratings. An 8.06 is an excellent start, but with only 58 initial ratings, it is still quite possible that it will see a high rate of degradation as time goes on. Its strongest secondary indicator is its rank on the geekbuzz, where it got 6th place with a total of 105 ratings. Beyond this, there are no strong indicators about whether it will be successful in the rankings or not. Neither the designer nor the publisher is established; this is the first game the publisher has produced and none of the designer’s previous credits are hits. This is not to say the game won’t do well, it is just it has a much greater degree of uncertainty because of this.

Antike Duellum (7.80; 42 ratings)
Antike Duellum is at the very low end of the rating range where I consider Top 100 to be reasonable, and with only 42 ratings that is a poor sign, as it is far, far more common for a game to degrade in average rating over time then increase. On the plus side, the designer, Mac Gerdts, has two Top 100 games to his name (Navegador and Imperial), and this game is based off a previous design of his, though that one does not hold nearly the ranking of his two big games.

Archipelago (7.80; 120 ratings)
Archipelago’s designer, Christophe Boelinger, has two games that have achieved significant traction: Earth Reborn and Dungeon Twister. Earth Reborn is in the BGG Top 50, and has achieved quite a bit of critical fame, but did not do well enough financially to get an expansion. Dungeon Twister has a sub-7.0 rating and is sitting in the 300s. Entertainingly enough, it has a bunch of expansions. Archipelago sounds interesting, with the potential for everyone losing, and secret victory point conditions and end game triggers, but these points of interest are also points of risk. They are enough that it is easy to turn people off with them, and have been frequently commented as being among the game’s flaws. They have not been quite enough to turn me off, I am still quite interested in the game and am uncertain if they are true flaws are simply a matter of inexperienced play, but it is still something that could impact Archipelago’s chances in the rankings.

Snowdonia (7.80 average; 116 ratings)
Snowdonia may suffer the same problem as Keyflower, while having a lower average rating: there is not nearly enough to clearly differentiate it from the other worker placement games out there beyond its rather unique theme. The most common negative early comments reflect this, and it does not appear to have enough top end enthusiasm (9 and 10 ratings) to indicate that it is likely to maintain the level of momentum required to get to the Top 100. On the plus side, it does seem to effectively tie the mechanics to the theme, which is usually a good indicator that a game could be successful in the rankings, and with Lookout Games as a publisher there is a strong chance it might end up with a US distribution deal.

CO2 (7.70 average; 111 ratings)
CO2 is noteworthy simply because of how divisive it is. While, 7.70 is well outside of the usual ratings range that I consider for this article, its standard deviation (2.21) is twice that of any other game on this list. Looking at the rating comments, it is not tough to see why. There is a bit of a war going on, through the ratings, by people who are offended by CO2’s theme and those who find it particularly refreshing. Based on how frequently CO2 appeared on the hotness, and the generally positive reaction from people who appear to have played the game at Essen, I think this game still has a shot of making it into the Top 100. It is simply a matter of whether most people end up rating the game based on its gameplay or for political reasons.

So that is the field of Essen 2012 games that I think have the biggest possibility of making the Top 100. The amount of games is a little bit lighter on the top end, as I think only Tzolk’in is guaranteed a spot, but the total that has at least some potential is higher, with 11 versus 10. It will be interesting to see which of the ones on the borderline end up breaking away from the rest and shooting towards the Top 100 and which ones just fade away.
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