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Extraditing Penguins from Westeros, a.k.a. Updating BGG's Policy on Game Merges

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game: Penguin
Board Game: Game of Thrones: Westeros Intrigue
Separated at birth?
So, funny thing — it turns out that a lot of BGG users have a problem with the game listing for Penguin being transformed into a shared game listing with Game of Thrones: Westeros Intrigue. Are you surprised? Possibly you are not surprised because you are one of those BGG users. If so, you'll be pleased to know that those games are now separated in the database, cleaved asunder (as the saying goes) in order that the wholesome yet somewhat unbalanced penguins shall remain forevermore separate from the nefarious Houses of ill-repute.

How did this situation come about in the first place? Well, BoardGameGeek implemented the versions system on game pages around 2010, with the idea being that different versions of the same game (note that term carefully) would each be catalogued on the same page, thereby allowing people to add a specific version of a game to their collection. Changes from one version to another could be noted in a version's description section. Release dates are now associated with versions, and that data is transferred into the Gone Cardboard game release calendar (which I'll admit needs major updating). In the long run, versions will show up in other places on the site, such as the marketplace, but these things take time due to the limited number of coders on staff and all of the other stuff on various to-do lists, not to mention traveling to multiple conventions each year and keeping the site running in the first place.

With versions in place, as new editions of the same game appeared, those editions would be be added to the game page. If the game's name changed, then the name on the page (along with the representative image) also changed so that anyone looking for the game would know how the game was currently being sold. (The year of publication remained the year of first publication, which seems odd sometimes, but this game first appeared in that year and is now available under this name, so that's the info we present.)

The problem, however, is that phrase "the same game". What constitutes one game being the same as another? If a version is a straight reprint with zero changes to it, then we'd all agree that one printing is identical to another; in fact, different printings are something we rarely include in versions because most of the time you don't even know that one copy of a game comes from a different print run than another. What if a version of a game has upgraded components, however? Does linen finish on the cards constitute a new version? With new artwork or a revised rulebook, then sure, we've got a new version on our hands and we'll approve it — but what about more extensive changes? Components for an additional player? A new game board on the back of the original one, or the inclusion of a promo previously released separately? Do changes like those qualify a new version to be pushed out of the nest onto its own game page?

Honestly, everyone's answer of what constitutes one game being the same as another will differ, and we never detailed conditions that would trigger a new game page for a new version of an existing game because I don't think it's possible to elucidate every possible configuration of change and decide on which side of the fence such changes should fall. After all, a new card being added to something like, say, Stefan Feld's Bruges is far less of a change than a card being added to Win, Lose or Banana. (Now with 33.3% more components!) In the end, we adopted a Potter Stewart "I know it when I see it" approach and decided that if the mechanisms of a game were essentially the same as an earlier release from the same designer, then the two games would be listed on the same page as different versions.

Notice that the focus was on mechanisms and not categories — that is, the way in which a game is played and not the thematic surroundings attached to the gameplay. For me and others, the difference in thematic characterizations is a translation issue along the line of having a Chinese version of a game when you speak only Dutch. If you understand the terms used in whatever version you have on the table, then you can play the game, meaning Poison is the same as Baker's Dozen is the same as Thirteen is the same as Friday the 13th, to pull out another example of a Reiner Knizia game that's been dressed in many outfits over the years. (Knizia is not the only designer to have his games redressed, mind you.)

Obviously not everyone feels the way that I do. Many people find that a game's theme is integral to whether or not they want to play it, and BGG's game admission policy made it more difficult for them to find and rate the games they want (or don't want). Thus, the outcry when the penguins came to Westeros.

Board Game: Risk Express
Board Game: Age of War
Separate and not equal (sort of)
In the intervening years, BGG has introduced a "reimplements" link (and a complementary "reimplemented by" link) and with those now in place we're going to move toward creating separate game listings when a new version of a game features different categories instead of only different mechanisms. Thus, the separate versions — excuse me, games — of Penguin and Game of Thrones: Westeros Intrigue. Along the same lines, I had initially added Knizia's Age of War as a new version of Risk Express because they're the same game — no, really — but have now separated them because as with Penguin and Game of Thrones: Westeros Intrigue, the games differ in setting and other externals: Risk Express is set in modern times and part of a larger series of similar games, whereas Age of War is set in Japan and not part of any game series — at least not yet. Thus, Age of War reimplements Risk Express, and the games are now entangled that way on their respective game pages.

Admittedly this change won't solve everything:

• We don't plan to delve into the database and revisit games like Poison that already have differing versions on them. As we've noted many times, splitting games (and their associated images, threads, Geeklists, etc.) onto separate pages is a huge PITA, and given all the other things we want and need to do, adding on tons of additional work to handle such separations makes no sense. Better to move forward with this policy for new admissions to the database, then readdress the situation in a year or so once we have experience to draw on as to whether this new policy works as is or needs modification.

• Borderline cases will always exist. They existed before, and they'll still exist now. A game about, say, 18th century exploring will reappear set in the 19th century. Different or not? A themed game will be transformed into an abstract, as with Poison and Thirteen. Different or not? Heck, let's point to the two English-language versions of Innovation currently on the market from Asmadi Games and IELLO. Gameplay's the same in both as is the setting, but terms within the games differ for most every situation, sometimes leading to confusion when people ask rule questions. In no way should these items be separated, yet confusion will continue just as with situations in which the inhabitants of House Stark nestle on eggs all winter.

• Not-so-borderline cases will also still exist. Chicago Express and Wabash Cannonball have the same gameplay and same setting, but player reactions to the differing graphics of the two items are sometimes extreme enough to drive ratings higher or lower as a result. Publisher LudiCreations recently announced a fourth edition of Town Center, and this version will include part of the components included in one previously released expansion, so should this item receive a standalone page or not? It's mostly the same and reviews of this fourth edition will mostly (I guess) mirror those of earlier editions, but it's not exactly the same and the inclusion of the expansion might sway certain players to become buyers when otherwise they wouldn't have bothered. Such cases come up all the time, and we don't have — and probably never will have — an ideal way of classifying everything, not least because different users want things classified in different ways and satisfying one party will upset another.

That said, one possibility for the future would be linked forums, image galleries, etc. for reimplemented items so that users who want to could compare such items directly rather than needing to hop from one page to another. Again, this is only a possibility — one more "wouldn't it be nice if..." to add to the long to-do list that we admins have created — rather than something we plan to add in the immediate future. This would enable some spirit of the games being listed together, while still keeping fences in place for ratings of this presentation versus that one. (In case you don't know, I'll mention that you can already add multiple versions of a game to your collection, rating and commenting on each of them separately. For example, I have multiple comments on the Fluxx Promo Cards game page just to show that this is possible. To do this, add another copy of the game to your collection, then double-click in the "Title" space to choose one of the named versions of that game. You can also enter your own name for the game, should you choose to do so. Ratings are lumped together, though, so you can't separate ratings out for one version or another.)

Ideally this explanation answers your questions about the specific games depicted above as well as the general policy for game admissions to the BGG database going forward. Maybe it doesn't, though, so feel free to ask questions or offer suggestions of your own — keeping in mind, of course, that your fellow gamer might offer the Bizarro version of your suggestion for an equally good reason. I'll do the best that I can to answer questions, while reserving the right to throw out a resigned shoulder pat or an "I know it when I see it" when the situation calls for it. Pax.
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