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Essen 2011 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!
Every year after Essen I feel a bit of excitement as I see what games are making their way up the BGG rankings. It is simply fun rooting for my own personal favorites to make their way up the BGG rankings, potentially landing in the Top 100, while at the same time hoping that other games, which I view less favorably, fail to make it as far. Ultimately, it does not matter, since there are plenty of games both inside and outside of the Top 100 that I view as very good games, but the perceived competition itself is enjoyable.

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.

So of the games released at Essen 2011, I think 10 have some shot at making the Top 100 based on their average rating. Some of these are released by smaller board game companies and might not make it if they never get picked up for a wider distribution, or if people outside of the core audience dislike it, but there is at least a chance they will.

Very Likely
Eclipse – 8.45 (161 ratings)
If any game can be considered the true hit of Essen 2011, this one can. It sold very well and has received fantastic ratings, with some even going so far as to say it is the best board game that has been released in years. It is a relatively fast space epic game, which is something that players have been actively wanting for years. The fact that Asmodee is going to be publishing it in the United States meaning that it is going to get into the hands of a lot of people, virtually assuring that a number of excited gamers will get their hands on it. Eclipse is virtually assured a spot in the Top 100 and may very well make the Top 25 if it can keep its current momentum.

Mage Knight Board Game 8.26 (74 ratings)
The Mage Knight Board Game will likely do well for the same reasons as Eclipse, but it has a couple of items that will potentially slow it down. The first is that it appears to be a bit more complicated than Eclipse, meaning that there is a good shot that people will get turned off by an initial negative reaction to that complexity. The second is that, despite being associated with the Mage Knight brand, and thus more likely to be purchased by fans of the old Mage Knight Collectible Miniatures Game (CMG), it also has violated some elements of the game’s mythos, and thus could get poor ratings from Mage Knight CMG fans who are upset about that. Beyond those two items, it looks like it has a strong shot at the Top 100. With Wizkids as the publisher, it will almost certainly be in every board game shop in America. It appears to be an adventure game that is specifically tailored for the sort of gamers that frequent BGG, with a strong strategic backbone and one of the hottest designers around. I am even going to get it, despite not being a big fan of fantasy adventure games genre.

Ora et Labora – 8.18 (67 ratings)
While his last two games have not done well in the rankings, Ora et Labora has the makings of another strong showing from Uwe Rosenberg. It is the sort of heavy euro resource conversion game that, while not as popular as they once were, are like catnip to the BGG crowd. Uwe’s previous two designs: Agricola and Le Havre are both in the Top 10 on BGG, and the simple fact that he has made another game in their style might be enough to get this game in the Top 100. It also has the strong initial ratings it needs to be able to make it for the long haul. Third, Z-Man Games is distributing it which means it has the reach needed to get sufficient ratings to make the Top 100. The only real downsides are that it looks like it has even more to think about then Le Havre, so its complexity might be outside of the comfort zone of the average BGGer, and the combination of low interaction with no randomness, so it might have a low degree of interplay variability. I don’t think that either of these items will prevent it from making the Top 100 and, for me personally, the question is not whether Ora et Labora will make the Top 100. The question is whether it will be the third Uwe Rosenberg game to make the Top 25. I think the answer is probably not, but it will be interesting to see!

Dungeon Petz – 7.85 (138 ratings)
Dungeon Petz is the second game on this list from designer Vlaada Chavatil, and another one that I think is likely to make it into the Top 100. Like Ora et Labora it is being distributed by Z-Man Games, meaning that it should be pretty widely available. Additionally, Dungeon Petz is clearly designed with “gamers” in mind, and Vlaada Chavatil has proven very effective in designing games that appeal to BGG raters; since 2006 every single game he has made that has been designed for “gamers” has made the Top 100. The big thing holding this one back is the relatively low initial ratings for the game. While a 7.85 average rating is by no means low, it does not leave a lot of room for rating degradation over time. How well Dungeon Petz does will depend a lot on the overall level of degradation. If it can remain fairly low then this one will easily make the Top 100, and perhaps even the Top 50. I suspect it will keep constant enough to be able to make it.

Depends on Distribution
Trajan – 7.93 (149 ratings)
Trajan is by another game by one of BGG’s established designers: Stefan Feld. While Stefan Feld hasn’t been quite as successful in getting top ranked games as Vlaada Chavatil or Uwe Rosenberg, he is respected, and his name on the box is frequently enough for people to check it out. The initial rating of 7.93 also is strong, and indicates that it might have enough appeal to go far in the rankings. The main thing that could potentially hold it back is the lack of US distribution. Unless it gets this, it might not get the quantity of ratings that it needs to make the Top 100. Assuming it does make it to the US, I have every expectation of it making it, however.

Vanuatu – 7.90 (71 ratings)
Vanuatu is another game whose fate in the rankings I expect will largely hang on the results of getting a distribution deal in the United States. However, Vanuatu’s approachable theme, largely positive initial reactions, and the general style of the game mean that I think this is pretty likely. While it does not have the name recognition that comes with having an established designer like Stefan Feld’s on the box, a copy did make it to BGG.Con, meaning it has a good shot of building the buzz that has been enough to launch games, such as Hansa Teutonica in 2009, into the US in the past.

MIL (1049) - 7.91 (68 ratings)
MIL (1049) is another game that has gotten good initial buzz from Essen attendees that needs US distribution to make the Top 100. The game itself looks like it has the correct combination of the familiar and the innovative to appeal to BGG gamers, and a play time that allows it to be played even in shorter game nights. What could potentially hold it back, in addition to distribution, are the relative complexity of the rules; reports from Essen, while largely possible, did indicate some difficulty with understanding how the game worked. Despite this, I think the game has a pretty good shot of doing well in the rankings if a US publisher picks it up. However, of these three, I think that it has the lowest odds of getting US distribution.

Hawaii – 7.80 (65 ratings)
Unlike the previous category of games, Hawaii has a distribution deal in the US, however while I think it is possible that Hawaii will make the Top 100, I am a bit less certain about it. The biggest thing holding it back is its initial average rating. While 7.80 is not a bad rating, it might not be sufficient for it to make it to the Top 100 if it decays to any extent as it gains ratings. Beyond that, I don’t have any real basis for judging its fate. Its rules are currently unavailable, so I am uncertain of how appealing Hawaii is on the whole, and most of the references I have seen have mentioned its similarities to Vikings, a solid game but not one that set the BGG rankings on fire.

Quebec – 7.82 (59 ratings)
My expectations for Quebec are similar to those with Hawaii. Its initial rating is decent, but not strong enough that it can take any serious rating decay and still make it to the Top 100. It has a distribution deal with Asmodee, which it means it should be seen by enough gamers to allow it to make the Top 100. It is simply a matter of seeing how much people like it once it gets into their hands.

Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas – 8.15 (52 ratings)
While I enjoy Colonial quite a bit, I think it is the game that is least likely to make it to the Top 100 of those on the list. It has a strong initial rating, but that rating is based on the smallest sample size of any game on this list and is thus pretty volatile. Additionally, based on my play, I am uncertain of how well it will do well in the overall market. It is best with 5 or 6 players and can be fairly long with that number, and games that are both long and require a large number of players to shine have not traditionally done very well in the BGG rankings. These items may be sufficient enough that it will not see the US distribution deal that is needed to allow this one to make it into the Top 100. Still, unlike a lot of Essen games, it is possible so it will be interesting to see how things develop from here.

So that is the field as I currently see it. Is there any Essen 2011 games that I am missing that you think will/could make the Top 100?
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