The other day I was perusing the top 100 list at BoardGameGeek and marveled at how many newer games seemed to have surged to the top. Twilight Struggle, a 2005 release, was, of course, surpassed by Pandemic Legacy a year or two ago, but there were a few additional entries that surprised me. Both Scythe and Star Wars: Rebellion from last year have cracked the top 10. Gloomhaven, which has only been out for about a month, has rode a wave of high ratings to number 15. Codenames, Mansions of Madness 2nd ed, Mechs vs. Minions, Terraforming Mars–all games from the last couple of years that have managed to take the top spots once filled by classics like Caylus, El Grande, and Tigris & Euphrates.
These observations played into the existing narrative in my head that, as a community, board gamers have increasingly bought into the “cult of the new”–where they spend more time hyping new releases than ever before rather than appreciating the games that have stood the test of time. Of course, because it played into the narrative I already had, I needed to be extra cautious about believing it without proof. So today I ran some quick calculations to see if my observations line up with the data.
What Did I Calculate?
I grabbed all of the release dates from the BGG top 100 list from the present, a similar date in 2014, and another similar date in 2011. I would have gone back even further, but there weren’t any easily accessible archives from then in my search. But, I think given the rapid growth in the hobby, if there has been a cult of the new trend, it would show itself even over the last 6 years.
I excluded Go from the calculations, because with an estimated creation date of -2200 it would have seriously screwed up with the numbers. I left Crokinole in, even though it’s also over 100 years old, because it’s on all 3 lists. Although it’s listed as 1867 on the 2011 and 2014 lists, but 1876 on the present list for some reason.
Simply averaging the numbers seems to support the cult of the new hypothesis. The average game on the top 100 today is just under 8 years old, while in 2014 it was 11 years old, and in 2011 it was 15 years old. This creates a nice, nearly linear graph. But I wanted to dig in a little deeper to see when games tend to appear on the list, so I counted every instance of games from each of the preceding 15 years. This accounts for about 90% of the games on the lists, on average. To my surprise, the results all appeared to be the same across the board. In each of those 3 years the largest number of games came from 1-6 years prior.
In 2017 this date range accounts for 62 of the games on the list. In both 2014 and 2011 it accounts for 59. If that’s the case, why are the complete averages so different? The difference lies in significantly older games. On the present list there are only 3 games more than 20 years old represented. In 2014 it was 5 games, and in 2011 it was 8. From everything I can see with this data, that’s more or less exclusively where the differences lie.
What does this mean? Well, for me it was certainly a surprise. My conception of the cult of the new phenomenon was that people were over-hyping games from the last few years, while the great games from 10-15 years ago were hurt. This doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, games from 10-15 years prior have gained more representation on the list. What seems to have happened is that games from the 70’s and 80’s have dropped off of the list.
My educated guess for why this happened is that those games were pretty much exclusively war games, which are more difficult and niche than the euro-inspired games of the present. So as the hobby has boomed in popularity, the war games have slipped off because they’ve simply been outpaced in the number of rankings. Remember that BGG, in order to stabilize the ranking system, gives each game a certain number of dummy votes. So a game with a raw average of 8 with 3000 rankings (like Advanced Squad Leader at #164) will appear much lower on the list than a game with an average of 8 with 40,000 rankings (like Power Grid at #19).
One Interesting Tidbit
One bit of data that I discovered is that the top of the list has always trended towards newer games. For all 3 data sets, the averages for the top 10 and top 25 hovered around 5.5 years prior to the date. The most cult of the new was the 2011 top ten, which averaged merely 4.9 years prior. Remember that the entire top 100 for that year averaged out to 15 years prior. I found this very interesting.
What Were The Best Years?
And finally, I decided to use this set of data to test my theory that 2012 was one of the best years for board games ever. I compared each of the years on the lists to their respective spot’s average. In other words, for the 2017 list, I compared the number of games from 2007 to the average of all of the list’s -10 years entries (2004 for the 2014 list and 2001 for the 2011 list). I then calculated a sort of plus/minus score for each of the years.
2004 takes this contest with double the plus/minus of any other year. 2005, 2007, and my beloved year of 2012 also fare well. The worst years are 2001, 2003, 2008, and 2010, with the latter just barely getting the worst score. There are only 3 games from 2010 on the present list–7 Wonders, Dominant Species, and Troyes.
What do you make of this information? Am I missing any key data or interpretations? What has been your experience with the ‘cult of the new’? Please comment below!