How We Rate Board Games
At Instant Game Night our goal is to help ordinary people throw extraordinary game nights. As such, when we review board games we do so specifically with game nights in mind. This means when we rate a game highly, we think that it is a good game and likely to be a success at a game night event. On the other hand, if we rate a game poorly, it does not necessarily mean that we dislike the game or that the game is “bad”. It simply means that we do not think that the game is well-suited for a game night environment.
Take a game like Twilight Imperium. If we were to review it, our final rating would likely not be very positive. Not because it isn't a great game but because, for most people, it is not going to be a good game to bring to game night. It is a great, immersive and thematic game but also extremely complicated, very long to play, and immensely difficult to teach new players.
Our Rating System
So, what makes a game a good choice for game night? There are so many factors to take into consideration and so we wanted to develop a rating system that was relatively simple and easy to follow but also that considered many facets of a game. So with this in mind we created the game night rating system, which takes 10 factors into account using the acronym:
The grammar sleuths among you will probably gather that game night is only 9 letters long. More to come on that later.
Each of the 10 factors can score 0 points, 0.5 points, or a full point for a total possible game rating of 10. Since you are probably now wondering what each letter in the rating system stands for we will now explain each in detail.
Our rating criterion:
G rabs your attention
E asy to play & teach
N ewbie friendly
G ood rulebook
H olds attention
! our experience
Grabs your attention
At a typical game night you probably will only play a handful of games at most, so it is important that the games you choose make a good first impression and really grab your guests' attention. The primary consideration for this category is the aesthetics of the game itself. Firstly, what does the box cover look like? Is it colorful and interesting or bland and drab? Next, what does the game look like when fully set up on the table? Does the art work pop? Are there any unique components? The more table presence a game has and the more that the aesthetics tie into the theme, the better. A game like PARKS or Photosynthesis would certainly score a full point in this category, while a game like Castles of Burgundy would not. Like everything this rating is a bit subjective, however, in general we base our score on how well the game's aesthetics commands attention on the table.
A good game night game is agile in nature. But what does that mean? When we say agile, we are talking about a number of things.
Firstly, we consider the set up. Is the game relatively easy and quick to set up? This is especially important if you plan to play this game in the middle or towards the end of your game night. No one will want to sit and watch you set up a game for an hour straight.
Secondly, how quickly does the game play overall? While not all good game night games play in under an hour, we think that a good rule of thumb is for a game to be able to be played by 4 players in about 60 minutes.
Lastly, beyond simply the overall playing time how quickly does an individual player's turn go? The fewer decisions a player has to make on any one turn the better. Analysis paralysis can really bring a game night to its knees, so it is important that a player turn goes relatively quickly and doesn't require players to think about too many details or plan too far ahead.
Is this game one that your guests will be talking about for weeks to come or is it one that will be forgotten by the next day? Of course being memorable is subjective and different for everyone, but our rating in this category is based upon our own experiences as well as the experiences of our game night guests. Typically a game that is memorable will be a game with a unique theme, an interactive player experience, and/or a game that is quick and easy to play.
Easy to play and teach
This is one of the more important aspects of a good game night game. If a game isn't relatively simple to explain and to play, its usefulness as a game night game will be limited. As a general rule of thumb, we like to be able to fully explain a new game and begin playing in 20 minutes or less. This means that a good game night game will have a relatively short list of possible actions each turn, along with an intuitive flow. Generally, games which have phases within rounds are going to be more difficult and time consuming to explain. In that case, player aids are a must. At the end of the day, it does not matter how great a game is if your guests have mentally checked out before the game has even begun.
It is quite common to have someone at your game night who is a newcomer to board games. When it comes to game nights, you should always prioritize the experience of a newbie while not completely boring a veteran gamer. After all, the goal of any good game night should be to draw new people into our wonderful hobby. With this in mind, a good game night game should be accessible for newcomers to board games. Of course what is accessible to one person may not be accessible to the next. That's why it's important to know your guests and choose games accordingly. A game that is newbie friendly should play relatively quickly with short and simple rules. More complex games can be considered newbie friendly is it has a clear and concise rule book, along with good player aids and basic mechanics. As we discussed in the easy to play section, games with complex phases within rounds or games with complex or unconventional mechanics are probably not going to be newbie friendly.
Some of the best board games on the market are very low in player interaction. In a lot of cases these games can feel like playing multi-player solitaire. While there are times when low player interaction games can be successful at game night, you have a much higher chance of success when a game is highly interactive. Games that promote players sharing strategies or cooperating is one way to increase interaction. Another way is when a player's actions affect other players, either positively or negatively. This can result in outbursts of joy or playful ribbing. Either way, the degree of interaction during a game generally correlates to how much game night guests enjoy it (at least in our experience).
Good rule book
While there are many people who are great at learning and explaining new games, there are also people who are less great at it. A good rule book can go a long way to help when teaching a game to new players. The rule book should very clearly list out the possible actions as well as the sequence of a round. Equally important is how well the rule book describes the game's set up, as the less fiddling around on game night the better. Finally, player aids or a summary sheet is very important here.
Our first category was grabs attention, but equally important is actually holding a player's attention throughout the game. Players becoming bored or disengaged with a game is one of the biggest risks to a successful game night. So a good game should not only immediately grab the player's attention but also keep them engaged in thinking about their strategy and watching other players' turns. It's easy to tell when someone is engaged with a game and when they have reached gaming fatigue.
If you know anything about Instant Game Night, you will know that we are suckers for a unique theme. This is largely because a unique theme will not only grab and keep a player's attention but it will also make the game more memorable. In many cases a good theme will also make a game easier to play because the mechanisms will match the theme and make sense to the players. We also think it is fun to match the theme of a game to your guests. If you have a doctor and/or a healthcare worker coming to your game night, why not put Rush MD on the table? It will surely be an experience they won't soon forget.
Exclamation point (!)
This might seem like just a filler to get us up to 10 categories (and in a lot of ways that is correct). However, the rating in this category is based solely upon our personal experiences in playing this particular game at a game night. So if a game went over really well with our group, it is guaranteed a point in this category. However, if the game fell flat entirely it will never score more than a total of 9 points from us. We thought this was an interesting way to balance out the scoring, and who doesn't love a good punctuation mark?!.
We hope you found this explanation useful and we hope that it helps you understand what goes in to the ratings that we give to the games we review. Thank you for taking the time to read through and we hope you will check out some of our reviews on the Instant Game Night blog.