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Fairplay & GeekBuzz

October 24, 2011

Every year the Fairplay and GeekBuzz rankings at Essen are simultaneously a great source of information and amusement. They provide useful information because they can call your attention to a game that you might have overlooked and help you prioritize your interest among the hundreds of new games. On the other hand, theyíre amusing because you have to take the rankings with a giant heap of salt. Itís always good to keep in mind that the people rating games for Fairplay and GeekBuzz are often not even playing one full game, but rather are getting a quick demo in a crowded and noisy hall from someone who might speak their native tongue as a third language. Despite their dubious nature, itís still always fun to look over the rankings as they emerge. Although to keep their reliability or lack thereof in mind, I often find it helpful to look at the current yearís rankings side by side with past years to see how well those past picks have fared.

The GeekBuzz rankings for this year and the past two years are listed in the following table. I have bolded the games that overlap with the Fairplay top ten.

2011 2010 2009
1. Ascension: Return of the Fallen
2. Dungeon Petz
3. Drum Roll
4. Eclipse
5. Power Grid: First Sparks
6. Undermining
7. Upon a Salty Ocean
8. Mage Knight
9. Last Will
10. Glory to Rome
1. Junta: Viva el Presidente
2. Survive!
3. Phantom League
4. 7 Wonders
5. Genesis
6. Troyes
7. Navegador
8. Fresco
9. Dixit 2
10. Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space
1. Dungeon Lords
2. Power Grid: Factory Manager
3. Agricola: Farmers of the Moor
4. Endeavor
5. Roma II
6. Vasco de Gama
7. Carson City
8. Ghost Stories: White Moon
9. Stronghold
10. A Brief History of the World

I should note that I applied my own minimum rating threshold to this yearís rankings because otherwise they were rather nonsensical in my opinion. The actual Top 10 was as follows: Stalag 17, Wilderness, Top-A-Top, Colonial: Europeís Empires Overseas, Pergamemnon, Takenoko, Antiquity, Quebec, Ascension: Return of the Fallen, and Dungeon Petz. I weeded out all of the games with under 30 ratings, which resulted in the list above that I think makes a bit more sense. I should also note that Belfort came in first place in the medium traffic list and Summoner Wars: Master Set won out among the low traffic games.

The Fairplay rankings for this year and the past two years are listed in the following table. I have bolded the games that overlap with the GeekBuzz top ten.

2011 2010 2009
1. Tournay
2. Trajan
3. Glory to Rome
4. Power Grid: First Sparks
5. Hawaii
6. Helvetia
7. Ora et Labora
8. Rapa Nui
9. Santiago de Cuba
10. Coney Island
1. 7 Wonders
2. Troyes
3. Navegador
4. Age of Industry
5. Olympus
6. First Train to NŁrnberg
7. Key West
8. Vinhos
9. Florenza
10. Habemus Papam 1655
1. Vasco de Gama
2. Power Struggle
3. Macao
4. Endeavor
5. Dungeon Lords
6. At the Gates of Loyang
7. Egizia
8. Power Grid: Factory Manager
9. Hansa Teutonica
10. Carson City

So what do all these lists tell us? I think first and foremost that the rankings are pretty hit or miss, although generally more hit than miss, at least in terms of identifying some of the big releases each year.

Itís particularly helpful to look at the overlap between the two lists because something that shows up on both is often more reliably worth checking out. Unfortunately this year there is less overlap than ever with only two games appearing on both lists Ė Power Grid: First Sparks and Glory to Rome (which is showing up because it finally got a German edition with many say much improved art). In past years, there were three or even five overlap games, making it easier to identify the big releases.

Another interesting experiment is to see how many and which of the Fairplay/GeekBuzz games end up at the top of the BoardGameGeek rankings years later.

For 2010, the top ten ranked games on BGG are as follows (with the actual ranking in parentheses and the games spotted by GeekBuzz/Fairplay in bold):

Itís interesting to note that only three of those appeared on either GeekBuzz or Fairplay, and all three actually appeared on both lists. So when GeekBuzz and Fairplay both pick out a game then perhaps it really is destined for great things. But the other 7 games currently ranked as the best from 2010 donít appear anywhere on either list. This is actually not surprising when you look at the actual games. Things like Dominant Species, Sid Meierís Civ, Runewars, and Merchants & Marauders are too long and involved to be enjoyed by anyone frantically running around the halls of Essen. And since the BGG rankings tend to prefer long, heavy games, itís not too surprising that the Essen rankings donít tend to identify the games that will shake out as highly ranked down the road.

Nonetheless, it is impressive that GeekBuzz and Fairplay collectively identified three games so early on after the gamesí release that would prove to have at least some staying power, although exactly how much remains to be seen.

As for 2009, the top ten ranked games on BGG are as follows (with the actual ranking in parentheses and the games spotted by GeekBuzz/Fairplay in bold):

It looks like GeekBuzz and Fairplay had a similar track record for 2009, identifying three of the games that would go on to be highly ranked on BGG, but missing the other seven completely. Dungeon Lords and Endeavor appeared on both GeekBuzz and Fairplay, while Hansa Teutonica was spotted by the Fairplay voters. However, the rest of this list is a bit of a mystery. Iím particualrly intrigued by Small World and Dominion: Intrigue missing from the Fairplay and GeekBuzz lists. Perhaps it had to do with the timing of their releases during that calendar year or some other quirk that Iím not recalling at the moment.

The method of focusing on the overlap between the GeekBuzz and Fairplay lists was slightly less reliable for 2009, with the other three overlap games fading a bit lately. Then again, 2009 may just be a highly ranked year relative to others because Carson City is up there at #133 overall and Vasco de Gama hangs in at #139 overall. Only GeekBuzz and Fairplay favorite Power Grid: Factory Manager is down at #227, although still a respectable showing.

I suppose the reliability of the GeekBuzz and Fairplay rankings from past years depends on whether youíre a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty kind of person, but Iíd say they do a pretty decent job of calling our attention to noteworthy releases at a very early stage in the annual gaming calendar. For a bit more discussion of past yearsí Essen rankings, check out my now dated articles from 2010 Ė Transatlantic AnticiÖ pation Ė and from 2009 Ė GeekBuzz Meets Fairplay Ė both of which include a look at the the expanded ranking lists from each poll along with the overlap between them.

But enough about past years, what about this year? This year the only overlap between GeekBuzz and Fairplay are a game that originally came out in 2005 (Glory to Rome) and a game that is the successor to a perennial favorite from 2004 (Power Grid: First Sparks). Iíd say thatís not exactly going out on a limb for the polls to identify these two games and itís not exactly helpful for finding the interesting new releases from the hundreds of new titles released last week.

As for the other games identified by the Essen rankings, GeekBuzz obviously fell head over heels for all the new Czech stuff Ė Dungeon Petz, Mage Knight, and Last Will Ė which is perfectly understandable. Also unsurprising to see Eclipse do well given the BGG crowd and the Ascension expansion given the expansion rating bias. But GeekBuzz did spot Drum Roll, which may very well be one of the hidden gems of Essen 2011 as it has been getting a lot of good early press, including being picked as Kulkmannís game of the show. Speaking of which, Power Grid: First Sparks and Pret-a-Porter rounded out Kulkmannís top three from Essen, which reminds me: where is Pret-a-Porter in all this and how did it miss out on both lists so completely?

As for Fairplay, it tended more towards the traditional German-style games, with games like Trajan, Hawaii, and Helvetia scoring well. Itís also not surprising to see Tournay do so well given its Troyes lineage and the same goes for Ora et Labora given the love that Rosenberg has received from these polls in past years. The Fairplay poll also drew my attention to a new Klaus-Jurgen Wrede game, Rapa Nui, and to Michael Schachtís latest offering, Coney Island, neither of which Iíd heard anything about in the lead up to the fair.

Overall it was a very enjoyable Essen to read about and to watch. My list of new games that I want to try while at BGG.CON grew from eleven all the way up to 27. It now includes: Ab in die Tonne, Casus Belli, Champions 2020, Coney Island, Dr. Shark, Drum Roll, Dungeon Petz, Flying Cheese, Freitag, German Railways, Hawaii, Helvetia, Kingdom Builder, Last Will, Meltdown 2020, MIL (1049), Mundus Novus, Nefarious, Ora et Labora, Poseidonís Kingdom, Pret-a-Porter, Singapore, String Railway: Transport, Takenoko, Trajan, Urban Sprawl, and Welcome to Walnut Grove. I guess in the end I donít use the GeekBuzz or Fairplay rankings that much because I still want to try everything out there!

(See The Opinionated Gamers for this column plus additional comments on it)