Tuesday, January 17, 2012


One of the key factors I look for in a game is replayability, or the ability for the game to be interesting over repeated plays.  The subject is very subjective, because what defines interesting, and what defines repeated?  I have to address the matters in a personal way, so my biases will not only creep in, but this article will be oozing with personal bias.

First some definitions.  Interesting to me in a game means that the players have to figure out how to deal with each other's actions and figure out what to do in order to win.  Specifically, players can do something that gives them the element of surprise, or do something unexpected that makes others adapt.
Repeated: a desire to play more than one game within a short amount of time. I know this is still vague, so for me, with the knowledge that I play games about 3 times a month, usually for long game days on the weekends, sometimes more, sometimes less.  All of that is to say that playing a game about 10-15 times in a year is repeated.

If you take a look at my list of games played two main things stick out. First, there are a few games I have played a lot, and secondly, a lot of games I have played a few times.

Here's some of the play count list, without the game names

  • 207, 189, 74, 45, 45, 37
  • 32, 32, 28, 27, 23, 21
For those who know me well, it's no surprise that Cosmic Encounter and Dominion take spots 1 and 2, and there's a great reason for that; they are replayable games.  Those two are perhaps the best examples of near infinite variety. Assuming a 5 player game of Cosmic, there are currently 5,273,912,160 possibilities of alien power combinations.
And for Dominion as of the Hinterlands expansion and including the BGG promo cards (total of 157 cards) there are 6,790,908,493,212,710,000,000 which is 6 sextillion, 790 quintillion, 908 quadrillion, 493 trillion, 212 billion, 710 million possible set-ups to play, which can be doubled if you want to worry about a colony game, or no colonies.

Needless to say, neither of those numbers will ever be approached in my lifetime, yet alone in games I play.  Also, my apologizes to the non mathematically inclined, didn't mean to scare you with large numbers.  So why those two games as my top two played?  Well the answer is fairly straightforward. I like the way those games play in their simplicity (once you know what's going on), and then the things that give them variety make me want to try the different combinations.  I think the lack of changing features is an aspect of why the big name games don't do well in comparison.  There isn't a new challenge to figure out, or some new strategy to explore, it's all the same again and again.

Now, everything I've presented leads to the possibility of most games meeting the criteria.  At first I thought that might be a problem, but I realized that the great thing about hobby boardgames is that they are vastly replayable.  There are hundreds of games published each year, yet I'd wager only a fraction of them see even 10 plays.

There was a bit of an outcry over Risk Legacy, which has components for 15 game plays, and then the modifications are done.  At first this bothered me, and then I looked at how many games I had played more than 15 times.  For me, that answer is oddly enough, 15.  Now, I expect that to nearly double by the end of the year, but still, if you get 15 plays out of a $30-$40 game, that's not bad.  It comes down to $2-$3 per play for one person, which is fairly cheap entertainment.

Replayability seems to be at war with new games.  I love opening a game, learning the rules, figuring out new strategies; but I realized in writing this that the true measure of a game for me is how much I play it in the long run.  Carcassonne was the first game I ever owned, getting it back in 2007.  Back in those days I didn't log my plays, else it would be in the 15+ category, but it's a game I'm still playing today.  Same thing with Ticket to Ride, Cosmic Encounter and Pandemic, which are all games from my early days of gaming.  It may take awhile to get to 15 plays, but the good ones are worth the time.  It's also nice to play a game without having to reference the rulebook.

I hope this encourages you to pull an old favorite off the shelf and give it a play.  I did with Pandemic this past weekend, and though we lost miserably twice (getting 8/9 starting cities all in the red area is just plain rough), we were all glad we played it again.

Comment with the game you've played the most, or a few of them for an extra entry into the Say Anything Contest. And don't forget to enter the contest, you've got until the end of the month.
There's a link at the top of the page for all the details.

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