With thousands of board games coming out each year, it's impossible to keep track of them all. That's not to mention the growing number of great games that are already in existence which could also be worth a look. The reality is that the vast majority of us don't have the time or the money to buy and play every game that we hear about in our ever-growing industry. So how does the average tabletop gamer decide which games to buy?
That's a question that you could write and talk about for hours, so I'm going to tackle it by writing two articles. The first - this one - is going to talk about different types of games and how to work out what you and your game group like to play so that you can filter out the games that will never make it to your table.
The second will spotlight some of the resources that you can use to research games both new and old, helping you to narrow down this thousands-strong pool of possibilities.
What Type of Gamer are you?
Another blog post I've written, with the same title as this section, is a good starting point when it comes to discerning the kind of games you might want to focus on. To summarise that article briefly, I looked at two main areas. The first was psychographics adapted from Magic: the Gathering's head designer, Mark Rosewater. These classify players as a Tammy/Timmy - someone who likes to have fun, dramatic experiences; Jenny/Jonny - someone who uses games as a creative outlet; and Spike - someone who plays games to figure out the best strategy and win.
Depending on which group you fall into, some games will appeal more than others. Tammys might be drawn to games like King of Tokyo, with monsters, dice rolling and fast gameplay, while Spikes might be drawn more to something highly strategic, like Gaia Project. Both could enjoy the story-driven drama and deep strategy of a game like Gloomhaven.
The other distinction I drew was between players who like highly interactive, combative games and players who prefer to be left to their own devices. This is really important when it comes to choosing games, as the type of player you are will directly affect your enjoyment. If you know you like to do your own thing, then there is no point looking into games with strong 'take that' elements or interactive mechanics like negotiation.
If you want to read more into these classifications, I recommend going back to that article as I go into much more depth about each one and the kinds of games that suit each point on those spectra.
What Themes do you like?
Not everyone who plays tabletop games cares about the theme, but I know a lot of people do. If you're anything like me, the theme of a board game can contribute significantly to whether or not you enjoy playing it, whatever you think of the mechanics themselves. If you're looking for a game that you want to enjoy playing, you have to like the theme.
Searching for games based on theme is one of the easiest ways to filter quickly, as many themes will be obvious from the title or the game's art. You don't need to know anything other than the name of Terraforming Mars to know exactly what the game's about (though others, like Azul, might not be so obvious).
Of course, the theme doesn't tell you everything about a board game - you could easily fall into the 'judging a book by its cover trap' - but it's a start. If you hear enough good things about games you may be tempted to try it out anyway. However, speaking from personal experience, I know that I really struggle to want to play games if the theme doesn't look interesting. It took me a while to try the modern classic Ticket to Ride for that very reason! If nothing else, use the themes as a guide.
What Player Count do you Prefer?
Player count is really important to get right for a lot of gamers. A lot of us have our regular groups that we play in, so it's important to match games to those groups. There's no point buying a two-player only game if you play in a group of four every week. Equally, if you tend to game with only one other person, you probably want to avoid titles that start from three players.
It's common to see games with player count recommendations like 1-4 or 2-5, but these don't necessarily mean that the game plays equally well at all those player counts. In my experience, most games with a count in the region of 2-5 players will feel more open and less interactive at the lower end of the scale, and more crowded and competitive at the higher end of the scale. This is important to bear in mind if you have strong preferences for more or less interactivity.
I would also recommend digging a little deeper into how a game players if it has a broad player count, as some games designed for larger groups support fewer players better than others. If a game has a two-player variant, like 7 Wonders with 7 Wonders: Duel, it's a good sign that the base game isn't great at a lower player count.
However, some games work really well if they've been designed for it. A game like Century: Spice Road, for example, is as good at two as as it is at four. My next blog post will go into more depth on the different ways that you can work out how a board game is actually going to play.
Considering Complexity and Play-Time
We are fortunate to enjoy a hobby that appeals to people of all ages, experience levels and personality types, which means that there is a huge variety of games that all kinds of different people will enjoy. One big factor that can contribute to enjoyment is complexity. Some gamers relish the thought of sitting down to a three-hour long Mage Knight session, while others would rather spend 45 minutes on a relaxed game of Takenoko. If you want to get a lot of use out of a board game, you need to make sure that it's play time and complexity matches what you and your friends would prefer to play.
I should mention that a longer play-time does not necessarily equal high complexity and vice versa - there are plenty of tricky, short games, for example - but there's a correlation there, and a longer play time can definitely make complicated rule sets seem more daunting. There are plenty of ways to work out how difficult a game is likely to be, one of which is reading the rule books. Most games now publish the rules online, so it's easy to have a skim through if you're not sure whether or not a game is going to be complex enough or too complex for your tastes.
Are there Certain Mechanics you Prefer?
When you take away everything else, a board game is the mechanics that make it up. There are many different mechanics out there (though perhaps not as many as you might think), including card drafting, dice rolling, worker placement and many more (don't worry if some of these names go over your head - you can read our excellent guide to common mechanics). If you've played a lot of games, you can use your knowledge of the games you've enjoyed in the past to identify the kinds of mechanics you like and dislike.
For example, some gamers really like worker placement games and all their associated strategy, but others find them too structured. Other players love the randomness of dice rolling, while some prefer to have more control over what happens in a game. If you think about all of your favourite games, there are likely to be some common threads of mechanics that are often present and mechanics that nearly always aren't.
Many synopses or descriptions tend to include some nod towards their main mechanics, so this is a great way to quickly filter through new games based on the style you know you prefer to play.
Finally, an important consideration is the accessibility of different games, especially if you know that there are features that you or members of your regular gaming groups find difficult. Barriers to play could include components that are difficult to explain if a player is colourblind, or difficult to pick up if a player has difficulties with fine motor control. Even a lot of text in a game can be a barrier to some people, for example, if you're playing a game that hasn't yet been published in your first language, or you play with others who don't share the same first language as the larger group.
These considerations won't always come into play, but if you know you need to bear them in mind then they can often trump many of those that I've already mentioned. Pictures of the board game and the online rule books will often be enough to give you most of the information you need, but if you're really not sure you could try making it to a game cafe to try it out first.
Where to find Board Game Information
Throughout this article I've mentioned a number of different things that might help you differentiate between games when you're deciding on the next one to buy. My intention was to show you all the different factors that make games appeal to different people so that you know what to keep an eye out for.
In the second part to this article, I'm going to shift the focus slightly. Now you know which criteria to look out for, I'll be discussing the various different resources out there that can help you to discover your next board game. I've mentioned some of them in passing in this article, but I'll talk about a broader range of resources in more depth in the next part.