Not every board game is going to meet your expectations. This is true with all things in life. However, it sucks more when you buy a big box board game and it’s a bust. With a physical copy of a disappointing video game, you can easily sell it back to the store for credit. With no easy way of unloading a disappointing board game, it’ll either take up space and collect dust on your shelf, or you’re going to have to actively move it through Kijiji or Board Game Geek.
As hard as we try to avoid it, there will be times when we add lemons to our collection. The best we can do is to try and avoid them. Here’s some tips on how to minimize your losses.
Don’t buy it on impulse
So you’re at the store and you come across a game that catches your eye. It has great cover art and the text on the back makes it sound like something you and your group would enjoy. Instead of picking it up right away, make a note of what that game was and do some research first. You can do this at the store, though you’re probably better off taking your time at home. Odds are, the game will still be there the next time you go shopping, so there’s generally no rush to buy it immediately.
Watch a rules or playthrough video
Resources like Watch It Played are wonderful in this regard. Besides being a helpful resource for learning how to play games, they give you a more unbiased look at how a game is played. Since their focus is to teach you how to play, there’s less judgment in their videos that could impact your purchase decision. If it looks like something you’d want to play, keep moving forward. Otherwise, stop here.
Board Game Geek is the best board gaming resource on the internet. Pretty much every board game in existence is catalogued here, along with pertinent information about what mechanisms it uses, how long it takes to play, how “heavy” a game is in terms of complexity, and its average user rating.
While their rating system is far from perfect, the average rating is a good starting point for a game’s quality. My general rule of thumb is that games scoring lower than a 5 should be avoided, while games scoring 7 or above is worth investigating further. Games between 5 and 6.99 may or may not be investigated further on a case-by-case basis.
It’s easy to fixate on a game’s score, make sure to view the other information as well. Twilight Struggle might be the #2nd highest rated game of all-time, but you might miss that it’s a 2-player only game about the Cold War that is quite complex and one that’s going to take you three hours to play through.
Check out reviews
My go-to source for video reviews is The Dice Tower. As a collective, they crank out more board reviews than anyone else on the internet. Because they have lots of practice, they also do a great job of articulating their points-of-view on any given game. Ideally, with time watching someone’s reviews, you’ll get a sense of where your tastes line up or differ, so that you can better know when you’ll share the same thoughts on a particular game. Not to toot my own horn too much, but I do have a number of board game reviews you can check out as well.
Be wary of delving deep into user reviews posted by users in comments or on message boards. While there are some great reviewers in these parts of the internet, you will also see a lot of junk that is either overly kind or harsh to games due to factors beyond the game itself, among other things. I will check the discussion around certain games on Board Game Geek or on r/boardgames, but I don’t put as much weight into this as I do with other facets of the research process.
Try before you buy
This is probably the best way to avoid disappointment. You might not have friends who own the game, but your local board game store or cafe might have one available for public use. When Steff and I go to Snakes and Lattes or Riddle Room, I like to have a list of games handy that are on our radar. That way, we get the double effect of a great date night and knowledge on what games to buy or leave alone next time we go to the store.
Try the app
Many board games are now adapted for iOS and Android smartphones. Most of them aren’t free, but for a small percentage of the price of its physical version, you can play the game on your phone. This isn’t a true substitute for owning the physical game, as the physical aspects of board gaming are lost in translation, but the digital version can give you a good sense of whether you’d like to play this on a table with friends.
Knowing is half the battle
You won’t be able to dodge every disappointing game, even if you follow all these steps. However, having as much knowledge as you can about a game before you fork over your hard-earned money goes a long way. Before you impulsively grab that game off the shelf with a cool box, consider putting in at least a bit of time to learn more about that title first.