#Wargame Wednesday – The bottom of the bottom according to @BoardGameGeek

The other day I was looking at a new arrival wargame and exploring where on the BoardGameGeek rankings of War Games it sat. In a bit of a careless moment I accidentally hit the “War Game Rank” header and resorted by lowest to highest rankings. I was a bit surprised to see a game I own ranked very near the “top” of the new page. I scrolled down a bit and found a few more. Which got me thinking; do I really have that many turkeys in my wargame collection? Let’s look at my “Bottom Eight” and see what we discover. Why eight? Because, surprisingly, that is the number of titles I have in the last group of 100 BGG ranked War Games 3387-3486.[Edit – I actually have nine but one is not noted as part of my collection though it is].

Let me be clear about something up front. I firmly believe that BoardGameGeek ratings and rankings of wargames are very suspect. I use BGG to manage my collection and not to rank or rate titles. I further believe that in the early days of BGG, and to a lesser extent today, there was/is an anti-wargame bias within the BGG community writ large. I believe this bias derives from early times when BGG postured itself as a Eurogame-centric website and relished in trashing, uh, Ameritrash games. This is despite the fact the BGG glossary goes out of its way to say wargames are NOT Ameritrash, but in a somewhat condescending manner.

“Ameritrash games also do not include traditional wargames. These tend to focus on history and detail to a level that would probably not appeal to the typical Ameritrash gamer.”

BoardGameGeek Glossary entry for “Ameritrash”

In more recent years, “crossover” wargames, or wargames that are recognized as combining Eurogame mechanics with wargame themes—sometimes called a “waro”—have somewhat reduced the bias but at its heart BGG started anti-wargame and remains so. Additionally, the algorithms used to derive BGG ratings and ranking are a trade secret which only serve to further obfuscate just how games are rated and ranked. If there is one thing the past year+ of COVID taught me, and hopefully many others, it’s that statistics are easy to manipulate. Like they say, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” 

Here are the “Bottom Eight” wargames in my collection as ranked by BoardGameGeek (note that this is amongst NUMERICALLY ranked games; there are 104 pages for over 10,000 wargames listed on BGG with the majority having no numerical ranking):

-8 / BGG War Game 3395 / Risk Transformers: Cybertron Battle Edition (2007)

“You mean a war game, like Risk” can barely be applied to this title. Bought for the RockyMountainNavy Boys who were into the IP at the time. They never liked it. Absolutely deserves to be at the bottom.

Courtesy BGG user @Meander

-7 / BGG War Game 3411 / Supremacy: The Game of Superpowers (1984)

The market and high levels of abstraction always put me, and apparently many others, off on this game yet somehow it stays dear to my heart. Looking back, I wonder if Supremacy was trying to be a “waro” before people understood what a waro was. I understand that updated versions exist. I often wonder what the game could become if a good developer had worked it, then or even now.

Courtesy BGG user @Debate

-6 / BGG War Game 3431 / Operation Cannibal (1996)

In the past few years I rediscovered this game on my shelf when I went looking for games using the chit pull mechanism. It’s clunky and not-so-elegant but serviceable as a wargame. Part of the low ranking may be subject matter; the Battle of Arakan in Burma is not well known.

Courtesy BGG user @PAYDIRT

-5 / BGG War Game 3449 / Tactics II (1973)

I’m already on record as saying this game deserves more respect. I have to wonder if that anti-wargame BGG bias is found in this ranking. Then again, many wargamers themselves seem to race to dismiss TACTICS II so why should I be surprised?

Courtesy BGG user @Barteus

-4 / BGG War Game 3453 / Air War: Modern Tactical Air Combat (1983, original edition 1977)

Ambitious in that it tries to model 3D flight on a 2D board in increments of mere seconds. Way too complicated a model to easily manipulate. I at least remember playing this one—a battle between two American F-106 Delta Darts and a pair of TU-26 Backfire strategic bombers trying to get to New York. Of course, we now know the Tu-26 never existed for the TU-22 Backfire never was converted to a strategic bomber. It also showed our misunderstanding of how to employ weapon systems as we tried to “dogfight” the bombers vice standing off with those nuclear-tipped missiles and rockets hosing away at the Red intruders. Then again, we kinda realized that those nuke-armed babies were “a bad day” and tried to restrain ourselves.

Yup, restraint in a wargame. Like I said, we kinda didn’t know what we were doing. I remember driving one of the Backfires and desperately dodging the F-106s but ending up low, slow, and vertically banked mere feet off the deck. I almost made it to New York, but ultimately ran out of ideas, airspeed, and altitude short of the target.

Air War Control Chart courtesy BGG user @Mikosa

-3 / BGG War Game 3461 / Halo Interactive Strategy Game (2008)

Is this a wargame? I bought this for RockyMountainNavy Boy A who was a big HALO fan at the time. I think it got played once. You also needed a DVD player, making this a “media-assisted” game. In the RMN house that made this game difficult to play since the RMN students had TV restrictions on weekdays and limited time on weekends. Altogether not a memorable title.

Courtesy BGG user @nerdzoid

2 / BGG War Game 3465 / Foxbat & Phantom: Tactical Aerial Combat in the 1970’s (1973)

Another air warfare simulator that once again proves too complex for the game experience it delivers. More a collectable than a played game in my collection.

Air Control Sheets courtesy BGG user @Original_CorPse

[-1.5 / BGG War Game 3473 / Risk (1959)]

Not officially listed in my collection though I have a copy. The BGG tagline reads, “Will you conquer the world in this multi-player push-your-luck wargame?” I guess that is one way to look at Risk but when doing so is one unconsciously buying into that BGG anti-Ameritrash heritage?

Courtesy BGG user @Alarconte

-1 / BGG War Game 3484 / The Civil War (1991)

“Widely considered to be the most unplayable game ever published” is how the BGG tagline reads. Yes, I’ve cracked open the rule book and it’s BAD.

I think there is something to be said when only one of the bottom eight/nine has been played in the past decade. Yup, my collection has turkeys, and a few of them gobble quite loudly!

3 thoughts on “#Wargame Wednesday – The bottom of the bottom according to @BoardGameGeek

  1. I think the main reason I rate every game I play on BGG is so that I can use something like Pubmeeple when I want to do a comparison for a Top 25 of all time or something like that.

    Otherwise, I may not rank them very much as it is a bit suspect.

  2. Well, on the bottom 50 titles on that page I own the following bottom feeders:

    Kriegspiel – still a favourite, used a variant of the diceless combat system by James Meldrum to make my own in several wargames

    Scrimmage – I don’t care for football, but some of its mechanics inspired Plot to Assassinate Hitler, one of my favourites

    Strike Force One – we have a Strike Force One tournament every year on the last night of Consimworld Expo before the big game auction, and it is a hoot!

    Dixie – Liked the idea very much, the presentation was drab.

    Combined Arms – fascinating idea, I like these kinds of generic games

    Risk – eh, who doesn’t have this. I use the pieces for other things.

    Men At Arms – another brave attempt to encompass a huge subject in one magazine game, and it almost works.

    South Africa – played this a LOT back in high school, inspiring for other insurgency games I have done.

    World War 3 – the first wargame I ever saw! I was twelve. There were mushroom cloud markers. I had to have this.

    Panzer Battles – I’ll admit I have never given this one a go but it intrigues me.

    Annihilator/ OneWorld – one of the few SF titles on the page, though there are many many SF and fantasy games with no rating that are far far worse than these two. But even OneWorld is a bit brave, in trying to make a wargame out of Rock, Paper Scissors.

    Tactics II – the first wargame I ever owned, given me by my favourite uncle for Christmas when I was 15. He died last month.

    Tank – deserves a lot of credit for what it tried to do, back in 1974. Simultaneous plotted movement was all the rage back then, you can work around it with other mechanics.

    Arabian Nightmare Kuwait War – Another brave attempt, this was probably the first wargame proposed, designed, developed and tested using the Internet (the Genie system to be exact). No one knew what to expect out of this Middle East entanglement. Physical copies made it to subscribers just as the real Operation Desert Storm was getting under way. For 1991 that’s a remarkable achievement

    Rise of the House of Sa’ud – Sure it is ugly and the rules are confused, but when you need a wargame on 1920s Saudi Arabia, where else are you going to go?

    I don’t think that BGG has much of an anti-wargame problem, at least not where ratings are concerned… if you aren’t into wargames, you generally don’t stop by to rate them “1” out of spite (except for the notorious user “smjj”, who found a way to automate it but who is now gone).
    I think the problem we have is snooty wargamers with conventional tastes and short attention spans, who don’t care for experiments or who are married to a “lifestyle game” or system and care for little else.

    Oh, and among the 60 or so personal design entries I have on BGG, only 13 have BGG ratings – no idea where they come in for wargame ratings!

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