When I was first getting into board gaming, there was a lot I didn’t know. Even more than that, I didn’t know there was anything to know! I was having fun playing one game, then I’d move over to another. It never really occurred to me that there was a whole world connecting all these games to one another.
Of course, board gaming is in fact a rich subject with no shortage of discussion points, history, opinion, and contradiction. It’s also incredibly niche, and even a passing understanding relies upon significant investment (not just of time and knowledge, but of money too!). Part of our job at the cafe is to keep that daunting world accessible to everyone. Often, we’re asked how we know all this stuff, and there’s no single answer. The simple answer is to say “It’s just our job” - we have to have a deeper understanding of board games because we’re paid to do so. But that’s not quite true; for one thing we rarely actually convey deep knowledge to customers, because they don’t need it to play the single game in front of them. If they’re the sort to be interested in the fact that Bunny Kingdom and King of Tokyo were made by the same man (Richard Garfield, trivia fans), then great, but that’s a small minority among customers.
Nonetheless, we sometimes have customers who are newly immersing themselves in the world of modern gaming, but don’t quite know where to start. The Treehouse is a good option - an instant 500+ game library has its advantages - but there are other great knowledge bases out there worth spotlighting. So let’s take a look at some!
Board Game Geek
The original, and still the best. This award-winning online board game database holds over 100,000 board games, and is practically ubiquitous as a resource for game information. You can find ratings (more obscure games are less likely to be rated), photos, and expansions and reimplementations of games. That last one is a small feature but might be my favourite. It allows viewers to see which games were inspired by previous games, or had a future game iterate upon them. BGG’s content is directly user-driven - news and forum posts share the front page, and every board game entry has a list of reviews and fanmade game material below it. These range from interesting novelties like the T.I.M.E stories fan scenarios to genuinely necessary information like rules errata (the documents to rectify poorly written rulebooks).
BoardGameGeek subscribes to the classic “quantity is quality” creed, very much taking its cue from Wikipedia in that regard. Everything is crowd-sourced, and often the crowd actually disagrees with the “official” sources, such as on ideal number of players. Much like Wikipedia, it generally succeeds at this goal with a few niggles cropping up multiple times. For one, the page design is less than ideal, and hasn’t been updated in quite some time. Old-fashioned design isn’t just an aesthetic issue, as pages with huge amounts of information (which on BGG is most of them) can be tough to navigate.
Additionally, as a measurement of game popularity it’s less than perfect. The “Hotness” sidebar shows which games are getting the most attention, but too often games will rise seemingly at random and then stay on the list as more people click on it to find out why it’s The Hotness, keeping it there. The more stable all-time rankings are also all-too subjective, and I’d be wary of placing too much stock in them. Nonetheless, BGG remains invaluable learning about specific games.
Reddit has a reputation as a cynical, hard-nosed, gatekeeping kind of place. And, well, fair enough. But it also happens to be one of the biggest hubs of discussion for all varieties of topics, and the board gaming subreddit is no different. Over one million Reddit users subscribe to /r/boardgames, and the community has been active for over ten years. Users create new discussion posts every day, and the most interesting or important rise to the top with the upvote system.
It has all the hallmarks of the best large-scale subreddits - active moderation, regular themed threads (daily recommendation threads, Game of the Week, and so on), and comprehensive lists of other board gaming subreddits. When big news is announced, Reddit is the first place to see it and to see users’ opinions. If you have questions, you will get them answered nearly immediately. It’s almost perfect.
Except when it isn’t. Because Reddit as a whole incorporates some less-than-inclusive viewpoints, it’s generally rare that I like what I see on the site. /r/boardgames suffers less from this than other areas, since board gaming isn’t the most politically charged subject, but it’s still an unfortunate feature of the website. On top of that, while Reddit’s news is comprehensive, it’s also ephemeral - it doesn’t serve as a really source of information much older than a couple of days. The threads are all archived, of course, but Reddit doesn’t make it easy to find them.
There are a ton of different board game review websites out there, so I thought I’d call out a few of the most popular and my personal favourites. The best reviewers in board gaming tend to follow the same rules as in other media - they clearly state their own view with the benefits of experience and authority, transparently admit their own blind spots (because everyone has them), and above all entertain their audiences.
Shut Up & Sit Down are the kings, no question. Their videos are sheer delights of whimsy, mixed in with loveable personalities, maddeningly dumb running gags, and startling good insights into board gaming. Not everyone agrees with their reviews (they more often appeal to the newer gamer than the hardcore, particularly in their choice of game) but nobody can deny that the craft they put into their work is without equal.
The Dice Tower, on the other hand, are certainly the reviewers closest to global recognition in gaming. Since 2005 Tom Vasel and co. have been a respected voice in the community, with their seals of approval and excellence gracing the cover of many modern games. In fact, publishers Arcane Wonders have released a line of games partnered with The Dice Tower called Dice Tower Essentials, games considered necessary for any collection. Their ideas are generally well-reasoned, and the sheer quantity of content they have produced makes for an enticing catalogue.
No Pun Included follow more in the vein of Shut Up & Sit Down, with witty and likeable hosts at the fore of reviews and sketches. They’re also very willing to play with the form, meaning you never quite know what you’re going to get from an NPI review.
Meeple Like Us do primarily written reviews, of mostly older games, but have a special focus on accessibility. Every week, as well as a typical review, they publish an “accessibility teardown”, detailing the various ways in which the game helps or hinders players with disabilities such as vision impairment, communication barriers, cognitive difficulties, and so on. The teardowns are remarkably detailed, and make for fascinating reading. When thinking of board gaming as a cohesive community, Meeple Like Us ought to be a pillar - or at least get more recognition than they currently do.
This list could keep going, of course. There are no shortage of great content creators out there, as well as organisations and services dedicated to teaching people about gaming. But if I did this article would be a million words long. There’s a whole world out there to explore, but hopefully this gives you a place to start. And as always, the friendly staff of The Treehouse are always around to answer your questions. After all, it’s just our job!
by Patrick Lickman