Survey Results: Why do you like board games?
A few weeks ago we sent out a call to board gamers (casual, professional and in between) to broadcast their opinions on why they enjoyed playing games. We were looking for the deeper reasons why there is so much enjoyment in playing board games:
Is it the social aspect of spending time with friends and families?
Is it the challenge of acting and reacting to developments in the game?
Is it the competitive aspect of winning (or at least not losing)?
The goal was to scratch below the surface and connect motivations with the type of games we like to play. The results, we hope, will give game designers an idea of the motivations of players and possibly help in completing a game that was previously lacking in one or multiple aspects.
The boring stuff
We had 231 respondents mainly from reddit and boardgamegeek communities. Not all questions were answered by everyone, so if you are trying to add up scores and break the data… good luck to you!
The interesting stuff
The most popular response of question 1 ("Why do you like to play board games? Pick your top 3") was people wanting to think through possibilities and plotting courses of actions. We all know people who take time to make their move (see question 7 on how strongly people think about that), but apparently most of us enjoy thinking deeply about strategies. This could also explain the rise in solo games that often cater to this category of players.
The second most popular answer is playing games for social reasons. We expected this to be important to people, but maybe not quite as fundamental as it was. For us, it really reiterated the need to design games that enhance and encourage these socials interactions and experiences.
The close third in this question is people liking a good build up. Whether it is building an empire, a city or continuing their conquering spree. Gamers enjoy letting their imagination run wild with the game. This point seems to really resonate with a game having a well constructed theme as well as to a lesser extent having great art work.
The least popular answer is not the least surprising (to us). A very small minority of people enjoy the scheming and blatant backstabbing aspect of some games. They turn into conniving little sh*ts and the worst part is that they enjoy it. These are people, in our experience, that you absolutely do not want to have in a winning position. In fact, it's almost best that everything is done to stop them from winning.
Small but not insignificant amounts of people enjoyed admiring the game artwork, collaborating and working with other players and the competitive aspect of outmaneuvering and outstrategising other players. One person mentioned that they loved playing hard science or historical themes which we took as them enjoying them for educational reasons.
Wrapping up this question, it seems that the basics of a good game that people will enjoy is
Engaging players in strategising, plotting and scheming.
Honing in on players interacting with each other throughout the game (the social aspect)
Allowing players to take part in a creation/building process that engages their imagination
Question 2: How do you like these types of games?
Our highly scientific categories of ‘Prom King’, ‘Forgotten Child’, ‘Bread & Butter’, ‘Has its fans’ and ‘Marmite’ are hopefully self explanatory. For the 87% non-British people who responded: Marmite is a condiment that many people either love or hate as it's very salty and has the texture and consistency of molasses (yummy!). Very few people feel impartial about this divisive food.
Overall, the above answers confirmed the most popular answer of Q1: People enjoy strategising and thinking about options as the Deck/Pool Building, Area Control and Economic games received the highest scores.
One area of surprise for us is the popularity of deck/pool building games. None of us three have really dabbled in those games. Though we knew the popularity of Magic, Pokemon & Co, we hadn’t realised it was quite that prolific.
Question 3: How much do you like these types of game mechanics?
A bit of problem solving goes a long a way in game. Continuing the popularity of thinking and solving a challenge as a favourite in question 1, people really do enjoy a challenge.
On top of that variable player powers also get lots of votes. Drawing conclusions with the popularity of randomness, we guessed people like a little bit of variation in their games.
The age breakdowns of survey respondents.
You may have noticed that the above percentages do not match up. That’s because we also gave the option of people filling in a gender that we had not covered (so anything but male and female).
One person had no gender. Another person was a ‘meat popsicle’. A few people did not want to give out their gender. And we also had two horses participate. Speech recognition technology has really developed to be able to identify those.
Country of residence
If anything, this question shows the typical distribution of people on Reddit and BoardGameGeek. Fun fact: the ratio between the US and UK respondents for this survey reflect the ratio of those countries populations. My theory went that the other English speaking countries (e.g. Australia and Canada) would have similar ratios. But they don't map out as beautifully. Dang.
Question 7: What is the thing you hate most when it comes to board games?
Unsurprisingly, players hate having to rely on luck. Question 1 demonstrated that we have a large proportion of strategic thinkers amongst gamers. And what is more annoying than having locked down a player and all but beaten them when they roll a lifesaving dice combo to help them escape defeat. This is a reason why eurogames are so popular.
Having a lack of other players to play with (or play certain games with) came second. Interesting how this also relates to people playing games for social reasons (see question 1) and also the increasing prevalence of solo games.
Poorly written rules are also amongst the top 3 which is why it is so important for game designers to get feedback on rules drafts early on and revise them accordingly.
And lastly, we could have grouped this answer in with people lacking players to play with, but we filtered this group of answers out as they were specific to clashes with other players. ‘Brooding too long’ or ‘being annoying’ were classic answers in this category.
One participant’s most disliked aspect of board gaming was ‘ass hair in throat’. Is there a variant of ‘Operation’ that we haven’t seen?
We hope you found the results useful. Whether you are a budding or accomplished game designer or were just curious to see what other people were thinking.
Key takeaways for us as that it really is basics that are relevant in good board games. Allowing people to be challenged and give them something to plot about. Making the game a social occasion and encouraging engagement with fellow players.
Hopefully, this survey has also revealed a comprehensive but not exhaustive array of game elements and mechanics that can be integrated if your game is missing that special sauce.
Any comments, critiques and hugs are welcome!