Friday, February 04, 2011

Five & Dime: The Q & A

I’ve been doing this Five & Dime thing for a long time… and over the years, I’ve been asked a number of questions. Here are the answers…

…yes, of course, they are the right answers! Would I waste your time by posting the wrong ones?

Don’t answer that.

What are the Five & Dime lists?

Way back when, there was a paper game magazine called Sumo… and, from a whopping five minutes of research on The Game Cabinet (where the Sumo archives are kept), I think Charles Vasey is one who originally proposed listing games that the readers had played five plus or ten plus times circa 1990. (One of the heroes of Sumo & the Game Cabinet, Mike Siggins, is a contributor here on The Opinionated Gamers… and he confirmed my completely inadequate research.)

That tradition has continued… and I compile those lists into a (hopefully) easy-to-read format for folks to get a picture of what games are getting played and what games have “staying power” when it comes to table time.

A few years ago, I began publishing the results to my personal blog:

The previous years can be found on my old gaming website, Game Central Station.

Why don’t you factor in game length when calculating the Five & Dime lists?

I did… once. And then only for the top 350 games that year, because it seemed pointless to do it for the entire spreadsheet of games (which around 2500+ games now). Here’s the introduction I wrote for Five & Dime 2007: Time After Time:

There’s always been a bit of discussion (in my less charitable moods, I’d call it “whining”) about the emphasis that the Five & Dime lists put on shorter games, particularly fillers. (Of course, one person’s filler game is another person’s “main dish” game – filler is in the eye of the beholder.) But there’s been a lot more of it this year.

So I finally caved…

All that number-crunching didn’t really turn up any major surprises (people spent more minutes playing Caylus than Ticket to Ride – shocker!) so I chose not to put the work into it again.

Doesn’t this process unfairly emphasize filler games?

OK, copper, you got me. I admit it. By asking people what they played 5+ & 10+ times, I’m actually working for a secret cabal of game designers & publishers who want to fool people into playing shorter games. We operate out of a secret island base staffed by robotic meeples.

Well, not really… but this is one of the valid criticisms of the Five & Dime stats. I would suggest, however, that when a game like Power Grid (that clocks in at 90-120 min.) appears near the top of the list year after year, that tells you something about the staying power of that particular game, especially when it does so against games that take much less time to play.

BTW, I’d love to see a game with robot meeples.

Doesn’t this unfairly emphasize online games?

This is going to sound like I’m talking/typing out of both sides of my mouth (interesting word picture, eh?) but I think the answer is “yes… and no.”

Yes, certain games receive bumps on the Five & Dime lists due to their availability in some kind of online format.

But… no, I don’t think those bumps affect the numbers as much as you would expect. Let me give you two reasons for my “no”:

  1. A number of respondents choose not to report their online gaming.
  2. Due to the nature of how I compile the data, the mouse potato who played 400+ online games of Dominion last year counts exactly the same as the guy who managed to just squeak in 10 plays at his local gaming group. (I simply track whether a game was played 5-9 times or 10+ times… no extra credit for anything beyond that.)

So, how do you deal with online plays personally?

I report my online plays when they’re against another person (whether by e-mail or on a “live” site like BSW) but do not report any plays against an AI.

I do, however, report solo plays of board games against the system included in the rules. Over the years, this has included games like Chainsaw Warrior, Race for the Galaxy (using the solitaire system in the expansions) & the new solo Tannhauser scenario.

Why don’t you tabulate the results for non-proprietary games (card games, chess, go, etc.)?

Short & simple: personal bias.

I was working on this really long & convoluted answer as to why I didn’t have them in there, but nothing I was coming up with was logically consistent. As long as I’m the guy crunching the numbers, you’re going to have to live with my rather arbitrary decisions.

Factor in the hassle of compiling the various card games, my personal lack of interest in most of them, and my intense dislike for chess, and there you have it.

Isn’t this extremely unscientific?

Well, yes, yes it is. I’m impressed with your deductive skills.

This data comes from a self-selected group of respondents who already come from a subset of gamers who track their gaming with the precision of a Swiss watchmaker… compiled by one guy with a couple of hand-me-down computers.

The fact that anyone at all pays attention to the results is nothing short of amazing.

Who died & put you in charge?

Nobody, actually. I volunteered for the job way back in the spring of 1999. I saw a series of posts of 5 & 10 lists go by on the Usenet group (back when I had to boot up my computer using a hand crank) after Steve Zanini suggested that we keep up the old tradition from Sumo Magazine. I crunched the numbers (all sixteen responses!) & published the results. Then I did it again the next year… and the year after that…

…and now it’s 2011 and I’m compiling data for the 13th year of the Five & Dime lists.

A Trio of Announcements

  • If you’d like to participate in the 2010 edition of the Five & Dime lists, please add your submission to the Five & Dime 2010 thread over on BGG.
  • If you want to follow my progress as I wade through the 350+ submissions, you can do so on my “Official” Five & Dime Progress Geeklist.
  • If you want to know the results, The Opinionated Gamers will be the first place to look! (I’ll be publishing highlights on the Geek as usual, but the longer posts will appear here first… and then later on my blog.)
This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website on January 26, 2011.

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