The Weight of Games
Now, there are a lot of ways I could go with this. I could literally be talking about how heavy some games are, such as Gloomhaven which is over 20 pounds. I could be talking about how emotionally heavy a video game is like Life is Strange. But instead, I’m talking about the “weight” of a board game as to how complex it is. In particular, I’m going to talk about the different weights and what that generally means when someone talks about it.
Games can be split into four different categories in my opinion. There are light weight, family weight, medium weight, and heavy weight games. And for me, that goes from the least complex to the most complex games. I am sure that other people might have an extra category at the end of super heavy weight games for the 18XX games and Train Games (not Ticket to Ride), where you playing in a very heavy economic game and you might actually need a calculator to figure out what is going on, on your turn, not just to add up scores at the end of a game.
Let’s first talk about why games are split into these categories. There are a ton of ways to sort or categorize games such as by some mechanic in the game or the theme of the game, but where those tell you some about the game, the weight of a game is really to help you determine the complexity of the game. The heavier a game is, the more complex that it’s going to be, and the more time commitment is going to be needed for learning the game and possibly for playing the game. However, not all games that have a lot of rules have a high weight to the game. Gloomhaven, for example, on Board Game Geek, is rated at a 3.79 out of 5 for weight, which puts it at a medium heavy, and it has a pretty hefty rule book.
What is a Light Weight game?
A light weight game is going to be those filler sorts of games. Something Tsuro, is a light weight game because the rules are simple to teach and the game is easy to play. Party games also fall into this category as you can generally pull them out and get them taught and to the table in five minutes. People aren’t likely to have many questions either about them when you are playing them. And if there is a question that comes up, the rules are likely so simple that you don’t need to look up anything and can just answer it. Kids games would also fall into this category, though, not all of them. But simple games like Chutes (Snakes) and Ladders or Candyland, that people normally think of, are so simple that you really just do what the game tells you, versus make any decision in the game. That’s another area where the complexity of the game is pretty low, even in Tsuro, you have three tiles and while you have some choice at the start of the game, the choice doesn’t matter much then. And in the later part of the game, the choice matters, but you have an obvious choice so you don’t have to think about it much.
What is a Family Weight Game?
So just by thinking what is a bit more complex than the light weight games, you can start to figure out what family weight games are. The best way to describe it is that these are the games that you play with your parents if they aren’t board gamers growing up. Or growing up only played a few like Skip-Bo, Uno, Rummikub, and Yahtzee. The latter two would actually probably fall into the family weight category. But more modern games that are family weight would be things like Carcassone, Ticket to Ride, and Catan. These games have more complex rules than light games, but generally there aren’t edge cases where you have to remember that something only happens in a specific situation. These games also start to offer meaningful decisions. Yes, they are generally not that complex, but Carcassone gives you choices when you place figures like knights, farmers, thieves, and monks (if I have the terms correct). In Catan you determine where you start and where you build towards, and in Ticket to Ride, do you take those train cars you want or do you play a route before someone else can get it? But the decisions are still pretty simple and you can probably do either option and end up being fine in the game. These games also can still end up with a run away winner. Other games would something like Sushi Go! Party, Pandemic, Dominion or Welcome To…
What are Medium Weight Games?
Again, we’re taking it up in complexity of game play and learning. These games still aren’t too difficult to learn, but there are going to be more moving parts. Xenoshyft: Onslaught would be a good example of this. Where Dominion is just a deck builder that is pretty easy to each, Xenoshyft actually has you doing something more in the game, and you are faced with more decisions than just buying a card worth points, a card worth money, or a card that draws you more cards. Another game that would fit into this category is Seven Wonders. Much like Xenoshyft builds upon the fundamentals and adds in more to deck building, Seven Wonders is a more complex card drafting game as compared to Sushi Go! Party. You also start to get edge cases in the games where certain cards together interact in a way that you can’t just naturally figure out. But there aren’t so many of these that once you’ve played the game a few times that you won’t know what is going. I actually think that Gloomhaven falls into the heavier side of Medium Weight games. There are certainly a good number of rules, but once you know them, you can play without looking things up, and it doesn’t take too long to know the rules once you start playing. I’d also put a game like Pandemic Legacy in a medium weight game. The rules don’t vary greatly from base Pandemic, but since the rules are changing, you need to remember everything that is going on.
Finally, What are Heavy Weight Games?
Again, not too difficult to figure out, but these are the games that you have a lot of text on a lot of cards, there is a lot of complexity in these games. I would put games like Cry Havoc and Root into this category where you have asymmetrical powers. Because of this, each person has edge cases that are different than other people at the table. And you need to teach each character separately. These games also have a lot of what I’d call book keeping. That doesn’t always mean taking notes, but it means that there are a lot of phases and some of the phases are resetting things to a starting turn point. Two good examples of this are a couple of cooperative games from Portal Games, First Martian and Robinson Crusoe. In these games, there are certain game events that happen at the end of every turn or end of every round that you need to do. Star Wars: Rebellion is also a heavy game with asymmetrical goals going on, though the actions of the players are pretty similar. But there are a lot of decisions that you have to make in the game, and if you mess up a single decision that can cost you the game. Even a game that is generally panned like SeaFall can fall into this category because the rules are complex (some do to poor writing), but the game offers a ton of tactical decisions that you have to think about.
Finally, let’s talk about what this means for your gaming collection. Do you need a game(s) of each type? I don’t think that you do, if you know your gaming group will never want to play a light filler game, why do you have one of those in your collection or go out of your way to buy one? The same goes for very heavy games, if I know that I don’t want to play a highly tactical war game, I don’t need one in my collection just so I have one just in case. That said, I would try and keep a good variety in your collection that makes sense for the gaming group that you have. For example, according to Board Game Geek, out of the 253 games that I’ve rated on the site (or own), 3 of them are over 4 for weight, so pretty heavy. 23 of them are at 1.25 or lower (1 is the lowest possible number) and all of those are extremely light. That means that I have a lot in the middle, though I tend to skew lighter as those games are easier to get to the table with my gaming group.
So, what does your collection look like? What’s the average weight of the games that you like, do you skew more towards heavy games or do you find your collection to have a lot of filler and party games you can pull out any time?
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