Here’s roughly where I start in determining how much I like a game:
(average number of hard decisions per minute)/
(number of pages in rulebook * number of times that players ask "Whose turn is it right now?”)
This metric favors a few types of games quite strongly:
- Light Tactical Games (Colossal Arena, Ticket to Ride) - these games are typically extremely easy to explain and do well on the rulebook metric. Additionally, a focus on tactics that support simple strategies (“Keep the Titan Alive” or “Dominate Western Europe’s Railroads”) result in fast turns that can drastically change other player’s tactics. As a result it’s rare to see players check out of the game when it isn’t their turn.
- Heavyweight, High Interaction Games with Simultaneous Actions (A Game of Thrones, Twilight Imperium 3) - While these games tend to ship with thesis-length rulebooks, they are saved by interaction-rich turns with a large number of discrete decisions. High-level strategies can become complex, but your ability to plan many turns in advance is constrained by the high player interaction.
- “Constrained” Cooperative Games (Escape: The Curse of the Temple, Hanabi) - Cooperative games that constrain or regulate player interaction also do extremely well. Traditionally, co-operative games are dominated by the most experienced or analytical member of the group who proceeds to “solve” the puzzle and direct the other players towards a solution. Relatively recent cooperative games have found creative ways around this. Hanabi heavily restricts the kind of information that can be shared between players, while Escape heavily limits the amount of time players have to play the game and thus solve the puzzle. When you factor in the simple rules for both and the mutual investment in each other’s turns that comes naturally to board games, these games do extremely well by the above metric.
There’s also a number of mechanics and genres that do extremely poorly. Random, chaotic games like Munchkin and Fluxx tend to provide few hard decisions. Interaction-light Euro-style board games like Agricola and Puerto Rico often result in an extraordinary number of “Whose turn is it?” questions because of the analysis required of players. Most wargames fail spectacularly because of their many rules and long turns.
If you have a similar rule of thumb or common theme in your gaming interests, I’d love to hear it.