Updated: Mar 9
Here’s another one I’m going to frame carefully.
My goal, and I think almost every game designer’s goal, is to make someone’s favorite game. We want to make a game that connects so thoroughly with someone that giving it a 10 out of 10 is not enough of a commendation, and we wouldn’t mind the BGG score to prove it.
With that said, I am thoroughly tickled whenever I get a 7 out of 10 score. In a lot of ways, I set out to make a “7/10” game. Not in the sense of a 7/10 score, but the “7/10” genre.
For those who don’t know, in the video game world, calling something a “7/10 game” isn’t just a reference to a score, but more of an idea. The can get a little bit nebulous, but I think Chris Plante from Polygon really nailed it with this description:
““7/10” represents a creative philosophy shared by a small, but precious collection of video games…“7/10”s tend to be mechanically ambitious but financially prohibited. Their creators might try to alchemize some fresh way to play, or they might attempt to do a little bit of everything all at once…Eloquently explaining why or how “7/10” works is a headache unto itself because this method of game design is akin to YouTube creators who specialize in trick-shot videos. They don’t throw a basketball off a building and into the hoop because they’re uniquely better at basketball than everyone else; they hit the shot because they’re committed to putting in the time and failing a lot along the way.”
The video games that are 9’s and 10’s are usually gigantic in size, and need to have enormous appeal. It makes sense that they tend to be variants on a company’s previous iterations on an established genre. Look at The Last of Us. It’s amazing, but mechanically it’s basically Uncharted with a more engrossing story and setting. These blockbuster games need that existing infrastructure, or else no one would ever pony up the money you need to make a game big enough to pull a daddy like Pedro Pascal.
No one sane would give that kind of budget to games like God Hand, Asura’s Wrath, Nier, Mad World, XIII, and Persona 3. Those games usually have to work with a much lower ceiling and a much faster turnaround, but they get to try something completely crazy. They are made out of sheer will and persistence, with designers repeatedly throwing everything against the wall until enough of it sticks.
That’s a “7/10” video game. And I think it’s a concept that should definitely come over to board games. Especially because these days the board gaming world has really high budget games too.
Many of the 9's and 10's in the board game scene these days are gigantic 80 hour campaigns, stuffed with sculpted minis, two novels worth of text, and enough art to fill the Louvre. That takes time, money, full creative teams, and a marketing campaign grander than any scheme you've mustered in Axis and Allies. They are the full equivalent of AAA games.
Noq, please don’t get me wrong, I love those 9’s and 10’s! I love the big boxes and the mechanics buffed to mirror brightness. There are more than a few games straight off the Hotness warming my shelves at this very moment.
But, as a designer, I love wandering through the untamed forests of the "7/10" board games, with their rough edges, weird mechanics, and funky form factors. There’s so much damn possibility there!
City of Remnants got rethemed and smoothed out into Neon Gods a few years back but I’ll take the tossed salad of jagged systems that was the original. Just look at the list of mechanics on this thing: Action Points, Area Control, Auction, Deck Building, Dice Rolling, Hand Management, Drafting, Tile Placement, Worker Placement, and the beat. Goes. On! The theme, multiple different species are enslaved by alien overlords and dumped on a prison planet where you’re mostly left to your own gang warfare in between raids by the cops, is straight up bonkers, and it has more phases than the moon if it was spun in the end of a Harlem Globetrotter’s index finger. BGG says 6.8, but I proudly dub this “7/10.”
Name me any major company that would give the go ahead to Consentacle. (Quick warning before you look it up, this game is 18+. It’s about dating an alien who doesn’t speak your language.) The gameplay is a little shallow, yes, but this is a game with a unique way to play, a difficult theme that it surfs over without going overboard, and an important point to make. It’s sitting at 6.8 on BGG, but it’s a full “7/10.”
Probably the most perfect example out there is Mantis Falls. It has some of the strangest hidden role mechanics I’ve ever seen, and you need to play it three or four times to really dig into what’s there, but once you do, the gif from A Beautiful Mind starts playing over your face as you think about the web they put together. This is a game with a soundtrack and a somewhat inexplicable hedgehog on the bag for one of the main decks, but it’s deep, crazy, and it makes for the best showdown you can have with another human being in all of board gaming. I absolutely love it! Sure, this one is currently sitting at 7.4 on BGG, but did I mention that Dicebreaker called it an all-timer, and West from Quackalope literally named this his favorite game ever? “7/10” with a damn bullet!
These games aren’t just awesome experiments on their own. They fuel the fire of the whole modern gaming hobby. Some of the ideas in the burbling cauldron of “7/10” are going to be making their way to tomorrow’s 10/10’s.
The fact that we even have enough of a community now to support the massive games that will bend your shelves, and the wild west of the indie scene is categorically amazing.
With that said, if you can, make the extra effort to go look for a few “7/10”s. They don’t have as big of a marketing budget, but good lord are they fascinating.
And for me, as a designer, I'll always be striving to make a “7/10” game, that’s someone’s 10/10.
I can think of nothing better. Because as George Costanza once said of Seven's...
P.S. In my opinion the header picture has three or four "7/10" games, and at least three classics. There's one running the edge there. What's your favorite"7/10" game?
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