The 'Real' Ratings of a Boardgame: Making Unconventional (and Polarizing) Games

Cutthroat Kingdoms is anything but a conventional game. And when the ratings for the game started to show up on BGG, I was terrified, stressed myself into a stomach ulcer, burped, then puked, lost sleep, and then... suddenly... came to a blissful peace. 

CK features the nearly rule-devoid nature of open discussion and decision-making found in a tabletop RPG, and worst of all, it features a group political discussion that must end in an unanimous decision regarding any semantics question regarding a deal, a trade, an agreement, or a rules question. THIS WAS ON PURPOSE. No I'm not a masochist. People actually called me that. But I did learn something in the process...


The nature of the game features an extensive amount of open-for-interpretation situations, especially revolving around rules and the semantics of a deal between two or more parties. As a philosophy student (one of my majors), I understood that law and the politics of law comes down to:

  1. Semantics
  2. Precedence
  3. Votes

As my vision and consideration widened after watching Game of Thrones, I decided that in the medieval era, law also came down to power. In Cutthroat Kingdoms, power can be attained either through pure wealth (the ability to wager higher on deals), military might, or even just the willingness to go on a vendetta if someone doesn't agree with you. This was explicitly clear to me during an episode of Game of Thrones, where all those factors came to be the overriding factor in terms of the law of the land.


What I dreamed of was a game where even the rules could be changed, if put to a vote. And, coupled with the open deal-making, votes can be bought, or decisions can be vetoed. Almost like a perfect democracy, the fact that the voting has to be unanimous means that even the weakest player can simply abstain, or veto a major plot-twist in the game. And, as a good ruler, their pockets must be lined if they are to be entertained otherwise, unless they're a spiteful twit (which is fun, like, really fun, try it, I promise it's fun, and no this isn't sarcasm).


The BGG ratings of Cutthroat Kingdoms have been wildly polarizing. Some people herald the game as the worst thing they ever played. They say that it takes too long, it feels incomplete, etc... and I LOVE these critics because they highlight an area where the game fails. I admit it! It fails because it is NOT what people expect (and probably needed more development time).


But then there is the other half of the critics that really get it. My GOD they GET IT! And they have the time of their lives. And after weathering the hail of gunfire from both sides, I came out relatively the better for it.

I cannot even begin to tell you what it means when I see a review for my game where the player on the other side has really gotten what I had to offer. And I can only make games for those players. I will not please everyone, and I will make mistakes. Pipelines close fast, last minute changes are made, mistakes are made, and we could have taken more time to do more development. All these things make us better designers, and better humans.

But cheers to the lovely you out there who gets what Cutthroat has to offer. And cheers even more to those who don't. You make me a better game designer for every negative review. I read every, single, one. And I take the bad comments, and I formulate them into a plan for next time.


So three cheers for the critics, both good and bad! I raise my goblets to you! Through good, we grow more confident, and through bad, we grow more wise.