Review of Reviews

What follows is a discussion of how I have been reviewing games and a description of how I plan to review games in the future. While I have reviewed role-playing games and role-playing game books in the past, this article is in reference only to board games and card games.

While I feel there can be a general way to review board games and card games, reviewing gaming books falls under a different umbrella and while I may some day analyze the way I have been reviewing these products this is not that analysis.

Why Review Games?

Obviously the reason we review games is to transmit our opinion in detail to others outside our own game group. I review games, just as obviously, because it is part of what this blog wishes to offer.

Still, thinking a tad deeper on this I feel that I have a different opinion on a lot of things than others and hope that I can convey that opinion in such a way as to connect with like minded-people. What I do not wish to do, at least in general, is push or tout any particular game. While there are some I have and do recommend playing I do not want to fall into the trap of overly defending any game.

One thing I have been criticized for is that I am a critic. While I like many games, and in truth hate very few, I do have a habit of finding fault in almost all things in life. In a game sense I can ideally use this to point out flaws I see in a game, while still expressing a love for that same game. I think this is valuable in that if a person reading my review knows that they could not deal with a particular flaw I see in the game they will better know how to interpret my overall opinion.

Past Reviews

Many of my older reviews have been okay while some I feel were fairly week. One thing I have had a lot of trouble balancing is the descriptions of how to play the game. When I first started writing reviews a few years back for BGG I received comments like “Can you give more description of how to play the game?”.

It had originally been my opinion that such descriptions were relatively unnecessary. First of all on BGG there are many other reviews and most of them have a description of how to play the game or how the game plays (which sort of means the same thing but from a different perspective). Also, many companies post the rules for their games online and if someone really wanted to know how to play a game I figured that would be the best source for this information.

At times I feel I have given enough information to satisfy those who want to know how to play while at other times, Race for the Galaxy for example, I feel I have gone overboard. There needs to be a balance as too much detail can be just as bad as too little. There is no need for me to rewrite the rules to a game but some time does need to be put into this description.

When Scott and I started this blog we both agreed that we did not like scores for games and thus I have not included any scores in my past reviews. I feel there are several problems with giving a game a score, and while it might go slightly beyond the scope of this article I would like to discuss them briefly.

First I should say that one of the problems I have with scores comes from my mother. Growing up she always said that you could never give anything a high score because there is always room for improvement. I guess people should be glad she teaches kindergarten and not high school.

Of course, she does have a point. To never give something a high score because something could always be better is a bit over the top but it does create situations where games are compared because of their rating.

Another problem I have with scores is that they are not very universal. When I was a kid I hated movie critics (not to say I always love them now) because they rated movies on their opinions and never said something like “This movie is a nine if you’re into action movies with no plot”. This might sound silly but really sometimes I would rather see something like this being done. How good is Game X if I am looking for a new euro game? Obviously if I am looking for a new euro game and Game X has dice, cards, and all sorts of random elements and events that really cannot be prepared for then Game X would not receive high marks. However Game X might be a great game for someone looking for a crazy, zany, dice rolling fiasco. All of this means that scores are general and non-specific. Sometimes even the number of players can change how good a game is to play and it is hard for a single number to take this into account.

Lastly I would say a problem with scores is that they can change over time. Some games are great at first but then diminish quickly, while others start out okay but stay okay. Still others get better the more you play them. This does tie into my second point in that again a number is not very universal but I wanted to make this as a separate point as I feel many reviews on BGG are after only a couple plays and sometimes this isn’t very valuable.

The Future of My Reviews

Going forward I would like to make some changes. First I would like to spend a bit less time describing how a game plays and instead pointing out what I think is done well and what I think is done poorly or more simply what I like and what I don’t like. I will also go into what others like about games (others in my game group or others I have heard talk about the game) and what they don’t like. This will hopefully give a more broad perspective on the game and help readers to see where they would have problems with it.

While in some ways reviewers hope to connect with like-minded individuals and recommend games or warn off games because of similar interests I would prefer my reviews to be a bit more general. Yes, someone who likes the same games I like will still probably find more value in my reviews but I would like for someone who dislikes many games I like to still be able to read my reviews and find worth in them. In truth I tend to like a very wide variety of games and thus it seems even more necessary to take this approach.

The biggest change in the way I am reviewing games is that I will be adding a rating system. Yes, I just railed against rating systems, but this system will not be a point system, rather it will hopefully be as beneficial or more beneficial than a standard score. The reason a person like scores is that it helps them know, at a glance, which games are worth paying attention to. For example a game that has a collection score of 8.0 on BGG might be worth reading more about while one with a 2.0 is probably worth skipping. Of course it is the 6.0s that cause the real problem, especially on BGG which tends to be fairly euro-stilted.

My New Rating System

I really do want people to know how I feel about any particular game and sometimes in my past reviews it was probably hard to tell how I felt. And yet, I still do not like the idea of giving a game a score. So what I plan to do is give games a rating of Buy It, Play It, Try It, Avoid It or Burn It.

Buy It – A game with this rating, in my opinion, belongs in most anyone’s collection. While all Buy It games will not be equal, any game I rate as Buy It will, again in my opinion, be worth purchasing and will be good to have as an option for your game group.

Play It – A game in this category is solid and certainly worth playing. If a friend has the game you should suggest they get it out and should seek chances to play it and I feel you will want to play it again after you have played it once. While this will sometimes lead someone to wanting to buy the game that does not mean that I consider it a must-have game.

Try It – A game in this category is worth a play or two but generally only if someone else wants to play the game. If you think it sounds interesting maybe you will suggest it but otherwise there will often be better options to put on the table. Still, if someone were to offer the game as an option there is no reason to avoid playing it.

Avoid It – This game is hardly worth playing. If someone really wants to play it perhaps you should grin and bear it but otherwise steer clear. A game like this is probably better than doing nothing but most other options should be preferred.

Burn It – Few games really fall into this category but occasionally one will fall this low. Games of this type are painful to play and your time would be better spent staring into space than picking up and playing these games.

Conditionals – Another major aspect of my new rating system is that games will often have conditions where they will receive a higher or lower rating. While I know I have said this too much already I will mention again that these are still only my opinions; hopefully they will express valuable openness. Some conditions will be based on theme (“if you like space exploration games this game is a bit better going from a Try It to a Play It”) while others will be based on style “if you have problems with turn-based euro-games this game drops from a Try It to an Avoid It” or anything else that seems appropriate. I will likely only include one or two conditions per game and may not include any if they do not seem appropriate as I do not want to get carried away “this game is a Buy It if you like lots of little pieces but only a Play It if you don’t while if you happen to dislike games that use yellow too much then it drops to a Try It and if you hate games with rules that are too long it becomes an Avoid It and if your name is Steve then it is a Burn It” or some more realistic bit of silliness.

It should be noted that even with a rating system that includes conditionals it is still necessary for someone to consider the type of the game in question. Sometimes no matter how great I think something is, others will hate it for some reason I have not considered or discussed. I should also say that if anyone ever has a specific question about a game, they could always e-mail me.

The Past Moving Into The Future

Reviews become more valuable when a reader can see other reviews by that same writer and make comparisons. Because of this I am going now through all the games I have reviewed up until this point (I will also include games that I discussed in my How to Party Like a Gamer post and those that I analyzed in my Games I Play posts) and give them a “rating” based on my new system. I will include conditionals and explanations where I deem appropriate as well.

Name Rating Conditionals and Extra Information
Rorschach Try It This game could bump itself up to Play It if you are looking for a simple party game than can be played by children of any age.
Dominion Buy It
Race for the Galaxy Buy It
Smart Ass Play It While this game is a Play It I feel that it is more at risk than most party games of dropping quickly to an Avoid It by a simple case of over playing and going through all the cards.
Say Anything Try It This game moves up to a Play It if you are really in need of a new party game and want something different than what you currently have.
Risk Revised Edition Play It This game drops down to a Try It if you want something more complicated or can’t deal with the bugs that either need to be ignored or ironed out.
Ticket to Ride Play It From what I understand this is one of the least popular versions of Ticket to Ride and thus when compared to them it could easily be a Try It.
Quelf Try It If you like games that are more of an activity (you do Quelf you do not play Quelf) this moves up to a Play It but if you don’t like this kind of thing this game could drop all the way down to a Burn It.
Pandemic Buy It
Lord of the Rings Play It
Arkham Horror Try It If your interested in the genre or in long co-op games with a lot of events and options this game becomes a Play It.
Army of Darkness Try It If you loved the movies this is worth at least one play but you wont be coming back to it no matter how cool you think Ash is.
Vegas Showdown Play It
Carcassonne – The Discovery Try It
Catan: Dice Game Avoid It This game is at best a Try It under the best circumstances, those likely being you love dice games and want something that is very easy to play.
Three Dragon Ante Play It While this is mostly a filler game, it’s a good filler game.
History of the World Play It With how much our group plays this game I almost feel I should call it a Buy It but besides the fact that I don’t think it is deserving of this honor, I don’t even know if you could if you wanted to. Of course, the game goes up in my estimation when using the Balance of Power variant rules.
Apples to Apples Buy It This really is one of the best party games out there. I do think this drops down a Play It if you have a group that is less willing to discuss answers or reject the answers one by one as just picking one without showing the other options takes a lot of the fun out of the game.
Fluxx Try It While I like Fluxx a lot it really is only a filler game and even then it’s not the best game to grab off the shelf.
What Were You Thinking Play It
Pictionary Play It This probably goes without saying but this game loses a lot of points if you don’t like to draw.
The Great Dalmuti Play It
The Big Idea Try It This is a good game to play once in a while but it is not something you are going to be playing over and over again.
Wits and Wagers Play It One of the best trivia games you are going to find because it is open to almost anyone.
Gift Trap Play It This game looses some of its charm and drops to a Try It or worse if you are playing it with people you don’t know very well.
Rocketville Try It This game is an Avoid It if you have issues with blind bidding since that is essentially what you are doing for the whole of this game.

Conclusion

I like this system for rating games. I like that it forces me to make a choice about the game rather than simply say “I like it” which I know I say far too much. I also like that it is less ambiguous than a 7 out of 10 or some such thing.

Feel free to comment here about any of the ratings above or about my new system in general. Along with the system I will also be working to discuss both positives and negatives of the games I review more and I think these things combined will make my future reviews more valuable to my readers.

A couple of game reviews to look out for in the near future: Masquerade, Tomb, Android, Last Night on Earth, and Alhambra.

  1.  

    On the whole I think there’s some value to your new rating system. As a general way to say, “this game deserves lots of attention” or “this game probably isn’t your time to play” without resorting to a wrongheaded numerical score system.

    Certainly looking through your table of ratings you’ve given to your previously reviewed games, of those I have played I agree in each case.

    This is also both easier and probably more genuine than implementing a sytem we discussed at one point in the past, providing review ratings or feedback from a handful of imaginary gamer-archetype characters (I think what I liked most about that was how I imagined their cartoon portraits).

    Perhaps I’ll also adopt this system when I next write a game review.

  2.  

    Obviously I like my system and I think it is worth using. My two biggest problems seem to the disconnect that sometimes occurs between my enjoyment of a game and how good I think it is (some games I enjoy are not put together all that well) and how my opinions can change over time.

    Still, this system does allow for people to know if I recommend the game or not and sometimes tells a bit about what circumstances I recommend the game under. Often I find value in even the worst of games and that makes my reviews less useful (if movie reviewer gave every movie a 10 their reviews would be rather pointless) but this forces me to say exactly what I think the game deserves.

    I do still find numbered reviews to be… pigeonholing, often because it does not tell us how good a certain game is when compared to others of its type. BGG is great but when ever “Amera Trash” game comes in with a low over all rating a person looking for a game of that type is left out in the cold. Of course… that “type” in this case actually includes a lot of different types…

    Enough rambling… back to work.