What Makes a Good User Review?

Posted by Jon {Avid Gamer} | 16-Aug-11 | 46 comments

Critic badgeThe quest system on BoardGaming.com is intended to reward people for submitting good game reviews. Of course good is in the eye of the beholder. But, there are certainly some common things that most people like to see in a review.

So, we’d like to put together a nice concise guide to help new users know what makes up a good user review. Let’s define a “good review” as: A review that is more likely to get people to respond “Yes” to the question “Was this review helpful?”

We certainly aren’t expecting every user to submit lengthly, comprehensive reviews. Sometimes, a single paragraph is perfectly sufficient to get a point across, and that point might strike a chord with other users. However, experience shows that most of the time short reviews get poor ratings.

What are the main set of tips that you would give a new user to help guide them to write the types of reviews that are going to help them become a high level critic?

One person’s point of view on what makes a good review is not enough, so that is why we are requesting your input. Let the brainstorm begin …

Comments (46)

Gamer Avatar
4
Tasty Minstrel Games Fan
Pet Lover

The difference between a professional critic and the average joe is the ability to transcend one’s own point of view in order to help many others establish their own. Anybody can say they like or dislike a game, but not everyone thoroughly explain why.

Therein lies the essence of a great review. Somebody not only provides their reaction/opinion to a game, but is thoroughly able to explain how or why they believe so. Moreover, a good reviewer understands that while they may not have enjoyed a game, there are others they might.

Gamer Avatar
8
Gamer - Level 8
Expert Recruiter
Count / Countess
BoardGaming.com Beta 1.0 Tester

Well… in the context of this site, I believe most reviews should be on the short side. I personally write reviews on my blog and I feel for the most part that the kind of review you want on a blog is different from what you want as a comment-style review. I believe that on this site, reviews should probably stick to just a couple features of the game. That makes it easier to browse and get a survey of the comments present. Just my opinion.

Gamer Avatar
8
Intermediate Reviewer
Paladin
Tinkerer
Novice Advisor

I think the most important thing with a review is sincerity and honesty. For instance, I really enjoy Puerto Rico, but if I come across a review from someone that doesn’t like it I will still read it with great interest. Preaching for the choir is not as interesting as listening to someone who will try to make a point that is different from your own. However, I quickly lose interest if I find the review to be just a sloppy bashing of something they don’t like. Trashing for the sake of trashing is meaningless.

If, on the other hand, I read someone who could express their thoughts in a clear way I would happily click the useful button although I may disagree with their impressions. As long as they are sincere it was still useful.

A review is nothing but a “this-is-what-I-think”, and it’s not meant for us all to agree. When a review manage to communicate the sincere opinion of the reviewer they’ve done good.

Gamer Avatar
6
USA
I'm Completely Obsessed
Tomahawk
Knight

I think most of you have hit on what makes a good review, so I won’t rehash it. What I wanted to say was what I think separates a good review from a great one.

A great review is one that meets all of the expectations of a good review but is able to do it in a conversational tone that is easy to read. It is well organized and well paced. It includes a personal experience with the game. I also like to see comparisons to other games (i.e. if you like this, you will love this…) Finally, the review can’t be too long or like a reading of the rules. A good 3-4 paragraphs is plenty long (but sometimes 1-2 is all that is warranted).

Gamer Avatar
9
USA
Platinum Supporter
Petroglyph
BoardGaming.com Beta 1.0 Tester

I think a lot of the reviews will changed once we have the ability to edit them. There are several of us who added our quick “impression” of the games when we were first checking out the site. I didn’t realize we couldn’t edit anything until I’d done this to many of my favorite games. I can’t wait to remedy this… and I don’t think I’m the only one.

Gamer Avatar
3
Thunderstone Fan
Advocate

I agree with others here that a review needs to be longer than 1-2 sentences and needs to touch on the mechanics of the game. When I personally read a review, I want some sense of what the gameplay is going to be like, combined with a summary of good/bad impressions that relate to those specific elements.

I also think brief discussion of pacing, intended audience, comlexity, and depth are important aspects.

Gamer Avatar
3
Rated 10 Games
Novice Grader

What about some people like me who can’t speak english very well?

Gamer Avatar
3
It's All About Me

The drawback I’m seeing to the current quest/reward system is people trying to pass off single sentences as reviews.

Gamer Avatar
3
Rated 10 Games
Intermediate Grader
Tinkerer

Let’s assume we aren’t even considering one or two sentence reviews as good.

With that said, a good review:

1. Is concise.
2. Explains what the game is (but not necessarily in intricate detail…but enough that the reader can understand the basics of the game)
3. Gives the pros and cons of the game.

That’s about it.

Gamer Avatar
3
Critic - Level 2

I tend to write really long reviews, which I know might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I tend to write more of an analysis of the game(probably the game developer in me). I think that different people are looking for different things in a review, so it’s not so bad that there are different styles. It would be nice to see image support sometime in the future though. I tend to break my reviews up with pictures, otherwise they look more like an intimidating wall o’ text.

Personally, I am against forcing numerical ratings on reviews. I don’t use them because I feel that it tends to tell the reader what to think, instead of facilitating him to form his own opinion based on the information in the review.

Reviews are very subjective; I would most likely rate any pure abstract fairly low, because I don’t enjoy entirely abstract games as much as games with theme. But to boil that down to a number wouldn’t be anywhere as meaningful as explaining what I liked, and didn’t like about a game. Then, someone who really DID like abstracts could read the review and see that the things I don’t like in games are things that he loves, and the review is still useful for him, even if we have differing views. People also tend to read things that enforce their own personal biases – so someone looking at a review may see that I rated Hive a 6, and just choose to skip it.

Gamer Avatar
1
I'm a Real Person

I like reviews with a visual summary at the end. Could be a standard rating system of stars, thumbs, or other image. It would even be nice if there could be consensus and consistency on the summary so a new user would quickly learn how to interpret and understand reviews without having to figure out the nuances of format or different styles.

I think the best format would be to have a narrative by the reviewer that describes their experience and thoughts on the game. I especially like the PROS and CONS approach to a review. At the end of the review there would be a standardized format for a visual summary that rates certain aspects of the game. This could be on a 5 point scale.

Rules (Well written, Consistent Language, Presentation).
Components
Replayability
Fun Factor
Complexity

Just some thoughts off the top of my head.
Bix

Gamer Avatar
3
Gamer - Level 3
Critic - Level 2

Frankly, if a review is too long…. I don’t want to read it either! If you can use two paragraphs to give me enough information on whether this is a kind of game that I enjoy, you’re the winner of my “yes” vote.

Gamer Avatar
2
Amateur Reviewer

Being a reviewer myself I put emphasis on what I feel as a gamer is of the utmost importance in a review. Here is a list of key factors in my review.

Number of Players
Length of Game
Replayability factor
Orientation (Family, Euro, Ameritrash, etc..)
Quality of components
Intelligence factor (how hard is the game to learn)

With these factors in mind you give enough information for a reader to determine if the game is right for their gaming group, whether it be there family, solo play, or a hardcore gaming group. I also like to put in my opinion of the game at the end. Always keep in mind that your opinion is important but should not be scattered throughout the entire review. Not every game is for every one. Just cause it is not the game for you does not mean its not a game for someone else.

My reviews will start flooding into this site here soon. I will also be adding a link to this site from my site http://www.ind20group.com where you can always find links to my reviews from all over.

Gamer Avatar
3
Critic - Level 2
Amateur Reviewer

I just signed up today and my biggest complaint with most of the reviews is that 70% of them are a one sentence “I played and I liked it” from people to try and get the XP I guess??

I started writing a bunch of reviews and I hope that people like my format. I’m trying to make them as informative as I can for potential buyers but not go overboard. Thanks for this article…I hope it changes some peoples attitudes about how reviews are supposed to work.

Gamer Avatar
7
Marquis / Marchioness
Advanced Reviewer
Professional Advisor
BoardGaming.com Beta 1.0 Tester

D_S put a lot of it well and concisely.

If it’s a base game, don’t assume I’ve played it or know what it is, assume I’m shopping for a new game and came across your review for some game I never heard of.
If it’s an expansion, you can assume I at least know the base game, but know nothing about the expansion.

Things to include:
Game summary -what it’s about
Your opinion of the game with reasons why you like or dislike it.
Describe strengths and weaknesses of the game
What type of game is it
What gamer/player types does the game appeal to

Unnecessary, but helpful additions:
Pros/Cons list – this is a good summary in list format of good and bad of the game. Be honest on both accounts.
Players it’s best with/plays with

Some unhelpful reviews are:
-lacks any definition of what the game is or is about.
-Saying you like it or dislike without explaining what it is you do or don’t like, whether it’s the mechanics, the artwork, the game type, whatever it may be.

Gamer Avatar
4
Viscount / Viscountess
Advocate
BoardGaming.com Beta 1.0 Tester

What the game is about,
how it plays,
how many players suit it best,
specific strengths,
specific weaknesses.

Don’t assume I’ve played it before.

If it’s an expansion, feel free to assume I’ve played the base game.

Assuming I know nothing about *other* games is optional.

I like to see things about the quality of the boards and bits, but it all really can be done in a paragraph or two. It doesn’t have to be, but it can be.

Gamer Avatar
5
Critic - Level 4
Advanced Reviewer
BoardGaming.com Beta 1.0 Tester

I think a review should have enough information to tell the reader something worthwhile and substantial about the game, but still be short enough to browse in about a minute or so. If it pushes everything else way off the screen, that has the potential to throw a reader directly into tl;dr mode.

I usually try to have a sentence or two to open with a summary judgement of the game, then take a paragraph each to briefly describe general gameplay, comment on the components, then on how it plays, and on drawbacks if I find any, and then a short wrap up of who I think would like it and for what reason(s). So I’m usually in the 4-6 paragraph range, and even that may be a bit long.

Gamer Avatar
3
Advanced Grader
BoardGaming.com Beta 1.0 Tester
Amateur Reviewer

For me, it is detail, detail, detail. Certainly a good review needs to go beyond “I love it” or “I hate it” but what I have seen more frequently is along the lines of “Good strategy game” or “It replays well” or “All my friends like it.” While all three of these provide a bit more detail. I really appreciate specifics.

I don’t necessarily think they should be long and comprehensive since that will be reinventing the wheel for popular games. Though I will say that I second EricB’s list below for comprehensive reviews. Just tell me — again specifically — what you liked or didn’t like and why.

Oh, and use paragraph breaks. 🙂

Gamer Avatar
6
Novice Reviewer
Knight-errant
Gamer - Level 6

For me a good review has a bit of information, a bit of supported opinion and lasts for more than two sentences. Games explanations need only be very general to convey the feel of the game. Info like a realistic play time and who it would suit is also good.

Gamer Avatar
9
USA
Platinum Supporter
Petroglyph
BoardGaming.com Beta 1.0 Tester

Do you really need anything more than a paragraph to describe Apples to Apples? I think length would depend on the game, and brevity is underrated. However, this is the nutshell:

“Reviews should either try to sway a person one way or another on the game, or provide enough information that the reader can make an informed decision.”

Or, what is in the nutshell?

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