Your Turn: Mainstream Game Reviews

Posted by Andrew L {Avid Gamer} | 18-Feb-14 | 25 comments

Your Turn - A BoardGaming.com Discussion

Hey there, I’m Andrew; game industry professional, reviewer, gamer, fellow Boardgaming.com member and the host of BoardGaming.com’s discussion series called “Your Turn.”

This is your chance to let us know what YOU think about a variety of topics related to hobby gaming. I’ll start the conversation and then it’s “your turn” to chime in and add to the discussion. Each Your Turn discussion will have a new topic, and we may even have some special guests make a surprise visit down the road. In the meantime…

Mainstream Game Reviews

Reading mainstream game reviews makes me crazy…sometimes.

See, like most of you, I love to play games – any kind of game. And after I play I love to share my experience. Writing reviews is just an extension of that enjoyment. I do enjoy writing them very much. I think I may be unique in that, I review games most of the time to see if someone else will enjoy the game – even if I don’t. Not everyone does that. I feel it’s a big responsibility considering the number of folks it takes to make a game from concept to store shelf.

The hobby gaming community has grown by leaps and bound the past 10 years. Along with that growth has been a boom of just about anyone sharing their love of games on the inter-web. All this focus on the hobby is great. Well, mostly. Here are a few things that are important to me about mainstream game reviews:

1. Above all – numero uno

My pet peeve with reviews is they need to be written objectively with the idea that any one person’s opinion is just that; their opinion. A reviewer can be an authority on game mechanics, strategies, heck they can win every single game they play. But a reviewer can’t tell me what I would like. Instead they should tell me who would like the game. (Shameless plug) That’s what I like about BoardGaming.com reviews. If you’re a Power Gamer we don’t insult you for not liking Fluxx. Fluxx is probably not for you. Stay away.

2. Negative reviews

I cringe when I read a negative review. Maybe because I am a softy. In reality, most bad games don’t get produced. Manufacturers won’t take a risk like that. Which means that most games are at least …ok? Which also means, that a negative review is just another way of saying that the reviewer didn’t like that specific game. That’s not objective. I wish mainstream reviewers wouldn’t review games they don’t like. I feel that all the folks that worked on the game are being done a disservice. I’m not sure that the bad review will help gamers make a good choice, if that the reviewer’s intention. Their silence should say more than words.

3. Games they haven’t played

Reading the rule book and analyzing a game isn’t playing it. A game needs to be experienced with players and interaction. Reviewers can’t provide a real review without experiencing it the way it was meant to be played. If someone hasn’t played a game then it shouldn’t be reviewed. Sometimes, I can sort of tell that the reviewer is just walking through the gameplay and hasn’t really played.

4. Provide a good “How to Play” overview

I watch and read reviews to find out how to play mostly. Going back to #1, this will allow me to make my own decision on whether I will play or not. Reading rulebooks is fun to me, but watching someone play is awesome (Thanks Rodney Smith and family!).

5. Try not to compare one game to another

“It’s like Heroscape, Resistance and Dixit combined!” What? Unless we the readers have played all those games, the comparison will fall flat. It would be much more effective for reviewers to not rely on game comparisons so that a wider audience will understand what’s unique about the game.

The reviews I am talking about above are mainstream reviews for mass public consumption – not user reviews. User reviews are honest and unbiased because they are reviews of games the user own or played of their own volition. It bears mentioning that reviewers who are sent review copies have to review those games. They are obligated to. And I guess that may be where these issues above go awry. Time and attention span only allow someone to apply so much focus to each game.

Needless to say, I very much adhere to the philosophy of BoardGaming.com (Shameless plug #2!): there is a game for everyone. We try to provide a good overview and then say what we like about the game and make sure that we communicate who that game is right for. But in my case, I don’t presume to think to tell you what you should think. I think I’ll leave your thinking up to you. Deal?

Who are your favorite reviewers? How much does a review affect your decision to play/buy a game? What parts of a review affect your decisions the most (ie: game play, setup, components)? What parts of a review do you tend to skip over?

Your turn…

Comments (25)

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

@Jim… That’s not goofy to me, as I am a graphic designer. I buy different games for different reasons. I have some ugly games that are just plain fun to play, and I have some thematic games that probably wouldn’t get played if they weren’t so darn fun to look at.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who reads negative reviews. I was starting to wonder if I was cracked. Well. I may still be cracked.

Gamer Avatar
10
United Kingdom
Professional Reviewer
Crab Clan - Legend of the Five Rings
Book Lover

I disagree–negative reviews can be helpful. If a game is bad or if it has faults, the reviewer would be dishonest in not bringing them to the reader’s attention. He would also be dishonest in not explaining why the game is bad or why it has faults. That is his task in writing the review.

Gamer Avatar
6
Pick a Favorite LGS
Robots on the Line fan
Miniature Painter
I play blue

For me it’s usually those final thoughts lower in a review that affect my decision the most about a game. The more I get to know the specific reviewer by viewing/reading their reviews, the better I understand where they’re coming from and how their thoughts apply to my preferences. In some reviews I feel like they start out just getting the review “requirements” out of the way, and then lower they finally share the stuff that really stood out to them.

Maybe I’m goofy, but I’m such a huge fan of great artwork and graphic design that if I see that in a game, I find I skip over the parts of reviews that talk about the nitty gritty of that game. I think it’s because I know that I’ll enjoy the game simply because I like looking at cool stuff and soaking everything in.

If a game is lacking in art and design, I know that it’s going to have to be really fun because it won’t “pull me in” as much visually, and in those cases I’ll spend more time looking at the gameplay, setup, etc.

I also find when looking at a specific game that I read and watch plenty of reviews, especially if it’s a possible purchase. I’ll go on youtube and watch some reviews and gameplay videos, I’ll hit some sites and read their reviews, and I’ll hit our site and look at the user reviews. Sometimes I have no intention of getting the game in the first place, I just enjoy learning about it 🙂

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

Excellent article… even though I differ in what I look for in reviews.

1. Above all – numero uno

Although I think this would be a ‘fair” way to review, I’m not certain it is as effective as it sounds. Not all games fall into a category. I’ve found games in almost every “category” that I’ve loved and despised. You are correct that no reviewer can know what I like…. but they can know what they like…

2. Negative reviews

… which leads me to number two. The only way a reviewer can be effective (IMO) is to be honest. Then, those of us reading their reviews can decide if their opinion syncs with ours. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I seek out reviewers with similar tastes… leading to a trust that can translate into a purchase… or not. I’ve even purchased games based on bad reviews… because I know a particular reviewer to be harsh on games that I like. Yes… I have grown to trust people who have different tastes than my own.

3. Games they haven’t played

I agree. This shouldn’t happen, but it does. Shame.

4. Provide a good “How to Play” overview

I think this is nice to have, but not always necessary. If a game is already well-known, or has a bunch of “how-to” articles out there… I’m more interested in the experience itself. How does it compare…

5. Try not to compare one game to another

…which leads me to number 5. I do extensive searches for comparison’s to games (movies, music, food, etc.) I love. Comparisons are an excellent way to explain an unknown quantity to someone (IMO). In fact… I’d go so far to say that it is nearly impossible to avoid using “comparative” language and be successful. You can try to avoid it, but once you start describing mechanics and theme, the reader will fill in the gaps themselves… “oh, that sounds like Carcassonne in space.” This can be effective too… but I prefer comparisons… unless the game defies them (awesome! but, rarely the case).

I don’t have a favorite reviewer, but find I can divulge a lot from reading and watching several reviewers whom I know their patterns of taste. I think we all have our own way.

Thanks for the read!

~Granny

Gamer Avatar
6
Spread the Word
Zealot

While I agree that negative reviews aren’t helpful, neither is omitting negative, factual information. If your game group really struggles with the rules because they’re unclear, or if a mechanic is clunky and takes a lot of time relative to its beneficial contributions to the game, I need to know that. If the game is a dead knock-off of another game (I’m looking at you, Knizia), at least let me know I’m going to find it a “been there, played that” experience. But don’t harsh on a game itself; or, conversely, post a review that just says “Great game, lots of fun.”

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