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Reviewing Games – what matters and how January 25, 2008

Posted by ficial in games.
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Recently a local store asked me to review a couple of new games they’d gotten from the publisher. This is my first time doing such a thing, so it lead me to thinking about what exactly I was trying to convey in doing and writing a review.

There are four main things I care about when playing a game: the pieces, the rules, the usability, and the fun factor. The pieces should be pretty and entertaining – the pieces include both physical parts like a board, cards, or markers and abstract parts like the story or setting. The rules should be clear, elegant, and generate interesting play – rules don’t necessarily have to be short, but long, complex rules really need to deliver good play to be worthwhile. The usability is an indication of how well the rules and the pieces interact – information and options should be clearly represented and easily understood. A well written and edited rule book is also an important part of this.

Finally, regardless of anything, a game should be fun to play. The first three aspects certainly affect that, but do not completely define it – some games are fun despite poor pieces, rules, and/or usability, while other games have fine pieces, rules and usability but still aren’t much fun. Fun is largely determined by how the players feel when playing the game – the mark of a really fun game is that a person continues to enjoy playing even when they know they’re going to lose.

All this boils down to two rough ratings. The first is fairly subjective and takes the form of a statement about my feelings on the game if getting together with a group of people:

  • “I’d suggest playing this game”
  • “I’d play this game if someone else suggested it”
  • “I’d reluctantly play this game”
  • “I would not play this game”

The second is slightly more objective. It’s based on the four factors above, plus my best estimation (partly guess, partly asking people) of how most other people would rate the game on the above, subjective scale:

  • “Fantastic” – does well on all aspects, at least one aspect is especially noteworthy, and almost everyone would suggest playing it.
  • “Great” – does well on most or all aspects, and most people would suggest it.
  • “Good” – at least satisfactory on all aspects, and almost everyone would play it, though some reluctantly.
  • “OK” – at least satisfactory most aspects, but probably has some minor flaws; the game probably has fans that would suggest it or play it, but many people would be reluctant or refuse entirely.
  • “Generally Avoid” – most people would be happier playing something else; it’s not a matter of ‘bad’ (genuinely bad games rarely make it to publication), but of not being good enough. It may be popular with a particular niche or group, but even so probably has some major flaws.

These ratings are a bit fluid, largely by trading off between broadness of appeal and quality of pieces, rules, usability, and fun.

Finally, the above summaries are only summaries, and subjective ones at that. Read the full review to get a better idea of what a given game is about and whether or not you’d like it.

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