Front Page

Content

Authors

Game Index

Forums

Site Tools

Submissions

About

You May Also Like...

O
oliverkinne
January 31, 2023
O
oliverkinne
January 24, 2023
S
Sagrilarus
January 09, 2023
T
thegiantbrain
January 05, 2023
O
oliverkinne
January 03, 2023
O
oliverkinne
December 28, 2022
O
oliverkinne
December 19, 2022
O
oliverkinne
November 14, 2022
O
oliverkinne
October 18, 2022
O
oliverkinne
September 29, 2022
O
oliverkinne
September 06, 2022
O
oliverkinne
August 29, 2022
O
oliverkinne
August 09, 2022
T
thegiantbrain
July 21, 2022
O
oliverkinne
July 12, 2022
O
oliverkinne
July 05, 2022
  • Essays
  • Enough is Enough - Minimum Board Game Review Requirements

Enough is Enough - Minimum Board Game Review Requirements

O Updated
(Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

Reviewing board games is something I take quite seriously. It's important to me that people reading my reviews know that what they read are my own, independent thoughts. I also want to ensure that my views properly reflect my experience of a game. I want my reviews to be relatively thorough and a fair assessment of the game. In this article, I want to look at how often I feel I need to have played a game before I'm ready to review it.

It is clear that every reviewer approaches their articles in their own way. Some people think it's important to talk about a game's rules, components, player count, game length and other statistics. As I wrote in my previous article Reviewing games – the importance of gameplay experience, my reviews focus on my experience when playing the game. I want to convey how the game made me and the people around the table feel. At the end of the day though, it doesn't really matter how you write a board game review. What does matter is how well you know the game when you write about it - and that is partly based on how many times you've played it.

As you can imagine, there is no specific number of plays that's correct for every game.

Complexity

As a rule of thumb, a game that is light on complexity will need to be played less often than a game that is very complex. The reason is that when playing lighter games, it will become clear very quickly what the game is about, how it works and how it makes you feel. Lighter games tend to behave very much the same even after many plays. Sure, there will be replayability, usually in the form of some randomness, but overall the game will not be much different the 100th time round from how it was the first time you played it.

Let's take Yahtzee as a rather simple example. You probably only need to play it once or twice to really understand what it's about. Maybe you want to play it a few more times to see what it's like when people get a Yahtzee and therefore win - or when someone else beats them despite them getting such a large bonus. Ultimately though, I do think we all agree that playing it for 100th time feels pretty much the same as it felt when we played it the 1st time.

Enough is enough Topic Discussion 01(Photo by hidde schalm on Unsplash) 

 

If anything, lighter games lose a fair bit of interest, the more you play them. At the same time, these are the sort of games that become evergreens. You play them a few times, put them away for a bit and then take them out again and play them again.

From a review perspective though, you don't need to play less complex games a lot to have enough information for your article.

Rules Overhead

Similarly, a game with a lot of rules will need to be played more often than a game with fewer rules or less housekeeping or fewer other things that make a game harder to learn. In this case, it's more about ensuring that you have played the game without making rules mistakes. No reviewer wants to write an article that is based on playing the game wrong. If you don't play a game as it was intended by the designer(s), then your review will be skewed one way or the other: it'll be better or worse than it would have been if you'd played the game correctly.

Of course, having lots of rules or long, complicated turn structures or lots of upkeep every turn or other things that make a game harder to learn is also a form of complexity. However, this form of complexity is more about making a game hard to learn. It's not the complexity that leads to giving players lots of different choices to make on their turn.

When you review a game that is difficult to learn, you immediately know that you probably need to play it half a dozen times before you can be sure you got it right. Sometimes you're lucky and you get it right in your second game and if the game isn't too complex otherwise, you might be ready to write your review. In general though, chances are you need to play it a few more times.

Depth

Games that are deep will definitely need to be played a lot more than those without much depth. Deep games aren't necessarily complex or have lots of rules overhead. They may be really easy to learn. They may have only one or two rules. Players may not even have a lot of choices on their turn. Instead, it's the decision tree that opens up when a player evaluates one of their choices against the opponent's possible responses and then their counters to the opponent's responses and so on.

Let's take draughts as an example. The rules are pretty simple, even though there are plenty of regional variants. On your turn, you immediately know your options. What you need to think about though is what your best option is. To decide that, you need to think about how your opponent is likely to respond and then look at how you would respond to that and so on.

At the beginning of the game, the white player has 7 possible moves. The black player can then also respond with 7 moves. That alone gives you 49 possible board states in just two turns. That shows you how much depth there is in draughts.

Enough is enough Topic Discussion 02(Photo by Leonard Reese on Unsplash) 

So if you want to write a board game review about a game with a lot of depth, you will have to play it quite a bit. The deeper a game, the more often you need to play it. Luckily, a lot of board games aren't actually that deep. Sure, a game like Brass: Birmingham is pretty deep. There are a lot of possible ways that you can start the game and there are even more ways in which other players can respond to your opening move.

Strategy Guides

In reality though, when I write a board game review about a deep game, I don't intend to write a strategy guide. In fact, I think I'd be the worst person to write strategy guides. I usually don't have the insight needed for that sort of thing. However, I can still thoroughly review a board game that's quite deep without having to play it dozens of times and exploring all the possible strategies or opening moves.

As long as my review explains that the game has a lot of depth and is therefore likely to still be challenging when you have played it many, many times, then my review will be thorough and fair. I don't think anyone expects my reviews to explain how to play a game or what strategy to follow. Readers want to know if the game is for them. Just saying that a game is deep may be enough for some readers to know that it's for them.

It is important however, that my review points out if a game is broken. By that I mean, if a game has a specific strategy, tactic or faction that will guarantee a win 99% of the time. At the same time though, there are games where you will most definitely lose if you don't make the right decisions on your first and second turns. These games may feel broken, but are intentionally made this way. You have to learn what these mistakes are and then you will succeed. It's a bit like chess where some openings are known to be inferior and most likely lead to a loss.

What About You?

Now I want to know what you think. Do you expect reviewers to have played a game a certain number of times before they're ready to review it? How would you decide when you've played a game often enough to be able to write about it? Do you think it's enough to sometimes play a game only once or twice? Is there a minimum number of plays in your view? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below. It'd be interesting to hear what you think.

There Will Be Games
Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

Log in to comment

n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #337565 22 Dec 2022 11:35
This was a good article. I’m someone that doesn’t expect reviewers to have played a minimum number of times, but I think it is helpful to put reviews in context of numbers of plays.

I see some influential reviewers who just get some things wrong, it becomes a question of if they played the game enough to understand how the systems interact, or even if they’ve played at all.

I don’t look for rules summaries as reviews, because that’s not as useful to me. What I like to see is relating the experience of playing and an analysis of gameplay. I know those things require taking time to play the games and get to know them, then putting that into words or video. It’s a lot of work, and I appreciate the people who do that.

Standing in front of a camera and telling a rules rundown and then a sentence of “good or bad” isn’t what I personally want.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #337567 22 Dec 2022 12:40
I don't have a huge expectation for reviewers in terms of how many times they play a game. Lets face it, in todays era of a tidal wave of releases, many players form an opinion - good or bad - after only a handful of plays. That said, I DO expect the bulk of the review to be about HOW a game players, a reviewers thoughts on it and comps to other similar games. Spare me the lengthy rules summary. That's just filling space and giving the illusion of being comprehensive.
Agent easy's Avatar
Agent easy replied the topic: #337698 03 Jan 2023 12:42
I appreciate when a reviewer disclosed how often they’ve played it and under what circumstances (number of players, etc). That means more to me than making sure they’ve played it several times. One of the advantages of our age of information is that we have access to several news sources and to sources that aggregate those sources, so getting many points of view is more important to me than getting a specific person’s point of view.
Agent easy's Avatar
Agent easy replied the topic: #337700 03 Jan 2023 12:47
Having said that, when you follow a specific person for a while, you get a sense of their approach and their tastes. This can provide as much context as the review itself. Although there is value in aggregating information, there is similarly value in understanding the sources. A reviewer that digs deep and works hard to produce a thorough review brings quite a bit to the table, but if they are fans of Lacerda I might step away even if they proclaim it the best game ever… (no slam on Lacerda, just not for me).
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #337704 03 Jan 2023 15:33
These days "I liked it so much I played it three times" is a strong positive endorsement. ;)
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #337746 05 Jan 2023 19:07

ubarose wrote: These days "I liked it so much I played it three times" is a strong positive endorsement. ;)


And when they don't come out and say something like that I find myself trying to read between the lines to see if I can figure out how well they know the game. Sometimes they'll slip and say something like "playing card X would end the turn" and you realize that they haven't played, or at least haven't played that particular part of the game.

As for details to include -- Awhile back Barnes wrote a review for that game with the woman's face where you're turning tiles over . . . I can't remember the name . . . he got a whole lotta flack on Reddit because he didn't review the parts that people wanted him to review. He didn't check the normal boxes on the list. Instead he reviewed the part that struck him -- the visage of her face, the visceral feel that the play left him with instead of the widgets and doo-dads that made the game work. He threw in a bit of an insult at the start as is his way to get people to read, but then what followed was a heart-on-his-sleeve description of the part of the game that had a personal effect on him. He more or less said hey, you play this game for a different reason, and it may be worth it.

The Mirroring of Mary King! I was trying to search on Face and Visage and got nuthin'.

So, clearly he left stuff out, and as is often the case a little mystery makes Mary King more attractive than she would have been otherwise. The fact that he opted to include the emotional impact of the game was a clear indication of the kind of play it is, at least from his point of view.

Insufficient? Maybe. But given that just about every game released has a hundred threads of information on it at your fingertips a wholly different perspective like that was a more entertaining read, and offered insight into a facet of the game that I wager no one else spent much time on.

So as far as I'm concerned write what you want. I'll take whatever you're offering and work it in to my other sources to get a good idea of what the game is. I'm fine with that.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #337749 06 Jan 2023 08:13
I don't read many reviews or watch any videos. I used to listen to a couple of podcasts. What I'm trying to suss out from a review is something few people seem interested in, and that's: is it fun to play?

Obviously "fun" is subjective and I'm not looking for that metric exactly, but what I want to know is:

* Who am I and what am I doing? That is, what is the game about? In the case of, say, Ticket to Ride, I want to know that I will be drawing cards and forming sets of them in order to lay train paths on the board, with the goal being to connect cities and fulfill tickets. That's it. I don't need the rules. I don't even care too much about the specific mechanisms unless there's something notable.

* What is it like to play? I don't want "it was fun, we liked it" as that is nothing. But tell me: that novel mechanism, did it turn out to actually add anything? Did you find yourself in sticky situations? Was it more or less aggressive than you expected? In the case of TTR, did you realize that most of the time you were just drawing cards and drawing cards isn't particularly interesting?

So many "reviews" I've read don't touch on either of these (the first, usually only briefly) and instead load everything down with telling me the rules. The second part especially, is usually just, as I said, "we liked it, everyone had a good time". A good time doing what?

Neither of those two things requires 20 plays to tease out. Shit, I've been playing games for 20 years and can usually figure out a lot to say halfway through my first game.

The other weird thing I discovered is, despite standing in front of three shelves of games, reviewers don't leverage that big collection in any way. This thing you just played...if you own 300 games, is there any reason other than sheer numbers to own or play this one? Does this bring ANYTHING fresh to the table? Not everything has to break new ground, but I also don't owe something a play just because it exists. (To be fair, I'm well out of my "gotta try em all and discover new gems!" phase and well into my "I'm pretty happy with my collection and would actually like to play it" phase.)

Looking over this post, I can sum up by saying that so many reviews I tried out seem to approach every game as though it's the viewer's first entry in the hobby. They need to be told how this game works, that it's going to be a new experience for them, and it will be fun. Few of them that I found seemed interested in going beyond that.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #337750 06 Jan 2023 13:19
That appeal to authority, standing in front of loads of games, is worthless to me.

I think to myself, you have so many games, how many are you actually playing? Are you keeping these because they are good or because they fill shelves? Are you being paid to have them there?

Yes, comparisons or recommendations would be great in context.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #337751 06 Jan 2023 14:34

n815e wrote: That appeal to authority, standing in front of loads of games, is worthless to me.

I think to myself, you have so many games, how many are you actually playing? Are you keeping these because they are good or because they fill shelves? Are you being paid to have them there?

Yes, comparisons or recommendations would be great in context.


Oh, I agree. Seeing row after row of filled shelves only makes me think, "this person is not particularly picky".
Cappster_'s Avatar
Cappster_ replied the topic: #337782 09 Jan 2023 15:50
I am pretty sure I saw this in a thread on Reddit, about what makes for good game reviews, and it has just stuck with me. I've adapted it to all of the reviews that I'm writing. The commenter essentially said, "I need to know the following information:

You are a ___, trying to ___. To win, you must ___.

So simple. but as I said, it stuck with me. I ended up adding one more prompt, "___ will lead you to victory".

So a review for Wings for the Baron (Second Edition), the most under-rated game of all time™, would read something like this:

In Wings for the Baron (Second Edition), you are a German Aeroplane Manufacturer, supplying fighters, bombers, and reconnaissance planes to the German War Effort during World War I. To do this, you will need to Build factories, improve the Design of your aeroplanes, Research new technologies to give you edge in aeroplane design, commit acts of Espionage to steal ideas from your opponents, and Bank your inflation-prone deutschmark into gold. Efficient use of these actions, and a stockpile of gold in your Swiss bank account will lead you to victory!


It's not a list of components and mechanisms (although I do list the games five action cards). It's not a long winded diatribe about it's kickstarting woes. It's nothing like what most reviews are today.

It is three sentences, albeit longish sentences, that give you everything that you need to know about Wings for the Baron, and prompt you to keep reading.
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #337788 11 Jan 2023 02:27
I kind of disagree with this. While a review might touch upon those things this just reads like the information you might find on the back of the box to let you know what the game is about. I don't think a review needs to include that.

I don't always succeed in this myself, but to me a good review tells you what a game 'feels' like to play. What emotions does it give at the table, what is the arc of the game like, what is the interaction with the systems and the other players like.

I do talk about games I've played each month now, but I don't put number of plays on a review. The answer is always wrong from someones perspective. You played it too little so you don't know what you are talking about, you played it too much so are obviously biased, you played it with the wrong number of people etc. etc. Play the game enough for you to feel comfortable you have a handle on it. That's all we can ask.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #337790 11 Jan 2023 08:01

thegiantbrain wrote: I kind of disagree with this. While a review might touch upon those things this just reads like the information you might find on the back of the box to let you know what the game is about. I don't think a review needs to include that.

I don't always succeed in this myself, but to me a good review tells you what a game 'feels' like to play. What emotions does it give at the table, what is the arc of the game like, what is the interaction with the systems and the other players like.

I do talk about games I've played each month now, but I don't put number of plays on a review. The answer is always wrong from someones perspective. You played it too little so you don't know what you are talking about, you played it too much so are obviously biased, you played it with the wrong number of people etc. etc. Play the game enough for you to feel comfortable you have a handle on it. That's all we can ask.


Telling me who I am and what I'm doing is necessary but not sufficient. I want it, but I also want what you're talking about. I want to know what the game purports to be like and what it's actually like. "You're a movie producer creating blockbusters by hiring the best actors, writers, and cinematographers!" wow that sounds like fun. That's appealing to me. "Actually you're just moving markers up 37 different tracks for 5 hours". Yikes, no thanks.

But also the converse: "a tense game of hand management and tough decisions". Okay, sure. "you're deciding which dogs to euthanize and which to put in the dog show". ouch dude, no, pass.
Cappster_'s Avatar
Cappster_ replied the topic: #337791 11 Jan 2023 09:25
I get what you're saying. I do aim to talk about the objective aspects of the game play - check out any of our (Sag) podcast episodes - I feel like the bulk of the conversation is about the feel of the game, the feel of the play, and any narrative that we have from our history of play.

I mostly agree about numbers of plays. If a reviewer is able to state their facts and opinions without major gameplay or rule errors, I'm okay with it. But if they are making statements that indicate to me they don't even have a basic understanding of the game, that's where I have a problem.

I don't recall the podcast, but essentially they called El Grande a luck fest. I could never take those guys seriously after that. That was actually the moment that lit the fire to start Games from the Cellar - I couldn't have that kind of misinformation out there!
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #337792 11 Jan 2023 11:24
I probably hold myself to a higher standard than anyone reading. I've been meaning to do a piece on the GIPF series, similar to what Vysetron did last summer for another site, and I have played all of them. I just feel like I haven't played all of them enough to have something genuinely interesting to say about them that isn't "Here's how you play this game." I think feel is a good approach, but it's not a universal one. I played Outer Rim once and was so repelled by it that I traded it away the next day. My "feel" was resoundingly negative, in addition to it being basically just another PU&D which I already have a few of. But it was also only one play, so would you hold that up as a proper assessment? I normally wouldn't, even though I can stipulate on a technical level everything that I found to be "wrong" about the game. I have written reviews for things I've only played like three times but that's generally because the 2nd and 3rd plays were me searching for a redeeming feature and not finding one (like the Rivals: Vampire piece I wrote several months back.) Finding people to keep playing a game that none of us really like is another challenge. But, apparently, that game is hella popular because I see it in all of the local game stores (of which we suddenly have 5(!)) and it has an expansion. I can, similarly, tell you exactly what was wrong with it on both a mechanical and "feel" level after that few plays, but...
oliverkinne's Avatar
oliverkinne replied the topic: #337802 12 Jan 2023 08:19
Thank you for all the comments and the friendly discussion. It makes for a fascinating and interesting read.