The goal of board game reviews is to give the reader the information they need to make a decision about whether a game is for them or not. Reviews are always going to be subjective and people may agree with them or they may not - or most likely they'll agree with some things and not others. Either way, reviews have to convey what a game is like, from a product perspective as well as a gameplay experience angle. In this article, I want to focus on the latter and explain why I think gameplay experience is so important.
Let's look at games as a product first. The quality of a game's components, as well as their quantity, will be part of someone's buying decision. A game that costs 500 Money (it doesn't really matter if this is Pound Sterling, US Dollars, Euros or some other currency) is usually expected to have better quality components and/or more of them than a game that's only 35 Money. Yet, when two games both cost 50 Money each and one has more or better components than the other, it doesn't mean the one with more/better components is the better purchase.
Here is where the enjoyment of a game comes in, as well as the game length. A game that takes an hour to play and that you enjoy so much that you'll play it at least 10 times is going to be more valuable to you than a game that you'll ever only play once. If that game also has great quality components, then even better.
So your buying decision will be based on a combination of price, product quality and the enjoyment you get out of a game.
You can easily check how many and what components there are in a game. Just look at the box or the content list on the publisher's website. Chances are there will also be unboxing videos that show off the components and how wonderful they are. It's information you can easily get from other sources.
That's why my reviews focus on the gameplay experience. I very rarely mention the quality of a game's components, unless they affect the enjoyment of the game somehow. It's very much the same reason why I don't explain the rules of a game in my review. It's much easier for you to find them online and read them for yourself or watch a play-through video. The only time I talk about a game's rules is when they are really simple or really difficult, as that will have a bearing on your enjoyment of the game.
So I think the best thing I can do in my reviews is to tell you how I and the people I played with felt during the game. That starts with learning or teaching the rules. It continues with the setup of the game, the turn structure and actual gameplay. How clear everything is on the table and how easy the game is to play are also important. Game length and replayability also factor into what gameplay experience we had.
Everyone is Different
That's where it gets very subjective, of course.
I can enjoy a game that takes an hour to teach and two to play, with every turn and every decision being excruciatingly difficult. I might feel really tired afterwards, but I also had so much fun during the game that I can't wait to play it again. At the same time I know, that experience isn't necessarily for everyone.
Actually, it's not just other people who don't necessarily like long, complex games. There are times when I much prefer a game with a handful of rules that's really quick to play. What game I like to play depends on how I feel, who I'm with and possibly some other factors. It will change over time.
Different people will like different types of games at different times and when they're with different people. However, my reviews can still explain how these games made me and the people I played with feel. It doesn't really matter if a game took a long time to learn and play or was really complex. If it was overwhelmingly fun and so exciting that I just had to play it again as soon as possible, it's still a good game. You know the old adage: "time flies when you're having fun."
When you read my reviews, you will be able to compare my enjoyment of the game with its stats. You can look up how long the game is supposed to take to play. You can read the rules to see how complex they are. Combining all of that information with my review will help you decide if the game is for you.
One Person's Trash is Another Person's Treasure
In fact, even when I really didn't like a game and had the worst experience, it might still be the right game for you. That's why my reviews will never give games a rating (even though there are places where I'm forced to rate the games). I will merely describe how they played and what bits worked for me and which ones didn't. A dice worker placement I really loved may not be the right game for you. Reading my review will hopefully have given you the information you needed to make that decision though.
That's the beauty of reviews and following a handful of reviewers over time. You get an idea of their tastes and their dislikes. You can compare those to your own. So when a reviewer comes out with their top 10 games at the end of the year, you will quickly know which one of those will also be in your top 10 and which ones are likely to be in your list of the worst 10 games.
My hope is, that when you read my reviews, it comes across what gameplay experience we had when we played it. Of course, my reviews are based on multiple plays to try and weed out the outliers. We all know that our first play of a game can be a bad experience. However, games can get better the more we play them. Conversely, games can be a lot of fun at first and then become more and more boring. So when you read my reviews, I will say if a game takes a while to get used to or is only good for a handful of plays before you should give it a break.
What About You?
What do you think a board game review should contain? Do you like my approach to reviews or do you think I should write them differently? How do you decide which game you want to buy or play next? As always, I'd love to hear from you. So please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.