Board Game Reviews

Lately I have heard several people complaining about the structure of board game reviews. Specifically the fact that they usually start with a mechanical overview or how to play.

However, I think this part of a review is integral to a board game review. People usually compare board game reviews to reviews of other media. Books, Movies/TV, and Video Games being the most popular. 

My issue with that comparison is that board games are consumed fundamentally differently than those other media types, specifically because of the mechanics of how they work. 

With few exceptions, the mechanics of reading a book are, you read it, in order. Watching a movie or tv show, also, you watch it, in order. There is no need to explain the mechanics of the medium because it is always the same. The few exceptions, like choose your own adventure books and movies, do have reviews that lead with that mechanical difference.

Video games are much closer to board games in that they have mechanical differences to how they work. But there tends to be a lot of games in each mechanical group with less mixing of mechanics. So saying it’s a first person shooter or platformer gets across the mechanics pretty well. Also, the fact that the computer manages most of the mechanics makes it less important for the reader/viewer/listener to know the details.

Board games have a variety of mechanisms and they are often mixed to form new systems. These systems must be managed by the players with a few app assisted exceptions. So knowing the mechanical substance of a game is integral to a review. If you have already played a game and just want someones opinion, I can understand wanting to skip the how to play. But not everyone has played the game or even heard about it.

If a reviewer only talked about their opinion and enjoyment of a game I may be interested, but if I buy it on that recommendation and find out it involves several mechanics that I don’t enjoy, I will be disappointed.

3 thoughts on “Board Game Reviews

  1. I see your point, but for those of us who complain about those review structures, we’re not complaining that the review talks about the mechanisms of the game at all, but that they don’t contextualize that description. What you get is a block of rules text, which is often difficult to comprehend and dull to read.

    Furthermore, I have a hard time figuring out what’s important in the rules discussion for what I want to know: how the game plays. If I learn that the first player starts with 5 money and the second player 6, what does that tell me about what I might enjoy about the game? What does that tell me about the reviewer’s experience? Nothing. I don’t need to know that information at all. It flattens the information to where you don’t know what’s important to the experience.

    Film is a kind of visual and auditory language, so film reviews should discuss how the creator uses that language to create the experience of the film. Video games can be more tactile, relating to the player’s experience of touch, reaction, snap decision making, etc (along with visual and auditory) (board games can be primarily tactile, but that’s a minority of games). Board games are usually about decision making, and I think it’s wise for a reviewer to focus on how the game creates interesting decision spaces. The mechanisms of the game create that, but explaining what the mechanisms are is usually not enough to communicate that experience.

    In short, I want my reviews to focus on the full experience of playing the game, and a compartmentalized, dry list of mechanisms doesn’t do that best.

  2. I was viewing this issue from the game designers perspective and thought that perhaps it was not the judging and discussion of the mechanics but that this is done first perhaps. Where one gets an idea for a game eureka the “lightbulb” I would want those judging to hopefully show that they can see my vision and appreciate it as a worthy goal before telling me why my silk element will not work I accept that I may need to revamp the mechanics for better game play but first I am craving for support of my vision to reenergize my own efforts and investment of time

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