How I Vet Games
Mc Jarvis
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Essen season is over, and in searching this year I attempted to find a routine, objective way to vet games. Last year I did mostly a guessing approach, and as such had a lot of misses. Hopefully I will do better this year, but I thought I'd write down the factors I considered in assessing games I couldn't play using only the internet.

So this geeklist is the the process I've been mentally using over the last few months to assess if I want to try games. I'm posting the items in order of importance to me.
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1. Board Game: Nations [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:110]
Mc Jarvis
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The Rulebook

For almost every game on my wishlist currently, I've read the rulebook in full, cover to cover. I find that this is most useful for excluding games incorporating mechanics I dislike, or identifying games which simply re-use old mechanics which I've seen before. In my eyes, a game needs to offer something new in terms of mechanics for me to really be interested in buying it. Posting a rulebook is the #1 way for publishers to boost my confidence to the point of wanting to talk up the game's buzz on forums. As an added bonus, when I DO post negative things about the game, they are objective things like "I don't like dice", which are ostensibly helpful to publishers/designers since it fences the table from people who wouldn't like the game for similar reasons.
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2. Board Game: Bora Bora [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:168]
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The Designer

Some designers I trust to incorporate mechanics I dislike. For instance, Stephan Feld has shown time and time again an ability to use dice in a way that boosts replayability and strategic intrigue: dice rarely are objectively better or worse for high/low values, and what you do with them is far more important than what you roll.

Bora Bora is a game I would have written off due to the rulebook, but because I trust Feld I picked it up--- and I love it.
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3. Board Game: Village [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:123]
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Game Awards

This more applies to games which are six months+ old. Village is a game I probably would not have picked up if not for game awards. Many American gamers don't seem to care about awards, but I find they do a good job of exposing me to the best of the best of games outside the usual genres I enjoy.

However, unlike designers, I do not let game awards trump my reading of the rulebook. Sometimes awards are given with goals in mind which are not my own---fortunately, game award committees are fairly easy to get to know the personality of. I know that generally I won't enjoy Mensa selected games (ironically, due to them not being all that heady and poorly vetted), but I will enjoy Kennerspiel awards.
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4. Board Game: Captains of Industry [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:2462]
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Kickstarter or Not?

I realize this will be contentious as many people really love kickstarter. However, if I see a game is buzzing or getting good reviews and then learn it is a kickstarter game, I immediately discount it as a "try before I buy" kind of thing. Kickstarter games are particularly difficult to assess because buyers tend to want to proselytize the kickstarter campaign and reaffirm their choice to back the project. Because of this, finding objective points of view is very difficult--- I find it easier just to sidestep the projects entirely.

Given that, however, there are a few exceptions. Any project which is for a reprint of a game which has received awards previously I will invest in[Ruhrschifffahrt], by a designer I know[Pandante] or posts a rulebook[Captains of Industry]. I could still be wrong on CoI, but at least I did it for objective reasons [reading a rulebook] rather than simply seeing pretty art and praise other people have given it.
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5. Board Game: Revolution: The Dutch Revolt 1568-1648 [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:1429]
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Geekbuddy Comments

The people you know best are the comments who you will understand best. When I saw Revolution highly rated by several of my friends, I knew it'd be good.
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6. Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers [Average Rating:8.07 Overall Rank:22]
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Negative Game Comments

I scour BGG game comments for insights on why people like or don't like games. Generally, negative comments are much more clear in the reasons why the reviewer gave it the score they did--- In Caverna's case, someone pointed out the lack of randomness in the game as a negative, comparing it to Ora Et Labora. My ears pricked up as soon as I saw this. (edit- Because I love nonrandom games!)
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7. Board Game: Outside the Scope of BGG [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:2883]
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Balanced Reviews

These don't really happen on BGG, but in theory these would be the best kind of reviews for me. Simply stating what worked well and what didn't, and WHY it worked well or didn't. "This game offered interesting decisions" is NOT useful, since for all I know you could be a cult-of-the-new fanboy who finds new game systems interesting. Maybe you find zoo animals interesting.

I don't. I think this is why these types of reviews don't work, though--- I desire a degree of specificity which people are either unwilling or unable to give with the time they have to write their reviews.
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8. Board Game: Mage Knight Board Game [Average Rating:8.11 Overall Rank:24]
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Negative Reviews

Generally negative reviews offer more objectivity in presentation on BGG than positive reviews do. But they are not as well received--- I'm guessing this is because why you like a game isn't important to a fan of the game--- they just want to know you agree, and see the game played as often as possible.

However, negative reviews are hard to write. You need clear reasons why you don't like the game. You need to be prepared to receive close to no geek gold for the review itself and no thumbs/GG from the general populace. Additionally, you will be attacked personally, called out for explaining the game wrong in the review, and outright accused of not playing the game enough. This means that if you wish to defend your review[like a dissertation?] you need to have a hundred page research paper lying in wait so that the BGG masses will be appeased.

Oh, and you will be treated like shit during the forum conversation. It just happens. But I appreciate you for posting the review in the first place!
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Mc Jarvis
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NOT USEFUL: Positive Reviews

I'm picking on the Dice Tower slightly here-- there are other offenders out there. There are certain players on BGG--- almost always people who review every game in existence--- who somewhat review games extremely positively. If they do have something negative to say, it's usually couched with "well I suppose if your group is into Y, you'll like this"--- this is useless, though. If you're not the demographic, you can't say if they'd like it or not. Because you are not them.

I get why positive reviews are a reality. Every game exists because someone loved it enough to design it--- when you write a negative review, you are being mean to that person. When you write a review from the perspective of "what do fans of the game like about this game?", it feels better. Despite all appearances, I'm naturally very nice and have to force myself to be sharp and aggressive.

But in the end, I already knew there were reasons to like the game. When I read reviews I'm trying to weed out bad game experiences--- I'm not looking to be sold on the game in question. So positive reviews tend to not be useful, because they gloss over things which bother the reviewer about the game.
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10. Board Game: 2019: The ARCTIC [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:5565]
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No News is Bad News

Frustrated at the lack of forum activity on a game, or general lack of feedback from the larger community?

Chances are there's a reason. I don't know for sure if I would like 2019 or not--- but given the lack of availability in the US, I can only assume the game never made it over for good reason.
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