Reviewing a Game in 14 Easy Steps (A Guideline)
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After actively wondering around in BGG for 6 months, seeing a lot of games and reading a lot of game reviews, few weeks ago I came to my sense... hey, why don't I try to summarize the factors that people mostly discussed in a game review, and try to generate a guideline in making a game review with standard items and ratings?

Thus, here is my first geeklist, a guideline for my future game review articles, and hopefully could also help new boardgame fans in knowing and understanding the fun world of boardgaming.

[Edit: 17-Apr-2007]

The rating system is divided into 3 categories:
1. Positive Rating is used to describe game aspect that gets better as the rating gets higher. Quality, Artwork, Learning, Interaction, and Replayability fall into this category. A good game is a game with higher positive rating (more icons).
2. Negative Rating is the opposite of the positive rating. Cost and Waiting Time are in this category. A good game is a game with lower negative rating (less icons).
3. Neutral Rating is used to describe neutral characteristic of the game, such as: Theme, Luck, Weight, and Length. The rating in this category should not be used to tell whether a game is good or not, but just to show the level of each aspect. Some gamers may prefer a light weight game, and others looking for a heavy weight, complex game. Some are ok with high luck, but others prefer no or only a bit of luck.

[Thanks to TermiGator for the input on this rating system]


Feel free to add comment and suggestion to improve the content of this list.
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1. Board Game: Power Grid [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:49]
Board Game: Power Grid
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1. THEME

Theme is the topic of a game, supported by the game mechanics and artwork to make the theme strong.

Game like Chess and Blokus don't have a theme and we called them as abstract games. Some people like abstract game, and some people don't.

Some games have a very strong theme and very good mechanics to support the theme. Power Grid is a good example. It's a game about being an owner of an electric company that must supply electricity to cities, and in return get some cash to further expand your electric kingdom. The game mechanic includes power plant auction, fuel purchase, and building electrical connections.

For theme, I use the rating as follow, not to say that an abstract game is not good, but only to let the readers know my opinion about the theme of a game.

nuclearblankblankblankblank Abstract Game (e.g. Chess)
nuclearnuclearblankblankblank Quite abstract (Ricochet Robots)
nuclearnuclearnuclearblankblank Not strong enough (Torres)
nuclearnuclearnuclearnuclearblank Strong (The Princes of Florence)
nuclearnuclearnuclearnuclearnuclear Very strong (Power Grid)
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2. Board Game: For Sale [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:317]
Board Game: For Sale
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2. PRICE

The second item that I'll check is the game price. If you buy on-line, then you also need to include the shipping cost, which is about 15-20% of the basic game price for local shipment, and could go up to 100% of the game price for international shipment. This could be a major issue for gamers who live far away from US or Europe, and living in country with low standard income (like me in Indonesia).

So, for my rating, I use the MSRP in US as the standard.

blankblankblankblank Very cheap (less than $15)
blankblankblank Cheap ($15 - $24.99)
blankblank OK ($25 - $39.99)
blank Expensive ($40 - $49.99)
Too expensive (more than $50)
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3. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:195] [Average Rating:7.41 Unranked]
Board Game: Ticket to Ride
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3. QUALITY

Even though the game price is high, sometimes we're willing to spend our money on it if the game parts quality is good. Quality here is about the material used to build the parts which affects the reliability of the parts. This includes the box, board, rulebook, tokens, tiles, cards, counters, etc.

If we go to the game store, it's hard to directly check the quality of the game parts as the box is still in plastic wrap. And if buying it on-line, it's impossible to check. Thus, reading a review from someone who already bought it, is the best resource to get this info.

When I first get my Genoa (ToG), I'm very happy with the board as it's printed on a very thick board, very happy with all the tiles, counters, and the cards even though they are small. But, I'm not happy with the ducats (money) as it's only printed on a thin paper, while during the play these ducats will be flying around between players. Just after about 15 games, the ducats tend to worn-out.

Ticket to Ride (TtR) parts are superb. The plastic trains are detail, high quality plastic molded. And extra spares are also included...

goldencamelblankblankblankblank Not so good
goldencamelgoldencamelblankblankblank OK, acceptable
goldencamelgoldencamelgoldencamelblankblank Good
goldencamelgoldencamelgoldencamelgoldencamelblank Great, above expectation
goldencamelgoldencamelgoldencamelgoldencamelgoldencamel Superb, beyond expectation
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4. Board Game: Elfenland [Average Rating:6.69 Overall Rank:1129]
Board Game: Elfenland
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4. ARTWORK

Artwork is about the graphic, the design, the color, and the layout of the game parts. Usually the back cover of the game box shows picture of the parts that can give us a clue of the artwork. And of course we want to get a game with good artwork, right?

When my gaming friend showed me the Modern Art that he just bought, I'm quite surprise with the artwork on each card. In my opinion, even though the image on each card doesn't affect the game play, a more attractive image can be put there.

The story is different for Elfenland. The board's artwork is very attractive and the colors are eye-catching. I usually use Elfenland to attract new gamers because of its wonderful artwork.

Ticket to Ride has another issue in this category. Not the graphic, but the color. The brown and red colors on the board map are difficult to differentiate. The brown is more like orange, and the red color is yellowish-red that make them hard to differentiate.

buildingblankblankblankblank Not good (Modern Art)
buildingbuildingblankblankblank OK (Web of Power)
buildingbuildingbuildingblankblank Good, quite detail (Alhambra)
buildingbuildingbuildingbuildingblank Great, minor issue (Ticket to Ride)
buildingbuildingbuildingbuildingbuilding Marvelous, great and eye-catching (Elfenland)
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5. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:7.97 Overall Rank:31]
Board Game: Puerto Rico
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5. LEARNING

Is the rulebook presented in such formats that's easy (and fast) to read, learn, and understand? Is there enough pictures and examples? Remember, a picture says a thousand words...

It only took me once to read and understand the long rules of Puerto Rico, and then I just need to read the rules summary to make sure I’ve understand it correctly and not miss anything.

On the other hand, Formidable Foes rulebook is hard to read (small font size) and hard to understand. So many jumps in the rulebook and there's not enough picture to show how the game supposed to be played. And there's no rules summary. After our first game and checked the rulebook again, we realized that we played it wrongly. I'm finally sure that I got it right after reading the rulebook 4 times.

indigoblankblankblankblank Very hard to read, 5x read or more
indigoindigoblankblankblank Hard to learn, 4x read
indigoindigoindigoblankblank OK, need about 3x read
indigoindigoindigoindigoblank Easy to learn, 2x read
indigoindigoindigoindigoindigo Very easy to learn, 1x read
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6. Board Game: Caylus [Average Rating:7.75 Overall Rank:84]
Board Game: Caylus
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6. WEIGHT

Game weight relates to the complexity of the game. A game becomes complex where there're a lot of parts to remember and each part has its own function, and also if there're a lot of available actions. A complex game usually requires the player to plan their moves and sometimes brings the player into paralysis analysis.

Caylus has a lot of building tiles, where each building has its own function and to build it you have to follow some other rules. Each round in Age of Steam (AoS) consists of several phases and there're several actions that you can do on each phase. These 2 games can be considered as heavy games, very complex games.

10 Days in Africa is one of the light games. Very limited tile/card types and limited action. Trans Europa is also a light game.

blankblankblankblank Light, not much brain activity
blankblankblank Light-medium, some brain activities
blankblank Medium, some planning (Samurai)
blank Medium-heavy, complex game
Heavy, very complex (Caylus, AoS)
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7. Board Game: Mille Bornes [Average Rating:5.70 Overall Rank:7563]
Board Game: Mille Bornes
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7. LUCK

Lucky Number 7 ...

Luck is usually compared to strategy. People might say that a game of pure luck requires no strategy, and a pure strategy game has no luck involved. But, even in real life, luck is always there. Thus, in my opinion it's normal to have luck factor in a game, even in a heavy strategy game.

Games like Chess and Caylus, has almost no luck in the game. These games are pure tactical and strategy games.

Age of Steam (AoS), even though it's also a heavy tactical and strategy game, it has a bit of luck factor at the goods growth phase, but very little impact to the game result. In The Princes of Florence (PoF), the luck factor is minimized by drawing 5 cards and player to select 1 out of the 5 cards.

Chutes and Ladders (S&L) is a good example of a pure luck game. Roll the dice and move your token. Monopoly and Mille Bornes are another example of almost purely luck games.

Is too many luck in a game make it bad? The answer is NO ... some people like it, some people don't. As for me, I prefer a game with little luck, or a game that player can have some control to the luck factor, and this luck has only little impact to the game result.

d10-7blankblankblankblank None or almost none (Caylus)
d10-7d10-7blankblankblank Very low (AoS, Puerto Rico)
d10-7d10-7d10-7blankblank Normal, some impact to the game
d10-7d10-7d10-7d10-7blank Quite high (Acquire, Elfenland)
d10-7d10-7d10-7d10-7d10-7 High or pure luck (Mille Bornes)
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8. Board Game: Bohnanza [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:474]
Board Game: Bohnanza
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8. INTERACTION

The level of interaction between players in a game could be one important factor. If you want to attract a newbie into the fun world of board gaming, you might consider starting with a game that has a lot of interactions.

Interactions could be in a positive form of trading, negotiation, discussion, and suggestion, or in a negative form of back-stab actions that produce grumbling sound.. arrgggghhhh!!!

In Chess, we can say that's no interaction at all. Actually it's not permitted to talk to the other player, except to say "Check" or "Check Mate"..

The Princes of Florence is an example of a complex game that has some interactions between players during its auction phase.

Bohnanza is a perfect example of a game with a lot of interactions. Each turn, a player will be as an active bean trader, while the other players will try to make a trading offer with the active trader.

blankblankblankblank Almost no interaction
blankblankblank A bit of interaction
blankblank Some interactions (Samurai)
blank A lot (Citadels)
Full (Bohnanza, Genoa)
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9. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:432] [Average Rating:7.16 Unranked]
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9. WAITING

How long a player needs to wait and sit idle before his/her next action? Yes, a player might still doing some planning or thinking for his/her next move during this waiting time, but still he/she doesn't do any actual action or movement.

In a 4-5 players of The Princes of Florence, during the action phase, a player might need to wait for about 5 minutes as the other players take their actions. Playing with a new gamer will increase this waiting time, and playing with all veteran gamers will decrease it.

Genoa has almost zero waiting time. On each player turn, all players need to focus on the game as they must always make negotiations with the active player.

A game with a lot of interactions usually has minimum waiting time, and game with low interactions usually has long waiting time. But these are not always the case.

blankblankblankblank Almost zero (Bohnanza)
blankblankblank A bit, 1-2 minutes (Ticket to Ride)
blankblank Short, 2-5 minutes
blank Quite long, 5-10 minutes
Long, more than 10 minutes (Chess)
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10. Board Game: Sid Meier's Civilization: The Boardgame [Average Rating:5.60 Overall Rank:18578]
Board Game: Sid Meier's Civilization: The Boardgame
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10. LENGTH

Some people have no issue with the game length, even though it could take more than 5 hours to complete just one game. Most people will prefer a game that can be finished in max 2 hours. But still some people are looking for a filler game which only takes less than one hour to play.

The length of play depends on the number of players. Playing Elfenland with 6 players could take 30 minutes longer than with only 4 players. But, Genoa is reducing the number of game rounds for larger number of players in order to maintain the game length (about 2 hours).

Other factor affecting the game length is the skill of the players. If all players are already veteran, then it would take shorter time to complete one game. Playing a 4 players The Princes of Florence with 2 newbies will take about 2 hours, but with all veteran players will take max one and a half hour.

My rating for the game length is based on the average game length with various number of players, just to give us an estimation game length.

cloveblankblankblankblank less than 0.5 hour (For Sale)
clovecloveblankblankblank 0.5–1 hour (Saboteur)
cloveclovecloveblankblank 1–2 hours (Power Grid)
clovecloveclovecloveblank 2–3 hours (Tigris & Euphrates)
clovecloveclovecloveclove more than 3 hours (Sid Meier's Civilization: The Boardgame)
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11. Board Game: Age of Steam [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:123]
Board Game: Age of Steam
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11. REPLAYABILITY

How is your first game feel? Is it fun? Is it great? Do you want to play it again? After playing 5-6 times, do you still want to play it again? I think these questions describe better about replayability of a game.

A game with variable setup condition has an extra point for replayability. Catan that has variable game board setup is one example. Different map will make you use different tactic or strategy from your previous game. In Maharaja: The Game of Palace Building in India, the first character that you choose will determine your strategy for few rounds ahead, until you change it again, or forced by other player to change it.

A game expansion is a great way to increase the replayability of a game. Power Grid doesn't have variable game map or setup, but when you buy the basic game, it's already come with 2 maps: Germany and USA. And later on the Italy and France expansion maps were released, and then the Benelux and Central Europe maps. These maps come with a bit of rule modification that also increase the replayability of this great game.

Age of Steam and Alhambra are other example of game with a lot of expansions to increase their replayability.

5vpblankblankblankblank Very low, stuck in my closet
5vp5vpblankblankblank Quite low, quite a boring game
5vp5vp5vpblankblank OK, will occasionally play it
5vp5vp5vp5vpblank High, usually want to play
5vp5vp5vp5vp5vp Very high, always want to play
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12. Board Game: 10 Days in Africa [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:2355]
Board Game: 10 Days in Africa
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12. EXTRA

All other extra factors that are not yet covered above will be mentioned here. Some samples of the extra factors are:

- Also good for 2 players
Even though it's written on the box, not all games are good for 2 players. On the other hand, there's game which is not designed for 2 players, but using a house rule or customized rule, it becomes a good 2 players game. Puerto Rico is a game for 3-5 players, but using a house rule, it becomes a good game for two.

- Good for 6 players or above
A good game for 6 players or above is rare. Elfenland, Power Grid, Saboteur, and Bohnanza get extra credit for this category. Again, there's another house rule for playing Puerto Rico with 6 players.

- Educational factor
A game could be fun, but if we can also use it as an educational tool, it would be perfect! Kingdoms is a light-medium game that is easy to learn, and in every turn a player must perform some mathematical calculations. 10 Days in Africa is a light game about traveling, but in the same time will teach the players about African geography.
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13. Board Game: The Princes of Florence [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:207]
Board Game: The Princes of Florence
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13. OVERALL

Finally, after reviewing all the details, it comes to the conclusion, the overall score. For this, I use a rating system that adapted from the BGG rating.

And last, I will add my final words about the game, my opinion whether it’s a must buy game for everyone, or for specific groups only, or maybe it’s a poor, must not buy game...

thumbsdownblankblankblankblank Bad, won’t play this game again unless forced to

thumbsdownthumbsupblankblankblank Average, slightly boring, will play if in the right mood

thumbsupthumbsupthumbsupblankblank Good, usually willing to play

thumbsupthumbsupthumbsupthumbsupblank Very good, like to play and will never turn down a game

thumbsupthumbsupthumbsupthumbsupthumbsup Excellent, always want to play and expect this will never change
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14. Board Game: Apples to Apples [Average Rating:5.79 Overall Rank:5327] [Average Rating:5.79 Unranked]
Board Game: Apples to Apples
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14. COMPARISON

Considering some people believe that ‘13’ is not a good number, I like to add another item in this game review list, which is a comparison with the other games.

By comparing the game rating with other games that have similar theme and mechanics, hopefully the review will give deeper information about the game and help the reader to make decision to buy or not to buy ... that's the question!
meeplemeeple

[Edit: 17-Apr-07]
Here is the sample of the rating comparison, which I hope can give an overview of the game. The game ratings have been rearranged based on their category: positive, negative, and neutral rating. Icons with green background are positive rating (more icons the better), with red background are negative (less icons the better), and with yellow background are neutral ones.

From gallery of ddkk

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