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Subject: Are reviewers too afraid to be critical or am I hypercritical? rss

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Darian Tucker
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Here is something I have always questioned about this community. It seems to me, and perhaps I'm wrong, that there is an unfair amount of bias against criticism here. Positive reviews are never met with any critical comments, even if they are written based on playing the game with a few rules wrong or after a small number of plays. If a negative review does the same thing, however, many are dismissive of it or even openly hostile, calling for the removal of the review from the website.

Now from time to time, the major reviewers out there will find a game they absolutely hate and just trash it to kingdom come. For the most part, though, there appears to be a real divide. Either a reviewer hates a game or they give it a good score anyway. I'm thinking mostly of Tom Vasel with his Miami Dice reviews. Sometimes even if he has issues with a game, he will still give it "two thumbs up". This makes it impossible to distinguish between the games he really likes and thinks are great and the games that have some issues that people might be concerned about.

I wonder if this is due to a fear of being critical that is prevalent here. As another example, Drakkenstrike once commented that he didn't like to do negative reviews. To me, this makes the reviewer functionally useless. If I only get to see what the reviewer likes, I don't get to see what they don't like, which is critical for me to be able to parse their opinion and see if it is relevant to me. For instance, knowing that Tom likes games with great themes wouldn't necessarily be enough. You also have to know that he hates games with boring themes. Otherwise, you have to make an assumption based on a lack of information.

This is a relevant issue for me because I have bought a significant number of board games over the past few years based on the reviews I have read/watched. I have liked some of them, but I ended up disliking the majority. I'd say it's about a 40/60 divide. My average rating over 75 games (and many more unrated because I just hated them that much) is 5.27. This makes me question the usefulness of reading reviews before I purchase a game. I mean, buying games on my own gut instinct isn't exactly better. Again, it's about a 40/60 ratio for like/dislike. Still, one would hope that reviews would significantly improve one's chances of getting a good game vs. a stinker, but this is not the case for me. It's also a bigger issue because of the volume I've bought due to reviews vs. mostly blind or self-informed. I have bought about 2/3 of my games based on reviews and 1/3 based on my own intuition.

I suppose there are a few ultimate questions I'd like answered here. Is it true that reviewers here seem to hit much softer than in other places? Could I just be hypercritical and should I learn to try and enjoy more games? Perhaps most importantly, is there a reviewer on BGG who is well-known for being more critical of games than the rest? I would like to know so I know who I can trust when I go to buy games. I have spent thousands on board games in the past few years and don't have very many left to show for it.
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More important than finding a reviewer who's "hypercritical" is finding one whose tastes align with yours (or, more generally, whose tastes correlate predictably with yours, even if negatively).

If you can find reviewers who gush over the types of games that you like and are merely so-so, or even softly positive, on games you hate, that's most of what you need. It's certainly going to be more useful than following reviews strictly on the basis of whether the guy likes to shred games.
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Kelly Bass
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Tom's Hawaii review comes to mind:
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Darth James
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I've only just started writing reviews, but I have made it a point from the start to include what I don't like about the games I review. I agree with you that it is much more useful to see negative reviews of games than positive; when I am considering a new game, those are the reviews I seek out.

As another point of agreement, I get (perhaps disproportionately) annoyed when I see a review that admits to only playing a game a few times--or even just once (!). When I see that, it's fairly easy to dismiss a lot of what the reviewer claims about the game as being exaggerated.
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I think part of it is that on BGG, the community writes reviews. I think that people are more likely to review a game they like than one they dislike. Especially since they are more likely to play games they enjoy multiple times, and thus comprehend the game to the point of understanding them.

Also, good critical reviews are really hard to do, and require a lot more analysis.
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I think most people review games they own. I also think people tend to buy things they think they'll like. For example, I know that wargames aren't my thing, so I don't buy them and thus don't review them.

I'm sure most reviewers are similar in not buying things they expect to dislike.
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Dutys_Fist wrote:
I think part of it is that on BGG, the community writes reviews. I think that people are more likely to review a game they like than one they dislike. Especially since they are more likely to play games they enjoy multiple times, and thus comprehend the game to the point of understanding them.

Also, good critical reviews are really hard to do, and require a lot more analysis.
This is spot-on.
Tom Vasel isn't reviewing Euros, or wargames, or party games, or abstracts, or CCGs, or several other broad categories, so if the game is passing through his hands there is already an artifically-inflated chance that he is going to gush about it. Not to mention in the Kickstarter-obsessed present, plenty of people want him to "preview" a game in order to get the hype-machine started, so his reviews seem to be especially sought out these days.

And like Mr. Fist said: There are precious few quality critical reviews here on BGG. I will almost always thumb a negative review, just in the vain hope that some of the echo-chambers here @ BGG get pierced by just a small sliver of differing opinion.

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William Boykin
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First of all, there's a bit of confusion here as to what it means to actually write a 'critical' review.

I can be a critic- I can judge a game on its aesthetic merits- and still like the game. A critical review is to deeply examine the aesthetic worth of a piece of art; it doesn't necessarily mean to tear it down. Rather, one is exploring the game or work as art- and talking about why it speaks to the critic, or why it doesn't it.

I (occasionally) write reviews that I feel are very critical; that is, I take the game seriously, as works of art. But I only write reviews of games that I feel passionately about. Simply put, its not worth my time to talk about games that I'm not that interested in.

So I'm ok with people only writing about games that they 'like'- they're unpaid amateurs doing it for the love of the hobby. I just generally take it for granted that if a particular reviewer that I like doesn't review a game, there is probably a reason for that.....

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I'm going with hypercritical. I don't buy games dichotomously like you described as either based on review, or on intuition; but rather a combination of research, past likes, favorite mechanics, and yes, intuition and reviews. When I write reviews, I know somebody out there probably likes it, and part of what I try to do is describe to whom it would appeal even if it doesn't for me.
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Personally, when I do my (few) video reviews, I review games that I own (for obvious reasons). Being an avid researcher, I tend to buy almost only games that I like. Maybe in the future things will change.

Written reviews, on the other hand, allow me to review games that I have played once and disliked.

As far as criticisms OF the review, I, for one, welcome any kind of feedback.

Geki
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That's pretty much why I read the worst few comments/ratings left by users. You can learn a lot about a game from negative comments/reviews. There will always be that group of people that gush about a game but sometimes it's handy to know what ticks you off about it, especially if a similar thing will probably annoy you.

I can certainly see where u are coming from, hopefully, people present a balanced view. There are enough good reviewers that do that and hopefully we get a few more.
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Darian Tucker
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geki wrote:
Personally, when I do my (few) video reviews, I review games that I own (for obvious reasons). Being an avid researcher, I tend to buy almost only games that I like. Maybe in the future things will change.

Written reviews, on the other hand, allow me to review games that I have played once and disliked.

As far as criticisms OF the review, I, for one, welcome any kind of feedback.

Geki


I think that's my point. The research I can do makes me think I will like a lot of games. I only end up liking some, though, because my research has to pull from a lot of sources with lenses biased toward being overly positive. I mean, I generally know if I will like a game or not based on mechanics, but even if I like the mechanics in the game, I may not like the game itself when sit down to play it.
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Lacombe
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There are incredibly few games on this site that do not have any users who rate them a 10. There are exponentially fewer that do not have any users who rate them an 8 or above. The people who tend to write positive reviews [whether they thereafter receive criticism] are those players of the game who have reacted positively [usually very positively] to the game. Because of the hype machine system of thumbs determining visibility, this is only exacerbated. This is a selection bias implicit in the creation of a large portion of the reviews written on this site. Therefore, if your only evidence for guessing whether a game is "good" [implied "for you", surely] is whether it has good reviews, you are bound to find that the majority of games seem to be "good", since the majority of games have a majority of good reviews written in majority by players who were smitten with the game.

If you want to avoid this, avoid the self-selection process and find a group of users who play a wide enough variety of games [of the general types that interest you] and provide a wide enough array of ratings [so that you can be assured they will tell you when a game stinks], follow them around for awhile on the site, get to know their individual tastes and biases, add them to your Geekbuddy list, then use that magic "Analyze" button on a game page and see what these folks have to say, interpreting their ratings and comments in the light of the biases you know they have and comparing them to your own.

There are tens [hundreds?] of thousands of users on BGG; surely you are not going to trust your gaming dollars solely to the "wisdom of crowds" which tends to regress to the least common denominator and most broadly appealing [and, thus, often most milquetoast--*clearclaw mode, ENGAGE*--and predictably moderate / centrist] games. Your last sentence, "who I can trust when buying games", is exactly the point; very likely the answer is dramatically different than the "who" that each of us would identify. I trust different people's opinions of movies, books, politics, music, etc than you would likely trust.

The question isn't whether you can trust anyone's opinion [i.e. a nebulously anonymous "review on BGG"... no, in all likelihood you should not trust--i.e. consider representative of your own likely reception to the game--a randomly chosen review, least of all for a popular game], but whether you can trust a particular someone's. The only way to answer that is to check out a few people's stuff, see who you agree with, who you don't, and then shamelessly stalk the people you find useful. I learn infinitely more about a game [and especially whether it's for me] reading three comments from my Geekbuddy list than reading a dozen reviews on the game page.
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Lacombe
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SparkingConduit wrote:
I only end up liking some, though, because my research has to pull from a lot of sources with lenses biased toward being overly positive.


The answer is to pull from [dramatically] fewer, but [dramatically] better chosen sources.

You can look at a specimen through one million shitty Wal-Mart microscopes, bring it to one hundred uninformed boors at the local pub, in short employ as many "sources" as you like, but you're not going to understand anything about what you're looking at until you put it under a single decent microscope with a few well chosen and well informed mentors / confidants standing by.
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IMO you are hypercritical. In my experience, there are very few really bad games ... and not that many fantastic games. But the vast majority of games that get published have some merit and are pretty good.

You should learn how to smell the roses.
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NateStraight wrote:
SparkingConduit wrote:
I only end up liking some, though, because my research has to pull from a lot of sources with lenses biased toward being overly positive.


The answer is to pull from [dramatically] fewer, but [dramatically] better chosen sources.

You can look at a specimen through one million shitty Wal-Mart microscopes, bring it to one hundred uninformed boors at the local pub, in short employ as many "sources" as you like, but you're not going to understand anything about what you're looking at until you put it under a single decent microscope with a few well chosen and well informed mentors / confidants standing by.


Here is how to find people on the geek who's preferences match yours. It is a ratings correlation tool. Of course, you need to have rated a good number of games to get a good result.

http://korttipeliopas.fi/korttipelit/bgg/correlation.php

After you find a couple of dozen geeks whose tastes match yours: add them as geekbuddies. Then, when you are on any game page click on "Geekbuddy Analysis" and see what your closely-correlated buddies think of the game you are considering.

I wrote a negative review once. I was pilloried for it. People got really nasty. I ended up deleting the review.

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Pierce Ostrander
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jasss333 wrote:
IMO you are hypercritical. In my experience, there are very few really bad games ... and not that many fantastic games. But the vast majority of games that get published have some merit and are pretty good.

You should learn how to smell the roses.


Don't listen to this guy. He must not know what he likes. There is a metric tonne of crap out there. A lot of it is in Tom Vasels Top 100.
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Lacombe
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fubar awol wrote:
NateStraight wrote:
SparkingConduit wrote:
I only end up liking some, though, because my research has to pull from a lot of sources with lenses biased toward being overly positive.


The answer is to pull from [dramatically] fewer, but [dramatically] better chosen sources.

You can look at a specimen through one million shitty Wal-Mart microscopes, bring it to one hundred uninformed boors at the local pub, in short employ as many "sources" as you like, but you're not going to understand anything about what you're looking at until you put it under a single decent microscope with a few well chosen and well informed mentors / confidants standing by.


Here is how to find people on the geek who's preferences match yours. It is a ratings correlation tool. Of course, you need to have rated a good number of games to get a good result.

http://korttipeliopas.fi/korttipelit/bgg/correlation.php

After you find a couple of dozen geeks whose tastes match yours: add them as geekbuddies. Then, when you are on any game page click on "Geekbuddy Analysis" and see what your closely-correlated buddies think of the game you are considering.



This is one method, but I don't find it necessary at all that you necessarily correlate extraordinarily strongly [I've used this tool before; my highest correlated geeks were essentially happenstance and did not represent any substantial meeting-of-the-minds], only that you trust their opinion [given their biases] and ability to express it, and moreso that you understand how they rate games and what sorts of games they like and what sorts of things they like in games. Then when you read that so-and-so liked or didn't like such-and-such game for this-and-that reasons, you know exactly what kind of game it is and can determine if it is for you.
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People who write positive reviews are going to find themselves getting free review copies. I can see how this might be a self-reinforcing process.
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Kaffedrake wrote:
People who write positive reviews are going to find themselves getting free review copies. I can see how this might be a self-reinforcing process.


Actually doing reviews per se is a tool to get review copies, and people who receive A LOT of them are more likely to be "allowed" to speak negatively about a game.
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SparkingConduit wrote:
I suppose there are a few ultimate questions I'd like answered here. Is it true that reviewers here seem to hit much softer than in other places? Could I just be hypercritical and should I learn to try and enjoy more games? Perhaps most importantly, is there a reviewer on BGG who is well-known for being more critical of games than the rest? I would like to know so I know who I can trust when I go to buy games. I have spent thousands on board games in the past few years and don't have very many left to show for it.


Yes - almost all of them are softballers.

No, you are not hypercritical and you should learn what you enjoy and then look for games that match you preferences. This is not easy - it took me 5+ years in the hobby to figure out what I really liked. See my profile where I describe it succinctly.

Most of the "big name" reviewers here are in it for the games they get for free. If you give everything a glowing review, every publisher wants to send you their games.

The best reviews I have ever heard were done by a guy named "Jeff" who was one-half of the podcast "this boardgame life" for the first 20 episodes. The other half of the show "Rob" was useless and I stopped listening when Jeff dropped out. Jeff took a lot of heat from the community for negativity.

http://www.thisboardgamelife.com/shows

Jeffs BGG username is HauRuck. I think he pretty much did a super nova (burned out and moved on).







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I've rated 274 games with an average rating of 5.51. I have no 1s, and fewer than 20% of my ratings are 3 or lower. I am by all accounts an (irritatingly) positive person. The usefulness of ratings is diminished when people are excessively praiseworthy: it should be about sorting the wheat from the chaff. So no, you're not hypercritical.

Where you're erring is in how you use reviews. Don't use them to look at whether others like a game; use them to look at why they like specific aspects of the game. That will tell you much more about its suitability to your tastes.

In 6 years on BGG I have never bought a crap game. I rely mostly on geekbuddies to kickstart my research of a game, but then I look at reviews, video reviews, geeklists, and most of all, player comments. I generally find the negative ones much more insightful than the positive.
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lomn wrote:
More important than finding a reviewer who's "hypercritical" is finding one whose tastes align with yours (or, more generally, whose tastes correlate predictably with yours, even if negatively).

If you can find reviewers who gush over the types of games that you like and are merely so-so, or even softly positive, on games you hate, that's most of what you need. It's certainly going to be more useful than following reviews strictly on the basis of whether the guy likes to shred games.



It's unlikely to find someone with the same tastes - especially among
reviewers who often don't get an adequate look at the games. IMO, the important thing
is to find reviewers who look at as many aspects of the design as possible,
critique whatever they see as the slightest bit questionable, and thus
give you the information that you really can use to form your own opinion
without having to play. Insofar as I give reviews, I try and adhere to
this concept - though I can't guarantee much value from just the reviews:
the in situ impressions I give during my playthroughs are more comprehensive.

But, most viewers are more interested in being sold on games than they
are at seeing real critiques. The market speaks, and what is most
appealing is precisely what ends up being encouraged in terms of production.
It doesn't hurt that the game companies favor such largely positive
'reviews' - hell, it sells more games for them; so it's not the least
surprising that's where the review copies end up.
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fubar awol wrote:
Jeffs BGG username is HauRuck. I think he pretty much did a super nova (burned out and moved on).


It appears that Jeff did a mega-super-nova and deleted his user account from BGG. I can't find it. Wow.

I still highly recommend those first 20 or so episodes...
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lomn wrote:
More important than finding a reviewer who's "hypercritical" is finding one whose tastes align with yours (or, more generally, whose tastes correlate predictably with yours, even if negatively).

The purpose of a review is not to tell me how I should feel about a game, but rather to allow me to reconstruct how I would likely feel about a game were I to play it. It doesn't matter in the least what specifically the reviewer thinks about the game or what the reviewer tends to like ro dislike, it matters that he communicates how playing the game felt for him, and why it felt that way for him. The better he does this, the better I can translate his feelings to my own.

It's true, reviewers are too afraid to be critical anymore, and it has lowered the utility of reading reviews notably because we get less of the reviewers genuine feeling or explanation. Seems like every time I read a review that isn't positive, it's laced with apologies and bracing for impact. The site in general does have problems with criticism, dissent, and critical thought, which has been whitewashing the usefulness across the board. Amusingly, being critical of and coming down on criticism is always acceptable, so "negativity" tends to get piled on, even though it's a very necessary element to have any kind of balance of thought.

A reviewer doesn't need to apologize or feel attacked if he relates his feelings clearly for us to understand. His job is not to report other people's feelings or to be exactly correct in his understanding of the game. His job is to explain how the game felt in his experience, and too many reviewers have forgotten this simple creed in favor of seeking approval and popularity.

Quote:
It's certainly going to be more useful than following reviews strictly on the basis of whether the guy likes to shred games.

Not at all true. A good shred, unlike most glowing reviews, conveys a lot of information about the feel of the game and how it works in practice. I have bought more than one game on the basis of negative reviews, because I could tell that the things they were disliking were tolerable to me, or even features I wanted in the game. Those purchases were exactly right, and I'm glad the reviews helped me find those games.

Vasel's reviews have always been a problem, long before he went to video. He gave a good description of the game, but the review part was mainly fluff.

Never buy a game because a review says it's good. Never buy a game because of any specific reviewer's opinion. Buy a game because from what you have read about it, you feel like you know how you would feel about that game. Then play that game to see how close you were and correct your process. Also, take some games you have played and read about them, to better understand the process of translating reviewer's feelings to your own. Understanding how a game will feel without playing it is often a very underdeveloped skill around here, but it is without doubt a skill. If you are unhappy with the games you are buying, you have already everything you need to better develop it.

There's also nothing inherently wrong with reviewing a game after only a play or two. Their experience is still their experience, and with a good understanding of games and their own feelings, it's not at all difficult to understand a game well enough to convey it to others. Nor is it necessary to repeatedly play a game one doesn't enjoy just to prove oneself. Clearly not enjoying a game is completely fair on a single play (even on zero plays). People that disagree are just leveraging a fabricated weakness against opinions they don't like.

It's definitely true that unwisely saying good things about a game is consistently given a pass, whereas saying bad things about a game is met with criticism and hostility. Part of this is the nature of the site: because a review is in the game's forum, it is always seen first by fans, whereas people that don't like a game are not looking to follow or talk about it enough to comment on its misguided love fests.
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