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Subject: Traits of Good Reviews rss

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Paul Springer
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I have a series of video reviews, but I feel like I have more games I want to talk about than I have time to review. So I was considering writing some reviews for the ones I don't have the time to make videos for, but still want to talk about. The problem is that I have no idea what makes a good written review.

The format for my UFBRT series is (more or less) "broad rules overview with a light review and some LOLCat pictures". I feel like I'm a player in a relatively small pond. If I want to start putting out written reviews, I have the standards set by people Matt Drake, Tom Vasel and EndersGame to live up to. Pretty intimidating.

I want to make sure that I'm putting out stuff that people would want to actually read, so I'm wondering if anyone could provide me some tips or links to tips about what goes into a good review.

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Kevin Garnica
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I've always been a fan of your reviews, Paul. And honestly, sometimes I can't quite keep up with your witty videos (even though they are exactly my kind of humor). I would like to hear what you have to "say" about games sometimes. And don't worry about living up to anybody's "expectations" or anything. Just be yourself. Ask yourself what's important to you about reviewing games, and from there you should discover your own format. That's what I did to arrive at my "Fun-Filled, Five-Point Reviews."

Here is a link that I've found helpful when I decided to write reviews.
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/59278/wanna-write-a-grea...

Best,
Kevin
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Paul Springer
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Hey! I just found that link! Who knew the Internet was searchable?
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Jae Ha Woo
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The recent video review of Vasco da Gama by Tom Vasel has got me thinking a lot about what makes a good review. It seems that many different expections were at work in people's reaction to that review; some people claimed that a clearly stated opinion of a game was sufficient, while others demanded more from that review. So I doubt there's one set of right answers for this.

Having said that, here's my take on some of the necessary conditions of a good review.

1. Describing the gameplay accurately.

I don't think this descriptive part has to be an extended one in a written review, especially if there are already many reviews of the game out there; perhaps providing a link to official rules or some other well-written reviews might suffice. I just think that the format of video review is much more suitable for rules explanation, so the value of that in a written review drops considerably in my opinion. However, even if there's no separate section of describing the gameplay, there still should be descriptive moments that make your feelings about the game more credible.

2. Stating the feelings you have when playing the game.

3. Drawing the causal connections between the elements in the gameplay and the feelings you have.

I personally consider this to be the most crucial part of a review, whether it's written or not; so I was surprised to see so many people claiming that a review is just an opinion. What elements in the gameplay contribute to creating choices that you find tough and interesting? What elements make you feel immersed in the theme? What elements cause you to interact with other players in an interesting way? Or, why all the elements in the gameplay fail to result in these? Personally, I look at reviews to find answers to this kind of questions. If the gameplay is thoroughly explained, as in some of your video reviews, the answers often become obvious, so this part may not have to happen in an explicit way.

4. Stating relevant personal biases toward the game.

5. Including some pictures stolen from BGG to make the review look less intimidating to read.

6. Remaining open to feedback, as I stated in the thread of your video review of Carpe Astra.

...

I'm sure more can be said, but this is pretty much what I came up with after thinking a lot about the aforementioned video review and all the reactions to that. Of course you don't have to agree with anything I said, but I hope you find this helpful nonetheless. I also hope that others can chime in here, so that your series of written reviews can be as useful and successful as your UFBRT series.
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Chris Ferejohn
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Quote:
3. Drawing the causal connections between the elements in the gameplay and the feelings you have.


I'd cut everything but this. Not that the other parts can't be added, but they are optional (though often nice) and only exist to support this point.

This is the bit that makes a review a review. If this isn't in there, then it's a rules summary, or a bunch of pictures, or a rating ("I liked it/I hated it/it's 4 out of 5 thumbs").
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Ben Pinchback
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What makes a perfect written review is when it's a 5-8 minute flash video that perfectly explains what a game is all about while making me laugh out loud with pop culture drops, jokes that make me rewind and pause, and funny retro midi background music. Try something like that and I bet I'll "read" every single one you post.

keep it up!!
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Merric Blackman
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The key trait of a good review is that it is written down and not solely a video review.
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Jae Ha Woo
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cferejohn wrote:
Quote:
3. Drawing the causal connections between the elements in the gameplay and the feelings you have.


I'd cut everything but this. Not that the other parts can't be added, but they are optional (though often nice) and only exist to support this point.

This is the bit that makes a review a review. If this isn't in there, then it's a rules summary, or a bunch of pictures, or a rating ("I liked it/I hated it/it's 4 out of 5 thumbs").


Yeah, I agree. I listed 1 and 2 as necessary conditions because they are necessary for 3, basically. The rest are just gravy.
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Paul Springer
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MerricB wrote:
The key trait of a good review is that it is written down and not solely a video review.


Can you expand on that? Are you saying that there's no way a video review could be considered a good review?
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Clay Hales
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I can't really say there are any iron clad guidelines that I would suggest. I think first and foremost is that it needs to be well written. That means many things. It has to have intelligible spelling and grammar (that alone disqualifies probably more than 80% of what is on the internet right there). I'm not saying it has to be perfect, but it at least should have the correct usage of there/they're/their, its/it's, and your/you're. By well written I also mean that it has to be well constructed. It needs to have a flow. Think of the tried and true thesis, arguments, and conclusion form. It also has to be well written. It has to be something that I want to read/keep reading. I've read science fiction books that had some really cool premise/concept/world but it was so painfully bad to read that I almost gave up; if it was longer I would have. As a point of contrast, I would read a Matt Drake review of watching paint dry because it is going to be entertaining.

After being well written I can't really say what it needs. I think a lot of it really needs to be flexible to suit the needs of the game being reviewed. Some games you can gloss over the mechanics and focus on how it has ridiculously fun the game play. Other times you're going to need to switch that. Then there are times when you need to focus on something else entirely.
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UvulaBob wrote:
If I want to start putting out written reviews, I have the standards set by people Matt Drake, Tom Vasel and EndersGame to live up to. Pretty intimidating.


It shouldn't be. Of the three named, Matt is the only one whose reviews I consistently find useful. It's kind of like TV ratings, big numbers aren't reliable indicators of quality. I think you're a bright guy, and can succeed whichever way you approach it. Selfishly, I would rather see you think more about the games, and less about the formula.
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Merric Blackman
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UvulaBob wrote:
MerricB wrote:
The key trait of a good review is that it is written down and not solely a video review.


Can you expand on that? Are you saying that there's no way a video review could be considered a good review?


No, but a video-only review, especially on a site like BGG, is inherently limited and limiting. Certainly there are people who will enjoy the video more - and I do not suggest eliminating such if it is your preferred format - but also providing a transcript? That would be excellent.

What are the problems of video? They are primarily ones of access and feedback. Text is searchable and skippable: if I want to know your conclusions about the game, or your take on certain mechanics, I can easily access those in a text review. Video? Much harder.

Text is also eminently quotable. It provokes discussion. It's not quite so easy with video-only.

Cheers,
Merric
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MerricB wrote:
The key trait of a good review is that it is written down and not solely a video review.


Got to disagree strongly with this point I'm afraid. Paul's reviews are 2,000 times more useful than many, many, many, many, many reviews written on here. In fact...2,010 times!

For me, gettting the vibe for a game is so much more important than just a sterile list of components and dry comments about chit thickness. Mr Springer, I've got to say, hits that bullseye with a blue, searing lightning bolt every time he tries.

Even better, he sugars the pill with humour - you are quite simply forced to swallow his gaming goodness without even knowing it

I now understand why other prominent reviewers have sulked into the shadows, sucking their thumbs in despair - this guy is the man and everyone should thumb him to buggery.

[and no, I'm not a relative - I don't know the guy from Adam]

peace
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Paul Springer
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Nice work, Will. Your check is in the mail!

willsargent wrote:
MerricB wrote:
The key trait of a good review is that it is written down and not solely a video review.


Got to disagree strongly with this point I'm afraid. Paul's reviews are 2,000 times more useful than many, many, many, many, many reviews written on here. In fact...2,010 times!

For me, gettting the vibe for a game is so much more important than just a sterile list of components and dry comments about chit thickness. Mr Springer, I've got to say, hits that bullseye with a blue, searing lightning bolt every time he tries.

Even better, he sugars the pill with humour - you are quite simply forced to swallow his gaming goodness without even knowing it

I now understand why other prominent reviewers have sulked into the shadows, sucking their thumbs in despair - this guy is the man and everyone should thumb him to buggery.

[and no, I'm not a relative - I don't know the guy from Adam]

peace
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Matt Thrower
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This is a subject that's very dear to my heart: I think it's very important to put out highly useful and informative reviews because as games get more expensive it becomes more and more important to be able to pick out titles that are right for you.

Unfortunately the bad news is that the more reviews I've written, the more I've become convinced that there's no template or good set of advice you can use to try and help you navigate these choppy waters. Exactly what's useful is going to depend on the game in question and the expectations of the audience. In some games production quality is important, some readers will want more information on logistics like play time and player numbers than others, some people buy based on mechanics and so on.

So really, I think the best advice is simply to write and see what comes out. There are only two points that I always keep at the back of my mind when writing a review. Firstly, try and spend some time communicating how the game feels to play in the sense of what emotions it engenders in you and what mental buttons it pushes in your head. Second don't spend much time discussing the rules: simple run-downs of rules, which is all some reviewers actually give you, are dull to read, uninformative and - in an age when so many games have rules available to download - largely useless.
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Max Maloney
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MerricB wrote:
What are the problems of video? They are primarily ones of access and feedback. Text is searchable and skippable: if I want to know your conclusions about the game, or your take on certain mechanics, I can easily access those in a text review. Video? Much harder.

You leave out one consideration however: for some people visual learning is far more effective. This is primarily an issue with the "game overview/rules" portion of reviews. Describing how a game plays is 100 times more effective when you can look at the components. Board games are very visual/tactile things and are most easily understood with that in mind.

Which brings me to my one recommendation for written reviews: if you include discussion of gameplay and rules, please support it with pictures. Even if it's only a chosen few, it is so helpful. Large walls of text describing gameplay and rules end up being less useful than reading the rulebook (which probably has diagrams and pictures).

I like a visual component in any board game review but, if you do without it, I prefer focus to be more on the opinion and less on the mechanics of play.
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Chris Dr
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Quote:
The key trait of a good review is that it is written down and not solely a video review.


I also disagree with this, and my reasoning is this-- when I am on BGG deciding whether to add a certain game to my want list, I want to see both written reviews AND video reviews.

I use the written reviews to get a re-readable, more in-depth view of the reviewer's opinion, and a re-readable description of the mechanics and gameplay.

The video review is often helpful to illustrate the mechanics and components of the game "in action," which can help me understand it quicker and better than even the best-written, uh, written, review.

(And video reviews by a certain original poster of this thread are absolutely indispensable, as they add the much-appreciated element of terrific humor, along with a great mix of describing the game and pro/con opinions. )

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Merric Blackman
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Dormammu wrote:
MerricB wrote:
What are the problems of video? They are primarily ones of access and feedback. Text is searchable and skippable: if I want to know your conclusions about the game, or your take on certain mechanics, I can easily access those in a text review. Video? Much harder.

You leave out one consideration however:


No, I don't. Go and read my post again. I'm not arguing for no-video reviews. I'm arguing for video reviews with transcripts. I specifically say that there are people who will prefer video reviews, and I don't suggest stopping doing them.

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Paul Springer
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Just out of curiosity, how is a video review better or worse with or without transcripts? Is a movie better if you have the script to read after/while watching it?
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I'll speak as one that detests that video reviews seem to be the new default for the site. The average video clocks in at, what, 10 minutes or so? I can read the same amount of text in less than a minute. That's nine minutes of my life that I'll never get back. Add to that the previously mentioned points of searchability and quotability and, for me, it's a non-starter.

In other words - I'll read a transcript, but it takes a lot to get me to waste my time watching someone talk at me about boardgames.
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Merric Blackman
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UvulaBob wrote:
Just out of curiosity, how is a video review better or worse with or without transcripts? Is a movie better if you have the script to read after/while watching it?


The video review works by itself perfectly well. However, you open up your review to others by providing the transcript. Not everyone can watch videos.

Of course, the transcript also allows easier quoting and discussion. It should also be noted that a review is a far different thing to a movie. it serves a different purpose, and emphasizes different things. Consider that review sites often provide transcripts of their video reviews; much is about broadening the audience.

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ScottB wrote:
I'll speak as one that detests that video reviews seem to be the new default for the site. The average video clocks in at, what, 10 minutes or so? I can read the same amount of text in less than a minute. That's nine minutes of my life that I'll never get back.

It's true that many video reviews are a waste of time. But the hard truth is that most written reviews are poor quality too. Presumably, either type can be begun and then you can decide if you like it or not before you consume the entire review.
 
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Dormammu wrote:
ScottB wrote:
I'll speak as one that detests that video reviews seem to be the new default for the site. The average video clocks in at, what, 10 minutes or so? I can read the same amount of text in less than a minute. That's nine minutes of my life that I'll never get back.

It's true that many video reviews are a waste of time. But the hard truth is that most written reviews are poor quality too. Presumably, either type can be begun and then you can decide if you like it or not before you consume the entire review.


Max, you seem to have a comprehension problem when reading text. Scott's not even talking about bad reviews.

Take a video review. It takes 10 minutes to play.
Take the transcript of that review. It takes 1 minute for Scott to read.

Therefore, Scott saves 9 minutes by reading the transcript rather than watching the review.

I'd make a video of myself saying that, but I don't have the technology available at this point.
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Paul Springer
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MerricB wrote:

Not everyone can watch videos.


Aside from the blind, who are we talking about here?

MerricB wrote:

Take a video review. It takes 10 minutes to play.
Take the transcript of that review. It takes 1 minute for Scott to read.


My videos rarely clock in at more than six and a half minutes. Can the average person really read and comprehend the same amount of presented material in that amount of time? I think that, when done right, video reviews are a excellent resource people can use to determine their interest in a game.

This seems like fist-shaking at a new medium to me.
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UvulaBob wrote:
MerricB wrote:

Not everyone can watch videos.


Aside from the blind, who are we talking about here?


How about Merric's other point, that not everyone wants to watch them, because they take so much longer to convey the same amount of information? The more video reviews I see, the less enthused I am about seeing more.

I have seen really excellent and entertaining video reviews - the one by the Scottish guy doing Chaos in the Old World is the first that comes to mind. But a well written review gives me more info in less time. I appreciate that.
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