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Subject: Negative Reviews rss

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Maybe it's my imagination, or maybe it's selective memory, but it seems to me that there are a lot more positive reviews for games than there are negative reviews for games on the 'geek. There could be a lot of reasons for this.

Firstly, maybe we're all really nice at heart. Maybe we don't like to be excessively negative about the results of someone's blood, sweat and tears (especially when we all secretly wish we had the chance to design our own game).

Secondly, maybe we have a tendancy to review games we like over games that we don't. Perhaps a game warrents a positive review if it's at least 'good' (say, a 7 rating), but it has to be truly terrible to earn a negative one.

Or maybe (and this is the inspiration for this journal post), maybe we're trying to convince ourselves that a given game was a good purchase. This thought stuck me the other day when I was reading a negative review from one of the 'Big Reviewers'. I don't remember who it was, so let's call him Tom Schloss...no let's call him Greg Vasel (it's easier to spell).

GV has lots and lots of games. GV probably gets more free review copies than I have games in total. What freedom does this afford him? The freedom to not feel personally attached to a game. Someone with a small game collection probably doesn't want to go online and spend 30-60 minutes writing a long explanation of why one of their games is an atrocious waste of time, cardboard, and plastic.

This phenomenon is even more pronounced if the reviewer is the only person collecting games for their small game group. In this case, the reviewer probably only gets a chance to play games that they themselves research, buy and introduce to the group. Clearly someone will a small collection (and perhaps limited funds) will only buy games that they think will be great, and writing a negative review might seem like advertising the fact that there were wrong.

It occurred to me the other day that I might be guilty of this. I have a small collection of games, I'm about the only person in my circle who buys games, and most of my reviews have been good (some glowing, even). I don't feel like I'm being too generous, but it's prompted me to take a look back at my reviews and perhaps add a comment or two.

In related news, I just wrote my first negative review.

 
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David Boeren
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Negative reviews
There are other reasons too. For one thing, a lot of people only write reviews for games they own (partly because they want to be sufficiently familiar with the game first). Well, they don't BUY games they don't like. So they don't own them, and hence don't review them.

Another reason is because often people avoid a game they suspect is bad (or just not their cup of tea). If you avoid playing a game because you've been tipped off ahead of time, then you generally won't write a review on it.

Sure there are some people who are overly generous in their opinions. There is certainly one major reviewer on this site who belongs to the "Hooray for Everything!" club, and I generally factor that into any reviews of his that I read.

Then again, you're almost always better off knowing what your reviewer likes or is an authority on when you read one of his reviews. If I was looking for a wargame, I'd certainly put extra weight on cfarrell's opinion. If I wanted a heavy brainburner, I'll read reviews by cortexbomb. If I'm in the mood for a breathtakingly elegant game, it's time to brush up on my rorschah.

Anyway, short answer is that people review what they own, and own what they like.
 
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shumyum
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It's actually Tom Vasel and his predilection for glowing reviews (some call them "summaries") has been discussed ad nauseum on other forums (Spielfrieks & rec.games.board). The upshot, as far as I'm concerned, is that he really DOES like all those games! If you want more critical opinions, I find it's generally a good idea to look through the rating comments. It's rare that someone wants to waste their time writing a bad review, but there are plenty of negative comments here, even for the most loved games. Just my $.02.
 
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shumyum
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Heh, I somehow missed your joke up there about Greg and Tom. Greg actually has plenty of negative reviews out there if you look hard enough!
 
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Daniel Karp
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I think all three of the factors you suggest are at work, along with a fourth, (and maybe a fifth): the games we are playing are mostly pretty good. In order for me to be playing a game, first, it had to get published. Unless the game is self-published, that means that it is already probably pretty playable, and at least someone who wasn't the designer thought it was good enough to invest some money in it. Second, most of us probably rarely pick up games we've never heard anything about; the games we are most likely to get are those that we have already heard good things about. And I'm a lot more likely to enjoy a game that other people like than one that is panned.

Finally, and this is the fifth factor, many people are reluctant to review (or even rate) a game they have only played once, particularly if it is one that other people have enjoyed. There is some debate about whether this is a good thing--I agree with most people that actually writing a review of a game you have only played once is probably not so useful, unless it is truly awful, but, unlike some, I have no problem with people rating games they have only played once, particularly if they note that fact in their comments. But if I don't like a game, I would not to want to play it a few more times, just so that I could write a review. This will tend to skew the reviews toward the positive end of things.

But it is still usually clear which games are not so good, even if they don't get reviews. These are the games with at most only one or two "OK" reviews along with some not-so-great ratings. The system works to tell us which games are really good, but it doesn't work by reviews alone.

Anyway, though, I definitely agree with you that I can get personally attached to a game I have bought. This is why I've really started making a serious effort to play games before I buy them, even the games I'm "sure" I would like. It is amazing how many of these games I play, decide I like them well enough, then decide I don't need to own them. These are often the same games that, if I had bought them, I would have kept as "too good to trade away" but not so good that I regularly bring them to the table. Mare Nostrum, anyone?
 
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Justin Fitzgerald
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I know more about the games I feel positively towards - I've played them more.

The games I don't like I've played less. That said, I will be posting a ton of negative reviews because I'm a known asshole and don't care what you think.

Check Pirate's Cove for one.
 
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Michael Webb
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I think there are a few things to address here.

Firstly, yes, some of the prolific reviewers tend to be...shall wa say...overly kind at times. This is the product of numerous things, as you say, many reviewers don't want to slam a game overly hard because they know the designer personally and/or received the game for free. This is understandable, particularly the personal relationship aspect, it's important to remember that the board game community, while being a worldwide phenomenon, is still a fairly small, tightly knit community and this can certainly lead to people being more kind in their reviews.

I don't think this is a problem per se, it's just something that people need to be aware of when they're reading reviews. If I hang out with Martin Wallace (I wish...) then my perceptions of the games which he designs might be biased a bit toward him when it comes time to do a review. Human nature.

The second factor I think that plays into this is that most of the people who review games try to stick to what they know, the games that have been played a few times. Again, unavoidable, you can't write a coherent review if you don't know the game, but the problem is that if you've been willing to play a game x number of times it is usually because you like it.

A final factor, the "I don't want to admit I made a mistake" is...slim I would hope. It's so easy to trade away games on the Geek, I don't understand why anyone would feel shackled with a game they didn't like, as it's so easy to get rid of it for something else for the cost of shipping and a bit of effort.

I do think that people with small collections who provide all of the gaming choices for their group will have a tendency to overrate, but that's not becaue of their unwillingness to admit buying a dud IMO, it's just a product of their relative lack of experience. When you first start doing the Euro game thing everything seems fantastic because you have nothing to compare it to. Hence, people who have played fewer games tend to have a rather high percentage of higher ratings. I was in this boat once myself, but after I started playing in outside groups, and had the opportunity to get more games under my belt it was easy for me to see that certain games weren't as good as I once thought they were relative to the other titles that are out there.

Of course, some people are diehard enthusiasts who can find positives in any game, no matter how many they've played, Tom Vasel is famous for this, and Aldie is like this as well judging by his game ratings, and there's nothing wrong with that either
 
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Big Reviewers
I should jump back in at this point and mention that the big reviewers were cited in my journal as examples of people who I thought would be more likely to give a bad review because of the lack of attachment to a game, and because of wider exposure to more games.

That said, I'm sure there are art critics who can find something nice to say about any pile of snot on a canvas (by virtue of their years of interest and study of art). I don't think that this is a bad thing on the whole.
 
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Jae
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I actually was tempted to post my negative reviews, but I have found from being a somewhat prolific reviewer on Amazon that people tend not to appreciate negative reviews. If you can convince me that there is a need for "bad press" I will do it, and boy howdy do I have a collection of stinkers to review such as War of the Ring, Bin'Fa and a couple of other choice titles.
 
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Quote:
I actually was tempted to post my negative reviews, but I have found from being a somewhat prolific reviewer on Amazon that people tend not to appreciate negative reviews. If you can convince me that there is a need for "bad press" I will do it, and boy howdy do I have a collection of stinkers to review such as War of the Ring, Bin'Fa and a couple of other choice titles.


I think that BGG differs from amazon in that the 'geek isn't centred around selling games.

I think that negative reviews have a place here, mostly to give the other side of the story. Often (especially with new games, or glitzy games) we see hugely inflated ratings, and glowing reviews, and it's only time (and negative reviews/ratings) that bring things back into perspective.

I for one would be interested in reading about the bad aspects of War of the Ring. (Somehow I can't believe that it warrants being the 3rd highest rated game).
 
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Michael Willour
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I seem to get a better idea whether I will like a game, by reading the personal comments. There are usually a few comments even for fairly rare games, both positive and negative.
 
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Tom "Snicker Daddy" Pancoast
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I think another possible reason for the lack of negativity is that a useful review tries to give the reader enough information to make up their own mind about a game. Negative comments might sometimes be muted by the reviewer's desire to be informative and objective.

Personally, I prefer to read a descriptive review that attempts to be objective, and then look to the rating comments for the bad stuff. That's why I created the enclosed geeklist.

P.S. Is it rude to pimp your own Geeklist? blush
 
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Tom "Snicker Daddy" Pancoast
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The file enclosure didn't seem to work. My related geeklist is here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listi...
 
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Joe Gola
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First of all, I would agree with those who have said that the majority of games that we all hear about and buy and play are, well, pretty good on average. For such a little hobby there are a disproportionately large number of people designing games, and with that kind of competition it's really not that often that a well-known publisher puts out a game that is clearly below average. On top of that, when a game is below average, you just don't hear about it very much. Someone from the vanguard (the Essen-goers, the Gof attendees, Mik Svellov, the Counter crowd) will warn everyone off, and then the game doesn't show up on geeklists or session reports, nobody posts about them, and a year later they're in the bargain bin. I mean, hands up, how many people have heard of Indus? No? C'mon, it was only last year, released by Queen, you got to have heard of that one, right?

So what about all those games that are just "okay"? Well, here's the thing: I'm not a reviewer, but I do write about games a little, and one thing that's on my mind when I write is that I would rather err on the side of positivity than negativity because I think the benefit of turning someone on to something they might enjoy overweighs the danger of talking someone into buying something they might hate. I'm also more inclined to be positive rather than negative because, frankly, the designers and publishers of the games we play are real people and I don't see what's to be gained by shitting on them if it can be avoided. So, even if a game is just okay, my overall attitude is "it's nothing speical, but hey, if it sounds like it might interest you, try it out."

So, I have to say I'm baffled by the geeklists which beg people to tell them what's lousy about a particular bunch of games. I want to say "dude, they're just good, get over it."

However, all that's not to say that one can't be critical about a game. There are plenty of times when I'll say "this could have been done better." It just rarely happens that I'll play a game and say "This is really just irredeemably terrible."
 
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the designers and publishers of the games we play are real people and I don't see what's to be gained by shitting on them if it can be avoided.


Maybe this is part of the problem. Shouldn't a review be a review of the game, rather than a personal comment (praise or attack) of the people involved.

I realise that certain designers sell games because of their names (Knizia, Wallace etc), but at the end of the day a review should be about the game.

I would be disappointed if a movie critic said "Well, Armageddon was a stinking pile of goat poop, but Jerry Bruckheimer is a sensitive individual, so I'll say it was ok".

Of course, movie reviewers do give thumbs up for bad reasons (i.e. their show is owned by AOL-Time Warner and the movie was made by a subsidiary), but that's why rottentomatoes exists.
 
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5 plays
I've found that the best reviews, the positive and the negative, come from gamers that have played the subject several times before coming to a review.

I would recommend that gamers play a game a good 5 times before posting a review. (Fat chance, I know...) By the fifth play of the game as it is, I would expect the reviewer knows the rules well; has isolated discrepancies in them and suggested workarounds; knows the value of play aids; and how well the parts stand up to repeated play; and finally tell you if the game is worth bringing into your collection.
 
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Severus Snape
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Why do people care about reviews? Beats me.
I have written a few reviews and I will write a few more. I write for myself and not because I think that anyone will bother to read them; kind people I have made trades with and people I have ticked-off on the Geek will be among the few who bother to take the time. When I read reviews I do so for primarily for entertainment, and a wee bit for information about the game. Given that we can "rate" reviews while keeping our identity hidden, is another way we can support our "friends" and take pot-shots at people with whom we differ.

In the end, why should anyone care about these reviews? Those who get peeved or impassioned need to find better and more constructive things with which to care, like the recent earthquake disaster that is seriously hurting thousands upon thousands.
 
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There's another reason people don't post negative reviews Captain P. Occasionally, someone will comment or even write a full-blown negative review, only to be contacted by the designer (both publicly and privately. Some are legit requests for help to improve the game, which is admirable. On the other hand, there have been some incidents here where the responses were pretty insulting. Even a trifle scary.

It's tough to walk that fine line between giving a legitimate negative review, which you hope will be taken in a constructive way or as a warning to others, and just trashing something because you can.

The Comments area is usually the best place to check for the cons about a game. I've saved money on some awful games thanks to some of the pithy remarks there. Thanks guys.
 
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1 play is a-plenty
I hear a few people trying to sell the idea that one must play a game a certain number of times before reviewing it. Baloney! These are games. Games! With only a very few exceptions, they aren't rocket science. 95% of them are so simple that we can teach them in 10 minutes.

So, when a long-time gamer sits down to play the latest and greatest of these wonderful little time passers, they can "get it" in the first few minutes, much less the first full game. I'm constantly amazed when people (some, quite well known to game geeks) say "well, now that our group has played X 50 times, we know all the strategies and the little nuances." Then, that group bumps into another little group of gamers and as often as not, the newbies (to the title in question--certainly not to gaming in general) beat them. Some people ("veteran" gamers) just get it quicker than others and don't need to play a game 5 or 10 times to understand it in all its glory.

Doesn't mean that either group is "better" at playing the games, but many people are very good at grasping the possibilities, strengths, and weaknesses on first blush. They can write a perfectly good review after one playing. That's plenty.
 
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Joe Gola
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Quote:
Maybe this is part of the problem. Shouldn't a review be a review of the game, rather than a personal comment (praise or attack) of the people involved.

I realise that certain designers sell games because of their names (Knizia, Wallace etc), but at the end of the day a review should be about the game.

I would be disappointed if a movie critic said "Well, Armageddon was a stinking pile of goat poop, but Jerry Bruckheimer is a sensitive individual, so I'll say it was ok".


I don't mean to say that we're not allowed to give bad reviews, I just mean that I'm disinclined to rag on a game just because it's not Puerto Rico (or whatever game you think is transcendingly swell). I have on occasion read posts on the geek from people desperately craving nasty reviews, and the problem is that most of the games just aren't that bad. Maybe they're not fantastic, but a lot of them are at least more entertaining than Armageddon, and some of them are cheaper too when you factor in parking and popcorn. Anyway, for these "pretty good" games there's nothing to be gained by laying into them just because they're not top tier, because usually there is an audience for them somewhere, whether it be kids or families or Tolkien fanatics or miniatures fetishers or wargame maniacs or Tom Vasel (just kidding).

The big difference between games and movies is that movies are a lot harder to control, the bigger ones tend to be made by committee, and in order to make an assload of money you really have to nail the lowest common denominator, and so you really do have a lot of truly crappy movies coming out all the time. Maybe the board game equivalent would be Ravenburger's YES, which does have a decisively negative review here on the 'geek and which has also already been completely forgotten by BGGers since its glorious release a couple of months ago.
 
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Severus Snape
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When I am tempted to go negative . . . .
Again, it is purely opinion, but if I feel that the cost of a game does not reflect its "play-value," I am tempted to write negative comments. There is a lot of expensive trash sold in pretty boxes; you cannot take it back to the store once that pretty box is opened. yuk
 
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Stephen Harkleroad
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I think Joe has it right. I would say that for a board game to really get a bad review, it has to go through the idea stage/development stage/playtesting stage/etc. and never be called on it. Many times, a lot of these things are caught before significant amounts of money are invested--prototypes being reasonably cheap alternatives. There's the added advantage of having a rather small community being able to vet what is good and what is not, often before it even hits the shelves.

Compare to movies. Once a movie is in the developent stage, it may look good on paper, but by the time anyone realizes it's a stinker, millions upon millions of dollars and jobs are on the line, so it gets produced and salvaged anyway. And since there is such a large number of potential customers, there's always going to be a subset that says "The Piano II is exactly what I want!" which is what the producers and developers want to here, so they plow ahead.

Obviously, what's a positive for board games can also be a negative--there are lots of games produced that are produced largely for some sort of topical theme (the monopolies and political satire games come to mind) that are worthless, game-play wise. And the small community may shield the realities of the marketplace.

And I would also posit that the games that aren't very good just don't get reviewed by BBG users--I know there's some sort of lawyer game with plenty of web ads around that looks terrible; I doubt there's going to be a large percentage of BBGers who will buy this game and rate it, since it's unlikely anyone would buy it in the first place. The type of people who would buy it don't frequent this site. Hence, no negative review.

 
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I'll add in my own two cents having tried to write a comprehensive negative review (incidentally, also on War of the Ring) - it's just not fun.

I write reviews to have fun. Talking about a game you enjoy gives a warm feeling, and the enthsiasm spills over into the writing, and the review sort of writes itself. Even a game that may not be top-shelf, but is at lest interesting (see my Power Grid review for one) lends itself to a good writing experience.

Writing a negative review is worse than being constipated. I already went through a painful experience playing the game, I see no need to subject myself to additional pain writing about that crappy experience.

So, my long War of the Ring review will go unfinished. Readers looking for negative game experiences will have to settle for lengthy comments, which I invariably leave along with the dismal rating.
 
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In my experience...
It often takes more than one play to learn all the rules, to understand all the nuiance, and all the possibilites.

The more complex the game, the truer I have found this to be. Especially when people suggest all sorts of "fixes" after the first or second attempt. What this tells me is that unhappy players aren't letting the law of averages or the exploration of other modes of play settle.

You will certainly know before a game is over whether you are having a good time or not. But you may not know for certain that the game really is broken or if you're misplaying the game. Especially if it's a title that is new to everyone. One game isn't always enough.

I suggest five plays, with the rules written as is, so that a game and it's strenghs and weaknesses are thoroughly vetted.
 
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In related news, I just wrote my first negative review.

Seen it.
 
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