Tips on Writing Board Game Reviews

This article strongly references my website, though I think it contains a few nuggets of gold for those interested in reviewing board games, or anything else.

When I started Roll to Review it was on the ambitious premise of fixing the three big issues that I saw within board game media:

  • Reviewers spending too much time describing how to play the game, and not enough actual feedback.
    • As a reader I didn’t want to know how to play the game, but whether it was good or not, and why.
  • Reviewers overstating the importance of components.
    • Components are a necessity and if they’re not terrible I’m fine with them. They should in all honesty be the least exciting part of a board game, so why does talking about them take up so much gosh darn space.
  • Reviewers are way too positive, with hardly anyone daring to give negative reviews.
    • This is great for building and creating a community, as there isn’t any interest in bad reviews. The problem is that it’s so widespread within board game media it makes it hard for me to trust reviewers’ opinions.

I’m biased as heck, but I feel for the most part I’ve tackled these issues well and the output from my reviews is solid. I’m also ambitious as heck, and as such I want to get better. This is easy to say, but hard to achieve. Most of my time spent reviewing is tunnelling in the week on week writing and receiving limited or no useful feedback. Thankfully, my holiday provided space and time to think about the larger picture of what I’ve been doing and what I’d like to do. So let’s talk about it.

The first question I asked myself is: Do I need the How to Plays? I like them because they provide greater context for the review. Understanding how the game plays is important as the reader may not have any idea of the gameplay. However, the more I dwell on it, the more I’m leaning to just removing the section. A review is not a rules guide. People do not come to a review to learn how to play the game. Instead they’re looking to answer the question does this game look interesting? Should I buy this game? And they’re looking to me as the “expert” to provide that answer. I think it makes sense to remove the section, but still ensure when talking about a mechanic, I provide the proper context.

Another benefit of this is that I will no longer need headings in my reviews. While headings provide good jumping on points for a reader who’s short on time. They also provide good jumping off points and break the flow of the review.

Those who’ve been to Roll to Review before know there is no such thing as a short review. Most reviews top over one and a half thousand words, with some nearly hitting three thousand. I’ve said it to every girl I’ve dated, as I’ll say it to you now, it’s not about the size, it’s how you use it. There’s a beauty in saying something succinctly, to that point my new goal is to drive my reviews down to less than a thousand words. While not strict, as some games are deserving of more attention, having a goal like this gives me the opportunity to think – do I need this sentence? Is what I’m saying here important?

Where I think I’ve fallen in the past is trying to do too much with too little writing paragraphs around a single point instead of combining points and ideas where it makes sense. By tightening this up I may end up with an incredibly short review, but if the reader receives the same information in half the time, I think they’ll all be happier for it.

Before we talk about content, I need to discern who my audience is. I’ve previously aimed my reviews at moderate enthusiasts, and budding designers, essentially how I view myself. However, there is another third party that I wasn’t aware of, but should have been, and that’s publishers. All three of these demographics want the review for different purposes.

For the board gamer it’s answering the question: should I buy this game? To answer this, I need to give my opinion on the good and bad of the board game. While I may recommend it, it’s up to the reader to use my opinion plus their own to answer the question. This puts the emphasis not on providing great recommendations but providing consistency of recommendations. If there is inconsistency, then it needs to be explained within the review. Corollary, there needs to be enough details for the reader to draw their own conclusion regardless of my verdict, as what I like, and what someone else likes are completely different.

For the budding designers it’s the question of what can I learn? A breakdown of mechanics, how they were implemented, and if it was done well, or if it wasn’t then what’s a better way of doing it.

For the publisher, they want to pull quotes. When a publisher links to your article, they know that the hit rate of the article will be quite low. Therefore, to get the most out of your article, they’ll just use a sentence or two from it describing how great the game is. This is another weakness of how I’ve previously done reviews as I tend to focus on minutia of mechanics instead of the overall game, making it difficult to find that one good sentence.

The last thing we still need to talk about is SEO. I’m just kidding, that’s something you’ll have to figure out yourself. However, I wanted to talk about finding your voice. Reviews and reviewing websites are difficult to gain traction. A lot of people, when they come, are only interested in finding out about the one game they’re interested in. You need a hook to keep them coming back, and in review writing this is your voice, your personality, and your opinions. If you’re able to provide something more than just a review, maybe a laugh, or get someone thinking, or get them involved in the growth of your blog. Then that’ll get you repeat visitors.

OK, so that was a bit self-indulgent, but the outcome is that there will be some changes around here. While they might not be good changes, they’re thought out. Hopefully in penning this article, you understand where they’re coming from.

roll-to-review-tips-on-writing-board-game-reviews.jpg

11 Comments

  1. Dude…your mantra is great. You do manage to be fair with your reviews, they are concise and well worded. You’ve really made me question my reviewing style here, and how I write about games. Kudos David. Ace article.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said, David. You are very right about splitting up the ‘how to play’ versus ‘review’. I find I’m not crazy about info that tries to cover both. Either I need to know how to play a game (or figure out a particular bit, that I got stuck on), or I am looking for someone’s opinion about a game.

    Often knowing how they feel about similar games, helps to make those decisions of “to buy” or no.

    I also think you’re right about not overshadowing the negative. That’s a hard one. I know people work hard to make these things, and things are competitive. So I hate to highlight the shortcomings, but it’s also a disservice to others, if you don’t point those things out. I think I struggle with that when giving advice about games and tools sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely a moral conundrum, especially when you’re looking at an indie game that you know someone’s worked on for a really long time. Though I think you just need to bite the bullet and tell the truth.

      From the designer’s perspective either the designer already knows the shortcomings of the game and is going to release anyway, or worse they didn’t know of the shortcomings and are in desperate need of real feedback.

      Either way as long as you act professional and give solid reasoning behind your criticisms. Then I think everyone wins.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, David! It is something that I think about every time I write.

    Regarding the “how to play,” I want to give a feel for how a game goes, but obviously the complex ones I don’t want to give a “step by step” process for it. It should just be a feel.

    I’ve probably gone too far over the edge in “how to play” and I need to work on being more concise with that.

    This is something I may have to refer to often as I keep going.

    Thank you!

    Like

      1. I was very conscious of this while writing the Clank in Space review (it’s written, but I have to take a couple more pictures first, which is why it’s going up tomorrow). I could feel myself wanting to explain every little detail and I had to back off. 🙂

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s