The Overlooked Value of a Game Review— Helping Everyone Have Better Game Nights

So last time we talked about what goes on in the brain of your gaming host when they are trying to decide what game to play. This time we’re going to talk about how valuable game reviews are. The two are related. Trust me. Let me explain:

But first I would like to offer you some congratulations. You’ve found your way onto a blog that reviews board games. Good job! You’ve done a good thing—probably better than you realize. Amber and Ethan as Twoboardmeeples are just getting started with reviewing games, but they sure play games a lot more than what they review—so their knowledge by far exceeds what you’ve seen here so far. They are absolutely passionate and avid gamers, each with unique preferences and perspectives on games, and their reviews are definitely worth reading.

Why do I say good job to you, the reader? First, because anyone willing to read my drivel deserves some sort of congratulations (or condolence, I suppose). But seriously, is it such a big deal to know if somebody thinks a game is good or not? It’s just that person’s opinion, and their tastes may differ from mine. As we talked about last time, usually people are reading reviews to make sure that they make a good purchase (or not) to get the best bang for their buck. But there most certainly is more to it than that—there are so many good ideas and benefits from checking out a review or two. Here are some of the OTHER ways that board game reviews can be so beneficial.

It improves your overall board gaming knowledge.

No, you don’t need to be a student of the board gaming industry to enjoy games and come to meetups and have a great time. But knowing how a game works does help a person better understand what kind of mechanics a person might prefer. Just as an example, deck-building games are quite different from worker-placement games in terms of how they are played. Knowing what that means, and how those mechanisms work, might make a big difference in whether or not you’re likely to enjoy a game.

And being able to explain, even briefly, basic mechanics of a game might help a newbie sitting next to you determine if they want to play. For example, something might go like this:

“Well we’ve got 7 people. What can we play?”

“How about Bang: The Dice Game?”

“I don’t know anything about that game—I’m new to games.”

“Well I haven’t played it either, but from what I’ve seen it’s very much like a cross between a Wild West shootout and Yahtzee.”

That’s a great answer, and it might not seem like much, but that’s a big step in the right direction in choosing a good game for your group.

It helps you learn a game faster and more thoroughly

Every single blog or podcast I’ve ever heard or listened to at some point talks about the difficulty of teaching games. It sucks. Nobody comes to game night to suffer from rules explanations. They want to play a game. But instructions and rules are the necessary evil that must be endured nearly every time. In a large meetup like ours, which is open to the public, the instances are rare when we sit down for a game and everybody already knows how to play—it almost never happens. Usually somebody needs to learn.

glass-road-board-gameEven a passing familiarity with a game drastically helps the learning process. I just looked at a video review on the Dicetower for the game Glass Road. In just 10 minutes I got a feel for the components and what they are for, how the turns progress, how to score points and win, and whether or not I might like it. I also learned who the game designer is (Uwe Rosenberg) and how it compares to some of his other games like Agricola and Caverna. bazingaHaving looked at the review, I could sit down at a table, and I’m probably 90% ready to play Glass Road without any additional help. That means less time learning, and more time playing. As Sheldon Cooper would say – Bazinga! Playing games is the whole point, and that review I looked at really helped.

It helps you choose a game to your liking

Y’all, I’m going to tell you right now. I’m not going to play Fluxx. Doesn’t matter the theme, or who I’m playing with–it’s not for me. I know this because I’ve seen enough game reviews to know how Fluxx works, and I know it’s too chaotic, probably a little over-silly, and it’s not strategic enough for my taste. Maybe if I was drunk I would like it, but sadly I don’t drink, and our meetups are alcohol-free events. If you don’t understand the value of avoiding a game you know you’re not going to like, then I will need to bring you along to my next psychiatrist appointment so we can discuss what the word “masochism” means.

It helps you choose a game to your skill level

I’ve heard it said lots of times—“I’ll play anything.” What a fantastic gaming attitude! And having the open-mindedness and the ability to learn and play any game is quite a unique set of traits. But should you? There are a lot of reasons to be more judicial about what games you choose to play. Don’t play just anything!

One of the most difficult issues that us seasoned gamers have to balance is what happens if someone sits down to play a game, and you know they are going to struggle to pick it up. Obviously there is a wide range of game difficulties between Fluxx and Twilight Imperium 3.

When you have a player that is going to struggle, it makes teaching much more difficult—and it probably will take longer. Everything I wrote about regarding the difficulties of game teaching applies here. I personally take game teaching very seriously, not only to save time but also to assure that everyone at the table can have a great experience. It sure can be stressful on the game teacher when there is an imbalance between the skill of the gamer, and the skill required by a heavy game. That newbie gamer puts your game host/teacher in a very difficult position.

Certainly everybody wants to play the game correctly. Everybody wants the rules to be followed so that nobody gets an unfair advantage because of an error or misplay. And certainly no one wants to be part of a game that drags out overlong because rules must be gone over time and time again, because one player (or players) is over their head. Alchemists is a great example. It’s quite simply not for everybody, and you need a sharp mind to follow what is going on, not to mention what it takes to do well and win it.

And it’s not that I don’t want people to try new games, and most certainly I want people to spockexperience new things and improve their skills. But in those cases where games are quite difficult, I think it’s better for a newbie to watch before playing. That way the game can keep moving along, and all the other players are not negatively affected. Again, as Spock says, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Who invited you anyway, Spock?

And if you can convince that newbie to look at a review (or even a run-through video like “Rahdo Runs Through” or “Watch It Played”), they might be able to learn a little bit on their own. That effort helps the newbie, the game teacher, and those other players who just want to get through teaching and get on with the game (that they may already know how to play), and it probably will make the game flow more smoothly and get done faster—so there’s more time to play more games! Yes! Play all the games! Bazinga!

It helps you avoid a bad game

I’m not going to play Hengist–even if it is designed by the aforementioned Uwe Rosenberg. I’ve read and watched reviews, and it was panned. Are there good games and fields-of-arle.jpgbad games? Probably. Is a bad review a guarantee that a game is bad? Certainly not. But if you can find good reviewers that you trust, like Twoboardmeeples, then more often than not their feedback is going to be on target. Time wasted on a bad game is time you can never get back. There are hundreds of good games to choose from that are worth your time. Don’t play Hengist. And my sincere apologies to Uwe Rosenberg. My message to Uwe is to say that your Fields of Arle makes up for 100 Hengists. We love you. Tons. Nobody is going to hold Hengist against you. I’ve forgotten about whatever-that-game-is already. It had a weird name anyway that was already forgettable.

It helps you better choose a game for you on your own (rather than depending on the hosts)

A good gaming host is going to try to take care of you. I like to think that Brian and I have been good hosts in starting the Janesville Pegheads, but as the group is grown, it has been more difficult to take care of everyone personally. Eventually, people need to be able to choose a game and play it on their own without me and Brian. Most of us who attend meetups are adults who can and should be capable of making good decisions for themselves. The more people can do that, the more it frees me and Brian up to be able to just relax and have fun, without worrying so much about how everyone is doing. We can focus our attention more on that one person who has come to a meetup for the first time. And maybe, maybe, I can even get that new game I got for Christmas to the table, and I can go home an uber-giddy-gamer.

So in closing, I hope you have been able to see a little bit more of the value that reading game reviews can have on your game nights. There are many great resources out there in the gaming world. Blogs like this, run-through videos like I mentioned, unboxing videos, podcasts, and boardgamegeek.com of course is the center of it all.

I will leave you with a caution—one of the surefire disasters waiting to happen on your game night. Never ever ever do this—and stop somebody if you see them doing it (if you can):

Never ever pick up a game you know nothing about, and try to learn it from the rules without any assistance from anyone else. This has almost no chance at being a positive experience.

At our meetups, if there’s a game on the table that you’ve never seen, somebody brought that game. That somebody probably knows how it works, and even if they’ve never played it before, they probably are prepared to share it, maybe even teach it. They most definitely bought it for a reason, and brought it hoping they might be able to play it, and they will probably be able to help you learn it.

This might seem silly, but I have seen it happen before, usually with new people who are trying to find a game to play, and maybe are struggling with finding a group. When we were kids, games were simple—like Life, or Clue, and you could just sit down, read a paragraph or two, and get to playing. Most hobby board games don’t work that way. And even if, by some stroke of luck, you’re able to get through the rules and successfully play the game, maybe it ends up being something you just don’t like.

Don’t go in blindly. Ask for help. Your hosts (probably) don’t bite. They want you to have fun and come to future game nights.

That’s all for now.

Have an idea for something else you’d like Twoboardmeeples to talk about? I’ll talk about anything, especially Lord of the Rings.  You can reach me at hastyhobbit@aol.com and Amber and Ethan can be reached right here on their blog.

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