Armchair Assessments

Hello all! I’m back from the semi-comatose state of relaxation I’ve enjoyed for a handful of days and am hitting the keyboard with a renewed passion (possibly), a bit of confusion (definitely), and a bit more fatigue than I anticipated (but isn’t that always the case?).

Today, I’m going to talk about Rules of Reviews or, what I’ve taken to call them lately, Armchair Assessments.

Once upon a time, there weren’t a lot of games, be they RPG, video, board or whatever. I mean, there were a lot of games, but there wasn’t such a huge influx to make them impossible to keep up with. We had a hobby shop, and we’d crack open new games, read through the rules and (YES) actually play them before we gave a recommendation or a wave-off. It was a matter of simple integrity. We owed it to our customers and ourselves to make a fair evaluation of the item in question before pushing it or relegating it to the realm of “buyer beware” or “it’s okay for the price” or “it’s a bit much for what you get”, etcetera.

Some of the things I’ve learned from playing a game instead of just reading the rules or looking at the pretty (or ugly pieces) are as follows:

1. Clear, clean rules usually indicate a deal of forethought and playtesting (or at least good editing was done) and colors perceptions.

2. Likewise, muddied text is like a rumpled shirt at an interview (first impressions and all that).

3. The two items above, while impressive (or discouraging) on a read through does not a good or bad experience make.

4. Shiny production values (fiddly pieces, etc.) do not guarantee a good gaming experience.

5. Low end production values do not indicate a bad game (in fact, I’ve often found start up games to be really solid while lacking in spit and polish, making games is hard and not cheap).

6. Rules can give an idea of play, but they are not play. Take the rules for billiards or soccer or football or hockey. Reading them in no way represent the experience of playing the game.

7. The only way to get a true feel for a game is to play the game. While rules (like a script) can give a feel for how it should be, playing it is experiencing it. Rules which look mediocre can play well, just like a simple script can be a brilliant movie in the right hands.

8. Reviewers should take steps to indicate whether it’s a cold read or an actual play report. I’ve noted a great number of reviewers do take the time to do this, and I’m seeing it more and more.

All this being said, I know everyone is in a rush to get through stuff and to go on the next thing, but I’d like to encourage a bit of thoughtfulness in the process. I should also make the disclaimer this is in no way reflective of any particular review or reviewer. In fact, we get very solid reviews of our materials, but I think it’s important for people to take the time to check out the material forĀ themselves.

To that end, I’ll leave you with rule 9, the most important of them all.

9. You have to make the decision for yourself of what you like or don’t like.

Everyone is trying to sway your opinion. Even me. I want you to like our stuff, certainly, but I’ll appreciate your decision if it comes from a thoughtful place. At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter if I like it or not. In that regard, gaming is like food. We all have individual tastes and idiosyncrasies–for example, I like raw oysters with hot sauce, and have been known to eat raw eggs in orange juice. Some folks would gag at the thought of either of those things, while I don’t particularly care for mayo.

In any case, even if you do no more than post on a thread, try to give a reasonable opinion when people are seeking guidance. Anonymity is not an excuse for arrogance. There is good to be gained from the hive mind and gleaning opinions from other’s insights, but try not to give armchair assessments. You’re better than that.

With that dear reader, I bid you adieu!

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