How to Review a Board Game

How to Review a Board Game

While I’ve been writing a lot of board game reviews lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what goes into a good review. What questions must be answered? What do players ultimately want to know about a game? To figure it out, I watched and took notes on a bunch of reviews.

I wanted to come up with something useful for myself, that I could refer to in order to understand how the parts of a review fit together, how I ought to approach it.

I ended up making a long list of questions that I believe a review ought to consider answering. Obviously, no review should answer all these questions, especially when they don’t have interesting answers. But it starts as a great diving off point to find the best pieces of a game, to kickstart your writing when you’re facing a blank page.

A lot of this is similar to my writing on game design, so I’m sure the list has a bias towards the kinds of games that I’d enjoy playing and designing. Of course, they should be useful for any kind of review, probably even for video games.

After making the list, I think I made something that’d generally be useful to game reviewers, so I thought I’d publish it as a resource.

Replayability

  • How much replayability does the game have?
  • Does it get better or worse as you play it more?
  • Is the game still fun once you know all the strategies?
  • Do players enjoy their first game?
  • Is it the sort of game that requires a few plays before things click?

Aesthetics

  • How good is the component quality?
  • How good is the artwork?
  • What about the graphic design?
  • Do the components fit together to make an adhesive whole? Or do they look like parts of different games jammed together?

Theme

  • Does the theme fit the mechanics of the game?
  • How does the mood of the game relate to what’s going on in the game?
  • Is the theme fun to imagine yourself in?
  • Is the theme offensive or poorly thought out?

Tactics/Strategy

  • Does the game reward you for doing the fun parts of the game?
  • How much variance does the game have? Does every game feel the same?
  • Do the game’s sign posts mislead you?
  • Is it possible to figure out the different strategies in your first few plays?
  • Does the game’s length fit its strategic depth? Ie, do games overstay their welcome? Are shallow games short enough?
  • What role does randomness play in the game? Will players find it off-putting?
  • How well does the game lend to planning?
  • Who is this game for? The hardcore-deep-thinkers? Families? Something in between? Will both groups find fun in this game?
  • Will the best player win every time or does luck play a big role?

Balance

  • Does the game have runaway leaders?
  • Does the game feel balanced? Any dominant strategies?
  • Is there a choice a player must make at any point?

Social

  • What kind of social interactions are there?
  • What does the interaction feel like? Is this game mean?
  • Does the game allow you to be social? Ie, something akin to the no talking rules from some Co-op games.
  • Does being social benefit your ability to play the game?

Elegance

  • How easy is to play this game?
  • Is the rulebook intuitive? Did you struggle to learn it?
  • Is set up long or easy?
  • How hard is it to explain the game? Do you need to study the game before you teach it? Could you confidently teach it before playing it yourself?
  • Any rules that seem impossible to explain?
  • How many rules have exceptions?
  • How many rules feel unnecessary? Does the game suffer from rule bloat?

Representation

  • What does representation look like in this game? Does the game have racial and gender diversity? LGBT representation?
  • Who is depicted in the game?
  • Is any culture being depicted in an insensitive way?
  • Did the designer do sufficient research to depict any historical period or ethnic group accurately enough to be inoffensive?

Fun

  • Does the game create funny or very exciting moments? Is it a game where players play silently in their heads?
  • Is there downtime between turns? Is there something to care about during your opponent’s turns?
  • Do you have empty turns where you can’t advance yourself?
  • Are there meaningful choices to make during your turn?
  • How does the game punish you for making bad choices?
  • Does the game punish you for making choices that look good?

Solo mode

  • Is it appropriately challenging?
  • How often do you win? Most solo players expect to loose a majority of the time.
  • Is the solo mode as good as the multiplayer mode? Is any depth lost? Is any depth gained?
  • Does the game use an AI opponent, a single goal or a high score model?
  • Do you have to play multiple characters? Is it fun to play multiple characters?

Expansions

  • Do expansions fix any problems in the base game?
  • Do they add their own level of interest?
  • More of the same or something new?
  • Does it fit thematically into the old game?
  • Do they improve the game?
  • How often would you play with the expansion? Is it suitable for new groups of players?

Conclusion

So, that’s the list of questions to ask when writing a board game review. I’d love to know what questions or categories that I haven’t included here. Let me know and I’ll be happy to update the article.

If my “how to write a board game review” article helped you, feel free to shoot me a link to the review it helped you write.

  1. Hi Jake,

    I teach game design for 9th graders in Sydney, Australia. Would you mind if I shared this article with them as a guide for when they are analysing and reviewing well-known board games?

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