Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why I don't review games after one play

I've been interested in Eclipse, since I'm a big fan of space empire games. I know that there's a Cabbage Patch Doll-like craze for it right now, since available copies sold out quickly after Eclipse got very positive early reviews on Boardgame Geek. I don't have a white-hot passion for getting a copy of the game right now, so I'll happily wait until April when the publisher, Asmodee, prints more copies.

Assuming, of course, once the typical puppy love phase wears off, later reviews describe the sort of game I might like. I've been burned by the "puppy love" reviews, wasting money on games that turned into huge disappointments. Frequently, I was relying on the opinions of people who had played a game only once or twice, which is hardly enough to really give a game a chance. (Or even get the rules right.)

The flip side of the "puppy love" review is the strongly negative "I hate my vegetables" review, also written after only a couple of plays, and therefore equally useless. I've harped on this point before, so forgive me for repeating a rant you may have already heard already. I'll keep it short: you don't really know a game until you've played it at least three times. At that point, writing a review is a potentially valuable exercise. It's a rule I apply to myself, which is why you haven't seen an official review of Mansions Of Madness here, even though my two plays were big disappointments.

Following that rule doesn't necessarily earn the respect and admiration of your readers, particularly if you write a negative review. Case in point is this recent review of Eclipse, written by someone who has played the game six times. It's a pretty sober article, pointing out a combination of both (1) elements of the game that weren't to his taste, and (2) other elements of the game that might be real defects, such as mechanics that lopsidedly favor one particular strategy over alternatives.

Cue the people who can't help themselves but to pounce on a negative review like this one. You don't see this same level of, er, engagement with positive reviews on BGG. Very few people are eager to tell you that you liked something too much. Many people are ready to tell you that you liked something too little.

The only way to deal with the critics of the critics is to have a good handle on the game, possible only through repeated plays. Otherwise, you leave yourself open to charges of You played that wrong and It's a deeper game than you realize. But even if you've played a game six times or more, be prepared for the slings and arrows.

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