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Thinking Out Loud

Thursday, July 13, 2006

So what makes a good review?

With the advent of the GeekMod system for accepting Reviews, Session Reports and other non-photo content, there has been a lot of vitriol on the boards at BoardGameGeek. My GeekBuddy ekted wrote a very compelling blog entry on the topic, and two of his comments really resonate with me:

"Personally, if I'm not willing to spend a thoughtful hour on a review, I would
be too embarrassed to submit it."

"I suppose to some degree I am trying to assert my own levels of quality on others. I feel embarrassed on their behalf because they seem to have no shame."

While I might not use “shame” in the latter comment, these two quotes from his post do closely mirror my own feelings. I tend to spend a lot of time on my submissions – be they session reports, reviews or GeekLists. It’s unfair to assume others will devote as much time (or even have the time to devote) that I do.

But I don’t feel it’s unfair to expect quality submissions.

Unfortunately, quality is subjective to the Nth degree. If content is valuable to even a single person, does that equal quality? If content is entertaining to read, but doesn’t affect the reader in some way (change opinion, pique interest or inform), does that equal quality?

It's almost reached the point where I can't afford to spend time checking out a review from an unknown source, and have started to rely almost solely on my GeekBuddies to guarantee I'm going to read quality content. So my GeekBuddy list has exploded -- nearly doubling in the last 2-3 months as I believe the quality of rewarded content has steadily declined.

I don’t profess to be an authority, but I am willing to share my opinions. I would expect these opinions are shared by many of my fellow Geeks.

While my focus is specifically on reviews here, many of these ideas apply to all types of content. Additional thoughts are shared in my GeekList titled The Complete Idiot's Guide to GeekLists >> Tips from the Complete Idiot Himself.

Due Diligence

In a business setting, due diligence often refers to investing time on research and analysis before committing resources. It applies here, as well. Take some time to read other reviews or submissions. Find out what information is already available on the topic.

If you’re writing a review, make sure you have the rules right. If in the process of writing, you can’t recall a detail – look it up! Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples and making accurate references. And if you make a mistake, go back and correct it or follow up in your post to let readers know.


Write a draft of your content. Look it over. Make changes. Add notes. Re-write it. And for goodness sake, use the Preview feature to see what it’s going to look like when you submit it.

I’m probably in the minority, but I invest a lot of time in my submissions. It’s not uncommon for me to spend several hours working on a review or GeekList. Much of it in research and early drafts, then reviews, edits and formatting.

Provide Context

It’s important to include some details in your review to help put your submission into context. If you are basing your opinion on a single play, or with special house rules, or based on a pre-release playtest – please let us know.

Adding context helps make the most out of your submission by putting it in the right frame of reference for each individual reader. Without context, everyone is left having to guess as to the relative value of a submission with regard to how it relates to them. The more context you provide, the better equipped the reader is to evaluate the content’s value.

For example, if you strongly disliked a certain wargame and write a negative review, adding some context that you usually don’t play wargames, and gave up playing after several hours of frustration – that helps paint a clearer picture of both the experience, and each reader can determine the impact of the submission based on these qualifying conditions.

Ask Questions – Then Answer Them

Pretend you’re the reader for a second. What questions does your review answer? You don’t need to answer every possible question, but you do need to justify the reason behind your submission. Here are some typical questions readers may want answered from a review:

- What’s included with the game?
- What are the rules like?
- How does a turn flow?
- Does it play well with X number of players?
- What are the components like?
- Is there a lot of strategy or luck involved?
- How long does the game take – and would that change with more experience?
- How difficult is the game to learn or teach?
- Did you enjoy the game, and would you play it again?
- What did the other people you played it with think about the game?
- What is your BGG rating of the game?
- How is this different (better or worse) than Game X?

The ABCs of Good Writing

Of everything I learned in college, the one thing I carry with me every day are the ABCs of good writing, drilled into me during journalism, english and creative writing classes. Again and again.

A = Accuracy. Be as accurate and detailed as possible. Don't guess, find out and be sure. Make sure you list the proper designer or publisher, include accurate comments about components, gameplay or structure, etc.

B = Brevity. Be brief. Say only what you need to say to express your point. Edit your own posts to make sure your message isn't getting lost in clutter. Minimum effort, maximum gain.

C = Clarity. Use clear language to ensure you are sending the right message. Define terms that may be ambiguous. Never make the reader guess where you really stand or what you really mean.

Formatting is Your Friend

Clarity is important visually as well as verbally. If folks have a hard time physically reading your material, they'll gloss over it, misinterpret it, or ignore it. No matter how interesting it might be otherwise.

Put in enough paragraph breaks and new lines to break up content and make sure the information flows well. Reading 3 or 4 smaller paragraphs is easier on the eyes than reading the same amount of content in one massive block.

Take advantage of the editing tools to emphasize important elements. You don't need to go Grognards on us, but using bold, italics or a little color here and there can help make important information stand out, provide a sense of style and consistency, and make your content much easier to digest.

Take Pride In Your Work

Is it something where you can honestly say to yourself, “I think this is worth adding to BGG and I think my fellow gamers will appreciate the time and effort I put into it.”

‘Nuff said.


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