On a number of occasions I have received opinionated emails, mind you always respectfully, that mentioned that when I review games while the reader gets a picture of what the game is about and what I think about it, they don’t have a basis for comparison. Another words if I speak highly of two games, there is no way to tell which I might like better, nor is there a way to know how the component quality effects the overall experience or how gameplay compensate for the lack luster adherence to theme. In a sense I think the complaint is that I don’t have a rating system that governs my judgement in reviews. I think it’s a valid complaint and one I intend to rectify. The truth is that I have given a lot of thought to this but never came to any conclusions until now.
Part of the reason is that I think rating systems can limit or force a certain score even when the reviewer actually thinks far higher of the game. For example the component quality might be terrible and the game might not have any theme to speak of yet the gameplay is so awesome that I love the game despite all its flaws and it would be unfairly graded if I simply scored each component and tallied it up.
I have looked at many different systems and really haven’t found one I liked in its entirety but I did find enough inspiration and ideas that I could use to create my own. Consider the following an explanation of the rating system that I will implement for all future reviews (I won’t be going back on old reviews to apply the system).
How it all works
I think it’s fair to give some background as to how the system developed as I explain it, I think might give the system a bit more credibility.
I began with determining what I think are the most important elements of a good board game, another words, what I think is worth judging. The list is as followed.
Components: It’s important to note that I’m speaking directly to the quality of the components rather than the quality of art work or style or thematic correctness. It think this often gets mixed up and I never really liked that a games components are judged on the quality of the art, rather than the quality of components. As a gamer I want my games to last and I want to know if cards are flimsy, miss printed or missing for example. Wonderful art is hardly compensation for bad component quality. For me personally, that goes more to theme and it’s their art work is judged. So in terms of components I’m speaking strictly to quality of the physical components.
Gameplay: The bread and butter of a games core mechanic and a judgement of how well it plays, how balanced it is and how complete it feels. Reviews are opinions of course, but when it comes to some things like components and replay ability you can decipher some objective facts, for example card quality is either sturdy and will last long or it might be flimsy and tear easily. Those aren’t opinions, they are observations. Gameplay leans far more towards the opinion side but the goal here is to judge it objectively, point our benefits and flaws of the gameplay and discuss balance and fun factor.
Longevity & Replay ability: Not all games are designed with longevity and replay ability in mind and to me this often a deal breaker. In this section I judge a game based on multiple plays and whether the fun and excitement of the original play is holds up over repeated plays. I also judge the game on its expandability and longevity as a product which I also think is vital to the success of a game in the long term.
Theme: When I look at a games theme I typical judge it on its fulfillment of a promise. For example if the game is about running a train company in Russia, do I have a sense of that as I play? Theme is often realized through artwork and judgement is made here as well but great games are a merging of art work and gameplay to realize the presence of the theme, so judgement is passed more on an overall look at a games thematic presence. It’s an important aspect of gaming that a games theme comes through gameplay and in this section we judge a games ability to do just that.
Giving the games different a score becomes important to come up with a final verdict and I settled on a simple 1 to 5 stars system. Each star represents an increasing level of quality.
0 Stars : FAILURE This represents an abysmal failure in the game. It simply means that for this part of the game has failed on every conceivable level.
1 Stars: POOR This game is well below a reasonably expected standard of quality. While its not an outright failure, its lacking far outweigh its success.
2 Stars: FAIR There are redeeming qualities here but still below a standard of quality that is worthy of note. A 2 star score means that the section is passable if you can overlook some flaws but far from good.
3 Stars: AVERAGE This simply means that the game has met the minimum requirements for standards, the section is passable or great, its simply right in the middle with an equilibrium of shortcomings and success.
4 Stars: VERY GOOD: This means that the section has exceeded expectation, its impressive and there few flaws hardly worth mentioning.
5 Stars: PERFECT: Simply put, a perfect score for this section. It means that there are no flaws, the game has over exceeded expectation and pleasantly surprised the judge.
Now for me personally it’s simply not enough to judge a game on a 1 to 5 scale even if it is sectioned out because every game is unique. For example a game might have very simple components that aren’t terribly impressive and this might ordinarily lower its overall score, but the games designer or even the intent of the game might not be to impress with components but rather gameplay. As such, I feel strongly that I need to have some sort of tilt for myself where I can consider the weight of a particular section to its overall score for any given game. After all an awesome euro might be compromised of nothing but wooden cubes, yet it may have awesome gameplay.
As such I have lovingly called this part of the system “Tilt”. The tilt is simply a reference to the importance of the section. The tilt is a categorization of importance hence each section will be given a 1 to 4 tilt score (one for each section) which identifies how important that score is to the game. The tilt is than used to calculate the final score of the game.
4 Tilt: This is the most important score and is responsible for 50% of the game’s final score.
3 Tilt: This is also vital but considerably less so 30% of the score
2 Tilt: Even less important. 15% of the score
1 Tilt: Hardly worth mentioning, tilt weight barely effects the score 5%
Lets imagine I just reviewed a game and gave it the following scores for each section
2 Stars – Components
4 Stars – Gameplay
3 Stars – Longevity and Replay-ability
2 Stars – Theme
Not a terrible good score for a game. However when I consider the game I come to the realization that the gameplay of the game is first and most paramount. The longevity and replay ability of the game are very important as well but the theme and components of the game are really kind of unimportant to the games quality.
So I assign the tilt to each score.
Gameplay – 4 Tilt
Longevity/Replaybility – 3 Tilt
Components – 2 Tilt
Theme – 1 Tilt
Mathematically the final score works out as followed.
Gameplay 4 stars is 50% of the score
Longevity/Replayability is 30% of the score
Components is 15% of the score
Theme is 5% of the score.
The score is calculated.
50% of 4 is 2 Stars
30% of 3 is .9 Stars
15% of 2 is .3 Stars
5% of 2 is .1 Stars
The total is score for this game is 3.3 Stars making this an average game.
Lets imagine however that the tilt was different. Let’s say that for this was supposed to be an awesome thematic game about conquering space full of awesome miniatures that fly around on a tactical game-board. Lets say that Theme and components carry more weight in this version.
Gameplay – 2 Tilt
Longevity/Replaybility – 1 Tilt
Components – 3 Tilt
Theme – 4 Tilt
How does that effect the score?
50% of 2 Stars is 1 Stars
30% of 2 Stars is .6 Stars
15% of 4 Stars is .6 Stars
5% of 3 Stars is .1 Stars (rounded up)
The total is now 2.3 Stars. A lot more disappointing given the new tilt. You can see that while in order to get a high total score you not only have to score well, but you have to score well where I place the tilt. The tilt is a vital component of the scoring system, but one I believe is important in order for games to be judged appropriately. After all, a Euro game might not have a lot of theme, but if the tilt is a 1 for that game identify that clearly theme was never intended to be a priority it will minimize any negative score it would get in that department and likely will still get a great final score it if did well in more important sections.
I might find reason to adjust the system in the future, but for now I believe this is at least as fair as I can get a rating system and over time I will hopefully get better and better at doing more concise reviews with a platform for comparison.