Deconstructive criticism

I never thought I would write game reviews, but when given the opportunity to try out a couple of games on Steam for free by DigiDiced, I gave it a go and now publish one game review nearly every week. I wouldn’t claim that I’m a brilliant reviewer or a tabletop game critic. My reviews focus on interesting mechanisms that introduce an interesting twist to a game, and they cover only what I feel are the positives parts of a game. I don’t want to write negative reviews. For many people this probably feels wrong. In their mind a review must cover the pros as well as the cons, or it is one-sided and not useful.

There are many reviewers who do a great job of really delving deep into how a game works, what is good about it, what isn’t and generally deconstruct it to provide a balanced view that doesn’t shy away from pointing out the negatives. Like critics in other fields, they judge games on their merit. Reviewers usually do their best to be objective and only provide facts, so that the reader can make up their own mind.

Knowing whether a new game is basically a rehash of an older game, or if the game components are of low quality, or if the replayability is limited, or if there is too much randomness, or if the rules are too complicated and slow down the gameplay, or whatever else there is to know about a game is very useful of course. After all, some games are quite expensive, so you want to be certain that you get a good product that is worth the money and that you will enjoy for a very long time indeed.

A card game with thick card stock may well be more fun to play, than if the cards were thinner. Board games with high quality miniatures can be more satisfying to play than those with simple wooden meeples. Games with clear rule books and brilliant player aids are usually easier to play and easier to introduce to new players. All that matters of course and reviewers will want to talk about all these facets in their articles.

However, I still feel that the most important part of any review, the part that allows me to finally make up my mind about whether to buy a game or not, is whether it is enjoyable. Yet, what is enjoyable for me isn’t necessarily enjoyable for other people. A game that I think is great fun might seem really boring and pointless to other people. So what is enjoyable is very subjective.

I therefore look for reviewers who have the same “taste” in games as me, that means those people who write glowing reviews of games that I also enjoy playing. If that person says that a game is great, then that alone is already a strong indication that I should investigate further. I don’t need to hear what is wrong with the game, but I want to hear what is right with it and why.

If I am still not certain whether the game is for me, I watch rules or playthrough videos to get a much better idea of how a game “feels” and whether it seems right for me, and the people I play with. At this point a review is actually no longer needed, because now I already have a good feeling about the game, but just want to be sure.

So I will continue to write game reviews in my own way, and I appreciate that it won’t be right for everyone. However, for me it feels right to point out the positives I see in a game, and I hope there are others who feel the same and who enjoy reading my reviews. After all, there is so much negativity in the world that it is high time that we focus on the positives and celebrate those as much as we can.

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excellence-excellent-fingers-193821.jpgPhoto by Donald Tong

2 thoughts on “Deconstructive criticism

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  1. I decide to buy a game based on the criteria you lay out – is it enjoyable. And, also as you mention, does the reviewer have similar tastes to me. Games are, to me, much like music albums and books – so many styles and genres. I may be a Stephen King fan and no matter how well, or award winning, a Tom Clancy novel may be – it just isn’t for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment. I am glad your views overlap with mine, and I hope my reviews are going to prove useful to you and others. It is always a bit nerve-racking putting your views out into the public domain, so it’s great to hear that others think along the same lines. So thank you again.

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