Board Game Criticism

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Board Game Criticism

Post  SamVS on Mon 25 Jan 2016, 23:56

Just found Bruno Faidutti's blog (the designed of Citidels and Missions Red Planet and others)

http://faidutti.com/blog/

Smart guy! Posts are written twice, in French and English, but if you read the translated French you'll spot some (accidental?) poetry missing from the English versions:

Faidutti wrote:His opinions are trenches and well argued.

I love the metaphor of an opinion being a trench, of being deep, and hard to attack.

And this one makes no sense but sounds appropriate:

Faidutti wrote:Like many, Tom Vasel videos reviews are usually pretty lanyards

The quotes come from his latest post about the typical types of board game criticm which concludes:

Faidutti wrote:I’d like reviews to be more gutsy, subjective, honest, fun and pleasurable reviews. To do so, they need to be less technical, or clever and subtle enough to hide their technicality.

Which I don't entirely agree with, because there is a technical aspect to board games that needs to be addressed, and it's vital to do so — it's the machine-like processes that transform concentration into elation which makes board games worthwhile, and some are better at it than others — but even the most practical technology is handled by that emotional animal pressing the buttons and rolling the dice, which is why you can find reviews of flashlights and calculators that are more effusive than the descriptive "criticism" a lot of board game reviewers fall back on. It's not hard to find good videogame and film critics but I'm yet to find a great board game critic (the Shut Up & Sit Down guys come the closest, I think).

Bruno recommends Matt Drake (found at http://drakesflames.com/), so I'll be reading some of his stuff. In the meantime, are there any blogs or YouTube channels, maybe even podcasts, that you can recommend as being good, analytical, interesting criticism?
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  paulyg on Tue 26 Jan 2016, 08:57

Very interesting point about 'proper' criticism and I agree that SUSD is the closest I've seen. I had a look at Matt Drake's site but it looks like he stopped doing reviews a little over a year ago, so not so useful for newer titles.

Sam - all I can say is that there's a gap in the market Smile
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  DaveB on Tue 26 Jan 2016, 09:38

To be honest, I frequently find myself skipping through to the end of Dice Tower reviews too, unless it's a game I'm particularly likely to play/keen to play - then I'll sit through the mechanical overview of the game (Rebellion being an obvious and recent example).

I generally find I prefer reviews with a couple of people doing the talking - the discussion and interplay between two people with either differing or similar opinions is, I find, more beneficial to me figuring out if it's a game I want to play or not Smile

As everyone else has said, SU&SD are probably the best out there at the moment for reviews that are entertaining and informative.
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  Ste on Tue 26 Jan 2016, 15:47

SU&SD is my go to for video reviews nowadays, even if it's a game I'm not really interested in beforehand, I'll watch it. I got fed up with Dice Tower videos as they just seem to pump out 4-5 videos a day and it's generally just rubbing and filler. Boardgame Breakfast being a prime example.
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  Andy S on Tue 26 Jan 2016, 15:52

I enjoy both Dice Tower and SU&SD. Yes, the latter is almost always more entertaining, but sometimes that is to the detriment of mechanical/technical explanation. Somehow, SU&SD has more heart, but simultaneously feels less inclusive at times. Sam, please start a reviews blog/podcast. I'll subscribe!
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  James Wargamer on Fri 29 Jan 2016, 21:06

Marco is very good indeed:




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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  SamVS on Tue 02 Feb 2016, 13:50

I wondered if the board-game heartland might have better critics than here, but the German language webzines, such as WIN, don't inspire much confidence:

http://www.spielemuseum.at/gamesjournal/

The "reviews" are two pages of summarizing the rules, often concluding with praise for the rule-book for being "clear and concise"... so why not just read the rulebook, which will have diagrams and clarifications also! Finally they give an entirely unsubstantiated rating out of seven and move on. What tosh.

But magazines are dead, so maybe the blogs are better.

There is also this podcast:

http://www.ludology.libsyn.com/webpage/2011/04

The name is undeservedly lofty as the podcasts are largely broad minded rambles that ask a lot of questions and don't give very satisfying answers. But the Bonus Episodes of GameTek, which I believe are old segments from The Dice Tower podcast, are the exact opposite, focused five minute explorations of a topic and how it relates to board games, such as reviews, triangular numbers and The Prisoner's Dilemma.
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  BeardyTom on Tue 02 Feb 2016, 14:47

Sam wrote:
There is also this podcast:

http://www.ludology.libsyn.com/webpage/2011/04

The name is undeservedly lofty as the podcasts are largely broad minded rambles that ask a lot of questions and don't give very satisfying answers. But the Bonus Episodes of GameTek, which I believe are old segments from The Dice Tower podcast, are the exact opposite, focused five minute explorations of a topic and how it relates to board games, such as reviews, triangular numbers and The Prisoner's Dilemma.

I've listened to all of these and Geoff Engelstein is a very smart guy who's pretty good at getting to the interesting kernel of things. Yes, the longer form discussions are more rambling but Geoff keeps it moving well while his co-host (currently Mike Fitzgerald) throws in their thoughts and feelings around the topic. I always find them interesting and they usually send me off on my own trains of thought, too.
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  SamVS on Tue 02 Feb 2016, 15:03

Any particular favorites, Tom?
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  BeardyTom on Tue 02 Feb 2016, 16:32

Sam wrote:Any particular favorites, Tom?

Favourite Ludology episode? I'm not sure I can think of a particular one off-hand. Sorry.
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  SamVS on Wed 03 Feb 2016, 18:26

This dude is pretty good!:

https://sanildefanso.wordpress.com/

Very balanced and smart. This is something he has to say about criticism that ties in the first post in the thread:

https://sanildefanso.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/creatures-of-emotion/#more-351

Nate Owens wrote:Don’t misunderstand me, I am not advocating some squishy let’s-all-hold-hands viewpoint. One problem with the current field of game criticism is that we are too gentle. Phrases like “not for me” or “not my cup of tea” are far too prevalent in game writing. That’s not just shoddy criticism, it’s shoddy writing. And I have never cared for the classic forum defense of “that’s just your opinion.” Well of course it is. The point of discussion about art is not to convince other people, although that certainly happens. The point is to understand why we feel the way we do, and to learn how to understand other people. That some people are incapable of doing that without acting like children is fact of the internet, but that doesn’t mean it has to make up the bulk of the dialog. This is particularly true in gaming, which I suspect is probably one of the most over-educated hobbies out there.

But maybe we’d get a little closer if we could admit that we aren’t always using our heads when it comes to games. Instead, our heads arrive at a place where they understand out heart. That’s the first step not only to civilized discourse about games, but also to a vibrant varied community that embraces all styles of games.

His Group of Ten posts tie in to the 12 Game Cupboard we talked about in the Top Whatever Games thread:

https://sanildefanso.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/the-group-of-ten-2015-2016-edition/

And some reviews:

https://sanildefanso.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/innovation-the-mother-of-invention/

https://sanildefanso.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/a-new-challenger-approaches-puzzle-strike-review/

https://sanildefanso.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/lean-mean-rubium-machine-nexus-ops-review/

Haven't yet read any of his articles labeled "analysis" — if I start reading them, I'll be here all night — but they have some enticing titles:

https://sanildefanso.wordpress.com/category/board-games/analysis/page/5/

He also has pretty good taste in movies:

https://sanildefanso.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/ranking-the-marvel-movies/ Laughing
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  SamVS on Sun 07 Feb 2016, 00:11

https://taogaming.wordpress.com/

I find the perspective of this dude, who looks at games in the "game-theory" sense of the word, really interesting, as I am no good at getting analytical when I play (but I know there are people at the club with fine-tuned analytical and mathematical instincts, because they always trounce me when we play anything with a points track).

taogaming wrote:The last post is interesting to few gamers; but I’m one of them. But it comes down to: why play games?

Social enjoyment counts for something, but system analysis interests me (and, I suspect, anyone still reading). The game presents a puzzle, with actual opponents as the engine of opposition. Solving a jigsaw puzzle (or solitaire, or those iron rings puzzles) may be interseting once, but a well done game provides repeat plays.

Ideally, a game’s mechanisms should appear obvious (and easy to explain), while the underlying system remains hidden, full of unexpected avenues with plenty of places to explore. Given a game worth exploring, It’s no surprise that I go exploring.

The original rules of golf (back many hundreds of years) included the gentleman’s agreement that forbid practicing. Right now many gamers want to discover a game’s strategies on their own (and I can’t argue with that emotion); personally, after a few games I’m ready to go to the driving range to work some issues out.

P.S. My golf game sucks. So I don’t play.

Some of the most interesting posts have nothing to do with board games, such as this one which just about blew my mind:

https://taogaming.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/the-ai-researcher-who-crowdsourced-harry-potter-fans/

There are also a huge amount of board game strategy articles that often have me looking at a game in a new way:

https://taogaming.wordpress.com/category/strategy/

One of the older posts asks "What skill do consistent winners have?":

taogaming wrote:Just something I’ve been idly pondering the last few days. What skills do consistent winners (at a variety of games) display? There are lots of skills at gaming, but presumably some of these are more important than others. The skills (off the top of my head) are —

Look ahead (Evaultion of Decision Trees / Ply Calculation) — The ability to succesfully say “If I do that, he does that, then I do that”

Candidate Move Evaluation — Related to the above, but the ability to quickly discard the terrible moves and focus on the few good options.

Concentration

Memory

Positional Evaluation (determining who is winning)

Knowledge of probability

Psychological reading of opponents

I’m undoubtedly forgetting some (what do you think?) but I suspect that consistent winners are probably above average across the board, with one or two very strong abilities. Just like athletes have a certain style.

Additionally, each game has certain techniques that may be learned. (Study/Practice could be another skill). Different people have different strengths, I guess.

You see that, Jamie: "Positional Evaluation (determining who is winning)" (this lost me and Jamie a game of Eclipse against Sam today).

His background means his critical analysis of a game's mechanics is sharp and interesting. This one had me grinning:

taogaming wrote:I first saw David desJardin’s “Dice chess” on r.g.b, I think. For those who haven’t heard of it, it has the following rules.

1. Play a game of chess
2. Both players roll a die, the winner of the chess game gets to add +1 to his roll.
3. Hi roller wins.

This came to mind when I was playing Hanging Gardens again (after playing it once a year ago). Hanging Gardens has the clever spatial building mechanic to build towers, but then the reward for building a tower is a tile draw and tiles score via set collection. Sometimes a cheap tower gets you a great tile, sometimes a great tower gets you nothing. Pretty random. You also have a card draft and sometimes the last player will always get an OK tile, and sometimes the first player gets nothing good.
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  Jamie on Sun 07 Feb 2016, 00:27

I thought we were counting it as a void game?...

Sure, you're right Sam. I didn't correctly grasp how well (in terms of end-game VPs) both of my opponents were doing. There was a lot for me to consider in that last round...

Also, perhaps (given I was Hydran Progress) I should have bided my time mid-game, rather than going for the galactic center and getting pushed back (being forced to lose 2 hexes and scupper my population in to the bargain).

Tricky with 3 players, we need to get more people on board with Eclipse, people are missing out on an awesome game....
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  SamVS on Fri 13 Jan 2017, 00:55

There is a thick-as-a-laptop monthly magazine dedicated to just two miniatures games, yet absolutely nothing, all year round, for all other tabletop games.



Injustice.
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  Ste on Fri 13 Jan 2017, 08:56

Sam wrote:There is a thick-as-a-laptop monthly magazine dedicated to just two miniatures games, yet absolutely nothing, all year round, for all other tabletop games.



Injustice.

Tabletop Magazine.

https://www.tabletopgaming.co.uk/

Admittedly I've never read it but it's out there.
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  SamVS on Fri 13 Jan 2017, 10:19

Oh, fantastic, thanks. I'll buy the digital edition and have a look. I bought a videogame magazine the other day, the first time in ages, and started thinking that magazines are just a better format for writing than blogs and fansites.  Can't wait to find out if Tabletop Gamer is any good -- there's not much in the way of good board game writing. I'm pessimistic and optimistic at the same time.
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  paulyg on Fri 13 Jan 2017, 11:02

Sam wrote:Oh, fantastic, thanks. I'll buy the digital edition and have a look. I bought a videogame magazine the other day, the first time in ages, and started thinking that magazines are just a better format for writing than blogs and fansites.  Can't wait to find out if Tabletop Gamer is any good -- there's not much in the way of good board game writing. I'm pessimistic and optimistic at the same time.
I've got some paper copies (the subscription is actually super cheap) that I can bring for you to borrow if you like? Although I got them I haven't actually had a chance to read them yet so can't advise whether they're worth your while or not (but perhaps you can tell me?!). Need more hours in the day!
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  Ste on Fri 13 Jan 2017, 12:39

Just had a quick peep at the website and they publish the reviews on there too. I've not read one so can't comment but you should be able to get a flavour in regards to the writing quality. However, visually it's just a block of text plus 1 picture to go with it, which isn't very appealing. Perhaps they put more effort into the magazine?

Here's a link for the latest review they have up there.

https://www.tabletopgaming.co.uk/board-games/reviews/dungeons-dragons-tyrants-of-the-underdark-review
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  SamVS on Fri 13 Jan 2017, 16:17

That would be great, Paul -- thanks!

Not super enthused by their Tyrants of the Underdark review, and you're right about the layout, Ste. Websites have so much more freedom (no page size, page count, ink usage restraints to start with, plus all the dynamic features of webpages vs. static printouts) but as a general rule don't take advantage of it. You see some great, eye-catching layouts in magazines. Online it's always the same pile of text broken up with a picture with a caption every 150 words. I remember Polygon used to have some amazing layouts for their reviews and features, though based on the three pages there I've just looked at they've lost that ambition.
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  SamVS on Thu 09 Feb 2017, 13:03



Drives me round the bend when journalists try to be funny.
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Re: Board Game Criticism

Post  paulyg on Thu 09 Feb 2017, 13:31

"you're probably thinking"

Yeah, sure
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