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Denise Lavely
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We all love a good review. A good review not only helps us understand a game better, but gets us excited about playing the game. We turn to reviews to explain something about the game we don't understand, to get a sense of the game play, to decide if a game should go on our 'must buy' list, and even just simply to be entertained. And, most important of all to those of you trying to get a snazzy avatar or geekbadge, reviews can earn geekgold!

But what makes a review good, or even great? I asked recently if anyone had already written a guide for would-be reviewers, and received a number of resources and suggestions. Here they are, gathered in one place, for the benefit of anyone who wishes to improve their own review-writing skills.

Please note not all these suggestions say the same things, indeed some even contradict. Take what works for you, and please feel free to add any new ideas or resources you may be aware of.

______________________________


ARTICLES


Scott Alden (or Aldie) suggested would-be reviewers could trek on over to The Games Journal for a look at Greg Aleknevicus's article "Reviewing Games".
http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/ReviewingGames.shtml

Greg Aleknevicus, too modest a man to blow his own horn , tells us that Peter Sarrett's "Review Manifesto" is also extremely helpful.
http://www.gamereport.com/tgr24/randomdraw.shtml


______________________________

SUGGESTIONS



Richard Fawkes, who has written a number of reviews that many people appreciate, said -

"My take is that reviews are a very personal thing. They reflect your view and feel for the game. Thus, they should be written in your own "voice", which isn't necessarily something you find easily. I suppose each person has his or her own approach.

This is the way I do/did it:

1) I write my reviews as standalones. The assumption is that someone searching for a review on Game X will find my review and no one else's. Therefore I try to go over the physical attributes of the game (since there are no pix) and a rundown of the gameplay. You might decide that you want your reviews to be in a BGG context only, meaning you assume that whoever finds it will be able to read other reviews for rules. That's fine as well.

2) Point of view counts. Just as some people learn rules from certain people better than others, each review's game mechanism rundown is different. Tom Vasel "sounds" different from Greg Schloesser. You may want to go over the rules of a game that already has 10 reviews on BGG simply because you have a different voice or way of seeing the game. Since I focus on theme a lot when teaching a game, even the ones characterized as "abstract" (their mistake, not mine ), I prefer to run the rules down no matter what.

3) Try to provide a feel for the gameplay. Clinical descriptions of the mechanisms are useful, but they don't convey a sense for the game unless you've already played games similar to the subject, which is a huge assumption. Describing reactions of players from your experience is a huge plus.

4) Try to cover the spectrum of players that the game allows, how it plays with each combinations, and the variations in game length and weight. Also, suitability for casual gamers and serious gamers is a good subject to cover.

5) Finally, it's important to talk about how you feel about the game, and whether you feel it's worth owning, and for what reasons. "



Paul Kidd suggests -
"The good reviews tend to include some reasonably brief description of the game, including the quality of the game components and rules as well as the game play. Also, some general discussion about how it plays, strategies that may be employed. A single rating at the end is not necessary, but your overall opinion of the game is important.

Also, don't try to review a game you don't know well.

I think the thing is that you can write it in your own style - it's an opinion piece after all.

If you just describe how one session played, that's a session report. If you just describe some overall impressions, that's an article.

A review is supposed to leave me with a better idea of a game than I started with, ideally enough to tell me whether I should try it out or not.

Just read a number of reviews yourself and see which ones you find enjoyable and useful. Have a look at Fawkes' reviews - he's put a lot up recently and I find them very good, but there are many other good reviewers. Tom Vasel is another prolific and capable reviewer.

And don't worry too much, just do it - you'll get better with practice."



A. Potter had this to say -
"While a review is an opinion piece, one thing I beg of you: don't limit yourself to nothing but your opinion without some kind of explanation. I've seen a number of (often very short) reviews recently which basically say "I sure like this game. It is fun. Mechanics are great. Nice art. I give it an 8.5" This tells me nothing. I want to know what made it fun, what is so great about the mechanics, why the art 'works' for this game, and so on. You'll still be offering your opinions, but in a way which will let me understand what standards you used, and which will help me decide if I might agree with you. "



Pierce Ostrander said -
"Sometimes, a game has been reviewed ad-nauseum and a review is just adding a different perspective. There is no need for a reviewer to go into an in-depth description of the components, play, etc. because it has already been covered, perhaps 3 or 4 times in other reviews.

Maybe they just have another opinion that adds something to the corporate sense of what the game is and how it plays. And maybe they are witty writers and what they write is fun to read (even though it might be incomplete, contrary to the consensus, or whatever).

I value those types of reviews as much as I value the Tom Vasel approach (although I must admit I often find my self skipping through and scanning Vasel-esque reviews - but I wouldn't deny their value and presence to anyone). "


______________________________

EXAMPLES


Many people suggest that to write a good review you must first read many good reviews. To help you find good reviews to read, here is a link to Dane Peacock's geeklist "The Top Three (plus bonus) most reliable BGG reviewers of all time". There are more than three reviewers listed
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listi...


Another geeklist, this one by Brian Leet, called "Great Reviews"
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listi...


A. Potter recommends these reviews, and tells us why -
"John Lopez' review of Pirates of the Spanish Main ( http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/48062 ) -- it's a good first review, gives detailed overview of components and rules, and some well-supported evaluation (John calls the setup "easy," for instance, then *demonstrates* its ease by showing that it essentially boils down to a few decisions. He says the game is potentially a good one, but may require over-investment, then backs up his point by providing a cost-analysis of booster packs and their contents. Good review.

Shane Marquette provides a useful later review of the same title ( http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/48325 ) -- he admits that he is "not going to point out every single rule," since that's already been covered. He does provide an alternative viewpoint from the first review ("The staleness of the game is almost immediate...") and backs up his points (in that case by stressing the downtime between turns, and the inevitability of one's "decisions"). It's possible to disagree, logically, with his review, but he tries to support his position. Good review."

A. Potter also lists a few other examples of good reviews -
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/58853
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/3595
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/60082

Finally, check out the Review Browser at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/reviewbrowse.php3 - look at reviews that are highly rated and/or have a number of ratings.
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Walking on eggshells is not my style
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Good job Denise. I will reference this entry when I write my "How to write a Journal entry" piece.
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Jay Little
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Excellent article, excellent resources. Thanks for posting all this, Denise!

While I'm not nearly the prolific review writer of many others here, I've tried my hand at writing reviews, and certainly can recognize certain reviews and reviewers which I find more helpful than others. I have two minor comments about what makes a good review from my perspective. Or at least, what I try to incorporate in the reviews I write.

1) Formatting helps organize content. I try to include several different categories in my reviews, and find reviews that have bold/colored headers or categories clearly formatted makes it easier to read. I can find information I want easily, and helps break up clutter to make the chunks more digestable.

Here are some examples of category headers I like to see in a review: Contents, Components, Gameplay Quirks, Interesting Mechanics, What Makes This Game Tick, The Bottom Line, or other descriptive bits that help organize thoughts.

2) My earlier reviews were brief and boring. I wasn't really sure what to include or how to go about it. Then I thought to myself "if I had never played this game before, what would I want to be told about the game?" This perspective really helped me focus on the details that engaged me about the game, and that others might find the most useful. I try to apply this same mindset when reviewing boardgames, role playing games or editing writing assignments.
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Jason makes a great point. Your first few reviews will look funny later on down the road. You'll probably wish you could take them down and redo them (I think Derk said this on one of the Geekspeaks). Still, don't let that deter you. YOu can tell the early Tom Vasels from the lack of his now-familiar format. Your style will evolve as you "find your voice". Just keep writing, practice improves your work with every review.
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Aaron Potter
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Thank you for collating this information. You neglect one useful resource: your own initial discussion thread:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geekforum.php3?action=viewthrea...
In particular, I note that in your summation here, you included commentary about how to write good reviews, but eliminated comments about what makes for bad reviews. I understand your effort to remain upbeat, but in order to offer more complete guidance, I think the negative examples and reactions are as useful as the positive ones.
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Jorge Montero
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Great post. It doesn't answer a big question of mine though: When should I NOT write a review?

Whenever I add something to the geek, I want it to be meaningful and useful content. Adding the 20th photo of a Memoir '44 tank, IMO, is not useful. Writing a crappy, 80 words session report is not useful either. In the same manner, if TomVassel and Fawkes have already written good reviews about a game, would anybody be interested in reading my review? How many quality reviews are too many? Should I review a game only if I disagree with the rest of the reviewers?

As far as I know, our benign website overlords have not spoken on this matter. Without an official rule of thumb coming from Valhalla TX, I'd really like to know when other lowly geeks think that one more review is one too many.


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hibikir wrote:
How many quality reviews are too many? Should I review a game only if I disagree with the rest of the reviewers?


Referencing the BGG episode of Geekspeak (the second one IIRC), Derk and Aldie wanted this to be a place where people could come for opinions on games. That means there is no such thing as too many reviews. If anything, BGG has too few reviews. Surf over to Rotten Tomatoes, and you'll find that films regularly get dozens of reviews. The more the better I say, whether you agree or disagree with the popular opinion on the game. As long as you want to put in your two cents, feel free to do so. Not even 1% of the raters of most games review them. Of the sample I took, tops are Heroscape with 1.8% and Memoir '44 with 1.7%.

Just to give you an idea:

Carcassonne: 4,074 owners, 3,811 ratings, 1,591 comments, 11 reviews
The Settlers of Catan: 4,316 owners, 4,111 ratings, 1,693 comments, 7 reviews
Puerto Rico: 3,656 owners, 3,515 ratings, 1,651 comments, 5 reviews (!)
Memoir '44: 1,261 owners, 1,118 ratings, 618 comments, 19 reviews
Heroscape: 919 owners, 657 ratings, 446 comments, 12 reviews
Monopoly: 1,850 owners, 1,946 ratings, 834 comments, 4 reviews (!)
Chess: 1,938 owners, 1,655 ratings, 735 comments, 2 reviews (!)
Go: 1,114 owners, 942 ratings, 470 comments, 3 reviews (!)
Modern Art: 1,388 owners, 1,266 ratings, 581 comments, 5 reviews (!)
Tigris & Euphrates: 2,427 owners, 2,258 ratings, 1010 comments, 9 reviews
Acquire: 2,214 owners, 1,967 ratings, 851 comments, 2 reviews (!)

Just this small sample of games shows that not only are there too few reviews, there are also too few comments relative to the ratings. Thus, a lot of the ratings are impossible to take in context, which only increases the need for reviews since the raw ratings are, well, not very informative.

Finally, please rate the reviews. Even better, leave comments on what you liked or didn't. It helps. And rate the reviews on how well they were written, not on whether you agree with the opinion or not. Well, ok, that has nothing to do with writing reviews. Just expect that if you write a negative review, the piece will get rated low no matter what.

Man, two reviews for Acquire. shake I need to write one for that game.
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THE MAVERICK
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Fawkes wrote:

Monopoly: 1,850 owners, 1,946 ratings, 834 comments, 4 reviews (!)
Chess: 1,938 owners, 1,655 ratings, 735 comments, 2 reviews (!)
Go: 1,114 owners, 942 ratings, 470 comments, 3 reviews (!)


On the other hand, considering that we don't really "need" additional reviews of films such as The Wizard of Oz or Ishtar, I'm not sure that I would ask for reviews of these games before most of the other titles on your list... or any number of other BGG projects that need doing!
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Aaron Potter
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The Maverick wrote:
Fawkes wrote:

Monopoly: 1,850 owners, 1,946 ratings, 834 comments, 4 reviews (!)
Chess: 1,938 owners, 1,655 ratings, 735 comments, 2 reviews (!)
Go: 1,114 owners, 942 ratings, 470 comments, 3 reviews (!)


On the other hand, considering that we don't really "need" additional reviews of films such as The Wizard of Oz or Ishtar, I'm not sure that I would ask for reviews of these games before most of the other titles on your list... or any number of other BGG projects that need doing!


Grandpa Joe arrives at the BGG because his little grandkidlets' birthday is coming up and he wants to get them a game. He typed "board game" into Google and ended up here.
Now, which one do you think he'll look at first: Monopoly, or Die Macher?
So which one should have a greater number of reviews for him to consider?
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I do agree that the more reviews per game the better, but I believe that it's more important to review games without any reviews and with very little ratings.

Though a review goes more in depth, ratings (the ones with comments) can also be a source of information.

I have written only two reviews, but I'll try to pick games with no reviews and very little ratings. I think I can pry enough info out of 100+ ratings to form an opinion of a review-less game. With only 10 ratings this is nearly impossible.

For the spelling and grammar-police among us - English is not my native language.
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Paul Kidd
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Thanks for the useful summary, Denise. I'm a little embarrassed to be quoted here as I am very much a beginner in this, but thanks anyway.

Quote:
I do agree that the more reviews per game the better, but I believe that it's more important to review games without any reviews and with very little ratings.


When I decided to start writing reviews, I began with games I owned which had no reviews at all. These tended to be children's games or game expansions. They might actually be read by fewer people than the fourteenth review of War of the Ring, but I felt that was doing my bit for the completeness of the 'geek as a reference tool. It is very disappointing to find a game entry with nothing in it except a title and a couple of ratings.

I agree with Fawkes about finding your voice - reviews don't need to all be in the same style. In fact, it would be very boring if they were.

I also agree with rating reviews, preferably with comments. Most people would be happy to have constructive criticism as they want to improve their work and know whether they are providing something useful to the community or not.
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Simon Robinson
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What am I giving?
I was pretty dubious about writting my first review, and I'm no different now. The key as far as I can see is "Am I saying something that has already been said?" If the answer is yes, then why say it again? This is unlikely though, as it is highly likely that some personal opinion will come into it, and that is original, even if it agrees with what somebody else said; more weight to the argument.
Second point is that I don't see that I have the right to put up a review after only a couple of plays-I feel that I need to play a game a good 10+ times before I feel that I have enough authority on a game to say anything useful.
I get the impression as well that a lot of reviewers tend to review games that they like; we need more negative reviews! I've bought games based on eulogies only to be disappointed with the final result.
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Denise, what an excellent article. One worthy of a bookmark in my humble estimate.

Quote:
Fawkes wrote: If anything, BGG has too few reviews.


To further Fawke's point, one of the things I like about another useful site for a different topic, imdb.com, is there are so many reviews of movies. Often times there will be just enough reviews contrary to the majority that will sway me to either see or not see a flick. Because so many people post, the odds of finding something specific to influence your decision is increased.

Quote:
gnomehome wrote: ratings (the ones with comments) can also be a source of information.


gnome brings up the resource that I always turn to first. It's a quick resource that could have a lot of impact when considering whether or not to acquire. Too often (self included), we Geeks don't keep our comments up to date.
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Bluenose wrote:
"Am I saying something that has already been said?" If the answer is yes, then why say it again? This is unlikely though, as it is highly likely that some personal opinion will come into it, and that is original, even if it agrees with what somebody else said; more weight to the argument.


I think this is a good point Simon raises.

Why say something that has been said again? Because something said twice by two different people carries more weight. This is why I believe having as many well-written reviews as possible is important, regardless of which side of the good game/bad game fence they stand.

I also want to reiterate that each "voice" sounds different, and some reviews will be easier to digest for some people than others. Content can also differ. For example, Tom's bulleted style is more appealing to some, while I prefer the narrative style used by Derk and Mike Siggins. Greg almost always runs down the rules to a game, so I can rely on that when I want to see exactly how a game plays; those not wanting that kind of detail can go straight to Michael Webb's "Quick and Dirty" reviews. So, even if all five of the reviewers I mentioned write a piece on the same game, and have the same general opinion of the game, they are all useful.
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Jack Blakemore
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Great post, Denise. I love writing but have been a little intimidated when it comes to voicing an opinion (in writing at least).

And the thread is also very helpful.

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Andrew York
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I think that it's perfectly ok to have as many reviews as people want to write on a game because a person's viewpoint on a game changes over time, pehaps through learning new strategies and finding that it has greater depth. The converse is also true, by finding faults including lack of replayability as you play it more and more.

Personally, for the reason given above, I am quite happy to read reviews based upon a single play but the reviewer should always state this because to be blunt anyone can write a review and make it good or bad - biased or unbiased - accurate or inaccurate. This to me also supports the argument for having multiple reviews for the same game.

Finally to add that I have tended to stick to writing session reports for games but often these are mini-reviews and they contain comments on the strategy or nature of the game just played. I may write more reviews in the future but I would encourage people to read at least some of the session reports as these are often just as informative.
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This is a very good article, well worth putting as a link on every review post page.

I don't think that we need lots of reviews of all the games, I think that quality over quantity should be the rule.

If there wasn't the option to post comments with your ratings having more reviews would be important. When using the geek to get a feel for a game I may read a review first to understand the basic rules and the quality of components, but I invariably turn to the rating comments. I like to see what the 10 say, what the 1's say and a good sample in between. The wide variety of opinions in small bites is incredibly useful. But it is more useful if informed first by a quality review.
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Maksim Smelchak
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Hi Everyone,

I wanted to mention that I really enjoyed reading this article.

I write gaming reviews for several wargaming magazines (And get paid in cash or credit for more games...) and will probably share my reviews here as well now that I see the community could use some more reviews.

I use BGG very often as a way of referencing a game before I decide to possibly buy it. BGG is a sort of "Consumer Affairs" for me.

Even if I've already played the game several times, I still like to read the reviews of others.

Reviews help flesh out the strengths and weaknesses of a game.

I like to play a game to find that out for myself, but it's a great benefit to be clued into some of the more prominent features of a game before you buy it. That's why I love reviews!

Thanks for this great post and all of the responses to it!

Shalom,
Maksim-Smelchak.

P.S.
I especially love reviews of older games that I want to return to play again. It's nice to become reacquainted with a game through a fun review.
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The Grouch
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Denise wrote:
Finally, check out the Review Browser at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/reviewbrowse.php3 - look at reviews that are highly rated and/or have a number of ratings.


Does this still work? 'Cause nothing shows up.
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Denise Lavely
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bill_andel wrote:
Denise wrote:
Finally, check out the Review Browser at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/reviewbrowse.php3 - look at reviews that are highly rated and/or have a number of ratings.


Does this still work? 'Cause nothing shows up.


No - it doesn't work anymore. Try going to the Games tab, then click on Reviews, then checking the Hot reviews of all time for the current favorites.
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The Grouch
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Denise wrote:
No - it doesn't work anymore. Try going to the Games tab, then click on Reviews, then checking the Hot reviews of all time for the current favorites.

Thanks, Denise. Excellnt thread, BTW.
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RPGs - Natures way of saying "You would never be able to do this in real life." NOT A BAD THING.
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I would add that you should try and be entertaining.

We play games for fun, why should our reviews be stale, plodding, checklists of generic topic covering?

It's great if your review is thorough, to the point, and truly informative, but if it reads like the stock market section of the Wall Street Journal, it's just not very good. That "voice" that people keep talking about? Another way to put it would be saying "Your writing needs its own personality." Too many reviews are just formulaic sum up of a game instead of actual opinion pieces that giving a true coloring and shading to the game.

If I don't know a game, and I read your review, I won't know how to take your like or dislike of a game if I have no feel of what kind of person you are.

Tom Vassel is one solid example of this. With Tom I know that I'll get a succinct, clean explanation of the game from pieces to rules, but I also know that his reviews don't mirror my own opinions and that I can't buy purely on his word because our tastes differ; especially since he almost never pans a game.

Matt Drake is another solid example since his reviews are arguably the most entertainment minded of the Geek. His style gives me the exact way the game makes him feel. He uses very colorful descriptions (some might argue a little too colorful) and he gives his very blunt and clear opinion on whether he thought the games was fun, worth owning, worth burning, or worth buying just so you can laugh at it for pretending to be a game.

Both of them show a very clear personality in their reviews, and that is the biggest key to me. If all I wanted was information about a game; it's rules, pieces, playing time, and so forth; I'd simply read the game page and go to the company website to read the rules if they're available.

A review's worth is completely in the opinion, let the person behind it shine.
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Hmm. Nowhere on this list of guidelines does it say "actually play the game you are reviewing." Is this strictly necessary?

I just got through reading a review where the original poster ignorantly and savagely dumped on a popular game despite the fact that he didn't bother to play it first. Evidently, reading the rules was enough to write a thousand word negative review.
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Personally, I feel the same about people who write reviews after only one play (although a review from just a rules read is infinitely worse). There's just no way that you can give a reasonably fair treatment to a game after only playing it once, especially since the circumstances and other players involved play such a huge part in your play experience.

You might have a good idea that you do or don't like a game after playing it once, but it's still not really an informed decision (that you should be willing to share with others) until you have a little more experience with it.
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kilroy_locke wrote:
Personally, I feel the same about people who write reviews after only one play (although a review from just a rules read is infinitely worse). There's just no way that you can give a reasonably fair treatment to a game after only playing it once, especially since the circumstances and other players involved play such a huge part in your play experience.

You might have a good idea that you do or don't like a game after playing it once, but it's still not really an informed decision (that you should be willing to share with others) until you have a little more experience with it.

Depends on the complexity of the game and the player's experience with games in general and with similar games. I don't think an experienced gamer would have any trouble reviewing Candyland after one play.
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