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Reviewers, do this before you write another review.

How strategy guides have changed my perspective on delivering an adequate review.


While I have been using the boardgamegeek.com (the largest site for board gaming) forums for some time now to voice my opinions or concerns, I’ve only recently started writing reviews. I posted a “design critique” (a critique of a game from a fellow designer) of Lost Ruins of Arnak. I figured after 10+ plays I was well versed enough to write my critique, but some of the comments I received accused me of not having played enough.

I’ve heard a few opinions on how many games should be played before writing a review, then I found one post on BGG that asks this very question and with varying answers, anywhere from ‘as many as you want’ to at least 10.


However, after discovering I could play Lost Ruins of Arnak on boardgamearena.com (BGA), I have learned a valuable lesson in the world of board game reviews.


 

From my first real life play of Arnak, I knew I liked the game. Its theme and components were captivating, and the combination of worker placement and deck building was an intriguing and unique experience. Even though I did have some concerns, I still gave a positive review.



Now, I know I don’t get as much time at the table as some. My gaming group meets once a week for a couple hours, which amounts to about one game being played. We also try to have game night on a weekend at least once a month. I may also get some gaming time in with my family during the week. So when people were telling me they played 100+ games I definitely felt a bit inadequate.


 

Back to my BGA experience with Arnak, I lost my first 10+ games, coming in last in every game. I quickly realized I was playing with veteran players, but come on, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then, but after a few more games…no nuts.


After one such lost, one of the fellows was thankful for not being last, which I replied to with a sad face. I was then thanked for “taking one for the team”. My view of the game quickly began to deteriorate. But, in my frustration, I decided to see if there was any strategy guides available for Arnak.


Now, I’m the type of person who likes to discover things on their own. In video games, I consult strategy guides only when at my wits end and in board gaming I hadn’t ever consulted a strategy guide. I regret this now.

One BGG poster (Mario Rossi) has put extensive effort into conveying the strategies of playing and winning at Arnak, with written and video reviews. I watched some of his videos, taking notes, and then went back to BGA with my newfound knowledge. I won my next two games in a row, getting the “Bang Bang” badge for Arnak.



My view of Arnak began to rise again. However, I did discover that Arnak relies more on luck than I first realized, as some of the purchasable cards are worth way more than others and the random Guardians one flips up can springboard you further down the research track or hinder you greatly. Arnak to me, is akin to an infinite runner video game, you maximize your plays to see how far you can go. Generally, the player who goes the farthest on the research track while overcoming enough guardians will win.



While I’m not the biggest fan of games that rely too heavily on luck, understanding where luck fits into Arnak and how to help mitigate it has gone a long way in helping me appreciate this game for what it is.


 

I didn’t stop at Arnak with the strategy guide idea...

I was having issues with Architects of the West Kingdom in that I (nor any other player in my group) could score a win while attempting to complete the cathedral. Through reading up on the strategy I learned that if you are going for the cathedral you should attempt to end the game quickly, before others have the chance to build their big point cards. A quick victory doesn’t seem all that exciting to me so I, nor anyone in my group, attempts to go for the cathedral anymore.

I also read up on a strategy guide for Dune: Imperium. I had lost every game against competent players but won the next game after reading up on a strategy guide. I was sold on the benefits of strategy guides and learning from the experiences of others.


I should have come to this conclusion earlier as I learned how to better utilize Han Solo’s special ability in Star Wars Outer Rim by asking on the forums. I thought his ability wasn’t all that great but turns out it’s pretty sweet.


Also, while playing Lords of Waterdeep, my opponent was dealt The Xanathar lord which scores you 4 points for each corruption you have at games end, a rather difficult lord to win with, as I’ve never seen it done. My opponent, being the least experienced board gamer but having figured out the benefit to consulting strategy guides, looked up strategies with The Xanathar. While I won that game, he still placed an impressive second.



 

All this said to say that...

For any extensive review I give I will first consult some strategy guides and/or post on the forums in regard to winning strategies. In all the games mentioned here, understanding how the strategies work goes a long way in helping me form an accurate opinion of the game. Especially when you are on the fence about a game with your opinion of it.


The games coming out these days attempt to be unique as much as it can, so simply relying on your previous knowledge of games and strategies used may not work so well in attempting to give your best review. Unlike dedicated players, reviewers would not have the luxury of playing the same game a vast number of times. So, my advice to every board game reviewer is to consult these strategy guides and/or ask questions and then play some games.


You may say, “but it’s my opinion on how I view the game, as is, and I shouldn’t need to consult any guides!” To that I must reply, do you want your games to be so generic in strategies that after a couple plays you can fully formulate an accurate opinion? Accurate opinion is the key here. Games are naturally more entertaining when they are winnable, when you can compete, and when you make mistakes, or a good play and you understand why that is. Understanding the strategies to a game can help with this immensely.


Questions...

To board game reviewers, do you ever consult strategy guides? And have they ever changed your opinion about a game? People may ask you how many times did you play the game, but I think a better question is, do you understand the strategies to winning the game?


Some advice to board game designers…

Design games that take strategy to win and then don’t be afraid to inform people of these strategies. Most rule books give no details on strategies while some do give a few hints. Why is this? Perhaps designers think most players want to discover things on their own, as I do. But, with the multitude of games coming out and our game time options vastly increased I think understanding the strategies to the games we play is vital to formulating an accurate opinion. At least give us an option to read about strategies or not.


Imagine a reviewer playing your game not fully understanding its intricate strategies and leaving a bad review because of it and then imagine a player who read up on some strategy tips in the rule book and then competes in every game they play for their review. Can you see what a different this could make?

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