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To Score or Not to Score, That is the Question

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A board game Facebook group I belong to recently hosted a discussion regarding review rubrics. The discussion specifically centered on rubrics with a points system, focusing on how heavily to weigh certain categories over others, and what exactly the specifics of each point should be. People had varying scales in their rubrics, differences in categories, and differences in how heavily they weighed things like art vs. mechanics, components, etc. Even though COG doesn’t currently use a rubric like the ones discussed, it nevertheless got me thinking about the pros and cons of different review systems, and whether there were aspects from other systems COG may be able to use to better our content.

Coming from a social-science academic background, I’ve approached reviews thusfar much the same way I approached academic book reviews. First, I play the game multiple times while taking notes on various impressions and commentary that comes up during each session. I then think on those experiences, and analyze the playthroughs to determine how much I like a game and why, and whether there are certain elements my group or I disliked and whether those are actual problems/instances that are worth giving space to in the final review. Once I’ve got my thoughts more-or-less composed, I put fingers to keyboard and write out a review draft, which then goes through various stages of revision(sometimes even a few amendments after I’ve published).

The end product loosely resembles the academic reviews I’m used to writing; they’re in paragraph format, the body sections contain relevant information and analysis of the item itself along with an explanation of the rules so readers can better follow my analysis, and the conclusion is meant to provide an ‘at-a-glance’ sentence or two on my final overall impressions.

I’ve personally always preferred this style of review over one that assigns an overall rating, or a rating to any individual section. I find writing out the analysis without having to consider a rating usually makes the end product slightly more objective(as objective as a review can be, anyway), and at the very least forces the writer to fully expose their reasoning so any reader can determine for themselves whether they agree with the logic. Keeping a scoring system consistent from review-to-review is also very hard to do even with the most structured rubric, and at some point I usually see reviewers lament that the product they’re reviewing is not as good as one thing, is better than another, but there’s no room in their scoring system to put the item being reviewed in-between the two without fracturing the system further. It also seems like people are less likely to read a review in full if there are scores, or if they do their reading of the review is already colored by having seen the score(s).  I’d much prefer people use my thoughts as starting-points for formulating their own opinions as to whether the game sounds like something they might enjoy.

Even so, I also realize part of every reviewer’s mission should be to make their content accessible to the widest audience possible in order to benefit the most readers. The fact is, people are busy, and sometimes a quick, easily accessible synopsis is all they’re looking for. For others, ratings systems help them place the game within some sort of context for the site, or even for themselves. Those points have made me question whether COG followers and visitors might welcome and benefit from a new 1-5 or 1-10 COG(star) scoring system for our reviews? If so I’d hesitate to put the scoring system at the top of each review, although that’s obviously where the most number of people would be able to see it. I’d much rather have an anchor link at the top that says something to the effect of “Click to Jump to Our Conclusion”, which would take people to the bottom of the review to read the COG Takeaway, and to see the overall COG rating.

I’d love to receive feedback on this. Whether it’s specifically tied to a system for COG itself, or your opinions more generally on rubrics and ratings systems or the lack therefore, please share your thoughts!


Author: bduerksen30 I have an m.a. in history focusing on naval and maritime history in the Atlantic from the seventeenth-early nineteenth centuries. I've worked as a website consultant, and am currently employed as an analyst. I also run the COG Gaming blog for board game reviews, news, and kickstarter highlights. COG Gaming also offers playesting and editing services for new designers, and we're in the process of developing a few titles of our own. Contact me if you're interested in having your game reviewed, previewed, or in one of our other services!

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