Reviewers Should Play Games More Than Once

I got into an interesting discussion on Twitter today about reviews and gaming. The conversation got into talking about if you don’t like a game, there’s no reason to try it again, especially as a reviewer. We also talked about if a game needs to get better over time to be considered a great game. I have some reasons why you might not like a game on first play or why a game may fall flat on one play and astound you on another.

Game shelf

I didn’t like the game, should I try it again?

There are many factors to consider if you didn’t like a game. Here are some of those factors and whether or not you should try a game again.

Consider any outside circumstances

Were you or anyone in your group stressed/rude/mad or had any other negative emotion? Was the location not ideal, such as low light or too loud? Did people feel rushed because they wanted to play another game, or just in a weird mood? I think these outside circumstances can have a huge factor into playing a new game. Gamers are people, and as much as we try not to, we bring our emotions, stresses, thoughts to the table. I’ve played many games where I was stressed or hungry and I didn’t enjoy the gameplay. This doesn’t mean I should give up on a game, especially if I feel like these outside circumstances were a factor.

Consider your group’s tastes

Not only can the groups emotions play into whether or not you enjoy a game, but simply the overall game tastes of the group can factor in. We’ve tried to play games like Camel Up at our normal game group and they didn’t enjoy it as much. It was a bit too random for their tastes. If that was my first experience playing Camel Up, I may not have enjoyed it as much as I did. My first plays of it was with family who likes lighter games, and because of that, everyone had an awesome time. If others aren’t having fun, that can affect your experience as well. The game may be a good game, but with that particular group with those tastes, it may just not be fun!

It wasn’t what you expected

Sometimes reviews or recommendations can give you a wrong perspective on a game. This happened with us on Last Will. My husband had thought it was a light card game based on a review he listened to. As we started playing, we realized it’s a heavier euro game. We didn’t expect that going in and it made us not enjoy our first gameplay as much. We’ll try it again, because now we know what to expect.

You lost the game and got frustrated

Yup, this happens to me! I’m a hothead. It’s something I’ve been working on for years. There are times where I get so frustrated in a game because I lost, that I say “I hate this!” I said this about Star Realms because I didn’t expect how fast the pace was, and after losing because someone did 50 points of damage in one turn, I got very frustrated. However, I decided to keep trying the game, but on iOS against the AI. Once I realized how the game worked and the strategy, I fell in love with the game. It’s in my top 5 of games of all time! If I had just given up because “if a game is good you must like every single play of it” then I wouldn’t play a lot of my current favorite games.

Because of these factors, I believe once you consider these, then decide whether to try the game again. Maybe with a different group, or at a different location, or after you watched a gameplay video to get a better feel of the game.

Reasons for not playing a game after a first play.

One reason may be you feel like the rulebook is only half complete. One game I reviewed, it was riddled with so many grammatical errors and spelling errors I could barely read it, let alone understand the game. Another reason may be that it is a prototype game, and the rules keep changing before you can even write a review. I’ve had this happen with several Kickstarter games I’ve previewed, and it can be frustrating as a reviewer to keep playing a game with new rules everyday. Finally, if a game’s theme offends you, or the art, or any reason you feel uncomfortable playing the game, then it definitely makes sense to steer away from it.

If after a few plays of a game, with different groups and different settings, and you still don’t like it, then I think it’s safe to give up on it, or as a reviewer, give it a negative review.

Sometimes, Friday is just frustrating! Other times, it's amazing.
Sometimes, Friday is just frustrating! Other times, it’s amazing.

Does a game need to get better with each game session for it to be a “great” game?

Considering all I’ve mentioned above, a game won’t necessarily have that “wow” factor every single game play. There is the outside circumstances we mentioned, plus who and where you play a game with. Also, some games have variable set up like Dominion and one set of 10 kingdom cards may be much different or better than another. Also, player count is a huge factor in many games. You may love a game at 2 player, but dislike it at 4 player. I think it’s pretty unrealistic to love every single game session of any game you play. I’ve played tons of 7 Wonders and Carcassonne games and while these are two of my favorite games, not every single session was awesome. Does that mean these games aren’t great? By no means! It just means that just like in life, not every day is going to be awesome. Not every Stumptown coffee is going to knock your socks off. There will be off days in game sessions, just like there is in every single part of life!

Ultimately, games are about having fun. However, as a reviewer, I have to sometimes take a step back and say “wait, I may have not enjoyed this particular game session, but I may need to try this game again, under different circumstances.” Only then can a reviewer give a better opinion about a game. If I had reviewed Star Realms after my first 3 plays, I would have given it a very negative review. I disliked it because of my own personality flaw, not because it was a bad game. I’m so glad I gave Star Realms and many other games another chance, because I understand that not every game play session is going to be perfect, even with great games on hand.

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