Since making my website, I’ve done many more reviews and developed my own format and process. I thought I’d share what is, at the moment, how I write reviews and decide scores.
The Sum of its Parts
No matter what I’m reviewing, I give a brief summary of what it is. For books or movies, what the story is. For games, what is the theme and where do you, the player, fit into things. And generally speaking, I do spoiler-free reviews that focus on providing information for interested consumers. Other than for movies (which I don’t usually do anyway), I’ve only had one spoiler review, and that was for The Shining. After that, I break things down into categories that I look at more closely.
For book reviews, I break it up into the following categories:
Instead of more summary, this part focuses on how well I thought it flowed. Was the plot interesting? Did it connect the dots well or feel disorganized? How was the pacing? And assuming I can cover it without spoilers, what were my thoughts on the ending. I might cover how well the story fits its genre if there’s something I feel worth mentioning.
Who are the main characters and what stood out to me? I don’t typically go over all of the characters, just noting things I especially liked or disliked (and without getting into spoilers). And for older books, I might comment on out-of-date stereotypes.
This might be of less interest for many readers, but some readers have learned over time what styles they like and styles they struggle to get through. As a writer, I also think it’s interesting looking at the stylistic changes over time. How good is the prose? Are there things worth highlighting, or something to warn others about (lengthy, wordy descriptions, for example)?
Final thoughts on the book and who I’d recommend it to.
For board game reviews:
I go into more detail about the central mechanics and gameflow but not necessarily provide a full rules breakdown. I want to convey the style of the game more than anything. How do turns typically go? What are players trying to do? How does the game end?
This might not be very important for some gamers, but it matters to me. So I look at what the theme is and where it comes through in the gameplay. If it’s historical or based on a real culture, was it well-researched?
Here, I go more into detail about specific mechanisms and what I like or don’t like. This is the meat and potatoes of most games. I try to cover all of the main mechanisms in the game. Do they work well together? Are they interesting?
This part is usually a brief look at the component quality, including the art, box, and insert. Again, might not be important for some, but I think it’s worth exploring. Good components are worth praise, and bad components should be mentioned.
- Rules Clarity and Balance
Is the game difficult to learn? Are the rules at fault? Are cards or abilities in the game easy or difficult to figure out? Are there noticeable balance problems and have they been addressed?
Final thoughts and who I’d recommend it to.
Some people are vehemently against the idea of providing a score. Others might even object to where you place the score in the review. I place it in front because I’m willing to concede that some people just want the score. They’ll close the review if one isn’t provided, or they scroll to the end to find the score. I put it up front so they can find it. If someone wants to read the review, they’ll do so with or without the score.
So how do I figure out the score? First, I’ll break down, more or less, what each value means for my scoring. Then I’ll go over how I come to these numbers.
- Abject trash. Irredeemable. An absolute mess that should never see the light of day. I doubt I’ll ever review something this bad, but the score needs to exist for these special cases.
- A failed attempt. I can at least see what they were trying to do, though it failed quite conclusively. It’s very unlikely I’ll come across things this low as I just don’t have the money to gamble on something that’s obviously bad.
- Not completely terrible. Though greatly flawed, I can see moments of quality. But there’s just too much bad for the good to shine.
- Didn’t enjoy. This is either a flawed product that has some noticeable good qualities, or an otherwise decent work that just doesn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s not my genre or not my style, but it was not enjoyable.
- Forgettable. Nothing especially good or bad. Perfectly middle of the road that I’ll forget before long.
- Decent. Either something that all-around is good but nothing great, or something that has enough good points to overcome its collected flaws.
- A solid product. What works, works well enough that the flaws don’t detract much from the enjoyment.
- Excellent. This might be something that is all-around well done, or its moments of greatness help overshadow the otherwise notable flaws.
- Top-notch. This is near flawless or so amazing that even major problems mean little.
- A personal favorite. It isn’t perfect, but it connects with me in a way most things don’t.
For games and books, a 7 or higher are ones that I’d come back to, these are ones I’ve enjoyed. A 6 is probably not something I’ll come back to; it wasn’t bad, but not good enough to warrant returning to. Though, generally speaking, only an 8 or higher is among my favorites.
So where do these numbers come from?
For the most part, it’s just gut instinct. I weigh the value of things I liked against the things I didn’t like. Sometimes, it’s tough picking between two numbers. Did I really enjoy it enough to give it an 8? Or should it get a 7 because of some nagging issues? But to give you a more exact description, it’s sort of like this:
I start at a 5. Middle of the road. But think of it as a 0. A perfect 0 is scored as a 5. But I really liked the story. +3. And I liked the characters and their story arcs. +2. But the pacing was really bad. -2. And the writing wasn’t great. -1. So far, that gives us a total of 2. So if we start at 0 (score of 5), a 2 gives us a score of 7/10. Flawed but enjoyable. I don’t actually sit down and score individual elements this way, I just go with my gut on them. But this is basically how I get the numbers. So really, my 10-point scale is a scale from -4 to +5.
Also, I don’t give out half-points. You’ll never see a 7.5 from me. It’s silly and pointless to take a 10-point scale and make it a 20-point scale with half scores.
For Goodreads, since they only have a 1-5 star rating, I just halve my score, rounded up. So a 7 is a 4/5 on Goodreads, a 4 is a 2/5 and so on.
I hope someone finds this interesting. A final note. I don’t really consider a review or score absolutely final. I might return to something with renewed insight and change my thoughts on it. In fact, I think I did in my Scythe review.