Review Ratings and Philosophy

     This is an overview of my review ratings and in general my review philosophy. Now, on the one hand, all products are relative... even a game which is poorly done on almost all fronts may have its adherents who claim it is a fun game. I try to respect that different games are trying to do different things, but I still have an objective rating for how well the game achieves what I believe it is trying to do.

     Most reviews have a rating system, and readers will expect some sort of rating. Thus, while I don't think much of ratings in general, it is standard enough that I will include very rough ratings from 1 to 5 stars. If you have any interest in the product, the full review takes precedence over the simple rating.

     In genreal, one star indicates that the product is nigh unusable -- of interest only if you are a collector or have some very special interest. Three stars indicates that the product is roughly even with the industry standards, such as the average GURPS product or White Wolf Storyteller system product. Five stars is the hypothetical perfect -- a game that is worth buying just to read it, even if you have no interest in the genre or topic.


Product / Presentation Rating

     This is a rating for how well the product displays its contents. For a rulebook, important features are readability and organization -- especially how good the table of contents and index are. For a setting/genre book (which may be the same product), the art and flavor text are also important. Art is judged not just on how good it is, but on how well it illustrates the game-world in question.

1 (*)
The book is nearly unreadable. A rulebook is actively confusing about how to resolve things. A setting/genre book is inconsistent. If determined to use the content, you may want your own set of notes to have alongside or instead of the book.
2 (**)
The book is marginally functional but nothing more. A rulebook might lack an index, or be confusingly laid out with a poor index. A setting/genre book is plain and uninspiring.
3 (***)
The book is competantly done. For a rulebook you can usually find and understand the rule you are looking for fairly quickly if you are familiar with it. A setting/genre book gives a good overview as well as some intriguing detail.
4 (****)
The book is well done. A rulebook is crisp and clear in its presentation, eliminating page-flipping wherever possible. A setting/genre book
5 (*****)
The book is wonderfully done. A setting/genre book might be worth putting out on your coffee table for non-gamers. A rulebook might be bought just as a reference on how things should be done.

     Of course, it is not possible to entirely separate presentation from content. However, I try to make a stab at it.


Playability / Content Rating

     This is a rating for how well the game works in play. Even moreso than Product / Presentation, this rating is a matter of taste. As with the other, this rating applies to both the rules and the setting.

     The rules are judged in terms of how well they work relative to the desired level of detail. i.e. A detailed combat game might have complex modifiers for a given rifle shot. The question is, if you want that level of detail, how well do the rules work?

1 (*)
The content is pretty much unplayable without a bunch of house rules and modifications. It is better to just skim a friend's copy for ideas and do it yourself.
2 (**)
The product has a workable framework, but there are unavoidable sections which are problematic or broken. It may be worth reading for some ideas. If you have a very special interest in its topic, you might try to play it -- but be prepared for problems.
3 (***)
The product is competantly done. There are definite problems with it, but none that are immediately obvious in play. The rules won't work better than the system you are used to. If you are interested in the topic, you should consider it.
4 (****)
The product is well done. If you are interested in the topic, you should definitely buy it.
5 (*****)
The game is great on all counts. I would recommend it even if the topic doesn't interest you.

John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Mon Nov 15 20:47:11 2004