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The Secret Behind My Ratings

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Today I will share with you all my thought process behind reviewing board games and books. Specifically, I want to share the how I approach reviewing and why I have selected this method.

When I read other people’s reviews, I find a variety of different ways folks structure their reviews and rate or recommend them at the end. As I was getting into blogging, I experimented with a variety of structures for both my book reviews and my board game reviews. Initially I created a criteria and categories which would correspond to a numerical value. For example for board games, I would look at the mechanics, artwork/theme, fun factor, etc. and each category would be worth 2 points out of a total of ten. For books, I started to look at plot, character development, and other literary aspects with a similar assignment of a numerical value. While writing these types of reviews, I felt very constrained with my writing about different games I played and books I read. I was constantly comparing them to each other and focused less on what I loved about them and the specific issues I had. For a long while, I stopped writing board game reviews because I dreaded using such a structured format. I knew I needed to change how I approached my reviews if I was going to sustain my blog.

As I am reading, I do not take notes. As the story progresses, I start forming a gut opinion which usually comes out as a number (0 being the worst and 5 being the best). The story continues and I hone in on that number out to one decimal point. I can usually tell before I finish a book, what my final rating will be. Very few books have a twist ending that will completely change my view of the book up till that point. Then, I open up my blog editor and write down that number first at the bottom of the page. I usually sit on a book for two or three days to process my experience and reflect on the story. Then, the writing starts!

As for games, I need at least 2-5 plays of a game before I can start honing into a numerical rating for that game. This allows me to adjust for different factors that may affect my first impressions of the game such as the people I am playing with, the mood I am in during the game, learning the rules / messing up the rules, and the different strategies I could explore with each additional play. After the second play, I usually have a good grasp on my numerical rating. I do not always sit and reflect on my gaming experiences since I usually play the game over the course of weeks.

When I write my reviews, I simply sit down to write my stream of consciousness thoughts. What stood out to me? What touched me? What did I have issues with? This creates (for me at least) a narrative about the book or game that flows well. When I was writing in the different categories, I always thought my writing felt… constricted and read very systematic. With my thoughts all out on the page, I can go back and edit and organize how I want but the majority of the work is done and in the order I want it to be. Most of the time, I change very little in the editing process. A lot of my reviews tend to be heavily focused on a few areas of the book or game and that is a direct result of my process. I enjoy writing in this style and it makes me more excited to write reviews because I can honestly talk about what impacted me without trying to fill a form.

Well that’s it! The secret is out on my reviews. I hope you enjoyed reading!

How do you approach reviewing a book or board game? Do you use a numerical rating and if so, based on what criteria?

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Discussion

17 thoughts on “The Secret Behind My Ratings

  1. Totally agree with the stream-of-consciousness writing. I like reading reviews that have everything laid out neatly, but I just can’t seem to write them. I don’t tend to use a numerical rating – only on goodreads, but even then, it changes because of my mood. I’m more interested in whether it made me think than if it was a 5* book.

    Also, I love hearing about the differences between reviewing books and games! Are there any games that hugely changed in their rating between the first and second plays?

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by whatthelog | February 8, 2017, 8:17 PM
    • That is a great question! Yes, I have had that happen to me for a variety of reasons. I think the most common comes down to three things:

      1. The group I am playing with — I remember the first time I played the game Betrayal at the House on the Hill, the folks I were playing with were not into the game at all. The game is highly luck based but the whole experience is about the story and who ever turns out to be the betrayer. The person who was the betrayer obviously did not want to be and play that role which really hurt the play experience. I did not play the game again for two tears, but when I came back to it for my second play I found it much more enjoyable with the group I was with.

      2. Messing up the rules —- It is difficult to read rulebooks, digest the rules, teach the rules, and remember them all while playing the game. Often on a first play, we will miss a rule or get a rule wrong, particularly with complex games. I have found in a couple of instances my first play feels broken and I immediately have a bad taste in my mouth from it. But upon rereading the rules and playing it correctly, it becomes a much more compelling game.

      3. Hype + novelty —– My first play might have me head over heels for a game because of the hype or the novelty of a new game. But upon second and third play, I realize there is not a lot of depth or variation in strategy and the game starts feeling “same-y.”

      Games off the top of my head I have changed ratings on after second or third plays:
      Pandemic
      Betrayal at the House on the Hill
      Seasons
      Small World
      Hanabi
      Concordia
      Evolution
      Captains of Industry

      Liked by 2 people

      Posted by Brendon | February 9, 2017, 10:15 AM
      • Huh, that is so interesting! Thanks for sharing your process, it really is fascinating to me. I wonder if re-reading hyped books in particular would also have the same effect.

        Liked by 1 person

        Posted by whatthelog | February 9, 2017, 10:24 AM
      • Another good thought. Most books I reread lose something that the first read has, just because I know the plot and the stories. Stories I love and reread more often tend to be complex with hidden gems about characters or the stories. Board games tend to have variation (people playing, strategy, randomness, etc.) that provides a different experience whereas the story in a book is the same. I do think my current mood, identity saliency, and state of mind have a lot to do with how I experience a particular book and I think hype can definitely affect that.

        Like

        Posted by Brendon | February 9, 2017, 12:48 PM
  2. I have a very similar means of writing reviews as well. I always have a pen and pieces of paper with me so I can write out thoughts that come up as they pop into my mind. It’s also a great way to jot down some memorable quotes that just show up and leave me stunned (good or bad). I always try to lay out all of the positive points of a book that I’ve read before I get to the negative. When I finally do get to the cons, I try really hard to provide a legit reason as to why I felt the way that I did and how it’s negative instead of just ranting mindlessly about it. Sometimes though I will find that one book that has absolutely nothing go for it. While it’s a bit more difficult, I still try to stay objective and detailed about why it’s such a problematic title. I think these are things that I look for when I read reviews and blog posts, so I try to be respectful in offering the same. I love your reviews and how thought-out they are. The layout and presentation, to the writing and the details of why you liked or disliked elements of the game or book are very concise yet beautifully articulated. 🙂 It’s neat to see that we have similar methods. Happy reading!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by biblionyan | February 8, 2017, 9:17 PM
    • Thank you for sharing some of your process! I totally feel you on the finding an actual reason versus ranting. I have reread some stream of consciousness paragraphs about the issues I had and it is totally a rant and that I will go back and edit a bit. I agree, it is definitely hard when writing a review heavy on criticism. Thank you for the positive feedback on my reviews 🙂 !!

      Liked by 1 person

      Posted by Brendon | February 9, 2017, 10:17 AM
  3. This is a cool post. I like hearing how your thought process on rating has changed over time. I do something similar for books, but the board game process is really interesting! I appreciate how you wait until you’ve played the game a few times. There are so many variables for experiencing a game, I respect your patience before jumping the gun on a rating. Have you ever surprised yourself by disliking a game when you first played it, only to really enjoy it later?

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku | February 9, 2017, 1:01 PM
    • One in particular comes to mind: Captains of Industry (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/131449/captains-industry).

      When I first played it, the theme really got my into a poor mood. I had to create factories and set prices for my products and try to increase my company worth… ugh… so boring. Also the rounds have a variable end to them which killed me in the first game Reluctantly, I played it again and I really enjoyed it the second time, knowing how the game worked. It’s not a very popular game but I have grown to like it a lot. If I saw a cheap copy, I would probably consider getting ti.

      Liked by 1 person

      Posted by Brendon | February 9, 2017, 1:32 PM
      • This story makes me feel a lot better. I don’t think of myself as a bad sport, but when I am HORRIBLY behind I lose interest. The game stops being fun! For example, I played Dominion this weekend with friends and when I realized how far behind I was, I just finished the game. I had 4 points to 2nd-to-last’s 28 points. 😳 Embarrassing. That said, I really enjoy Dominion overall.
        It’s amazing how a negative experience can mar our long term opinions. Even in the short term… If, uh, that makes sense.

        Like

        Posted by Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku | February 13, 2017, 9:52 AM
  4. Thanks for the insight! I always wondered how you got such specific ratings and figured you rated different aspects of the book. Glad to know you’re enjoying that process and will keep it up! I certainly love reading your reviews, so keep up the great work. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Read Diverse Books | February 9, 2017, 10:02 PM
  5. It is always interesting to see how different people approach this! I am the exact opposite of you in that I almost never write a review if I haven’t taken notes. I like being able to track how my impressions evolved over the course of the book, and it helps me remember or locate details. I also loathe assigning ratings or grades.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Shay Shortt | February 9, 2017, 10:20 PM
  6. You’re so lucky you can write a review without taking notes! Sometimes I can write them after I’ve reflected on the books for a couple of days, but if I don’t write my thoughts down my reviews don’t come out as well after I’ve written the whole draft. I’m glad you have a system that works for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by Life of a Female Bibliophile | February 10, 2017, 12:33 PM
  7. It’s interesting to learn more about how you rate and review books and games. I consider myself a book blogger, but I rarely write reviews. Instead, I prefer to focus on issues in books. Sometimes I take notes, but usually I don’t. It depends on the book and what kind of a mood I’m in that day.

    Like

    Posted by A.M.B. | February 12, 2017, 8:35 PM

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