This recent post by @wonderman got me started thinking some about boardgame purchasing. Obviously, wonderman was asking questions about availability, in general, and in regards to specific titles. Obviously, availability is a very big deal as anyone shopping for #Glory To Rome Black Box Edition will tell you. But it also caused me to think about researching games to purchase. I have purchased games on a whim, some of them have been happy purchases. I have also thought I have really researched games before purchasing, only to have them be a bust.
This post is clearly assuming that one is purchasing games with the intention to play them. If you are buying them out of some sort of collecting motive, then that is totally valid, but it does mean that these particular tools of research will not be answering the real questions you want answered.
I will briefly mention various tools that we have at our disposal when researching games. I will then briefly elaborate on each one and give some of my thoughts in regards to them. Also, it should be mentioned, that this list may be not be helpful for most of you. But, if you are a newer gamer trying to figure out how to research games, it may have a few points to consider.
Reviews: Reviews come in three forms. There are video reviews, audio reviews, and written reviews. I find reviews, wisely used, incredibly useful and powerful in terms of researching a game. I genuinely enjoy watching reviews, listening to them, reading them, or even writing them. But obviously, they come with their own sets of challenges.
The first, and probably the most obvious challenge is that ALL REVIEWS ARE SUBJECTIVE. Let me say that another way, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN UNBIASED REVIEW OR REVIEWER. This is actually not that bad a thing, because we ourselves experience our games subjectively. Therefore, if reviewers were objective, their experience would still differ in some material ways from the experience that we have.
Another challenge is that there is potential for conflicts of interest when the reviewer is a “professional.” As long as any conflict of interest is clearly stated, then I have no problem with it. I don’t really care if the reviewer got his game for free, or if he was paid by the publisher, or is friends with the designer, or….. Just as long as any potential conflict of interest is clearly stated, then I, personally, don’t have any issues with this sort of thing.
I believe that there are several things that one can do to enhance the usefulness of reviews in their researches before buying a game.
The first thing that I have found helpful is finding reviewer(s) that give you an idea of how a game works. One example would be the video that SU&SD did for Scythe. I watched that, and I felt like I knew how the game worked. And, I knew that I would love it, I bought it and I loved it. But the thing is, that SU&SD didn’t actually give Scythe a positive review. Somehow, in spite of that, their negative review made me know that I would love Scythe. There are several reviewers that I have found that always give me a good idea of how the game will work for me, I can usually tell after reading/watching/listening to a review from one of these people whether or not I will like the game. And, often, my opinion is different from the reviewers. Find these people for you. They are a tremendous help.
Another valuable thing is finding a reviewer whose tastes align sort of closely to yours. Then, if they like a game, you are more likely to like it as well.
A valuable way to help you determine which reviewers might sort of fit in these two areas is to watch/listen/read reviews for games that you already know. Do they communicate the experience that you have? Do have a similar opinion to you on said game? Do you feel like they communicate their experience in a manner that is easy for you to consume?
Rulebooks: We live in the age of the internet. Most games have a rulebook somewhere online. See if you can find it and read it. This can tell you a lot about a game.
How-to-Learn Videos: Related to the above. Listening to a rules teach can tell you a lot, especially if you are adverse to chrome or to a lot of fiddliness in a game. A good teach will help highlight things that may eventually be annoyances.
Play-Through Videos: YouTube has a lot of playthroughs of a lot of games. Sometimes they are accompanied by a teach of the game, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they are filmed by professionals like Heavy Cardboard or Quackalope. Sometimes they are filmed by some guy in his garage with an iPhone 4s. If you are wanting to buy a game that has already been published, I can’t recommend too highly that you watch a playthrough first. Several of my favorite games in my collection would never have joined my collection if I hadn’t watched a playthrough first. One thing that I would add, whenever possible, especially if you are planning on playing said game mostly solo, try to find a playthrough at the sort of player counts you would normally experience. Solo games often feel different from the multiplayer variants, especially if they have some sort of complicated AI you need to run. That is something you are going to want to see, that you might not in a multiplayer game. Also, certain games are hugely player-count dependent, and a 2 player playthrough will look very different than a 5 player playthrough. So, if you can, find a playthrough that is a similar player count to what you would normally have.
Crowdsourcing: BGA and BGG are both great places to ask questions. If you have specific questions about a specific game or sort of game you are thinking about acquiring, then just ask it. There is a good chance that someone will be able to help you answering it.
Consider its place in your collection: I don’t have an unlimited amount of time. I have various unpaid responsibilities and I have to hold a job. This doesn’t leave as much time to play games as I would wish for. This leads to a situation where certain games have no place in my collection. I owned #Star Realms for a while. I love that little game. I probably rank it a 7.5 out of 10. But, whenever I was in the mood for a light deck builder, I never reached for it. I always reached for #Dominion. So, finally, I got rid of Star Realms. I discovered that I really don’t have room for more than one or two pure deck builders in my collection. My brother-in-law has both #Acquire and #Power Grid. These are both very different games. But somehow, they fit in the same mental space for us. We almost never play Acquire, because when we are in the mood for Acquire, we are almost always more in the mood for Power Grid. So, I do urge you to consider if the game you are researching will broaden your collection or if it will be rendered obsolete by other games in your collection. Or, perhaps, it may obsolesce other games in your collection. If this is what you want, then that is fine. But it is something that should be considered.
These are good basic tools that I use to help me determine the advisability or inadvisability of buying a certain game. And, it should be noted, that this is mostly for games that are already published. When you are looking at backing an unfinished game on Kickstarter or are preordering something somewhere, some of these tools may not be available, or may not even be applicable. Also, there are many tools that I either don’t have access to, or have not really chosen to use. For instance, many libraries or game cafés may have the game you are researching. It may be worth trying to play it in an environment like that. Or, perhaps, you are a person that enjoys BoardGame Arena or Tabletop Simulator. Playing games on there to experience them may be a very good way to give them a try.
So, tell me, what did I miss? What are your important research tools?