How I Review Games

You can find an unscripted video version of this article on YouTube here.

All reviews published beyond October 8th, 2021 will follow this new unscored system. Any scored review published before that date remains unchanged. You can find details of the legacy system at the bottom of the page.

Scoring games sucks, and it always has. When I first started Gideon’s Gaming, it was purely a video game review website, and I went with the industry-standard scale of 1-10. I did this because of score aggregators such as Open Critic, which I am still honored to be listed on.

Once I added board games to my platform, they inherited the same scoring system for consistency. The problem is, I never liked scoring games. As every year passes, I like them even less.

Putting a numerical score at the end of the review is a futile attempt to condense around 2000 words of very specific and important context into a vague unrelated number. That number has different meanings between outlets and the people reading or watching a review.

My score of 7 might mean different things from other reviewers 7s, and three different people looking at our reviews will have their own interpretations of what it means. At best, it makes the score itself useless. At worst, it makes the score misleading.

It was my visit to Origins Game Fair or rather, the haul of board games that I brought home that really pushed me over the edge. Thousands of variables affect my video game reviews, but even more, affect my reviews of board games. I found myself looking at a small box game like Pocket Ops. I can review it very easily. But I would have no idea how to score it.

It’s a small cheap game, and I always factor price into my reviews. I enjoy it, but it’s light for me. I prefer heavy games. But I can still appreciate what it is. A couple of weeks ago I was at my friend’s wedding, and I would have loved to had Pocket Ops on me to kill time waiting for the photo-op to finish.

I can list everything good and bad about it, and I can tell you its strengths and weaknesses. I can tell you the type of player I think would enjoy it, and which ones wouldn’t.

It’s impossible to condense all of that into a score that makes sense. I like heavy games, so do I give it a 6? Reviews are subjective after all, and my tastes matter as a reviewer. No, that’s disrespectful and misrepresenting the game. Especially because not everyone is going to investigate my tastes inside and out to know precisely what I prefer.

Okay, well it’s a cheap game, and price matters. If I can’t find any glaring flaws, is it a 10? No, obviously not. That also would be misrepresenting the game. A game can have nothing wrong, and still not deserve a 10. A lot of other factors go into how much fun I or another person might have with it.

Should I go in between with an 8? Most games would fall into that criteria, and thus the score ceases to have any meaning at all. The score is the least important part of a review. What matters, is how I got there. The game, its design, why I liked the things I do, why I dislike the things I did.

Not to mention the industry scale is skewered. Games almost never get a 6 or lower because games that bad don’t warrant reviewing in the first place. This really makes the 1-10 scale a 6-10 scale. Everyone and their dog has a different view of what each of those numbers means. 

If you never dug into how I personally score games, you wouldn’t know that I don’t view 7 as a bad score. How many people did I unintentionally turn off from games that I scored a 7 to?

Then there is what I personally enjoy doing. My review of Cyberpunk 2077 was one of my favorite reviews to write and record. Simply because I refused to score it due to the rampant backlash that was going on at the time. Scoring it high would have gotten me abuse, scoring it low would have gotten me abuse. So I said screw it and refused to do either.

I got to focus on the game itself. What I liked and what I didn’t, and I think for that reason it’s more informative. I didn’t have to worry about cramming it all into the undersized package that is a single number.

One of the other reasons Origins pushed me over the edge on this, is scoring games caused me to limit myself on the games I would play. It stopped me from trying games outside of my comfort zone because I didn’t want to figure out how to score them.

When it comes to board games, my favorites might be heavier games. But that doesn’t mean I can’t also enjoy lighter ones. It doesn’t mean I can’t dig into the intricacies of their design and analyze what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes a game can be too light to play well, sometimes a heavy game can be too convoluted.

I’m good at what I do. If a game doesn’t make it onto my top shelf, you can be sure I can find an audience where it would. I don’t need an arbitrary number at the end to do that.

The problem is, scores have placed games into two boxes. Good games and bad games, and it’s made a reviewer’s job to place games into those two boxes. Here’s a hot take for you. I don’t think that’s my job. Good and bad are subjective, yet review scores feel objective. How often do you see people sling scores around to “prove” whether or not a game is good or bad? All the time.

My job isn’t to tell you if a game is good or bad. My job is to show you why I think different parts of it work for me, and why other parts don’t. It’s to use my time and expertise to give you a detailed run down that you can then apply with your own personal bias and tastes against mine. Then come to your own conclusion of whether not the game is worth buying for you.

As of today (10/8/2021) my new reviews will no longer have a numerical score. The body of my reviews will still be the same. But at the end, I will include what a game does well, and what it doesn’t. Beyond that, I will include a summary of my personal feelings on the game from the lens of my own tastes and bias. I will also state the type of gamer I think will like the game and who I think won’t.

If a game really strikes my fancy. I will include a Golden Shield. My normal logo, but golden. This does not mean a game is a 10 out of 10 and two games with golden shields aren’t meant to be compared. It simply means that I personally love the game, and it’s one of my favorites. 

The absence of a shield does not mean I think a game is bad or that I disliked it. On the contrary, I intend the award to be rare. Whether I like a game or not will be detailed in the body of the review.

I expect to lose a bit of traffic from this change. I mean there is a reason that scores are an industry standard. Here’s the reality though. If you ignored my written review and scrolled down to the bottom, or skipped to the end of my videos, just to see the number. Well…

You were useless to me, as far as algorithms go. More importantly, I was useless to you, because you saw the number without knowing what it meant, or how I reached that conclusion.

Reviews published prior to 10/8/2021 will remain unchanged, mostly because it would be a nightmare to change them. This change is about looking ahead, not behind. I will update a key few with my golden shield, however.

Legacy Score Overview Prior to 10/8/2021

I used the industry-standard scoring method of a 1-10 scale. For early access titles, I used a simple method of Buy it, Watch for Updates, and Don’t Buy.

The score I reached was determined by several factors, most of them subjective, but I did factor in technical issues and flaws or balance issues within a game’s design. I also considered the price of the game, certain expectations raise alongside the price and my reviews reflect this. I used the game’s release date MSRP for this purpose, not its current or sale price.

Here’s an old article I wrote about review scores here, but I included a small snapshot below for reference. Think of scores like a recommendation scale, with 10 being the highest recommendation possible.

  • 10: An exemplary game of the genre. My highest recommendation possible.
  • 9: Incredible game of the genre, very likely a must-have.
  • 8: Great game, and a safe buy if you like the genre.
  • 7: Good game, might have some flawed mechanics or other issues. Do some extra research to be sure it jives with you.
  • 6: Below average, it may still be good in some ways, but major flaws were present. Probably only for diehards of the theme or genre.
  • Under 6: Extremely flawed, be very wary about purchasing.

While it happened occasionally, most games didn’t score less than 6. This is true for most critics as they simply aren’t worth the time to be reviewed in the first place. I don’t do outrage bait. I don’t request review copies of games I think I’ll dislike, and I certainly don’t buy games I think I will hate intentionally. Again, I can not stress enough the importance of reading the reviews rather than taking a score at face value.