Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Upcoming Review Change

I've got a rather large queue of reviews for the blog, which is terrific. Thank you to all the publishers who've sent me copies of their products -- and thank you for creating some many excellent old school products in the first place. While I don't think new products are the be-all and end-all of the old school movement, I nevertheless see the existence of new products as a sign (one of many) of its vitality, one that's often an important gateway through which gamers outside our company might be drawn into it.

One of the problems with my reviews to date is its scoring system. The original polearm rating was a bit of whimsy on my part, back when I never imagined I'd write so many reviews or that so many people would read them. After nearly a year of doing them, the inadequacies of the scores is starting to become more apparent. For one, the use of a zero to five gradation, even with half-grades in between, is a lot less intuitive than it ought to be. A 0 to 10 scale probably works better, since most readers seem to get it more easily. Secondly, and more importantly, a single grade doesn't really capture all the nuances of a product. And, frankly, I'm inconsistent on how many points I knock off for the things I don't like. So, sometimes a product I like but that has lots of production errors gets off more lightly than one I don't like that has far fewer such errors. What I need is a system that takes into account these various aspects of a book.

With that in mind, starting with my next review, I'll be using the 0 to 10 scale in three categories. These categories are:
  • Presentation: This category covers the physical qualities of the product (if applicable) as well as its layout, artwork, and editing.
  • Creativity: This category covers the ideas and concepts presented in the product.
  • Utility: This category covers how useful the product is to players of old school games.
I think the expansion of the scoring system and the institution of categories will make the reviews more useful overall. At the very least, it'll give me wider scope to note a creative product's presentation difficulties without having to downgrade its overall score.

Let me also note that I don't generally write reviews of products I dislike. Even those products I rated 3 out of 5 under my old system (the lowest scores I gave) were ones I liked, even if I had issues with them that affected their final scores. Part of it is because I'm buying the vast majority of the products I review and I'm a picky buyer. I don't generally take chances on products I don't think possess some virtues, even if only as an idea mine. Now, if that situation were to change and I were to start getting lots of freebies from publishers, I might start publishing more negative reviews (not that I like writing negative reviews). Until then, I expect my reviews to be generally positive, even if I take them as opportunities to pick nits as well.


  1. James, any chance you'll be reviewing Open Game Table once you recieve your copy? Obviously there will be bias, since you are a contributor -- and advertiser -- but... [laughs] you would still give an objective review, right?

  2. I really like the way that Premier Guitar magazine includes a “Buy if...” and “Skip if...” with their reviews. Each is a pithy completion of the sentence. Somehow I’ve found this more useful than the standard “Pros” and “Cons” summaries.

    In any case, I think some kind of summary along those lines is more useful than multiple scores.

  3. Jonathan,

    I might review the book when it comes out if I think there's enough there of interest to my readership. Since it's a very diverse anthology of entries, I'm not sure that is the case, particularly given the large amount of 4e material in it. But I'll make that call once I can see the final results of your labors.

  4. Robert,

    That's a really excellent idea. I may need to consider that.