August is RPGaDay month. Yep, a month solid of RPG-related posts, answering these questions:
Today’s question is this:
Where do you go for RPG Reviews?
This is a pretty simple question: I google the name of the product and read reviews wherever I see them, supplementing by asking friends about what they’ve heard about the system. But I also do this one thing when I’m reading the reviews: I try to see why the reviewer feels what he or she feels about whatever aspects of the game or book provoked the strongest reaction, and why he or she is talking about them.
This is true of book reviews of any kind: sometimes reviewers want to talk about something more general, and use a particular book or game as a springboard for that. Sometimes, they hate or love something for wholly idiosyncratic reasons. Not all reviewers are fully aware of this, or own up to it, though, so you sometimes have to read between the lines.
I avoid reviewers who habitually spew a lot of bile on things they dislike, or drag the personal lives (or public scandals) of the authors or publishers into the review. It’s fine to have opinions on those things, and I know sometimes the behavior of a creator makes it hard to stomach his or her work… but frankly if I’m considering buying an RPG, I’m mainly asking questions about how the game or supplement is designed, whether it’s worth purchasing for its use case, what its use case is, and how “good” it is.
Sometimes how “good” it is depends on your aesthetics. I haven’t found one reviewer who I share enough with to just follow and track, so one has to simply learn to read between the lines. I will say, though, that I find overview reviews useful for RPG books—a simple breakdown of the structure and contents of the book can help me know whether it’s the kind of thing I’m after.
I also have to say I find the Let’s Read threads on RPG.net interesting, as a look at the design of games I played back when I wasn’t thinking much about design and just was trying to run games as a kid. It’s been eye-opening to see how much content I synethsized, and what flaws seemed not to matter much in practice back then.
But I’ll also just say that in my case, since I rely so much on recommendations by friends, I don’t usually read a lot of reviews. My friends tend to be willing to let me check out the things they’re recommending, and have a pretty good sense of my tastes, genre-wise if not mechanics-wise.