They Call Me Mister Smee – How I Do What I Do

May 30, 2014

Good Evening, Gentlemen

Since I have one of the more… esoteric rating system in the League, I figure that I ought to detail exactly what I’m looking for in a game, my own preferences, and how that applies to both my overall star rating and the secondary thumb ranking that I give a game. This blog also contains some introductory material that pertains to The Life and Times of Smee, so feel free to skip a couple of paragraphs down if you’re just looking for the ratings insight.

A little background about me is in order, I suppose. I’ve been gaming in one form or another for most of my life, from Dreadnought on the C64 to Master of Magic and Master of Orion and their ilk on the PC, to the modern Civilization and onwards; strategy and 4x-type games have been the drug of choice. On the analog side of the table, I had early experiences with heavy games such as Stalingrad, Midway, and Jutland from my father, along with classics like Fireball Island, Hero Quest and The Omega Virus with my friends. During the CCG craze of the 90’s, I doubt that there was a series that I didn’t at least try (the sole exception being Yu-gi-oh for some reason), but Magic: The Gathering, Magi-Nation (still the best game, *ever*), and later on, the World of Warcraft TCG held my interest when it came to card gaming. On the miniatures side of things, I flirted briefly with Warhammer 40k and always had an on-again, off-again relationship with Battletech, which is probably what drove me into my obsession with Mechwarrior: Dark Age. If anyone wants to field a 10k point force, well, you know where to find me.

These days, harking back to my turn-based strategy roots, I’m more often than not in the mood for a nice heavy euro game, with civilization or city-building being the favorite sub-theme. I’m just getting into train games such as Steam and Railways of the World, and hoping to work my way up to an 18XX title one of these days. Low-luck / high strategy games tend to get the nod, except for the odd exception such as Lords of Vegas, where gambling is the entire theme.

The Good Stuff

As for how I calculate my ratings for the reviews, star ratings in the League go from zero to five, in half-star increments; basically a ten point scale stuffed into a five-point container.

Components are worth half a star to begin with, assuming they meet basic functionality requirements, with another half star awarded if they are exceptionally well put together. On the other hand, if the pieces are thin and flimsy, or already showing wear after one or two plays, then I’m well within my rights to deduct an additional half-star for this.

While not everyone may agree, I believe that the Theme of the game and how well integrated it is with the gameplay and overall presentation is very important. This isn’t to say that I’ll downrate an abstract or themeless game automatically, it’s just when a game ends up pretending to be something that it’s not is when I have a problem. This is another opportunity to gain or lose a half star from the baseline.

Depth and Strategy are the two biggest items that I look for in a game, and generally comprise the rest of the score. Not every game deserves the same criteria, of course; I’ll be far less harsh on a 30 minute card game then something with a playtime of two hours. In this category, I look for opportunities to make meaningful decisions, possibly involving multiple goals or scoring paths, and the overall replayability of the game. If it feels like I’m playing a script, or the best move is always the obvious move, then it’ll probably lose a few points here. Additionally, if too much of the game’s outcome depends on luck, and it’s not specifically that sort of a game, then I might chop off a bit for that infraction.

Win, Lose, or Draw

In regards to the thumbs that I bestow, they generally represent my enthusiasm for the game: did I enjoy it enough to play again, and how often? This can range from two negative thumbs (Munchkin), meaning that I’d rather chew my own foot off then play again, to the neutral and disinterested zero thumbs, up to two (or possibly more!) thumbs for something like The Manhattan Project, for which I’ll agitate a playthrough at any time. Below is a non-exhaustive list of categories, and some examples from previous reviews:

  • Medium Worker Placement
    • The Manhattan Project – Two and a Half Thumbs
    • Lords of Waterdeep – One Thumb
    • Euphoria (Spoiler!) – Zero Thumbs
  • Drafting / Tableau Building
    • 7 Wonders – Three Thumbs
    • Fairy Tales – Two Thumbs
  • Bluffing / Deception
    • Coup – One Thumb
    • Scalawag – Zero Thumbs
  • Gravwell
    • Gravwell – One Thumb
  • Light / Filler / Casual
    • Bullfrog – Two Thumbs
    • Blueprints – Two Thumbs
    • Marvel Dice Masters – One and a Half Thumbs
    • Jaipur – One Thumb
  • Uncategorized
    • City of Remnants – One and a Half Thumbs
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SENIOR EDITOR : Refined gamer, collector, consummate geek. Hoarder of miniatures, reluctant painter. My tastes run towards the strategic side of the fence, with city / civilization / empire builders at the focus. I've moved away from direct-conflict games these days, unless they're two-player or one versus many, so one can properly admire the beatdown put upon the opposing side. Yes, I've been known to wear hats with fuzzy ears on them.