Q: How do I review a product?

After reviewing multiple products, I wanted to take a hard look at *how* I review each product. What are the aspects of each product that I look at? Though I don’t often playtest these products, I look at them through the eyes of a long-time gamer with a journalism background, so that definitely slants my perspective more towards how the books are put together more than if the rules are well constructed.

Though I may be missing some esoteric qualities, my analysis boiled the criteria down to three main categories:

  • Art & Layout
  • Content
  • Extras

With Art & Layout, I’m more concerned with the look and feel of the book from cover to cover. How does it look to the reader? Common questions I seek to answer include:

  • Is the front cover eye-catching? Does it include all the appropriate details? Product name, author, publisher, game system, etc…
  • Does it have a back cover? Does the cover blurb offer a glimpse of the content within? How’s the additional art?
  • Inside the book, are the pages well laid out? Is it single column, two-column, or more? Is there enough white space?
  • Is the font big enough to be easily read on screen or on the printed page? Are headings and body text easy to discern?
  • Are graphical elements worked into the layout? Are they distracting? Do they enhance the overall page look and feel?
  • Is interior artwork used? Is it eye-catching and well done? Does it make sense in the context of the page?
  • If floating text boxes or artwork are used, does text flow well around them? Do they make it difficult to read?
  • If maps are included, do they include common symbols (i.e. compass rose, traditional
    indoor/outdoor markings)? Do maps provide enough context to extrapolate the world around them? Are they too detailed as to make it difficult to drop them into a custom-built world?

For Content, it’s a bit more complicated. Not only do I look at the originality of the ideas, but the quality of the writing. Questions here include:

  • Is the content broken into bite-sized chunks? Does it follow a logical outline?
  • Does the writing flow from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, section to section? Does the writer’s voice entertain and inform the reader?
  • Are new concepts explained in enough detail? Too much detail?
  • When material needs to be split between player-related information and gamemaster-related information, is it clearly separated? Are there clear signs indicating which type of information is which?
  • Are there any spelling or grammatical errors that interfere with getting the gist of a section? Are there many errors or just a few?
  • If rules are defined, are they summarized or detailed? Are there examples available? Are the examples consistent with the rules (i.e. were the examples written for an earlier draft and never updated when rules changed through playtesting)?
  • If the product includes a module, is there enough detail for NPCs, monsters, and encounters for a GM to successfully run the adventure?
  • What does the reader need to know before reading the product? Are there prerequisites? Are they documented?

Finally, the Extras bucket includes anything not covered in the first two categories.

  • Is there a Table of Contents? If it’s in an electronic book, is it hyperlinked?
  • Is there an Index? Is it a well-constructed Index or something hastily put together? Is it easy to find topics I might think about as I read the book? Are index entries hyperlinked if it’s an electronic product?
  • Is there a Glossary of new or uncommon terms? Do the definitions make sense?
  • If there are printable resources (i.e. character sheets, cards, references), do they serve a useful purpose? Are they well constructed?

Hopefully this gives you some idea of the many aspects of a product that I consider for each review. Though I may not cover each one in every review, I always try to look at each from multiple angles always keeping the user of the product in mind.

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