In today’s information-driven Internet Age gamers have few valid excuses for purchasing games without first doing their homework to ensure they’re the right diversion for their play styles and expectations.
Years ago, before nearly everyone who could afford games could afford decent internet access, one had to trust information from advertisements, back-cover copy, recommendations from friends, dubious advice from game store clerks, and a few reviews in print gaming magazines when making an “informed” game purchase. This was more problematic with boxed games sealed in shrink wrap, for at least one could peruse the pages of a roleplaying game book in the store (unless, of course, that was shrink-wrapped, too, a discouraging practice some stores use for roleplaying game books that, ultimately, leads to consumer frustration and disappointment).
I know my game shelves once contained a handful of games purchased in this era that I found disappointing and probably would not have purchased if I’d had additional information (particularly a look at the rules). I’m not naming names, but most found their way to flea market sales, donation bins, or other giveaway venues.
Today, however, the internet offers a wealth of resources; its community-wide information base works well when coupled with more enlightened, professional gaming stores with friendly demo policies and more knowledgeable staff (even if it comes at the price of fewer game stores). Here are some resources when looking for new games and evaluating whether they might make a good purchase; these apply not simply to games we buy, but those we put on wish lists or request as holiday or birthday gifts…:
Publisher Websites: Most publishers include at the very least promotional information about their games on their websites, including a basic description of theme and gameplay, illustrations and lists of components, and price (or a link to purchase). Many allow visitors to download PDF files of game rules to give prospective buyers a full look at the game components, mechanics, and complexity (and allow current players to have a spare or replacement reference copy). Even companies publishing roleplaying games -- rulebooks unto themselves, so it doesn’t make sense to offer them as free downloads on the internet -- still provide ample opportunity to evaluate games by posting previews, samples, short, free scenarios, and even quick-start or basic rules. Some even offer the core game for free and sell supplements and adventures.
BoardGameGeek.com: This online encyclopedic community for hobby games remains a valuable resource for finding useful information, including playing times, suggested ages (both from manufacturers and actual players), basic play mechanics, descriptions, and component lists. It relies on fellow game enthusiast members to submit reviews, rank game popularity, post photos of game components, discuss games on forums, and provide links to other resources, videos, and rules (and alternate rules/scenarios). Though overwhelming at first to new visitors, Boardgamegeek.com offers a wealth of resources for those playing tabletop games. (Hobby Games Recce has featured BoardGameGeek.com before.)
Online Reviews: Other online venues besides BoardGameGeek.com offer game reviews of varying quality, each providing some insight into whether a game might be right for a particular consumer. Any gamer with familiar internet haunts finds just the right review and news websites to suit their particular gaming type and style. My favorites include the venerable RPG.net offering reviews of roleplaying games, novels, and board games most Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; Play Board Games, a blog posting reviews several times a week; DriveThruRPG.com and its related sites (as well as other sales sites like Amazon.com) often list customer reviews available for specific products; I’ve also found that GeekDad offers an intermittent stream of board game previews to explore as new releases hit store shelves.
Game Stores: Your Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS) remains a great, local, in-person resource for learning about new games. Good game stores (especially those who have a game demo/check-out policy…see below) often have extremely knowledgeable staff and clientele who offer reliable recommendations and often connections to others playing a particular game. Many stores -- including my own FLGS, Game Vault of Fredericksburg -- offer demo games to unbox, examine, and play in the store’s gaming area or even borrow (for a small deposit) to take home and try. Game Vault’s policy allows patrons to “check out” and bring home a game to try with a $5 deposit, redeemable toward the price of the game should they eventually purchase it. Alas, we can only hope local libraries -- if they survive constant budget attacks and a need to “re-imagine” their role in our communities given advancing technology -- someday offer even reference copies of games to check out and try within their hallowed halls.
With these resources for information on games, gaming aficionados have no excuse for not knowing exactly what they’re getting in a game.