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Author Topic: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts  (Read 538 times)

Offline Leftblank

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Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« on: September 11, 2019, 10:22:55 AM »
Life is hard. I recently blogged about the Little Wars TV-review methodology, and pointed to apparent mistakes in their rating system. Although I praised the show, I really love their intelligent chat, a few commenters on facebook tore me to pieces. I was writing bullshit. How dare I? Clickbait! Etc. Well Ė thatís Facebook dynamics.

But I made a promise in my blog: to devise a review system and write one or more reviews that are logical, sharp, honest (objective is not the word) and informative. Here are my first thoughts, after consulting BGG and other sources.
(read more here)
https://amsterdamwargame.wordpress.com/2019/09/10/review-a-wargame-but-how-10-dos-donts/

Offline Hobgoblin

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #1 on: September 12, 2019, 06:01:42 PM »
An interesting read. I'd say the big thing about reviewing a miniatures wargame is to review the rules.

Why? Well, I imagine that most people who read wargames reviews have lots of miniatures already. So whether a new game comes with miniatures or not is neither here not there. The required basing of miniatures is important, certainly. But whether an accompanying miniature range looks nice doesn't really have much to do with the quality of the game.

The same goes for illustration. Plenty of poorly designed games have high-quality illustrations. And plenty of great games have poor-quality illustrations or none at all. For example, FUBAR is a great little ruleset but entirely un-illustrated. And Hordes of the Things has but one (terrible) illustration, but is a great and durable game (still in print and widely played 28 years on, with hardly any rule changes). So I don't really see the quality of the artwork have any relation to the quality of the game. I'd prefer if reviewers only mentioned the illustrations and book production in passing.

I'd also tend to disagree with your point 3). For example, I'm certainly interested in playing sci-fi games. But I'm not interested in playing 40K, so a comparison with the market leader wouldn't do much for me. I think that's especially true when the market leader is a product-driven ruleset and a somewhat peculiar one (40K is science-fantasy rather than true science-fiction; it wouldn't be a particularly useful ruleset for simulating battles from the great bulk of science-fiction literature, for example).

So my alternative 10 dos and don'ts would be something like this:

1. Review the rules. Miniatures and artwork aren't the game, so just discuss those in passing if at all.

2. Assess the speed of play. How long is a typical game?

3. Assess the 'time to table'. Once you've played this game a few times, how quickly can you get a game going on a whim? For example, I'd rate Song of Blades, Hordes of the Things and the Rampant family very highly for their short 'time to table'; you can easily draw up two sides in five minutes flat. On the other side, I'd say that games Bombshell Games' Mayhem and Rogue Planet, which I like very much, have a long 'time to table' because of a lack of baseline profiles.

4. Assess the suitability for multiple players. Will it work fine with four players? Or is it best confined to two? And it it does work well with three, four or more, do they have to be divided into two sides?

5. Assess the game's success in reflecting its genre. Could it work well with other genres (e.g. Pulp Alley)? Or is it heavily constrained by genre (40K wouldn't really work well for anything greatly dissimilar to its own detailed background)?

6. What does a game feel like? Is it chess-like (e.g. Battlesworn)? Is it unpredictable and "swingy" (e.g. Frostgrave)? Does that create excitement?

7. How complex is it? Could you play it with a ten-year-old? A six-year-old? Could you get a ten-year-old to read the rules and understand them? Would it work well with an adult who's never played a wargame before?

8. Assess the level of involvement. Is it IGOUGO? Does it use opposed rolls? Does it have reactions? How long is one player "sitting out"? For example, in Warhammer 3rd edition, you might go half an hour without making a decision. In ASOBH, you can't leave the room while the game's being played, because you're constantly making decisions on whether to roll for reaction and what to do with them.

9. Make comparisons and contrasts. For example, Steve Jackson's Melee is a much more 'controlled' skirmish game than Song of Blades, largely because of the latter's morale rules but also because of the former's level of detail. And Melee combat is much more deadly than, say, D&D combat; fighting goblins in Melee/The Fantasy Trip is, accordingly, a much riskier business than in D&D.

10. What's its 'natural' number of miniatures per side? I'd say that this is a really important assessment for skirmish games. For example, Song of Blades/ASOBH is probably best with five to ten per side, or perhaps three to six if you have a lot of players. Battlesworn is pretty rigid at seven to twelve (you can get more by using rabble). Rogue Planet and Dragon Rampant are very flexible; you could easily have as few as four or more than a hundred miniatures per side (even in the same game!).

I'd agree that numerical ratings are useless and that mechanics should be discussed. I'd be a bit "death of the author" on what the designers' intentions were, though!

Offline Arrigo

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2019, 07:47:08 PM »
I tend to agree with Hobgoblin on some points with Leftblank with others, and I have also my own. Generally I think these are too prescriptive. Reviewing is more an art than a science. This is the reason why numerical ratings are rubbish

Certainly some basics are necessary. You need to play the game...  lol like you need to read the book, or watch the movie. I have one of my usual silly stories... when I was in undergrad, during a dig me and my two roommates were discussing Young Indiana Jones (on topic!) while we were waiting for the ladies to free the services... (3 boys 5 girls sharing the same flat...  o_o ). One of the guys said that the episode when Indy is basically living with the broodway people and they say they can review a play without even watching it was absurd. The other chap said it was not that absurd. I was the assistant of the movie reviewer for a local newspaper, it was fun because he could go watching movie for free because the reviewer simply gave him his pass, at times he was asking for some comments on the movies, other times he was just making stuff up for the the review...  :D

Anyway I hope that was an isolated case, hopefully... there was the big clash on TMP between Piers and someone else (that I think is also a lead adventures) about a review made without a single play of the rules...

Other points... I do not think they are universally relevant. Comparisons and Comparing reviews are one thing, reviews are another.  There is no requirement to always compare, it could be useful, it could be not. In my review, including the published ones, I usually review a single game for what it is, and its own merits. This includes also things like the so called market leads... Turning Leftblank words against him...   lol Spearhead is a different beast (scale and scope) than Flames of War and it also predates it. I do not see the relevance of any comparison.

I do not think a reviewer need to look at other people opinions, he could, but the review must stand in his own right. I usually do not give a damn on what Blogger X or Y think. II am reading a review because I am interested in what the specific reviewer thinks. On the other hand it could be useful to address specific points made by other people if they are relevant to the actual review.

One thing that I do not see in any list is... how effective the game is in doing its job. If it is an historical game, how well it captures the essence of the topic is of paramount importance to me, much more than 'how easily ported to...' Actually the latter it is a negative point in my personal shopping list.

Rules prensentation is important. Telling the people how the book/game is presented is important, especially in boardgames or hybrid games. Also telling people if the rules are illustrated (and if the illustration are eye candy or useful examples) or not is important.

Explaining the reviewer focus is important, and being clear on objective aspects opposed to opinions (ie. the game requires more than 100 figures per side opposed to the game requires large/small armies).

Knowing the subject, this is extremely important in historical wargames but also on franchise games. Someone who do not know the differences between a legionary and an auxilia is out of place in reviewing a roman game, as someone who has no idea about what a TIE fighter is not the best person to review a Star Wars space combat game... also be clear on the reviewer focus. A competition player reviewing a game will be different from a an historian who is also a wargamer.

Quote
7. How complex is it? Could you play it with a ten-year-old? A six-year-old? Could you get a ten-year-old to read the rules and understand them? Would it work well with an adult who's never played a wargame before?

This is something that is very difficult to assess honestly, and frankly put, how many of us are interested in what a six year old can or cannot play? Of course there will be a sizable group  who is interested, but an equally sizable group who is not!

More importantly do not criticize review and reviewers because they do not fit your mold!


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Offline Norm

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2019, 09:50:19 PM »
Reviewing a game carries responsibilities. Someone may or may not spend their money hard earned money based on a review and the reputation of a designer or game title can be undermined by a review and company sales can be harmed by a review, so that review needs to be right and reasoned.

Are you the right person to write that review, have you played the game and is your knowledge of the subject sufficient.

I have seen games that are good GAMES, but bad SIMULATIONS - can you tell the difference?

A visit to BoardGameGeek is interesting, people who presumably own the game, give a score of 1 - 10 and that rating is based upon how much you would like to play the game again. What is interesting is the range of scores that people give on the SAME game title, supported by a comment is quite diverse, these are in effect mini reviews i.e. opinions differ and can differ widely.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2019, 09:53:01 PM by Norm »

Offline Hobgoblin

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #4 on: September 12, 2019, 10:17:38 PM »
I tend to agree with Hobgoblin on some points with Leftblank with others, and I have also my own. Generally I think these are too prescriptive. Reviewing is more an art than a science. This is the reason why numerical ratings are rubbish

Well, yes. That's very fair. A good review can be entertainment in its own right, even if it isn't particularly informative (most restaurant reviews fall into that category).

Other points... I do not think they are universally relevant. Comparisons and Comparing reviews are one thing, reviews are another.  There is no requirement to always compare, it could be useful, it could be not. In my review, including the published ones, I usually review a single game for what it is, and its own merits. This includes also things like the so called market leads... Turning Leftblank words against him...   lol Spearhead is a different beast (scale and scope) than Flames of War and it also predates it. I do not see the relevance of any comparison.

Again, that's all fair. But comparisons can be useful - especially when one ruleset "solves" problems that occur in another - or cuts a Gordian knot common to games of its ilk.

One thing that I do not see in any list is... how effective the game is in doing its job. If it is an historical game, how well it captures the essence of the topic is of paramount importance to me, much more than 'how easily ported to...'

Isn't that exactly my point 5 ("success in reflecting its genre"), though?

Rules prensentation is important. Telling the people how the book/game is presented is important, especially in boardgames or hybrid games. Also telling people if the rules are illustrated (and if the illustration are eye candy or useful examples) or not is important.

I agree that diagrams can be very useful. But I don't see the importance of illustrations, rather than diagrams. Again, I don't think it much matters that the cover art of Hordes of the Things is pretty dreadful; I don't see that it affects the game at all. And that's simply because the players "illustrate" the game with their miniatures.

One sign of a good ruleset for me is one where the book rarely needs to be consulted after a few games (I'd put HotT and SoBH in this category). So, if you're not looking at the rules much, why do the illustrations matter? I mean, I'd take a great set of rules without illustrations over a bad set of rules with great illustrations any time (as a game rather than an object).

On the presentational front, I'd argue that layout, editing, proofing and clarity are much, much more important than illustrations. That said, I'd expect a review to comment briefly on whether the book looks nice or not.

(I should add that I'm someone who loves illustration; but I don't see it as a factor in my enjoyment of a miniatures game!)


This is something that is very difficult to assess honestly, and frankly put, how many of us are interested in what a six year old can or cannot play? Of course there will be a sizable group  who is interested, but an equally sizable group who is not!

A lot of people play wargames or RPGs with their kids - and a lot got back into gaming after a long hiatus because of their kids. But I meant the point about complexity more generally. I think that streamlined, simple, coherent rules are generally better, and overly complex or disjointed rules generally make for a poorer game. I'd draw an analogy with other kinds of technical writing; if your Flesch-Kincaid score is low, the explanation is probably clearer for everyone, not just people of the "appropriate" reading age.

One way of looking at a game is the number of sub-systems that people need to learn. Take Song of Blades and Heroes. To play the game, you need to master two concepts: the Quality test (rolling equal to or over your Quality score on one to three dice); and the opposed combat roll (an opposed die roll with each combatant adding their Combat score to the die). That's it. It's a game that can be mastered by a six-year-old (as I know well!) and yet it gives a wider range of results than more complex systems (e.g. 40K/Kill Team), where you have to understand at least three sub-systems just to carry out an attack (to-hit roll, to-wound roll, armour save - plus wound-level too in some versions).

So, what I'm suggesting here is that conveying the complexity of the game is a very useful feature of a review, as it can tell you several things: is this a game I can play with my kids? Is this a game that I can play with occasional gaming friends? Is it a game where if one person knows the rules, the others will quickly pick up what they need to know? Or is it something that's best enjoyed with 'hardened' gamers who like getting to grips with complexity?

Offline Hobgoblin

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #5 on: September 12, 2019, 10:23:37 PM »
I have seen games that are good GAMES, but bad SIMULATIONS - can you tell the difference?

That's an excellent point. My kids and I have greatly enjoyed playing Melee/The Fantasy Trip in recent months. It's an excellent game. In some ways it's a poor simulation, though - for example, a character need to be very strong to use a battleaxe (like a Danish axe or poleaxe), despite the fact that these weapons were, historically, fairly light (I'd wager that fighting with spear and shield is more draining than fighting with a two-handed axe of either of those sorts, as you're wielding less weight overall).

But while that simulation aspect may be poor, the balance that it affords is excellent - as players design their fighters by balancing Strength with Dexterity - so that stronger fighters can take more hits and do more damage while more dextrous ones can act first and hit more often. The fact that strength and dexterity tend to correlate positively in real life is neither here nor there; the balance in the game is exquisite.

Online Elbows

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2019, 12:04:37 AM »
The simulation vs. game issue is...a significant one.  In many aspects we want more simulation, but we often don't want "real" simulation (i.e. fire a couple of shots and withdraw due to poor information - call in an airstrike...).  That's an entire thread within itself.



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Offline Arrigo

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2019, 12:42:29 PM »
More and more interesting comments!  :)

One raised by hobgoblin scored a weakness in one of mine too! I was thinking to have made the point I think that some people will find useful to discover if they can play a game with their kids, others not. But I also think complexity assessments are subjective. some people may find extremely complex a concepts others find rather easy. I have seen that countless time in around 10 years teaching conflict simulations. More often complexity is in the eye of the beholder. Also sometime simple concepts are poorly implemented, other time complex ones are made easier through a good implementation, like my first time showing up with a player aid for Roma Invicta to summarize modifiers and reinforcements, something that the designer had never been thought off.

On the other hand, I have never found this to be true:
Quote
I think that streamlined, simple, coherent rules are generally better, and overly complex or disjointed rules generally make for a poorer game.

I like complex games, and often found simple ones uninteresting. Streamlining often is  synonymous with dumbing down.  But again this reflects personal taste, assumptions, preferences, and play styles.

Illustration is probably something me and Hobgoblin agree on, but are just running in circles. My point (estremely similar to hs own) is that there must be a qualifier. The rulebook is lavishly illustrated... okay what that means? Fluff and motivational pictures? Examples of play? The reviewer must qualify it. Diagrams, game pictures used to illustrate concepts (like TFL rules often do)  are one thing. Fluff and vanity pictures another. I would argue that Men of Bronze has bland and often unnecessary illustration. On the other hand Rebels and Patriot as nice illustration and some are actually helpful in understanding concepts.  In a recent review I did for Yaah Magazine, I was complaining a game has no illustration or diagram in the rules, and everything was in the playbook. So you read the rules and instead of having the example and the picture together, you had to go do a different booklet. I argued it was a poor decision.

I also agree that, once you get things rolling the less you need to consult the rules the better.

Simulation vs Game, old debate, but sometime you need to point out where the thing you are reviewing is failing by its own standard. A made up fantasy example could be a game where the fluff say the Tyrian Elves are powerful mage users feared by everyone, and then their magic is rather useless. Yes this is made up, but trust me I have seen games were the designers failed to upheld their own ideas...

Oh... one thing we overlooked... English grammar (or other grammars...). Can you read the rules. One can argue that older Barker rule sets were neither complex or complicated but his tendency to write in his own version of English was hampering the reader. Having spoken with the man once, I think it is not just his own writing... he has a talent to make simple concepts difficult.  Recently I was reading the rules of a boardgame, Korea Ice and Fire, and well editing and proofing had been sent out of the window. There were block of text just repeated (copy paste remnants) sentence where the second half came before the first... and so on. Call it rushed, call it the Designer does not list to his helpers...  but also this is important.

BGG ratings... some are fantasy, I have stopped to cater to them or to the one liners that sometime follow the ratings... you have that chap from sweden who rated thousands games 1 just... because he could. People who do rating on purpose to prop a game in the lists, designers who rate 10 their own game (Ty Bomba and Michael Rinella for example, I did once too to compensate a 1 of someone who dislike me...).  People who rate the wrong game... it happens, people who do not even own a game. There is also the basic issue that BGG rating are basically crap as intended and everyone rates has they want. Technically if you really think the number is how much you want to play something... you can rate 10 a tey to be published game, because you really want to play it... I tend to consider BGG a guideline on how to not do things...  lol 

Usually I found their review of bad quality (I also do not like video reviews... so consider yourself warned). I much more prefer published review. They tend to be more thoughtful, if not because there is your name below them rather than 'mixandmax whatever...'  o_o

Of course fan boy, people with agendas, and so one are also writing publishing reviews...




Offline Hobgoblin

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2019, 01:40:03 PM »
More and more interesting comments!  :)

Yes, it's a good discussion!  :)

I like complex games, and often found simple ones uninteresting. Streamlining often is  synonymous with dumbing down.  But again this reflects personal taste, assumptions, preferences, and play styles.

I suppose what I'm thinking about here is the situation where a simple mechanic can deliver a wealth of different outcomes. So the complexity is "under the bonnet". Here, I'd compare two skirmish games: Song of Blades and Heroes and GW's Kill Team. The former uses a single opposed roll to give a wealth of results: attacker gruesomely killed; attacker killed; attacker knocked down; attacker pushed back; draw (nothing happens); defender pushed back; defender knocked down; defender killed; and defender gruesomely killed.

By contrast, Kill Team uses four successive rolls to give (IIRC) far fewer results: nothing happens; defender lightly wounded; defender killed (I may have missed an outcome).

So you've got one combat system that delivers complex (or highly varied) outcomes from a single opposed die roll while another produces far fewer results from four unopposed rolls. That's where I think streamlining is a very good thing.

Illustration is probably something me and Hobgoblin agree on, but are just running in circles. My point (estremely similar to hs own) is that there must be a qualifier. The rulebook is lavishly illustrated... okay what that means? Fluff and motivational pictures? Examples of play? The reviewer must qualify it. Diagrams, game pictures used to illustrate concepts (like TFL rules often do)  are one thing. Fluff and vanity pictures another. I would argue that Men of Bronze has bland and often unnecessary illustration. On the other hand Rebels and Patriot as nice illustration and some are actually helpful in understanding concepts.  In a recent review I did for Yaah Magazine, I was complaining a game has no illustration or diagram in the rules, and everything was in the playbook. So you read the rules and instead of having the example and the picture together, you had to go do a different booklet. I argued it was a poor decision.

Yes, I agree with all that.

Oh... one thing we overlooked... English grammar (or other grammars...). Can you read the rules. One can argue that older Barker rule sets were neither complex or complicated but his tendency to write in his own version of English was hampering the reader. Having spoken with the man once, I think it is not just his own writing... he has a talent to make simple concepts difficult.  Recently I was reading the rules of a boardgame, Korea Ice and Fire, and well editing and proofing had been sent out of the window. There were block of text just repeated (copy paste remnants) sentence where the second half came before the first... and so on. Call it rushed, call it the Designer does not list to his helpers...  but also this is important.

I couldn't agree more. Good rules that are buried in poorly edited text are a particular frustration. An example I'd cite here is Havoc, by Bombshell Games. I think it's actually a great game, but I've only managed to play it once, because the rules are very poorly (or un-) edited. And they're also overwritten, so it's hard to pin down the mechanics. The same company's later products, like Mayhem and Rogue Planet, are nicely edited and much, much briefer. So I've played those two many times - even though Havoc is the one that most intrigues me. It's really crying out for a second edition ...


Offline Antonio J Carrasco

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2019, 07:16:23 AM »
When I read a review, what I look forward is to information about the game:

1) How the game plays? What are the mechanics? Is it IGUGO? Card-driven? How many phases, sub-phases per turn? Do I need to eliminate models? How it deals with fatigue?

2) Do I need special items that are specific to the game, to play? Special deck of cards, tokens, markers, chits, movement/turn rulers? Or do I need some kind of specific terrain element that is intrinsic to the mechanics (for instance, grids or hexes)? i.e. anything that will demand an extra investment.

3) How many models would I need for a typical game? For instance, if the game claims to be a skirmish game is it enough if I use, say, 30 models per side? Or would I need 60, 80 or more? How big I need the table to be? How the game scale up or down? There is a threshold beyond which the game becomes clunky and boring to play?

4) How much terrain is convenient to use? Do I need to clutter the table with a lot of terrain elements? Or do I need to keep it as clean as possible? How the mechanics of the game deal with terrain? Does it as individual elements? Or does it as area terrain?

5) How long, typically, takes for units to become engaged from the moment of deployment to the moment of decision? I mean, how fast can I expect my units to be fighting instead maneuvering? That reminds me: does it pay to have units on reserve? Or is it better to use every unit in your orbat from minute one and don't keep anything back?

6) How clear are the rules? Does they have many erratas and will I need to download the latest iteration of FAQs/Erratas every few weeks? Does it include diagrams explaining how mechanics work? (movement and charge, particularly) How are the rules organized? Are they easy to consult while gaming? Or are they a chore? Are they clearly written, to the point, or are the authors incapable of explaining a rule without writing a PhD thesis?

7) Do the rules reflect credibly the period they presumedly are trying to represent? I mean, if the rules are focused on, say, skirmish in 18th Century, when I play does the game feel like a black powder skirmish? Or does it like WWII transplanted two hundred years in the past? Do the rules are a beer & pretzel? Or are they more demanding than that? How long it takes a typical game to play?

To conclude, what I look for in a review is to information on the actual game. It is useful if the reviewer uses an actual game to answer the questions. I don't find particularly useful comparisons to other games, except if are done to explain some mechanic of the game under escrutiny.

For example, a very useful review I have read in this same forum is that of Field of Battle/Piquet by Olicana, in the thread asking for the status of the new edition. It shows that he actually knows the game and how it plays. He is enthusiastic about the game, but his review is devoted to explain how the game really plays, and thus I have been able to decide if it is the type f experience I am looking for. In other words, it is informative. You can find the thread in the Age of Big Battalions sub-forum, the one about Field of Battle v.3.
« Last Edit: September 14, 2019, 07:20:43 AM by Antonio J Carrasco »

Offline jetengine

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2019, 08:55:55 AM »
It was because your 'review' was ridiculous and banal.


Offline Arrigo

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2019, 10:16:32 AM »
It was because your 'review' was ridiculous and banal.

Can someone brings out ULTRA? I think we need a bit of code breaking.

Offline jetengine

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2019, 10:40:27 AM »
Can someone brings out ULTRA? I think we need a bit of code breaking.

None needed, I read his review. It was unimaginative and focused on attacking the minutiae. If thats why they 'tore him to pieces' then yeah. Dont write bad reviews of reveiws then get upset when social media says that the review of the review is bad (try saying all this drunk).

Offline Antonio J Carrasco

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2019, 02:51:30 PM »
None needed, I read his review. It was unimaginative and focused on attacking the minutiae. If thats why they 'tore him to pieces' then yeah. Dont write bad reviews of reveiws then get upset when social media says that the review of the review is bad (try saying all this drunk).

May you provide a link to the review in question so we can reach our own conclusions?

Offline jetengine

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Re: Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Doís & Doníts
« Reply #14 on: Today at 08:54:49 AM »