Official Review Guidelines
The five categories used in reviewing and described below should be used to
define the various scores handed out by the reviewer. In the review
all the scores handed out should be justified. However, this does not
mean that a review must merely consist of ratings and a justification
for each. This does not qualify as a proper review, as it is of little use
to player or designer alike. Therefore, make sure your review will always
be readable and understandable to those who have not played the scenario
or campaign, as they want to know what to expect, and that the designer
gets to know the weak and strong spots of his design.
Playability is probably the most subjective element of the scoring. It is
simply a gauge of how much fun you had playing this particular scenario, in
other words, an overall score of how enjoyable you found it.
There really are no specific criteria on how a score is given in Playability
but there are quite a few things that can affect playability in a negative
manner. Trigger bugs, victory condition bugs and any other
playability-destroying bugs obviously can ruin a scenario’s playability. Lag
is another playability issue that a scenario can be marked down for. If a
player is ever confused about the next goal to accomplish, that’s a playability
problem. If a player can complete an objective in a way that the author
obviously did not intend to be possible (i.e. there’s a hole in a wall that
allows the player to skip half the scenario), that’s a playability problem.
Anything that adversely affects your enjoyment of a scenario can affect the
Playability score, including factors considered in the other categories. It
should be noted that the other categories of the review can themselves be
marked down for issues of playability if the implementation of those areas
negatively affects playability. The Playability category itself should be
treated independently, and should be considered an overall judgement of the
scenario’s most important aspect: how entertaining it is.
Note: This category has been renamed “Pacing” for Cinematic Scenario ratings (effective 9 July, 2014).
Balance is also somewhat subjective since each player is a different skill
level and what might be perfectly balanced for one player, might be way too
easy or way too hard for another. As a reviewer, you must take your own skill
level into account when giving a balance score to minimise this bias. A
perfectly balanced scenario should provide a challenge for a veteran player
while not being overly frustrating for a player fresh from the standard ES
A player should not win by luck, the scenario should be constructed so that a
player can learn from mistakes and use his skill to complete the objective.
It is extremely likely that some form of difficulty dynamics will have to be
present for a high score to be achieved. However this alone is not sufficient.
If a scenario is too easy even on the hardest available difficulty, or too hard
on the easiest, this is a reason to deduct.
One important note about scoring the balance category for scenarios is that
where no fighting takes place, such as some puzzle scenarios and some rpg style
scenarios, is that just because the player cannot die in such scenarios, that
doesn’t mean the scenario isn’t balanced. Difficulty can also be present via
puzzles or other devices, and the balance of these should be taken into account.
For scenarios with no interactivity, such as cutscenes, this category should be
used to examine the flow and technical merits of the cutscene: did it run smoothly? Was everything technically put together well?
Multi-player scenarios are reviewed a bit differently in terms of balance. Each
human player should start out in an position of approximately the same
strength, with an equal chance of winning provided the skill of the players is
equal. Obviously, the players’ positions don’t have to match exactly, but they
should be balanced. There are many creative ways that designers can make each
player different, yet still balanced. In relevant cases, the map should also be
examined to determine if all players have access to the same amounts of on-map
Creativity can be found in all aspects of a scenario; from trigger tricks,
to map design, from the story, to the objectives, from sounds used, to what
units a player is given. The most creative scenarios will generally have many
aspects that are uniquely developed, and contribute to a greater impression of
creativity and originality. However, considerations for scoring are not
limited to original aspects and their sources of origin only. As such points
should not be deducted from creativity if a design uses the same idea for a
trick, or theme, or story, or anything else that may have been used in another
Creative aspects should be in an appropriate context to whatever they enhance.
Whether it be the theme, objective, scene, game play, narrative, or mere
elements, the aspects should give a unified impression. Therefore, anything
which is new, or a fresh take, or highly developed while still fitting the
intent of the scenario should be considered creative. Similarly, anything
which seems haphazard, or is routine, or is undeveloped should by and large,
detract from considerations of creativity.
A simple approach to scoring creativity is to reward aspects that are presented
in new ways, that are striking especially in conception or style. The highest
scores should generally be reserved for a scenario that displays creativity in
many areas, or gives a great overall impression. Likewise, a scenario that
lacks creative development in many areas should generally be given lower
scores. Keep in mind however, that adaptation, and investing basic concepts
with new forms and functions are keys to creativity. Hence, a scenario need
not have any new tricks, nor a raft of new ideas to achieve the highest score.
Map design is both an indication of the aesthetic quality of the map, and how
well the map functions to aid playability. With this in mind, some general
(but not hard-and-fast) rules can be established. A random map is usually a 2.
Random maps can look fairly good, they can function well and there’s nothing
wrong with using a random map in a scenario if it is suitable, but it’s below
average (unless the random map is simply used as a base and is altered). If the
scenario used a random map as a base, but proceeded to add details to it, then
a score of 2 is obviously too low. There is nothing to stop a well-implemented
random map scoring highly, but only if it suits the scenario’s playability.
A rating of 1 is usually for a pathetic map, these typically consist of large
blank areas with lots of square areas and straight lines. These maps look
completely unrealistic and are quite unattractive. However, if a random map
detracts from playability it can also be awarded a 1.
4s and 5s should be reserved for the best maps, ones that are easy on the eye,
fit the purpose of the scenario, and are well implemented. It is up to the
reviewer to decide whether a map is very good or exceptional, and rate
accordingly. Remember to bear in mind how well the map design improves
playability, as well as the map’s appearance. This is particularly relevant
in reviewing multiplayer scenarios.
One final note on scoring map design, only the portion of the map that can
be seen during play should be scored. If there are large empty areas that a
player never sees, that should not affect the map design rating.
This category is not as clear-cut as it first appears. Obviously a scenario
without story or instructions would score a 1 (generally), but that does not
mean that the automatic presence of either qualifies the scenario for a
higher score. The presence of a decent story (not necessarily well-developed)
and functional instructions should be the midpoint, a 3. Anything better or
worse than these can be marked up or down accordingly.
If the instructions are wrong, misleading or confusing, the rating can go down.
An introductory bitmap is a nice touch and a good image can often raise the
score, however, it is not required to score a 5. It certainly helps, but it
is not an absolute requirement. Hints and History can also be judged here.
These two areas are not required, but they can also help boost a scenario’s
score. While a bitmap, hints and history are not required, it would be
difficult to give a rating of 5 if all three areas are missing. The rating
should not be affected based on whether the story is fictional or historical.
It doesn’t make a difference as long as there’s a story that draws the player
into the scenario.
Another consideration that factors into the rating of the story and
instructions is grammar and spelling. A designer should be diligent in this
area of his scenario since it’s very easy to copy the text into a word
processor and spell check the instructions. There’s no excuse for having
spelling errors in a scenario, it simply shows a lack of effort on the part
of the designer. The only exception we make is for designers whose primary
language is not English, but many of our non-native English speaking visitors
have excellent command of the language, so this is not a get-out clause.
Instructions and story should be comprehensible in the language they are
Finally, a story does not have to be concluded to attain a maximum score.
Provided that there is no other reason to deduct, a story with an open ending
or one that is part of a series warrants full marks. Only if the story ends
abruptly and unnaturally can this be considered a flaw.
Multi-player scenarios are judged differently. With these, a story is purely
optional, and this category is used as a rating for the quality of the
instructions. If the instructions are overly complex, misspelled, inadequately
delivered or uncomprehensive, points should be deducted. Points should not be
deducted from a multiplayer scenario for absence of a storyline.
Exceptionally dedicated reviewers can be made Official Reviewers if they so
wish. Any reviewer who has written 20 reviews can be promoted to this position
if they request this. Once
appointed, a reviewer will remain an official reviewer indefinitely and need
not do anything to keep their title. Requests for Official Reviewer status should
be sent to
Official reviewers have the privilege of awarding an overall score as
opposed to an averaged score of the five categories. Their review can be
structured any way they see fit, provided they comment on all 5 categories
to some extent within the review and do not write anything contradictory to
the standard guideline. This overall score is still on a scale of 1-5, with
0.2 increments to mirror an ordinary review. An official reviewer should
attempt to not give an overall score that varies greatly from what he would
award the same scenario using the standard guideline.
The Blacksmith — Age of Kings Downloads and File Reviews
Official Review Guidelines Discussion Topic — Discussion about evolving and changing the existing Review Guidelines
Review Requests, about Reviewing and Tutorials III — Review requests and discussions
“Story/Objectives” drafted by Julius999, intro by Kor, creativity by AnastasiaKafka.
“Official Reviewers” drafted by matty12345, adjustments made by Kor.
Based on the original guidelines created by Angel Spineman.