SHADOW MAGIC OVERVIEW
AoW2 Scenario Review Guide
This review guide contains the rules and guidelines for all scenario reviews and
comments submitted to the AoW2 Heaven Downloads Section. It is intended to offer reviewers
(and scenario designers) some helpful advice and factors to consider when rating a
scenario and writing a critical review about it.
When you submit a review or comment, it is assumed you have read and agree with
these Review Guidelines. Whenever a review is deemed to fall short of these review
standards, the reviewer will be contacted. You will be asked to update/explain your rating or
you will run the risk of having it removed. You will have about one week to comply.
Please note that a Review consists of a rated score along with a
written review about a scenario. A Comment does not rate a scenario and
offers only a short general overview.
Table of Contents
(click on a link below to jump to that section)
- What Are Reviews?
- Why Write A Review?
- General Review Guidelines
- Scoring Overview
- Rating Categories
- Map Design
- Suggested Outline for Rating Maps
- Closing Comments
- A personal note from Bluecollarheaven
- Edition notes
Let's start with explaining some basic premises about reviewing in general.
What Are Reviews?
Reviews are a way of voicing your opinion on someone's work. They consist of two parts:
(1) rating a scenario by assigning a score of 1-5 to five categories and (2) written
comments. Reviews not only provide valuable feedback to a designer, but also helps others
in deciding whether or not to download and play the scenario.
Why Write A Review?
Scenario designers like to get feedback on their work. Reviews are meant to encourage the
quality of scenario design in general and push it to the next level. Writing a review
forces oneself to carefully examine another's work and either learn from the techniques
used in its creation, or to offer advice to the designer so that he or she avoids similar
mistakes in the future, as well was anyone reading the review. Being reviewed by your
peers is both inspiring challenging. Knowing their work will be examined by the collective
public eye will hopefully encourage scenario designers to put their best foot forward.
II. General Review
A "full review" consists of scoring the five main categories and a written
review that should--essentially--contain explanations of why you scored each category the
way you did. This does not need to be lengthy; sometimes a short sentence is enough but
other times a paragraph or more for each category is needed.
Written comments are the most important part of a review because the ratings score does
not always paint a true picture of whether a scenario is good or bad. For example, a
multiplayer map could score a '1' for Story/Instructions (thus lowering the overall final
rating) but it could still be the best multiplayer map ever designed because it is
well-balanced, has many of creative elements and is fun to play.
An RPG/story-driven scenario may be poor in terms of Balance, but score high for
Story/Instructions because the story is engaging, the map is highly detailed and there are
many smart puzzles and clever scripting.
Avoid making vague statements in your written review; your comments should answer more
questions than it raises. It is essential you try to always include an example from
the scenario to back up any points that you make. If you are pointing out something
to the designer that you feel could be improved, try to provide some ideas the author can
build upon. Do as much as you can to help the designer improve his or her work.
All scenarios have good aspects and bad aspects. Try to always say at least one good
thing about any scenario you review and never personally insult a designer. They might not
be as good a designer as you, but even if you are handing out a score of 1.0, you still
should never insult or ridicule the designer. Be honest about the scenario but make
every effort to encourage the designer to do better next time.
Avoid giving away too much about the winning strategies you used, or surprises that the
mission holds, as you dont want to spoil the fun for future players.
Taking the time to go through your work and spell check it before submitting your
review is essential. Copy and paste the text into your email program for a quick
spell checker. Nobody likes to see someone criticize another person's work for poor
spelling when the reviewer's grammar is no better.
III. Scoring Overview
There are five rating categories to which you can individually assign a score of 1-5:
Playability; Balance; Creativity; Map Design and Story/Instructions. All of the rating
categories are subjective--some more than others--but try to be as consistent as you can
with your own scoring.
5.0 - OUTSTANDING
Give this score only if there's something stunning and breathtaking in the scenario. This
score should only be given to scenarios that are almost perfect, so be very careful when
giving this score. For example, you read the storyline and wish it was a book, you see the
map and can imagine wanting to stroll along that little river. Scenarios with 5.0 average
scores are rare and creators of these scenarios are masters of Scenario Design. Consider
the 5.0 score as something you would give rarely.
4.0 - EXCELLENT
If you think the category you're rating is definitely better than average, but hasn't
reached the near perfection expected from a 5.0, give this score.
3.0 - AVERAGE
A good scenario; no glaring problems, but there are still plenty of things that can be
improved in that category.
2.0 - BELOW AVERAGE
Is mediocre or has errors or many points that need improving, but the scenario can be
played and completed.
1.0 - WELL BELOW AVERAGE
The lowest score you can give. For example, if there's nothing in the story box, or a bug
means the game cant be played then for that category its a 1.0.
IV. Rating Categories
The following factors should be considered when scoring the five rating
This is probably the most subjective element of rating a scenario. It is simply a
gauge of how much fun you had playing this particular scenario. Players come with
different preferences, and therefore fun is subjective to that. Some people prefer lots of
combat against overwhelming odds, while others prefer a difficult challenge along with an
engaging story, but nothing too impossible. There is a reason why scenario designers are
required to state if their map is for "novices" or "experts." This new
system is fairer than the previous "Easy" or "Difficult" rating
indications. It is less subjective to a designer's playing level.
There are quite a few things that can negatively affect playability. Victory condition
bugs and any other bugs obviously can ruin a scenario's playability. If a player can
complete an objective in a way that the designer obviously did not intend to be possible
(e.g., exploiting an A.I. bug) that's a playability problem.
Some other things you might like to consider are:
- Is this scenario fun to play?
- Do you feel like playing on even after 20, 40, 100 turns?
- Are there any bugs in this scenario? Do any custom-made events run properly?
- Are there enough encounters/events on the map? Are there too many?
- Are the events well executed or do they get in the way of the game?
- Would you like to play this map again after finishing it?
There is a reason why mapmakers are required to state if their map is for novices or
experts. This new system is fairer than the previous "Easy" or
"Difficult" rating indications. It is less subjective to mapmakers playing
The key to fair gameplay is a balanced scenario, especially when one is talking about
scenarios made for multiplayer or play-by-email (PBEM). Balance is also somewhat
subjective since each player is at 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. A perfectly
balanced scenario should provide a challenge for a veteran player. Most people who are
downloading scenarios from the Internet have at least played through the campaigns
included with the game and have a good working knowledge of gameplay mechanics.
Most perfectly balanced scenarios should not be able to be completed without the player
losing a few times. If a player is able to complete the entire scenario the first time,
then it's probably too easy for their level of play. On the other hand, a player should
not need to reload 15 times to get by a certain part of a scenario. The ideal scenario
balance happens when a player gets stuck, but she knows it's possible to complete the
objective if only she did something a little differently. A player should not win by luck;
the scenario should be constructed so that a player can learn from mistakes and use her
skill to complete the objective.
Multi-player scenarios are reviewed a bit differently in terms of balance. Each human
player should start out in an equal position with equal starting resources and equal
starting units. Obviously, the set-ups don't have to match exactly, but they should be
balanced. There are many creative techniques scenario designers can use to make each
player's experience different, yet still balanced. If you choose to review multiplayer
scenarios, it's your job to ensure that each starting position is balanced with every
other starting position.
Note that non-playable sides may have been deliberately boosted to add challenge and
thrill to the gameplay and are not usually considered when assessing balance. Also keep in
mind the designer may also have specifically made one of the playable positions more
difficult than the others. If so, the designer should state this somewhere in the
scenario's description or instructions.
Some other factors to consider are:
- Does every side have an equal chance of winning?
- Are the starting positions for each side equal in terms of distance to resources?
- Are the starting wizards, heroes and units equal in strength or advantages?
Some suggestions for scoring Balance are:
5.0 - The scenario has the perfect balance. It is never too easy; it's hard, but not
impossible, and it probably can't be won the first time you play it. This is a rare score
to give a scenario.
4.0 - The scenario has excellent balance. It's better than most, but just short of
3.0 - It's not too easy or too hard, but only provides a moderate challenge (e.g., you
were never seriously in danger of loosing).
2.0 - The scenario has worse balance than most, but it's not a complete loss.
1.0 - The scenario is way too easy or completely impossible.
Note: When reviewing scenarios that specify the game should only be
played for certain types of gameplay (i.e., multiplayer and PBEM), balance should only be
rated from this perspective, not from all styles of gameplay.
This category is probably second in subjectivity behind Playability, but possibly the most
difficult to score. Creativity is found in all aspects of a scenario, from map design, to
the story, to what units a player is given, to the objectives, to use and manipulation
of scripts, to eye-candy, etc. Every
aspect of a scenario factors into creativity. Note that a scenario doesnt have to be
full of the latest tricks or eye-candy to be creative, but these are the most common factors
that are taken into consideration.
Some things you might like to consider are:
- Is there something truly unique about this scenario?
- Does the author make good use of the design tools provided?
- Does the scenario stand out in your memory because it features something not found in
- Was the designer able to increase the effectiveness of the AI?
- Was the map made better by well-placed independent units or teleport networks?
- Did the designer use a cleverly constructed script to add surprise and depth to the map?
- Are the ideas on this map original?
- Has the author spun a fresh new take on an old idea (e.g., an alternate history in
Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" fantasy world).
This category is less subjective than some of the other ratings, but still beauty
is in the eye of the beholder. Map design in the Age of Wonders has two primary aspects:
graphic use and placement of objects.
- Is the map beautiful to look at? Does it look "natural?"
- Does the map seem like it has been well planned, or is simply a collection of
eye-candies that are not linked to each other in any way?
- Are different combinations of graphic tiles used to create the "environment"
(e.g., a forest or mountainous area) rather than the use of the same particular tile over
and over to create the effect?
- Does the landscape look interesting?
- Is the use of elevation, hills and mountains realistically implemented?
- Are any roads placed on the map used effectively?
- Are the underground levels well "carved out?"
- Does the map seem too sparse or too cramped?
Map beauty probably isn't very relevant to the strategic elements of the map. The basic
thing they do is to create "obstacles to movement." But no one denies that there
is more joy in playing a good balanced map that is beautiful, rather than one that is
plain or empty.
Placement of Objects:
- Are there enough explorative places to make the map interesting? (e.g., ruins to
explore, resources to capture)
- Has the author gone overboard with explorative places, making map seem cramped and
- Are teleporters used effectively?
- Are there signs placed to give the map a more "established lands" feel?
- How did the designer apply the use of scripts to the map?
- Are independent unit stacks cleverly placed? And how do they react when encountered?
Items and guarding units in explorative places have some effect on balance in
multiplayer maps. Teleport locations and destinations are used to increase the speed in
which forces move over the map (especially for the AI). Signs are related to the
scenario's story and aid in creating a realistic geographical world. Independent stacks
increase encounters and make sure there is constantly a degree of action going on in the
This is another less subjective category. If the instructions are wrong, misleading or
confusing, the rating goes down. Please keep in mind the type of gameplay the author
intended for their scenario. You should not criticize the author of a slugfest-type map
for not providing a detailed background story and quests for their scenario. However, a
slugfest-type map should have good instructions that explain the scenario's gameplay
objectives. And if it does happen to have an interesting background story, then that's
another feather in its cap.
Stories and instructions are more important in role playing-type maps where the story
given in the introduction and pop-up texts leads the player through "quests" and
gives hints on how to solve puzzles. Single-player and PBEMs maps may also be story
enhanced to increase the enjoyment of the game. However, maps intended for live
online multiplayer games should not have too many message events during mid-game where it
may be considered more disruptive than enjoyable.
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.
The last factor you should consider when rating a scenario's story and instructions is
grammar and spelling. A designer should be diligent in this area of his/her scenario since
it's very easy to copy the text into a word processor or email program to spell check the
Some additional things you might like to consider are:
- Is there a background story for the scenario?
- Does the story increase the depth and feel of the scenario?
- Were message events used to enhance the story or historical background of the scenario?
- Did the author give any hint on what type of scenario this is? (i.e., RPG vs. a slugfest
Some suggestions for scoring Story/Instructions are:
1.0 - There is no background story or instructions.
2.0 - A few lines of text that dont really explain the map or objectives anyway.
3.0 - A basic background story that explains what the map is about and explains the basic
4.0 - The story is particularly engaging and really draws you into the scenario.
5.0 - The designer has made their scenario come alive with an exceptional story,
interesting quests and puzzles for the player.
Subtract 1 from whatever rating you would award if there are horrendous spelling or
grammar mistakes. Do take note, however, if the author is not writing in their native
V. Suggested Outline for Rating Maps
Here is an outline I typically use to determine the rating of a map.
I listed only positive things I look for, and so if the item is lacking it becomes a negative. I include these
points in the review, and place a (-) for failings for an item. I sometimes overlook one or two minor negative
points, but will dock a map for major failings even in light of a very good design. Few maps should be rated at
"1" for any category, but if they fail completely in a category, give them a "1" and be sure to add some
constructive criticism about it in the summary. Few maps should get a "5" in any category, but if there are
many good points within a category, go ahead and give it a "5". Just be very tight on giving out a "5" as only
a perfect (or near perfect) category should have a "5" rating. A rating of "3" is average (nothing special, yet
adequate for the category).
As for event scripts, many players do not use them at all. I can understand this and do not judge a map too
harshly for lack of event scripts. However, a map with good events will be given bonus points toward a higher
rating. I don't give a map a "5" in a category if it has no scripts at all.
Remember, you are simply rating the map based on somewhat "objective" values. If a player is not interested
in a category (such as story line) he can ignore the rating and look for a good rating in another category --
thus, don't be afraid to give a map a low rating if it has little or no story line, for example.
(+) Map is balanced enough to make game playable.
(+) Don't have to go far to find things to interact with/conquer.
(+) Map has an adequate number of dungeons to explore.
(+) Map may have boats but they are not required for gameplay, so the AI is not restricted by this.
(+) AI should put up a good challenge, as per the difficulty rating for the map.
(+) Map is a good for multiplayer (if multiplayer is recommended for map).
(+) Map is good for single player (if single player is recommended for map).
(+) Map is good for team-play (if team-play is recommended for map).
(+) Random setup or events are included to add spice to the replayability of the map.
(+) Map is basically a "symmetrical map," with some minor differences. Starting positions are reasonably matched. (This is the basic "balanced map" design, easy to do, so I give the map no bonus points for it).
(+) If not a symmetrical map, then the map must be designed so as to result in a balanced game for each player if each player plays the map well. A non-symmetrical map is harder to make, so I give it extra points for succeeding at this.
(+) Starting units, spells, and resources are reasonably matched, or, if not, have the potential to become balanced as the game progresses (assuming the players play the map well).
(+) Map is balanced for each player for the different advantages/disadvantages of the starting races.
(+) Map is arranged to balance the movement advantages of each race vs. location of resources and other players' locations.
(+) Map is an original creation for an AoW map.
(+) Map is not based on any fantasy novel or world (unless it is an original adaptation off of the fantasy source).
(+) Author has creative implementations/solutions to various issues that AoW2 does not support well.
(+) Map has a detailed story concept that is original.
(+) Event scripts are used to enhance the story line and feel of immersion into the world.
(+) Map items are placed creatively (seem to fit their placement and the story line).
Map Design (1-5) -- divided into two sections, and averaged for the result. If one section is exceptional, this can allow for ignoring "some" of the poor design in the other section.
a) Graphic Use (1-5, but averaged with placement)
(+) Good mix of terrain types and foliage. Not overly done.
(+) Good use of terrain to divide map into sections.
(+) Good use of elevation.
(+) Addition of a "history" to the map (if warranted by the story line) gains bonus points.
(+) Variety in use of resource sites.
b) Placement of Objects (1-5, but averaged with graphic use)
(+) Map has "zones" that are of a certain terrain type, and has nice, flowing transitions into other "zones" (such as desert into grassland or woods).
(+) Dungeons and magic items look like they are part of the map and were not just added as an afterthought.
(+) Map makes good use of signs or event messages to tell about terrain/locations/etc.
(+) Map has (at least a few) event scripts that make sense and add to the design of the map.
(+) The map does have a story that fits the map. (Most maps are a simple, "kill all enemies," which is nothing special.)
(+) Instructions are included within the story or in the introduction. Instructions are not critical, and only really necessary if the map name/story does not give the player a good idea of what he is to do in the scenario.
(+) Background story is interesting, entertaining, exciting, challenging, anger-provoking, etc.
(+) Story is original.
(+) Story has sub-plots (optional bonus item).
(+) Messages or signs are used to denote special events, accomplishments, locations, etc.
(+) The players start out in locations that fit with the story line. (This is often overlooked, and results in misfit situations such as, "the conquerors who came to the place to take over, but are strangely already established in cities….").
(+) Each player has extra design items (messages, event scripts, situations, etc.) that fit with or add to the story line.
Talk about the map and anything you especially liked about it. If it is significant, talk about what you didn't like but be constructive and make suggestions on how it could be improved. Try to stick with the story line (if there is one) when suggesting changes.
(I may add more lines to this template as time goes by. If you have any suggestions, please send me an email:
VI. Closing Comments
- If you feel you have to write a particularly negative review because of glaring errors
made by the designer, please be so kind to notify the designer by email first and allow him
a decent interval of time to fix the problems before submitting a scathing review. It would be
appreciated, however, if you would put up a comment (i.e., no rating score) the
scenario is seriously flawed.
- A rating must be based strictly on the scenario itself. No points should be deducted for
missing README files, strange zipping methods or other external factors. Informing the
author (by email) of any problems you experienced is appreciated.
A personal note from Angel Bluecollarheaven:
This Review Guide was written with the player in mind. I know that many of you look
forward to getting your ratings and enjoy receiving comments about your maps. It feels
wonderful to get good feedback and it hurts when you are criticized. However, it's okay to
feel that way because it means you have put a lot of care and effort into your design and
thus care a lot for it. Care about the maps you make and the players will care too, and
their honest, helpful feedback will benefit your next design. Quality is more important
than quantity. Feel free to ask for comments on the forum if you dont see your
scenario getting rated. Use the ratings to see what players want in general and how to
improve your design. All in all, I wish you all happy gaming and happy mapmaking!
The AoW2 Review Guide was drafted based upon similar documents at Stronghold Heaven, Age of Kings Heaven, Empire Earth Heaven, the writings of
Angel Bluecollarheaven and discussions held in the AoW2 Heaven Scenario Design forum. It
is not identical to these other documents and can be amended when deemed necessary. These
guidelines are meant to obtain the highest amount of fairness and usefulness for rating
and reviewing scenarios.
For comments, suggestions or complaints please contact Talon-Thorn.
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