Finding balance in a chaotic world

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December 2017
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Reviewing Games

One of my writing gigs is to review board games. I’ve written for many magazines and also online at places like It is a lot of fun to get a new game and give it a critical look. You see how easy it is to play, what the pieces are like, how fun the game is, and ultimately, if it is something worth purchasing. Over the past five to ten years, there has been a huge transformation in the board game industry. The new modern board game is worlds different from the likes of Monopoly or Risk. These games, often coming from Europe, have amazing features like little down time when it is not your turn, cooperative play, wacky themes, and sometimes they don’t even include any dice.


So with all of this innovation, it is always interesting to see what someone has done. Often the game mechanics or theme is a refinement of an existing one, but on occasion you get to play a truly unique game that breaks new ground. Equally often, though, you receive a bad game to play. These are the ones that as a reviewer I find to be the most difficult.


It is easy to sing the praises of a good game. It is fairly easy to point out the rough parts in an otherwise decent game. It can be difficult to talk about a game that just does not make it though. Making a board game is no easy feat. Besides designing the game, play testing it, and modifying it, there is also all the money and time tied into producing the game. Boards have to be designed and printed as do cards. Whatever pawns or cubes need to be acquired and the rulebook printed up. Then all of these pieces have to be assembled, shrink wrapped, and shipped out. For Hasbro, this is no big deal. They print games in such huge quantities that one more is not a big deal. For Joe’s game company, though, he has a garage full of games that he’s spent thousands of dollars producing in the hope that someone will buy them and enjoy them.


So then I receive the game and start to go through it. I then start to see issues with it. Typically what happens here is that the creator is so enamored with what they envision the final product to be that they miss the obvious flaws. Unfortunately, it is my job to point them out. I look for the good points and mention the type of person who would enjoy the game, but I also point out the flaws.


Having been on the other side of the aisle, I know how difficult it can be to read reviews of your work, especially something that you put so much effort into. Dealing with this criticism is probably one of the hardest skills to learn. You have to distance yourself emotionally from what is being said and look at it as objectively as possible. I know that my first instinct is to justify my work or say “yeah but….” This rarely helps.


Instead, look at the comments the critic gives and see if they are valid. Critics suffer from blind spots just as designers do, so be sure to understand their point-of-view. Ultimately the critique should make your next work stronger.


Receiving a critique can be challenging, but it will often be your most valuable piece of information in the creative process. So try to drop your defenses some and see if you can understand the other point of view. If done objectively, you can only benefit from it.