How to Get Your Board Game Reviewed

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Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

 


 

The board game review process is one of the most important parts of game development. This is true whether you launch on Kickstarter or whether you launch by more traditional means. For the sake of this discussion, we’ll assume that you’re getting your board game reviewed prior to a Kickstarter campaign. That’s what I’ve experienced and much of the discussion will still be relevant even if that assumption does not apply to you.

 

 

Why Get Reviews?

 

Why are board game reviews important? There are three major reasons: consumer protection, authority, and reach. Consumer protection is pretty obvious: with so many games coming out, there is no way for somebody to try them all, play the demos, or print out the print-and-play games. Somebody has to be the arbiter or what’s considered good and bad, simply because consumers do not have time to do this themselves. What that resulted in for board gaming is a group of people who review board games on their blogs and channels as a hobby.

Second comes authority. This is pretty simple: board games that have reviews are more attractive than board games that do not have reviews, whether or not they’re good or bad reviews. Having a recognizable name on your project gives people the sense that you are serious.

Lastly, board game reviewers have audiences separate than the one you’ve been building on your own. Some of them even have audiences vastly bigger than one you can build up in the matter of a few months or a year or two. Regardless of whether your game is reviewed by people as big as Rahdo or a handful of YouTube channels with 1,000 – 10,000 subscribers, you will have your game seen by more people than you would without them. Don’t underestimate the small channels either – a close-knit community can be better than a disengaged large and decentralized community.

 

The Strategy of Reaching Out

 

With all this said, how can you strategically approach the review process so that you get the best bang for your buck? It’s no secret that board game prototypes are expensive, so you want to get the greatest authority and reach possible. Step one: focus on people who will like your game AND whose spheres of influence do not overlap. You want to find big and engaged blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels, that’s true. You also want to only send games to people who are interested in the type of game you have to send. But I’d argue it’s more important that you get people who specialize in different niches and attract different people. The benefits are twofold: you will gain wider reach and bad reviews won’t poison your whole audience.

Having reviewers whose audiences do not overlap can help free you from your fears. It is terrifying to send your work out to reviewers who will determine whether it’s good or bad. Most of them will probably enjoy your game, but it’s still pretty scary. All I can say is make peace with your fears and don’t let them push you into doing something stupid like only reaching out to people who will sing your praises (for a price).

That brings me to one last thing you need to be aware of before you reach out to reviewers. It’s a doozy, too. There are a lot of people who will try to charge you for reviews. I’m not talking about previews with high production value videos and marketing packages (which themselves are in an ethical gray area), I’m talking about money for positive coverage. Don’t get wrapped up in that. That wouldn’t fly in most other industries and its only because board gaming is such a young industry with so many independent reviewers and creators that it’s not a bigger problem than it is.

As for paid previews with nice videos and marketing packages, I’m a little more conflicted. They typically disclose the fact that money changed hands pretty prominently. Still, make sure that whatever coverage they provide is worth more than you could have gotten with the same money spent on Facebook or Board Game Geek ads.

Last but not least, if you’re avoiding bias, you’ll probably get one or two negative reviews. That’s fine. In fact, a negative review or two can grant you more legitimacy than a game which gets nothing but perfect reviews from every direction.

 

Getting the Conversation Started

 

Take a few hours to research board game reviewers. Read their blogs, watch their videos, listen to their shows, and figure out the size of their audience and reach. Don’t just look at social media followers or subscribers, look at their status within Facebook groups and other areas too. Get a spreadsheet ready and have a list of 15-20 people to reach out to. Expect a few no’s and always prioritize your preferred reviewers first when reaching out. You don’t want your eleventh best choice to take a game out of the second best choice’s hands if your second choice responds late.

It’s best to get to know the reviewer well before you need a review. Social media makes this easy. If you already know them, you can send a simple message on Facebook or Twitter. Here’s one I used to reach out to reviewers I already knew:

 

Hey [First Name], Happy New Year! I just ordered some Highways & Byways review copies. Would you like for me to save you one for a review?

 

Short and sweet. Then once they responded, I could send more details via email. Those details include my name, my game, my timeline, a description of the game, a link to rules, a photo, and a list of anything that’s different between the review copies and the final copies. I could then use the following email for both people I knew and people I didn’t know. Note: I changed up the first paragraph based on whether they knew me or not.

 

Hi [Name],

My name is Brandon Rollins and I have created a board game called Highways & Byways. I plan to launch a Kickstarter at the end of March, and I am emailing you to see if you are interested in reviewing the game. Here’s a little more information about the game:

  • It is a casual family board game for 2-4 players. I’ve heard it favorably compared to Ticket to Ride.
  • It takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to play – less once you’re used to it.
  • It’s fairly lightweight, but there is definitely room to strategize if you want to.
  • It has a nostalgic 1970s travel theme – think bright postcards in sharply contrasting colors.
  • The objective is to travel a route of your own selection faster than your opponents. First one home wins.
  • The three basic strategies to win are:
    • Plan your routes more efficiently at the beginning of the game.
    • Manage your hand to make more bad events less likely and good events more likely.
    • Move as fast as possible while still taking time to manage your hand.
  • Here’s a link to the rules, if you want more detail: http://bywaysgame.com/rules/

Here is a photo of the game being played around the table with my family over the holidays, so you know what it looks like when being used:

Inline image 1

I’ve got a lot of links below my name if you would like more information. I’ve been working on this game since March 2017. It’s been privately and publicly play-tested, including blind play-testing both at a Protospiel convention and online. There is also a Tabletop Simulator demo, located here: http://bywaysgame.com/demo/

If you accept, you don’t have to mail it back when you’re done. Keep or return, it’s your choice! In fact, there are only two catches I think you should be aware of:

  • The manufacturer I used for the review copies is a print-on-demand supplier and not an offset printer like I would use if the campaign funded. That means the pieces, namely cars (pawns) and houses, might differ from their final form.
  • I may have the privilege of adding stretch goals if the campaign goes really well, so the components might even end up better than what you see. (Let’s hope!)

Thank you for considering my game. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to read this email and I hope to work with you in the future!

 

Brandon Rollins

(Phone)

(Email)

(Web/Social Media)

 

That’s about all there is to it. Make sure you don’t contact more people than you have review copies to spare. Give them a little time to respond. You’d be amazed what you can accomplish just by asking politely.

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • All the review copies of Highways & Byways are shipped.
  • I’ve been a guest on the We’re Not Wizards, MFGCast, and Muddled Dice podcasts – keep an eye out for that.
  • I’ve got guest posts in the works for Meeple Like Us and 21st Century Cardboard – coming soon.
  • Honestly, the pace of my outreach is moving so fast that the previous three bullet points probably won’t even be all-encompassing in the short gap between me writing them and this post going up at 9 am Friday.

5 Massive Mental Shifts I Made While Breaking into the Board Game Industry

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Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

 


 

Entrepreneurship is hard. One of the hardest parts of entrepreneurship is knowing when to change your mindset. We all go into our day-to-day endeavors saddled with a set of assumptions on how life works. Our assumptions are always a little bit wrong, but the act of assuming we know how to act is sometimes a useful way to deal with the bigger enemy of indecision. That said, from time to time, we all must undergo the painful process of changing our belief systems to move forward in life.

 

 

1) You must build an audience before you launch a product.

In February 2016, I launched War Co. on Kickstarter for the first time. It was a dismal failure. The game was about 50% complete and I had not spoken to any board gamers or card gamers prior to launch. In fact, I had no real understanding of the board game industry as a whole. I had no idea what I was doing. On this very blog, I’ve analyzed things that I did wrong with War Co., viciously eviscerating my own work despite the fact that I’m pretty happy with it.

We’re not talking about a laundry list of things I did wrong today, though. We’re talking about earth-shattering paradigm shifts that rewired the way I think. This failed Kickstarter launch did just that. I immediately understood – both intellectually and emotionally – how critical it was to build an audience before launching a product. “Build it and they will come” is false in the board game industry.

 

 

There are a few ways you can build an audience, but they more or less boil down to “talk to a bunch of people” or “get your game in front of people who’ve already done that.” For your own sake, I recommend you do both. People you talk to individually will be the most loyal to your cause, and people who find you through others who have a larger platform – who will come in far greater numbers – will be more likely to stick around if you’ve already got a lively community of your own.

There is a reason why A Crash Course in Board Game Marketing & Promotion is one of my most popular articles on here. A lot of people have come to realize just how important it is to build your own audience.

 

2) It takes more than one game to make a viable business.

I’m going to tip my hand a bit here. I’m still a pretty new game developer. I’m committed to sharing all my knowledge for our greater good, but I should not be regarded as a veteran like Jamey Stegmaier or James Mathe. Why? A little something I realized in March 2017: it takes more than one game to succeed in this industry. I’m working on my second: Highways & Byways.

It took me a long time to realize this. I wanted to just make War Co. and call it a day. I didn’t intend to get into the board game industry, but I ended up really liking it anyway. Still, it took me until March 2017 – ten months ago, mind you – to finally take Pangea Games seriously and start working on a second game.

Why does it take multiple games to make a viable business? There are several factors at work. You need money to have a viable business and board game development businesses have a tough time with this. Bringing in steady money requires an audience and a backlog of different games. Both the audience and the backlog take a long time to build, and there is no shortcutting that. Even if you decide you’re not crazy enough to self-publish like me, your publisher won’t pay you a lot. It will take several games to start racking up royalties that will bring you decent amounts of cash.

I’m not saying “don’t make board games if you want to make money.” I think there are far too many negative people who act like you can’t make a dime in this industry. I don’t buy that. This is a $1.4 billion industry with fairly low barriers to entry. You just have to have a big enough audience to take advantage of large print runs OR a backlog of games that sell.

 

3) I began to think about “the After.”

This hit me around March 2017 as well. When I launched War Co. to the general public on Valentine’s Day 2017, it didn’t sell well. A lot of the stock sat in my garage for a while before it finally started selling a little bit. The reason why is simple: I didn’t think enough about sales. I was myopic in my past, thinking the Kickstarter alone would get my business, well, kickstarted. It’s not that simple. You have to build up a sales system, you have to think about “the After.” Kickstarter, or “launch day” if you launch your game through other means, is not the end-all-be-all. You need a way to sell your inventory on an ongoing basis. Otherwise, it will just sit in your garage or a warehouse. Needless to say, I’ll be handling Highways & Byways differently.

 

You have to think ahead.

 

 

4) I started using social media for leads and connections, not followers.

One of the nasty and seductive parts of Twitter, Instagram, and other social media networks is that it’s easy to focus on followers. Followers do not really matter. If your followers are not targeted, then your channel won’t do your business much good. The War Co. Instagram account is giant, but the Brandon the Game Dev and Highways & Byways accounts both bring me more actual business.

Instead of focusing on followers, focus on leads. I started doing this in June 2017. Try to find people who will be interested in what you do, and follow them. Don’t abuse the system, just follow a few people every day. Then you can reach out to them individually and you’ll have real common ground. This is called lead generation, and this is the main mindset I use with social media now. This helps me get email addresses and grow the Discord server that I run. This is infinitely better than tens of thousands of followers who simply don’t care about what I’m doing.

Even better than leads, though, you can start making connections to important people. I’m talking bloggers, podcasters, and reviewers – people who can really help you get your board game seen by a larger audience. You can find other game developers, make friends, and find mentors. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media networks make this a lot easier.

 

5) I learned the importance of playing matchmaker.

Last but not least, in June 2017, I started building up the game dev Discord server that many people know me for. It’s got over 1,000 people in it and I recommend that you join it if you are starting to make board games. I realized just how incredibly powerful it is to be able to connect people with other people they’d like to meet. I’ve learned that it is a wonderful thing – and good for business – to be able to connect developers and play-testers, bloggers and designers, artists and paying customers.

What sets businesses apart is often intangible qualities. The reason campaigns go into the millions on Kickstarter is because the people behind them have built up – either individually or through a larger organization – goodwill. That goodwill translates into trust and eventually sales. One of the best ways to build up goodwill is to help people with their goals. Matchmaking is the most time-effective way to do this.

 

Have you had any massive mental shifts in your own game development endeavors? Share them below in the comments 🙂

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • I’ve ordered 10 review copies.
  • I’ve started sending out a few copies to reviewers.
  • I’ve got a lot of guest posts in the works.
  • I’m starting to show up on podcasts – keep an eye out for me!
  • There is generally a lot of exciting stuff going on with Highways & Byways – got to spread the word.

18 New Year’s Resolutions for Board Game Devs

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Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

 


 

I’m a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. While choosing January 1 to start something that you’ve always wanted to do is completely arbitrary, it sure does work! In fact, at the beginning of this year, I set a resolution to create a new board game. Now, as of today (December 29, 2017), Highways & Byways is looking like it will be complete in the next couple of days.

 

The Highways & Byways prototype just showed up recently, in fact.

 

With that in mind, I want to help you come up with some New Year’s Resolutions of your own, ones specifically related to board game design. Never one to pass up on a delicious clickbait potential like “18 New Year’s Resolutions,” I’ve come up with, well, 18 of them. Pick a few that you like and see where it takes you!

 

1. Create your first board game.

If you’ve never created a board game or pursued a passion project, this is a great goal to start with. It’s straightforward and a lot of fun. You don’t have to publish it or market it or any of that. Just go out and make a great board game for fun. Card games count, too!

 

2. Play-test with game designers.

If you’re the kind of creator who has a few prototype board games in your closet somewhere, consider playing one of them with a few game designers. You can usually find them at Protospiel conventions or even local game stores or Meetup groups. You will learn a lot more about play-testing with game designers than you will even with avid board gamers. Designers notice totally different things and it’s a good experience to have.

 

3. Order a professional physical prototype of one of your board games.

Whether you’re making a board game for the first time in 2018 or you’re digging up an old prototype and polishing it to perfection, don’t underestimate sheer ecstasy of being able to hold your actual, physical, printed game. It’s a rush and websites like The Game Crafter and Board Games Maker make it very accessible.

 

4. Experiment with a theme or mechanics you’ve never used.

If you’re a more veteran board game designer, why not push yourself by trying something you’ve not tried before? If you’ve made light games, make a heavy game. If you’ve made heavy games, make a light game. If you’ve made board games, make a card game. Experimenting helps you grow your skills and it shows you new things that you might like!

 

5. Buy some board game art, even if it’s just one piece.

Similar to ordering a professional physical prototype, getting a talented artist to do a little work for your game can be a major motivator to keep going. My first game, War Co., truly became alive when I got the first art from James Masino.

 

6. Learn how to make more accessible board games.

“Accessible” is a loaded word in board gaming, but the basic concepts are simple: make games for as many people as you can. Try reading some articles on Meeple Like Us – they’re very informative and Dr. Michael Heron writes what could very easily be a dry academic subject with compelling intelligence and humor.

 

7. Launch a Kickstarter campaign.

This isn’t right for everyone, but Kickstarter can really help you start a business if you use it right. It’s a great way of gaining visibility, setting yourself up for long-term success, and – hello – earning money, too!

 

8. Get featured on a podcast or a blog.

One of the smartest things you can do in any business, especially the board game business, is make friends. Content creators such as podcasters and bloggers often enjoy working with guests. It’s mutually beneficial and it gets your name out there.

 

9. Build up one or more social media accounts on a site such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

You can read more about that in my article here: Setting Up Social Media as a Board Game Dev: A Primer Course.

 

10. Learn how to use Board Game Geek.

Board Game Geek is a thriving, lively community that neatly captures the general ethos of board gaming as a whole. It’s a great site to learn from, meet people, and promote your work. It’s also incredibly complex as a community and it takes some getting used to. The year 2018 is a good time to get started!

 

11. Learn how to use Reddit.

Much like Board Game Geek, Reddit is a complex community that takes some getting used to. There are some really good subreddits for board games such as /r/boardgames and /r/tabletopgamedesign. Might be good to look into next year!

 

12. Go to a board gaming convention.

While they are expensive and often require substantial time off from work, conventions can be a lot of fun. It’s worth going to one just for the experience, and if you’re really dedicated, it can be a fantastic networking event as well.

 

13. Launch a blog about board gaming.

I’m a fan of this one, though many would never be able to tell.

 

14. Build an email list.

Every product launch requires building an audience. That requires getting their attention, piquing their interest, and – as many people forget – giving them a place to go. Email lists are a very powerful tool for growing a small business, and Mailchimp lets you get your first 2,000 subscribers for free.

 

15. Start a Facebook group.

Facebook is, and has been, the biggest social media network for a long time. It’s not the trendiest, but the juggernaut of online connection. Groups are a great way of gathering like-minded individuals into one place to chat.

 

16. Learn how to sell.

Sales is a good skill to pick up for any industry. You can read more about it in my article A Crash Course on Selling Board Games.

 

17. Get one retailer to carry your game.

If you’ve got a game published but you sell it directly to customers, it can be a major moral victory to get your game carried in a single store. It doesn’t have to be Walmart or Target. Just try calling 10 or 15 stores within a couple of hours of you. See if they’ll buy five copies. This is actually a big part of my Byways outreach plan for Q1 2018, experimental though it may be for me.

 

18. Learn how to use advertising.

Advertising gets a bad rap, but it’s still one of the best ways to get eyeballs on your project. Learn how it works. I recommend using Facebook Ads and Google Ad Words to get started. Even if you fail, the insights you gain might tell you something about your audience.

 

That’s all I’ve got for you 🙂

I hope this gives you some good ideas. I want to see you win, and sometimes all you need is a goal.

Happy New Year!

 


 

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • Highways & Byways is pretty much done. The play-testing I’ve done over the holidays has shown no major issues.
  • I hope to print review copies this week and start talking to reviewers while they’re being manufactured and shipped to me.