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.
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:
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!
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.