An Inside Look at the Board Game Review Process

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Having your board game reviewed for the first time can be nervewracking. It’s difficult to send your brainchild to a critic who can influence the way your game is seen when it comes time to Kickstart or publish it. Much of the anxiety that new game developers experience when sending their games off to reviewers comes from the opaqueness of the process. That’s why I’ve brought in Dez Maggs of goto.game to talk about what goes into the board game review process.

 

 

I sent Dez a list of questions by email. His responses to my questions are below. They have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

This article is broken into seven parts:

  1. Who is Dez?
  2. What do reviews involve?
  3. How long do reviews take?
  4. What do reviewers do?
  5. How can game devs make reviewers’ lives easier?
  6. What do you look for in games?
  7. Parting Advice

 


 

Who is Dez?

 

Brandon: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! To get started, tell me a little about yourself and Goto.game.

Dez: Goto.game has an amazing collection of content writers from all over Australia and New Zealand. We pride ourselves in being your one stop shop for all things gaming. Whether it is tech, events, video or board games; we cover it all.

I am their lead board game writer, which has allowed me to reach more people that enjoy gaming and open their eyes to the world of board games. I have had several streamers and video game players reach out to me and excitedly tell me that they bought that game I just reviewed or be shocked at how much about the industry they didn’t know or realize.

Goto.game has been a great platform for me, a place to share and inform people about what I love. It gives my reviews and – in turn – designers’ games, a big platform to be recognized by the large gaming community.

As for me personally, not much to tell, really. I love games and have ever since I can remember. I was given a copy of HeroQuest for my 6th birthday and it was played until it was literally falling apart.

From there, I went on to playing roleplaying games (I have a mad obsession for RPG Dice), then wargaming (more for the painting side of things, over actually playing). Recently, Kickstarter became popular, and it reignited my passion for board games.

 

What do reviews involve?

 

Brandon: What do reviews entail?

Dez: I’m lucky in that I have three semi-regular game nights. This allows me to play and turn around games quite quickly. I try to play each game a minimum of five times, but I prefer more if possible. During my playthroughs, I don’t take photos or write notes – I want the gameplay as organically as possible. This allows me to take mental notes on how easy it is to learn and whether others are enjoying the game. This makes it feel more fun and less like work for me.

Once I have played the game; the review is quite easy to write. After several years of experience, I have a formula I like to use for writing:

  • Intro
  • Game rules
  • Brief game description
  • My playthrough experience
  • Art
  • Issues
  • Conclusion, including Kickstarter or store links

 

How long do reviews take?

 

Brandon: How much time does it take?

Dez: The actual write-up of the review normally takes me about an hour or so; depending on the complexity of the game and rules. It is funny, as people may read this and think “is that it?”

The most time-consuming part of reviewing is the actual playing of the games. Granted, I love playing them, but this truly is the hardest and most time-consuming part. If you think about some Euro games, they can take up to 2-3 hours to play. I play each game a minimum of 5 times, so you have literally spent 15 hours playing games, normally over several weeks. All for a piece that take people about 10 minutes to read.

This is worst-case scenario, of course. Small box games can be played over a gaming night and written about when I get home with about four hours of effort from start to finish.

 

What do reviewers do?

 

 

Brandon: What do most reviewers do and what do you do?

Dez: One thing that I don’t do, that a lot of other reviewers do, is give a score to the game. I have never done that, as I find what I consider a 7 vs. what others see as a 7 can differ considerably. This can lead to a very good game being overlooked or a mediocre game being funded.

I must say, the only person I have come across whose scoring method I like and think reviewers should follow is George of GJJ Games. He gives his score and shows a graphic underneath it that shows what each grade means. It limits the confusion and allows you to know exactly what he thinks of the game.

 

How can game devs make reviewers’ lives easier?

 

Brandon: How can board game developers make your life easy when it comes to reviews?

Dez: Time is a big factor for any reviewer. More time will often get you a better quality review.

A personal touch is always really nice. I have received several games that have had handwritten letters explaining the game and thanking me for taking the time to review their game. These letters could quite easily be just copied and pasted to the other 10 reviewers; but when your name is on there and they have taken the time to write or even print a letter it makes you feel valued.

Access to a Dropbox link with rules and art is a nice touch. If I get one of these, I normally have learned the rules by the time the game arrives. Not to mention, with prototypes that don’t come in a box, a picture of the box art makes life so much easier.

I also like when developers ask for a date they would like the review released. Some designers prefer it on the launch day and others prefer it several days before the launch to start the buzz for the game. As a reviewer, I like this. It allows me to better use my time.

 

What do you look for in games?

 

Brandon: What do you look for in games you review?

Dez: I look for a game I want to play. I’m a reviewer, but I’m a player first. If a game interests me as a player, I get excited about it and want to review it. I think for me, if I look at a game and would back it based on what I see or read about it, I will put up my hand to review it.

When I started out, I only did small box games and didn’t review anything other than them. This was mainly due to this being my personal taste in games. As I’ve grown as a gamer and experienced more games, my tastes have changed. Now I look for a great game, not the type or style of game it is.

Brandon: What happens if you like a game?

Dez: If I like a game, I will share it in the 10 different Facebook groups I’m a part of. I’ll retweet it during the campaign and try hard to get the word out throughout the whole campaign.

Brandon: What happens if you don’t like a game?

Dez: I will actually not review it if the game is that bad. I will return or not review about 8-10 games a year. I will always reach out the designer via email and make a list of all the problems or issues I found while playing the game.

It is probably the worst part about reviewing for me. I know the work, passion, and love that goes into making a game. Writing an email that lists and calls out the faults with a game is such a hard thing to do.

I try to not just give criticism but also constructive feedback as well as possible fixes. These emails normally take about the same time as actually writing a review.

I have been pretty lucky that most actually take it very well. Several have even gone back to the drawing board, redesigned the game, then funded.

 

Parting Advice

 

Brandon: If there were one critical piece of advice which you could give to game developers seeking a review, what would you tell them?

Dez: This is a tough question. I think “treat them like a friend.” You share a love and passion for the same thing: board games. Why not use that to grow a friendship and help one another? Reviewers are more likely to help you out or go above and beyond for a friend.

Reviewers have a wealth of knowledge. Get to know them and you’ll be surprised at what they can help you with. After doing reviews for some designers, they have reached out while making their next project for advice. I will always try to help them or introduce them to someone that can help them, as I consider them a friend.

This is a small industry and having more friends in the industry really makes for a better and more welcoming industry.

 


 

Having your board game reviewed doesn’t have to be scary. Reviewers are often passionate about board games, just like you are. Most want you to succeed. Be friendly, be organized, and try to understand their perspective.

Are you getting ready to send your board game off for review? Share your experiences in the comments below 🙂

How to Live-Stream Board Games

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In the last few years, live-streaming has skyrocketed in popularity. Through live-streaming, we can share videos of ourselves and our screens with a greater audience, who can communicate with us through chat. It’s tempting to think that the analog nature of board games would preclude live-streaming, but this is not the case. Live-streaming board games can be done with digital tools such as Tabletop Simulator or video cameras capturing gameplay on the physical tabletop. No matter how you choose to do it, live-streaming can be a great way to build an audience and share your game with the world.

 

 

To help you understand how to put on a great show for your fans, I’ve brought in Will Esgro of Happy Fun Time LIVE. He’s an up-and-coming board game live streamer I’ve worked with in the recent past. He knows how to put on a good show!

We interviewed via Discord direct messages which have been lightly edited for clarity and flow. This interview is broken into six parts:

  1. Who is Will Esgro?
  2. Why watch streams?
  3. Why stream games?
  4. What are the technical requirements?
  5. How do you build a community?
  6. Parting advice

 


 

Who is Will Esgro?

 

Brandon: Thank you so much for agreeing to interview with me for the blog! This is going to be a good one – I hear a lot of questions about live-streaming board games.

To get started, tell me about yourself and Happy Fun Time LIVE.

Will: Thanks for reaching out and for providing an outlet to share my experiences.

I’ve been involved in gaming since the age of six when I got my Nintendo. I’ve always tinkered in technology and I often pour myself into side projects when I get bored. Streaming started as one of these “distraction” projects.

I got involved in Twitch streaming when it was migrating from JustinTV, which was basically a platform where people could stream media over the internet and talk about it while watching. I was using my online handle wesgro2. I would stream Kerbal Space Program, Day Z, and Mech Warrior Online.

After my wife and I received our amazing son 2 years ago, we made the joint decision that I would stay at home with him. Originally, I worked part-time for about a year during the transition. While this was all happening, I started having friends over often to play board games.

I stumbled into Kickstarter, where I noticed some of the most innovative and exciting games were being launched, and this led me to find content creators on YouTube and Twitch. Everything sort of clicked after that.

Brandon: And you’ve been streaming for roughly a year now?

Will: Under the new Happy Fun Time LIVE brand, yes.

Brandon: For those unfamiliar, this is the Twitch channel where you do play-throughs and interviews with the creators of new games.

(Which is a lot of fun for the creator, I might add.)

 

Why watch streams?

 

 

Brandon: With all this in mind, what is the appeal of streaming board games for the viewers? Why do people watch?

Will: I think our core viewers watch and participate in streams to replicate the experience of playing with a regular gaming group. Not many rural or suburban areas of the US or world have places where you can meet up with fellow gamers and just play. It’s unfortunate, but many local game stores in or around small towns devote their resources and space to Magic and Warhammer players. Board games are often overlooked. I don’t blame them because often those are the only returning customers to their stores.

Others will pop in to check out a game they may have been interested in.

I like to ask people ahead of our streams what they want us to play.

Our best night in terms of views are on the nights where I’m just relaxed and having a good time with the guests and our chat.

Brandon: Vicarious experience is a big part of what makes streams work, though having a community is probably bigger. People can respond to you, and you to them in real time.

Having streamed several games, I have to say that it feels like doing small-town radio. You can really connect with your audience in a way that blogging, video, podcasts, etc. don’t allow you to do.

 

Why stream games?

 

Brandon: What is the appeal of streaming board games for the creators?

Will: I think the biggest appeal for me was that we are in a board game boom right now. The pool of content creators is small but growing pretty rapidly. I wanted to get in on the ground floor and ride the wave.

I think each creator has their own reasons and influences. Mine were that I like board games and the opportunity to grow in that area of Twitch streaming is exponential as opposed to mainstream gaming which is already gobbled up by too many mainstream streamers.

I’m also planning on streaming some figure painting as I learn the process.

Brandon: For you, it gives you a chance to see new games before they’re out.

For game developers, I’ve noticed that streams are a really good way to spread the word about games. This is especially true since they’re often recorded and saved online for later viewings.

If you’ve got a live Kickstarter campaign and a compelling game, it’s not hard to pull viewers from the stream to your campaign either. I did that with War Co. and made thousands of dollars that way.

Will: And vice versa, we often get new viewers and sometimes strong community members through partnering with designers to promote their games.

Brandon: That’s true, game makers tend to have their own audiences which in turn make yours bigger for later streams with other creators.

 

What are the technical requirements?

 

Brandon: What’s involved in streaming from a technical perspective?

Will: I use Streamlabs OBS. It’s free, robust software that is only limited by your imagination when streaming. I just started using a new bot called GatherBot which interacts with viewers while we stream. There is a quest mode that lets people in chat take on different quests in chat to earn rewards. I’ve been loving it.

Hardware is the tough part. We use between 2 and 3 webcams for our live board game play, which is a challenge since I have to take it all down and set it all up each week.

Monday and Wednesday stream setups are easy because I just play video games or invite community members to play Tabletop Simulator or Tabletopia games with me.

 

 

Will: That is the Friday table.

 

 

Will: And that’s for Mondays and Wednesdays.

Brandon: Would you say you need a special computer to run streams, or can you work with a simple office desktop (or even laptop)?

Will: For board games, you’ll need a decent processor, RAM, and graphics.

Technically, you could get away with using a cell phone, but it may fall flat due to lack of scene changes and no great way to show the board and players at the same time.

I suggest at least an i5 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 900 series Nvidia graphic card or equal AMD tech level hardware.

Brandon: The bravest among us may even wish to make their own PCs using parts they get from Amazon.

Will: I’ve been building my PCs for the last 15 years. 🙂

Brandon: Using sites like PC Part Picker and YouTube tutorials as guides. Helps you make a really great computer for a much lower price. I use a home-assembled PC for Pangea Games too. Five hundred bucks in parts and still lightning fast after three years.

Will: Yep.

Will: I still mainly use NewEgg and TigerDirect.

 

How do you build a community?

 

Brandon: Once you have all the supplies, how does streaming work socially? How do you engage viewers and maintain a community?

Will: It all starts with your offline friends. Ask them if they want to be a part of it and ask them for feedback. If they don’t enjoy watching you or supporting you, that’s your first sign that something isn’t working.

Start various social media accounts to promote when you stream, then start following and engaging members of the community you would like to grow in.

I suggest Twitter as a primary way to reach out and Reddit as a secondary one. Those seem to have the most traction in cultivating an effective and engaging community.

You also have to commit to at least 10 to 20 hours of watching other content creators and genuinely supporting them. Parallel growth with other streamers is a large part of the initial process.

Start running giveaways. I take about half of what I generate monthly and apply it to prize support for our viewers and subscribers.

I run a monthly giveaway of $40 – 50 in value. Then I run smaller giveaways each time we hit $50 worth of bits on our channel. The monthly is run through Gleam.io which is a great tool for growing each of your social media accounts and media channels symmetrically.

Brandon: That first part is important but easy to miss: make sure you’re able to engage your friends first. Then social media, giveaways, getting involved in the community, and finding peers are all really good ideas.

Will: I now have about 500 followers on each account and our channel.

The really crappy part of streaming is casting.

Brandon: Casting?

Will: Some people are not great in front of a camera. That includes friends and community members.

Brandon: That’s true. Some folks just aren’t telegenic – through no fault of their own.

Will: You have to be ready to have serious conversations with people as you grow regarding how they fit.

This is very challenging and it could temporarily stifle your growth if they don’t take it well.

You also have to develop a sense of who will be right for each game you choose to play on stream.

If you have a goofy friend who is always cracking a joke, they might not be as great for a very involved 4x or Euro game.

They may distract too much from the gameplay and ruin the experience and frustrate you while you’re live.

Will: Same goes for someone who pays lighthearted games too seriously. It takes away from the experience.

The funny thing is I think we all have that friend who shows up for some game nights that we wish we could politely ask not to join in the future when playing a certain game. Like when Grandma used to always flip the table during Monopoly.

I actually have to have those conversations though, and it sucks.

Brandon: Flipping the table after the first turn of Monopoly is a house rule where I live.

It’s true, though, you often have to have uncomfortable conversations with people when doing public-facing entertainment. That’s never easy.

It is, after all, a light version of show business.

 

Parting advice

 

Brandon: Okay, one last question.

If there were one piece of advice which you could give yourself before you started streaming, what would it be?

Will: That is a tough one. Streaming is a long experiment until you “make it”. I don’t think I’m at that level yet. Once I’m there, I think I could better reflect and let you know what I did to get there, and what formula clicked.

For now, I’m just happy to have a core group of about a dozen viewers who hang out each night I stream.

Brandon: That’s a good attitude to have. Building an audience from scratch is a long, slow process that gets easier only after a lot of time.

That’s all I’ve got. Thank you very much!

 


 

Live-streaming board games is becoming more popular as time goes on. It’s a great way to share your games and engage your community. Have you ever streamed a game? Would you like to? Let us know in the comments below 🙂

How to Get Started with Board Game Conventions as a Board Game Creator, Part 2

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Board game conventions are the flashiest events in board gaming. Some are gigantic like Gen Con, Essen, and UKGE. Others are close-knit and local, but still lots of fun. They are wonderful gathering places for board gamers. It should come as no surprise that many game creators go to conventions to pick up customers.

Getting started with board game conventions can be complex, so I’ve brought in Emelie Van Rodin, creator of State of Wonder, a strategy card game for 2 or more players where you play as the ruler of city-state in a kingdom struck by civil war. You can buy it here now.

I’m fascinated by Emelie’s story because she Kickstarted a game and made a few thousand bucks. What’s unusual is that she – at least to the casual observer – appeared to come out of nowhere. I believe her story will be of special importance to many of you who want to get your foot in the door for the first time. This is how you do it.

This is the second of two posts – the first one is here.

 

Photo by Scott Rubin under CC BY 2.0 license.

 

We interviewed via Discord direct messages which have been lightly edited for clarity and flow. This interview is broken into three parts:

  1. Types of Cons
  2. What Are Cons Good/Bad For?
  3. Parting Advice

 


 

Types of Cons

 

Brandon: What are the different types of conventions out there?

Emelie: I see it as 4 (maybe 5) types of conventions.

First one is Unpubs/Design Cons. I don’t have any experience on these as they are super rare in my area.

Second one is small, local cons with anything from 50 attendees to 1000. These are often very cozy and a great place to show off a review copy or a product print proof to interested people.

Third one is large event conventions, where people go to events. I would say Grand Prix in Magic is large con in this style. DreamHack too. They are not focused on companies and new products, but often around people playing games.

Fourth one is large advertisement cons such as E3, GenCon, Essen, UKGE and more, where companies go specifically to get a booth and show off new stuff to an audience that expects it.

Fifth one, if they count, is conferences. These are industry-specific events where professionals in the industry go to meet up, talk about important things within the industry that are happening, and hold panels/lectures. Some also mix in booths to show off game prototypes which are ready for industry/semi-public viewing

Brandon: This is a great answer. I can’t even think of anything to add 🙂

 

What Are Cons Good/Bad For?

 

Brandon: What is each convention good for and bad for?

Emelie: I would guess Unpubs are good to test ideas and tweak designs. 😉

Brandon: They are.

Emelie: The second and third ones – small cons and event cons – are where I would start building my audience. You can reach early adopters test how well your product actually resonates with the intended people. Why it doesn’t work at Unpubs or conferences is because other designers are seldom your audience.

The fourth type – large advertisement cons – is great for spreading an established game/product with an already built audience. It is also a great chance to meet up with and network with other industry people.

Conferences are the best for networking and also honing your trade, whatever that trade is. There will often be lectures on anything from animation, illustrations, UI/UX design, game development, design, and self-publishing depending on the conference. It is also a great chance to meet some of the most skilled people in the industry as they are often the speakers and panelists at these events.

The second and third ones – small cons and event cons – are definitely bad at reaching more casual players. Casual players rarely go to cons. You won’t catch kitchen gaming Magic players there. You will catch the hardcore, go and grind tournament crowd.

The fourth one – large advertisement cons – are better at catching that casual crowd but you will seldom compete with the budget and reach of a bigger company, so it can be very hit and miss. If you are at a large advertisement con, and you notice that you are not able to spread the game, go mingle and network and leave one person in the booth to just cover it. Use the time well when you are there.

I think the weakness of the fifth one – conferences – is that the people there are never there to “find new hobbies.” So they won’t put much effort into your product but rather into you, your skills, and other people’s skills.

Brandon: I’ll say that just about any convention is more for networking than marketing, too.

Emelie: That is also true, but who you network with and your goal in networking differs.

Brandon: A lot of people conflate the two. They’re not the same. Networking is meeting people who you may help and who may help you. Marketing is more about generating leads and actually getting people to buy things.

Emelie: Yeah, marketing is about selling stuff and you can sell stuff at cons. But getting to know other devs or gamers that want to help you out spreading the game will help you later on.

Getting to know your early adopters and the people that enjoy your product is such a huge help. It allows you to understand who they are and what they like about your game.

Even if you have 100 target audience profiles, actually knowing people who fit those profiles will help you make better target audience profiles.

Brandon: Cons are a part of a bigger picture. Like you said, one way this can help is to put you in touch with an actual audience instead of an imagined one. It can get you out of your head, so to speak.

Emelie: “It can get you out of your head, so to speak.” This is so important.

Brandon: Trying to do too much without others’ input is dangerous.

No matter how smart or experienced you are.

 

Parting Advice

 

Brandon: Last question.

Gonna hit you with the hard one.

If there were one critical piece of advice which you could give to game developers who have never gone to a convention before, what would you tell them?

Emelie: There are two things actually and I can’t decide which one is the most important:

  1. Take care of yourself, both for yourself and others. Eat and sleep well, bathe, and take breaks.
  2. Cons are often semi-professional. Don’t bring up that thing you do in your bedroom while working your booth. But a fun anecdote from your life about driving/gaming/working/sports etc. can help you bond and create lasting work relationships.

Brandon: #1 is huge – possibly the biggest one. No game is worth self-destructing over.

Emelie: And being slobby or roughed up due to working too much can actually hurt your brand as well.

Brandon: When you’re actually at a con talking to people, #2 is big. I’d treat it like casual Friday at work. It might have a looser feel than work most days, but it’s still work and you still have to be professional and polite while being approachable.

Emelie: That sounds about right. Don’t be afraid to let loose and be casual, but also remember that these people are semi-strangers and you’re at work.

Brandon: Well said.

That’s all I’ve got. Thank you very much!

Emelie: Thank you as well for having me! It was great fun to think about what I would have wanted to know before going to cons.

 


 

Conventions are exciting, hectic, memorable events. They can be a great way to meet others, share your game, and improve your reach. Go in with a game plan and the right mindset and you’ll be off to a good start!

Are you going to any conventions soon? Got any questions or stories to share? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear them 🙂