Reviews vs Previews

Coming Soon

Kickstarter previews are pretty common these days. Prospective creators will send prototype copies of their game (often with very high quality components for a prototype!) to boardgame media channels for review. Or rather, for preview.

I’m a member of a very helpful Facebook group for reviewers and this point came up in a discussion recently about how much people charge for previews/reviews (which was an interesting discussion in its own right).

One of the participants of this discussion asserted very strongly that previews should only showcase the game for people to see what it’s like and should not contain any opinions (and should be paid for). Whereas reviews should only be done after playing the final product and should contain opinions (and be free).

I’m not sure I agree with this. Reviews and previews obviously perform different functions, but what place should opinions have? Let’s take a look…


I understand the idea behind a showcasing preview. The publisher wants people to see what the game looks like on the table and to get a feel for how it plays (by explaining the mechanisms).

I think people fear that providing an opinion could adversely affect people’s view of a game. Either because it just wasn’t their kind of game and they shouldn’t allow their personal bias to come into it. Or because the game isn’t in its final form yet and they might like it a lot more once they play the real thing.

I know there are a bunch of people who would rather have an impartial presentation of a game without opinions so that they can make their own mind up. The publishers would also rather people didn’t speak negatively about the game so previews without opinions are an attractive prospect.

However, personally I find this very unhelpful. I back a lot of Kickstarters and trying to sort the wheat from the chaff is challenging at the best of times. Let me deal with the points one at a time.

Exploding Kittens

Impartiality

It’s very hard to work out how enjoyable a game will be until you actually play it. Sometimes you can make that call (if you hate take-that, then something like Exploding Kittens is a solid pass), but more often than not you need to play the game. There have been too many instances where I have enjoyed something I wasn’t expecting to and vice versa.

I only tend to watch Kickstarter (p)reviewers who give their opinion. I want to know if they enjoyed the game more than I want to see fancy miniatures or great artwork (although I care about both of those things as well).

In general, I won’t back a Kickstarter unless I can watch a video of someone explaining why they like the game. Now if it just isn’t their kind of game, that’s more difficult, but you can still say why you think it’s good (or bad) even if it’s not your cup of tea.

I realise that a negative opinion from a popular reviewer can have a detrimental affect on the number of backers, but opinions by their very nature are biased and I think most people realise that. People gravitate towards certain reviewers because they have a similar taste in games so if their favourite reviewer doesn’t like the game, maybe they shouldn’t be backing it.

Anachrony

Prototypes

I was away at Airecon last weekend. It’s a fairly large boardgame convention in the attractive Yorkshire town of Harrogate. One of the things I did over the weekend was play a couple of prototypes from Dávid Turczi (who co-designed Anachrony and Kitchen Rush among others).

The quality of components was terrible (as you’d expect from an early prototype). It was bits of paper, random pieces of card with handwritten text and components borrowed from other games that didn’t match at all. I loved both of the games I played.

Now I love high quality components, but I didn’t have any trouble seeing past the awful components to grasp the underlying mechanisms. It reminds me of playing old computer games. I love fancy graphics, but gameplay is king and I can overlook poor aesthetics if the gameplay is engaging enough.

Dávid also kept changing the game while we were playing! He’d look at a starting tile and go, “I think that’s too powerful” and reduce the resources it gave by crossing one of them out with a pen. It didn’t matter. The planning and decision-making throughout were really interesting. His games were one of the highlights of the convention for me.

I’ve played a fair number of prototypes over the years and I started thinking, “Do I ever change my mind about a game after playing the production copy?” And you know what, I don’t think I do. In general, you can see what the game is like to play and rules tweaks or component quality can’t fundamentally change how enjoyable the gameplay is.


So I would obviously prefer previews to contain opinions (I’ll leave the money issue for another day!), but what do you think? Should previews just present the game and let people decide for themselves?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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