Impartiality in Writing Reviews

Just yesterday, the gaming website Superfly Circus announced that they would no longer be accepting review copies of games.  Their intention was to be a “CHAMPION OF THE CONSUMER” by eschewing all potential dependence or influence by game publishers.  The article then went on to illuminate a culture of “anti-dissent” in the boardgame hobby and finally ended with a direct attack on the character of most popular reviewers.   I’m going to speak pretty directly about many of the points that they made, but I’m not going to rewrite all that they said, so to really understand my counter-arguments, you probably need to read the original article.

Now, first of all, I appreciate the decision that they made and affirm their right to make it, “on principle”, as a stand against becoming in any way beholden or influenced by the publishers.  However, I think that many of the assumptions and connections that they claim led to this decision are less than accurate.

The first thing they bring up is the consolidation of BoardGameGeek and Board Game News, therefore leaving “no substantial outside, neutral source of boardgame information on the scale and scope that Board Game Geek encompasses.”  BGG is then “so powerful and so intertwined with the publishers that they serve and that serve them, that they are no longer what can be considered a neutral, free, information outlet.”

Now, first of all, I could probably argue the validity of that whole conclusion, but instead, let me focus on the most obvious issue with the ‘BGG is a corporate puppet’ argument.  The nature of BGG is that the vast majority of reviews and content on BGG is not actually produced ‘by’ BGG (as in, paid employees).  By and large, the opinions shared there are by unpaid and mostly uncompensated users, who have no real reason to be influenced by money flowing into the site.  Therefore, it’s a little silly to question the neutrality of all the content at BGG just because the website has advertising or other deals with game publishers.

Note, however, that I’m not saying there’s not a problem with reviews at BGG (or pretty much anywhere else on the internet, for that matter), but I am saying that the assumption that it’s mostly related to being influenced by review copies and all is very wrong.

From there, the article went into the describing a “culture of anti-dissent” in the boardgame hobby.  He started with some “evidence” regarding reviews, about which I’ll try to offer another perspective:

  • There is a wide imbalance of positive and negative reviews, even on middling-rated and lower-rated games” – There are more positive reviews for games because people don’t want to invest even more time in writing a review about a game they don’t like and have already wasted enough time just playing.  If you really hated a game, I could see you being willing to spend the time to trash it, but if it’s just sort of “meh” or not that great, it’s a lot easier to just ignore it and move on.
  • Most reviews that are positive are overwhelmingly positive” – Again, unpaid, amateur reviewers are much more likely to invest their free time in a game they’re really passionate about.  And if so, wouldn’t you expect such a person to be overwhelmingly positive?  In fact, having a “professional” reviewer whose job is to review games regardless of their opinion about them would probably help this sort of problem!
  • Negative reviews are almost universally met with disdain and ridicule” – Negative reviews are met with disdain and ridicule for one main reason: most of them are really poorly written.  Again, the average amateur reviewer probably didn’t invest the time to play a game they didn’t like more than once or twice.  So when they essentially write, “This game sucks!” based on incomplete or potentially incorrect play of the game, those who love the game are quick to come out and defend it, often vigorously.  However, when a negative review is well-written and thoughtful, I tend to find that the community has a very positive reception.  My most-thumbed review at BGG, for instance, is a negative review of Power Grid, and actually, it has more thumbs than any other review (positive or negative) for Power Grid at BGG!
  • Positive reviews are given more acclaim and search position based upon “thumbs” at BGG, which is a popularity gauge, not a gauge of the value of the content” – Thumbs for reviews are more a function of the popularity of the game itself and the timeliness of the review rather than a function of the quality of the review.  Yeah, I’ll agree that it sucks, but then again, how can you really argue with the desires of the people reading the reviews?  People want to read about the games they’re interested in at the moment, so reviewers that meet those needs get the most “rewards” (thumbs and maybe GeekGold tips), right or wrong.
  • Negative reviews are “tipped” less with “GeekGold” on BGG” – This is just irrelevant.  Again, many negative reviews just aren’t that good, but even if they are and they still don’t get their “due” in terms of thumbs or tips, how does this relate in any way to receiving review copies?  Thumbs and tips are awarded by other users on BGG, not by administrators or paid employees, so what’s the point here?

Is there a culture of “anti-dissent” in the boardgame hobby?  Maybe so.  But just maybe it’s more a product of the exuberence and positivity of those passionate enough about boardgames to be willing to talk and write about them, rather than some dark conspiracy on the part of the game publishers.  Why is it so terrible or enexpected that people who are excited about boardgames would generally be positive about the games they play?

I, for instance, play quite a few games.  And while I certainly have some games that I like better than others, most games I encounter are at least “pretty good” in some way or another.  It’s almost hard to write truly negative reviews because, in general, most games aren’t really that bad.  In fact, most of the negativity I hear is more along the lines of “it doesn’t do anything new” or “meh” rather than really pointing any flaws with the game itself.  And frankly, those sorts of comments tend to be more about the reviewer and their experience with the hobby in general.

Now, getting back to the real point, is it possible that receiving a review copy of a game might influence to give it a more positive review than if you bought it yourself?  Yeah, I suppose so.  But sometimes, having paid your own money for something actually makes you more willing to find the good in it, to “justify” your purchase, so buying games might make you partial as well.  And maybe you really liked the last 3 games that designer made, so as a “fan”, you’re more likely to go easy on him even if his current game is less than spectacular.  Or who knows, maybe you get a reputation as a colorful “negative” reviewer, and even though you enjoyed playing a game, you pan it because that’s what your readers expect and because it’s easier to write bad jokes about bad games.

My point, of course, is that lots of things can and do influence our opinions.  I love games, and I’m really passionate about boardgames in particular these days.  So I tend to be pretty positive about most games I discuss.  Am I lying or in any way being deceptive or manipulative?  Of course not.  Is it “wrong” for me to be positive?  That’s just stupid.  Could I “go easy” on a mediocre game from time to time?  Sure, but it’s probably a lot more about not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, particularly when it’s a new designer/publisher and they’re so passionate just to get their game out there, rather than because I’m afraid they won’t send me another review copy at some point in the future.

I like getting review copies of games.  I don’t get all that many, but each time I do, it’s one more game that I’ll be able to see and experience that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to encounter.  Because, like most of us, this isn’t my job, I don’t have unlimited resources, and I already spend way too much money on buying games.  But what I promise, what I assume that most reviewers and bloggers and podcasters sincerely intend anyway, is that I’ll still be honest with my opinions.  I’ll let y’all know when a game was given to me, just in case you think it matters, and I’ll do my best to justify my opinion with real experience from playing the game, rather than from any outside forces.

Beyond that, I just don’t see the benefit of questioning the motives of others, other than to breed negativity and cause strife in this hobby that I love so much.  And why in the world would I, or anyone else for that matter, want to do that?


  1. Amen!
    Very well put Chris. As a fellow board game reviewer, I found myself nodding yes to each of your points.

    And in our case in particular, since our video reviews are based on what our kids think of the games, they aren’t influenced at all by what games we buy ourselves or get direct from a publisher. They have no idea which are which.

    The real effect of a bad or mediocre game that we’re sent from a publisher is the same as if we bought it – It just doesn’t get done. We won’t spend time filming, editing, writing or posting about it if we don’t like it. So of course our reviews will tend to be mostly positive.

    Trent (TheBoardGameFamily)

  2. A lot to talk about, and I have 3000 characters, so I’ll be brief:

    1. BGG and publishers are working TOGETHER, not one a puppet of another. BGG is the main marketing arm of publishers.

    2. BGG pays people in GG to contribute reviews.

    3. Rewards are given for thumbs, reviews, uploading content.

    4. Habitual reviewers build relationships with publishers, and choose NOT to write a review of a game that they don’t like rather than a critical one.

    5. ” It’s almost hard to write truly negative reviews because, in general, most games aren’t really that bad. In fact, most of the negativity I hear is more along the lines of “it doesn’t do anything new” or “meh” rather than really pointing any flaws with the game itself. And frankly, those sorts of comments tend to be more about the reviewer and their experience with the hobby in general.”
    No offense, but you should develop that skill. It’s not hard to be critical of the merits of a game.
    This is one example; I speak clearly about
    – The fact that the dice-as-counters concept doesn’t work.
    – The rules aren’t clear and gameplay is anti-intuitive
    -Drifting and slotting rules are too complicated.
    -Its pacing is too slow.
    -It’s repetitive
    -The humor is good, but doesn’t last.
    -It is incomplete, requiring the owner to add items.

    And you can look at any of my reviews to get a balanced look at what works and what doesn’t. Even the truly evil reviews like my Toe-To-Toe whose sole purpose was to ridicule the game has reasoning behind why I hated it.

    So, it’s a skill issue. It’s not that hard: look at what works, and what doesn’t. Write about both, then come to a conclusion.

    Your “final thought about breeding negativity” is a cop out of the highest order. It’s not breeding negativity, it’s shining a light of truth.

    How about this, for instance: At F:AT, the guy at InD20 wrote the following about my article (that he didn’t read):
    He stated that he was doing marketing and that I was not the final arbiter of what should be marketed. WTF? I don’t need to question his motives. He told us them.

    And Tom Vasel’s Crokinole review…look at it, fast forward to 2:23. Watch what he does: he hides a defect in the board and makes no mention of the fact that the board has defects. Why not? It’s that most reviewers are in it for free stuff, and anything that would cut off that free stuff supply is bad.

    Then look to the fact that BGG thumbs are higher for positive reviews. More thumbs = higher “Hotness” value. So, the entire system is set up to allude to the idea that “more thumbs = better product” when after 6 months most games are rated ~6 and after a year, closer to ~5. So how is it that in a year, games go from “BUY” to 5?

  3. Chris Norwood

    1. Again, it’s irrelevant.  “BGG” doesn’t write reviews, the users do.

    2. The GeekMod process is how BGG rewards people for writing reviews.  GeekMod is “manned” by, guess who, Users!  Sure, you get GG from “BGG”, but it’s other users who read, approve, and ultimately decide the amount you’ll get.

    3. All rewards at BGG are user-driven.  Whether it’s GeekMod approving images, articles, reviews, or whatever, Users giving thumbs, or Users giving GG tips, it’s all determined by the community. 

    4. Why is that necessarily related to having a relationship with the publisher?  Maybe people just don’t like writing about things they don’t like.  Let’s say I just don’t like a game (Black Friday, for instance).  If I bought it myself (as I did), then I’ll probably just put it on my trade list and forget about it (therefore, no negative review gets written).  If I was sent it by the publisher, should I feel in some way more obligated to play it even more and write a negative review?  Why can’t the person in a “relationship” with that publisher do the same (forget about it) without being accused of dishonesty?

    5. Oh, I can write some negative reviews.  It’s not about the inability to think or write critically about a game.  What I’m saying is that, in general, I’m relatively careful with my game purchases and even my gaming time.  So it’s pretty rare that I will even give a game a shot if I’m not mostly confident that I’ll like it.  And when a game doesn’t really do a lot for me personally, it’s usually at least “pretty good” in one respect or another, or I can see what sort of people would really get a kick out of it.  So it’s hard for me to criticize a game that is relatively well-designed and put-together, but that just isn’t for me.   

    An example that sort of illustrates what I’m getting at is the game Venture Forth.  I received it from Minion Games along with Kingdom of Solomon and The Manhattan Project as review copies.  I’ve played it once, but enjoyed the other two a lot more, so they’ve each been played a number of more times and have been reviewed.  But when I think about Venture Forth, I’m just not all that excited to get it back to the table, and no one else that played it with me is either.  But I’m not going to write a negative review of it based on just one play.  So I’m put in a position of either just forgetting it, or investing time in playing at least two more times and then the time to write the review itself, which is pretty daunting with my current lack of excitement about it.  Maybe you’d accuse me of showing partiality to Minion Games, but really, it’s just that this is a sub-hobby of my main hobby, and I have to decide how I’ll invest my very limited time and energy.

    Okay, since you brought it up, let’s touch on Tom Vasel’s Crokinole review.  His explanation is that he didn’t notice the “defect” until right then, and assuming that one of his many kids had probably done it, he covered it up because he didn’t want Mayday or whoever else to get blamed for an accident that his children made.  And frankly, who’s to say that the defect was there originally?  Maybe his kids did damage the board.  I mean, did you inspect the board when he got it?  And really, do you mean to question not only the honesty but also the integrity of a pastor and former missionary just because you assume that he was covering up a known defect out in order to keep the free stuff flowing?  And furthermore, do you honestly think that Tom’s flow of free stuff would be cut off if he gave negative reviews?  Have you even listened to him in the last 3 years?  He’s not at all afraid of being negative these days. 

    But like I said before (and have written/talked about previously), I don’t much like the hype-driven review system either.  The popularity contest of needing to have the first review of the most-hyped game in order to get noticed and have lots of thumbs is frustrating.  So basically, I don’t play that game.  I write reviews when I’m ready to do so (regardless of how I acquired the game), and I try to be a thorough, critical, and fair as I can be.  Maybe my overall popularity suffers from it, but it is what it is.  And rather than throw around accusations and question other people’s moral character, I just think that trying to “do better” myself is the best way for me to help the situation.

  4. You missed many of my points. Allow me to elaborate.

    The same ones bringing you the news (BGG) are the ones running the marketing (promotions). Thus, that alone is a pay-to-play system. You pay BGG, they promote your product through giveaways, which raises awareness. And that awareness is often augmented to the product’s page on BGG, which rasies the “Hotness”, thereby funneling people to the product.

    Let’s look at some of the hottest games right now, that have NOT released:
    Pixel Lincoln:

    It’s not even through FUNDING. So, not only is it not even a product yet, they’re still getting development and build money. This is pushing people toward a product that isn’t even in existence.

    But…let’s look at the fact it’s already rated a 7.83, when it doesn’t exist. Only 3 ratings. I really like the look of the game and I am likely going to buy it, to be honest. It looks really awesome. But how is it a mid 7 without EXISTING?

    Now the reviews!
    There’s 2 video reviews, both overwhelmingly positive.

    One of the people who did the video ALSO did a written review.

    Note: The product doesn’t exist.

    Tell me that’s not hyping a nonexistent product.

    But let’s look elsewhere:
    Next on the hotness, for a new game: SKY TRADERS!
    6 scores of 8 or better, 3 7’s, and the rest range from mid 6 to 4s and 2s.

    But let’s look at the reviews done the first month:
    First review: 8.5 or 9.
    Second review: 7 or 8.
    Video Review: 9.

    So, there is a huge disconnect between initial reviews (which I chalk up to excitement) and the realities of the ratings.

    Go look at ANY game that’s just come out or just coming out, and you’ll almost universally find the same.

    Then, if you look at ratings on ANY game, by date, it almost always starts out strong and ends up much, much more mixed.

    When you tie that with the fact that reviews that are positive get far more thumbs than those who don’t, which are displayed on the game’s page, it draws people to the most thumbed review, thereby stacking the deck against the overall Average Joe’s ability to know if a game is good.

    I’m not implying anyone in particular, aside from Tom and InD20, have ever or will ever be influenced or will just generally overlook flaws. I am saying that all of the evidence, in MY view, leads me to believe that the system of marketing funnels people into believing that all games that are just released are great games. Further, the backlash against criticism and anti-dissent culture (read any of my more negative reviews) leads me to believe that Average Joe isn’t going to trash a game, and bloggers will NOT tell people when a game is shitty because of either intellectual laziness, a lack of commitment to the cause of consumer protection, or a relationship with a publisher.

    I can’t question motives. I can only question the overall effects. It looks like the deck has been stacked.

  5. I also want to point out that if you’re going to be a public servant, which is what we all should be, it’s our DUTY to play a shitty game enough to understand it and then identify the weaknesses, then REPORT on it.

    How else will people be able to identify whether a game is good or not? Ratings? We know from my previous post that it’s stacked on the front end. So, if people are unwilling to do the hard work and play Nitro Dice enough times to KNOW they hate it, well, then they’re not serving their constituency.

    We have rules at the Circus. If you send a game, we’re playing it, and if it sucks, I’m going to crucify it.

    Why? When I have so many more bad ass games to play? Because it’s a matter of integrity and a commitment to the truth. I’m not going to sandbag or NOT write a review because I don’t like the game. That’s not ethical. I’m going to receive a product and tell the world what it is like, solely because it is my DUTY to do so.

    And shame on any reviewer who takes product and doesn’t report on it, you included. Yeah, maybe Venture Forth blows, but from an intellectual standpoint there must be merit, and it’s your job as a journalist to write about it. Tell people why they would like it, and why it failed for you.

    It’s your DUTY. If you want to get free stuff, it’s not all peaches and cream. You have a sacred duty to the consumers we are all supposed to be protecting and informing. If you receive a review copy and refuse to review it, you’re contributing to the problem of there not being enough reality in the ratings and review system at BGG.

    Funny, because when I go to a nice restaurant, I’ll mention it to a couple of friends. If I get white hot screaming diarrhea, I’m telling EVERYONE not to go there.

    I guess that’s the difference between the Circus and many sites. It’s not about profit, benefit, geek fame for us. It’s about honesty, integrity, and FIRST AND FOREMOST, consumer protection.

    That’s why I started it, that’s why I put up with the constant hate mail and people calling me out. It’s why I don’t go away. There’s simply too many on the opposing side, and not enough people fighting to even the playing field.

  6. Chris Norwood

    No, I do get your point.  And I agree with the points you’re making here.  This is, in fact, the problem that I see with reviews these days.  What I’m not willing to agree to, however, is that it’s the getting of review copies and the desire to “keep the free stuff flowing” that’s motivating reviewers to dishonestly (i.e. according to some hidden agenda) review games more positively, which was the main argument of your blog post.

    But while I’m writing, let me establish a couple of things:

    1) Is it wrong for game publishers to market their games? Of course not.  They have a product to sell, and it’s totally cool for them to do marketing in order to sell more games. 

    2) Is it wrong for BGG to sell advertising?  Of course not.  They’re a business, and one of the main ways they make money and stay afloat is to have advertisers.  They don’t hide the fact that it’s paid advertising, so there’s no dishonesty or anything involved here.

    3) Does BGG (the company) “pay” users to write positive reviews of games that advertise on the site?  NO! Any review, positive or negative, may be submitted for a game, and any “payment” (in GG or thumbs) are determined by users who either participate in the GeekMod system or (after it’s approved) read and like the review. 

    4) Games “exist” before they’re published.  Whether as prototypes or demo copies available at conventions or PnP files or whatever else, it’s certainly not much of a stretch that some people will have the chance to play a game before it reaches funding and publication.  Why would it be “wrong” or invalid for a user to rate a game that they’ve played before it’s actually published?

    The problem, then, is that the game-buying community wants these immediate and mostly-positive reviews.  They’re excited about the hyped games, and want an excuse to buy them.  So they, therefore, reward the reviewers that give them what they want.  I don’t like it, and I think that reviewers need to be more responsible to really play and understand a game enough before writing or recording a review.  But until the community as a whole “grows up” and demands more information and deeper understanding about a game before buying into all the hype, it’s not going to change.

    So, once again, I totally agree that there is a huge positive bias for new and upcoming (“hyped”) games, and I wish that we could at least temper it in some way.  The way I see it, though, this phenomenon is because the hobby is growing, and that a lot of new and excited people are wanting to learn about and buy a lot of new games.  It’s not about some dark conspiracy between BGG, game publishers, and reviewers, which was definitely the theme that you have been implying.

  7. Pete

    By not reviewing a product that you received, and it doesn’t matter WHY, be it intellecutal laziness, or not wanting to hurt a publisher’s feelings and potentially damage the relationship, the effect is the same.

    Now back to BGG. I get that GeekMods (who get GG) are issuing GG for reviews. I also know that negative reviews get less GG, by and large, at least in my own personal experience and the experiences of those whom I’ve talked to.

    I know people think I’m some frat boy douche because of the frat boy humor I use, but that’s like saying George Carlin is an idiot because he uses the F word or uses potty humor.

    I think I’ve proved that I’m tenacious, innovative, and that I do my due dilligence. I’m not some asshat who just says shit because it’s funny. I say things because they’re funny, but also, TRUE, to the best of my knowledge.

    If BGG promotes and has “news” on releasing games, that drives traffic to the game page. The traffic then contributes to the Hotness. Rinse, repeat. So, in effect, simply clicking on a link in a news article is creating the illusion that a game is “Hot”, meaning in demand, when in fact it is simply the subject of inquiry. The corrolary is that Nazis are “in demand” if people put Nazi in the google search window.

    Little subconscious things like equating “Most Clicked” with “Hot” are what I meant by the Bernays effect.

    If a picture of a hideously deformed woman is clicked on several thousand times in relation to the story about a car wreck, is she “Hot”? The culture uses the word “Hot” with attractive, not “looked at a lot”.

    As I said, pair that with the “pay for play” where reviewers don’t review bad games for whatever reason (be it graft, or just not wanting to play shite games) and it becomes a consumer funnel. It misleads people.

    To fix it, simply have a thumb count be the sole determiner of “HOT”, as it would be more apropos, do not display thumbs in the “Forums” on a game page. That’s the first steps.

    The next is self-policing. Do what I’ve done. Throw down a gauntlet, and challenge people to DO THEIR DUTY. Tell the truth, both good and bad, and review every game you receive. If it is so bad you can’t play it twice, SAY SO. Say “I really wanted to write something more substantial, but I can’t, because I can’t bring myself to play this again. It simply wasn’t fun. This is why: XX/YY/ZZ. Now this is based on one play, but it’s telling that I cannot get myself or anyone I know to play this more than once. If you like X kind of game, maybe play it once before you buy it. But don’t buy it blind.”

    It’s really that simple. If EVERYONE did that, the balance would return.

    Now, I have no idea who you are, Chris. Until you posted, I had no idea you existed. That’s not to say that you’re deficient, it’s because I do not read reviews, almost ever. It’s because I don’t want to be biased.

    So please don’t take any of this to mean that I am sleighting you. Not my intent in any way.

  8. Larry

    Ok since it was brought up here is the comment I made that Pete missed the sarcasm in that makes him think I stated we do marketing.

    1. It was stated the InD20 Group fell into the propaganda of marketing things that are not worth marketing. Who decides its not worth marketing is not the author of this post(SuperflyTNT)

    I was pointing out he stated we fell into the marketing propaganda that is all. Most people think Pete is a negative close minded individual that just wants to pick fights. He stated he never called us out but privately on fb he wrote me and Tim talking about how we were the inspiration for all of his blog. I refuse to argue with you Pete. you win the argument ok! You have shown that you are a epic keyboard warrior! But don’t go bragging to Tim and be happy about how much of a following you have with your 2k hits a week and then say we are garbage and amateurs. We are all amateur reviewers except Dice Tower cause we don’t get paid to do it, nor do I want to be.

  9. Chris Norwood

    Okay, especially since I sort of continued this discussion with others on Twitter until after 1am last night, let me say my final peace and move on…

    I’ll start by clarifying my comments about Venture Forth, which you took out of context and complained about over at Fortress: AT.  My intent in using that example (whether I achieved it or not) was to illustrate the choice that I and many others, as hobbyist gamers and reviewers, face in determining how to invest our time and effort.  I was not saying that I had made the decision to forget the game and not review it.  And actually, I pretty much write about every game that I play in my game night reports (which you may not know, if you’re not a regular reader), including Venture Forth. And if you read my comments there, you’ll see that one of the challenges I have in reviewing it is that I actually liked it better than anyone else who played.  So, since I can’t play the game by myself, and I don’t particularly like bullying my game group into playing games solely on my agenda, it’s hard to get the plays with it to make me feel reasonably informed and ready to write a formal review.  But I keep taking it with me from time to time, hoping that the moment will strike and I’ll get the chance to try it again.

    Next, I actually do believe very similar things to what you’re saying about our DUTY as reviewers and the responsibility which claiming that title bears.  If you’re interested, I wrote a rant about it last year and then laid out my keys to writing good reviews a little later.  I’m not perfect or anything, of course, but it’s my sincere intent to be as honest, fair, and balanced as I can be when writing reviews.

    One thing that I said last night sort of sums up a lot of what I’m taking away from this whole discussion:  Positivity does not preclude critical thought, nor does negativity necessarily include it. 

    Being positive about a game doesn’t have to mean that you ignore its flaws or turn the whole thing into a shill.  And being “critical” doesn’t necessarily even mean that you don’t like the game or wouldn’t recommend it.  It’s about looking at the whole of the game, pulling out the good and bad parts, discussing them, and then offering your final opinion.  If you actually read my reviews, that’s certainly what I try to do.  But I like games, so most of my reviews are going to be positive.  And really, it’s what you do as well, since the overwhelming majority of the reviews on Superfly Circus are positive (75% are rated 3.75/5 or higher and nearly 18% are rated 4.75-5, while less than 10% are rated a 2 or less).       

    So, since we agree on so much, what’s the issue then?  It’s that you can’t seem to have a civil discussion or keep your comments respectful.  Even if you are speaking some level of “truth”, the message is lost when you make what amounts to personal attacks on the character of others.  And maybe, you could open your mind just a little to consider that perhaps the conspiracy you blame for so much of the problem really isn’t all that real and/or sinister.  That’s the whole reason I posted this article in the first place; to offer a counterpoint and another possible explanation for the ills that you identified.

    And finally, I’m going to recommend that you start reading other people’s reviews and ideas.  I don’t really see you being the kind of person who’s going to be all that “biased” by someone else’s opinion, so that’s a bit of a cop out.  And how exactly can you go on a crusade against “overwhelming positivity” if you’re not actually reading the reviews that you’re complaining about?  (Again, if you think Tom Vasel is all positive, you’ve not been reading or listening to him in the last 2-3 years at least.)  If you’re not at least willing to listen to other views and question your own assumptions from time to time, I’m afraid that no one that you’re trying to reach will respect you or what you’re trying to say.  

  10. Chris Norwood

    Sorry Larry, I just noticed that I hadn’t approved your comment yet.  But now you’re added to my “approved commenters” list, so you shouldn’t have to wait again.

  11. Pete

    Larry: Keep it classy, and “BACK IT!” And really, when you and Carmen and Tim are all over BGG talking madness, it’s not me who was pushing the attack. Note that I didn’t respond publicly, even once, to any of the nutters at BGG who were so quick to crucify? So, and I mean this with all sincerity, go die in a fire.

    But how about I talk to a guy with principles, Chris:

    I don’t believe that your comments were taken out of context. And I’m not complaining about you, in particular, because I don’t know anything about you, as I said. I only know whay you’ve told me:

    ” I’ve played it once, but enjoyed the other two a lot more, so they’ve each been played a number of more times and have been reviewed. But when I think about Venture Forth, I’m just not all that excited to get it back to the table, and no one else that played it with me is either. But I’m not going to write a negative review of it based on just one play. So I’m put in a position of either just forgetting it, or investing time in playing at least two more times and then the time to write the review itself, which is pretty daunting with my current lack of excitement about it.”

    Do you really think I, or my group, wanted to play Nitro Dice, or oh~my~God~awful Darklion Pass? We had to because it’s our duty. And seriously, you first said you weren’t excited to play it, and now you’re saying that you liked it better than the other folks and it was really them…c’mon, man. Just say that you didn’t like it and don’t want to play it again. No need to backpedal, man. I don’t have a dog in the hunt.

    My point in all of this is that I think you and I agree on the duties we have to the public if we’re going to try to make a go at doing this journalism gig, now that I’ve seen what you’re about. It’s the details that we disagree with, mainly. We are committed to sucking it up.

    Here’s a great example that you need to keep in mind: I played Banditos the first time and was truly bored to death. I couldn’t wait for it to end. We winged the rules a little and so I wrote the publisher. He clarified. Turns out we played right. So I was mortified of playing it again, although a couple players were enamoured with it.

    Second game was WAY more fun. I chalk it up to understanding HOW the game is supposed to be played. Not so much the rules, but the spirit.

    So, in short, one bad experience isn’t always proven out over time. That’s why you have to be committed to finding the truth.

    But even more than that, I think we agree that the deck is stacked toward AMAZINGLY POSITIVE first-month reviews, and that’s wrong. If we fix that, we fix everything.

    And FWIW: for the Circus, 7.5 isn’t shit. Look at the reviews. I characterize 7.5 as “has potential; a game everyone should try once or twice.”
    An 8 is really a good determiner of a positive review. Aside from the VERY BEST 10s and 9.5s, we have gripes with all of them. We’re clear that unless it’s a 9.5+, it’s not truly positive.

  12. Nate

    Come on, Pete. That is insano talk on your review scale. Why on Earth would you have a 0-5 star scale that averages to 2.5, and then claim an “average” is 3.75 or 4? If I hear a game gets a 7.5 (3.75 stars), I’m going to think that is a pretty good game. Your whacked out scale is probably the most deceitful thing I’ve heard mentioned in these posts.

    And you need to lay off on the Venture Forth deal. Chris is a game reviewer. His group is NOT. There is no “we” for him. His group has no duties. It’s nice that Superfly has a group dedicated to reviews. Most people are lucky to have a group to play games, let alone a group to review them.

    He’s taken a principled stance to not review a game in one play, and his group is in no way responsible for playing a shit game so HE can do a review. You’d think with all your high talk of principles, you’d get this.

  13. I never said anything about “averages”. A 5-6 is a game I’m not going to buy, ever, unless there’s some amazing thing about it that will overcome the craptasticness that got it to a 5 or 6.

    I mean, who do you want to marry, a girl who’s a 5, a 7, or a 9? I mean, I’ll nail a 7, but I’m not marrying her, so to speak, unless she’s perfect in every other way other than a busted up grill or something.

    And deceitful? Hey, blow me. It’s my site, and I get to pick my winners and losers. If you want to play buy a 7 game, or have a 400 game collection, go for it. Me, I don’t keep shit just to have gamer cred. If it’s not a winner, it’s gone. And read my articles before casting aspursions, there’s pro’s and cons. I’m clear on what I say is awesome, and why.

    For example, the top rated game in the just-below 8 category:

    7.75 Score.

    “I went into this with a high expectation because of the concept involved, and I wasn’t disappointed…much. Were it not for the rulebook being hard to grasp and poorly laid out, this would’ve been a solid “4 out of 5 star” game. As a buyer, I had to read the rules repeatedly, then refer back to the rules repeatedly, then check the FAQ, then contact the publisher, and all of that led to a little frustration. That being said, once I got my answers and played 2 more times, I am fully confident that this game is one hell of a good time. I know this kind of game isn’t going to be for everyone, but for those who like resource management aspects of euros and good, old fashioned dicefest combat and randomness, this game is a winner. In fact, I can’t wait until Saturday when I get to play it again.”

    Sound like a glowing review, jagoff? You know who gave this one away and never rebought it? Me.

    How about the next one down?

    7.5 Score.

    “For such a bloody simple game, it’s just brilliant. It’s not going to be your favorite, for sure, but it certainly will be one of the games you will always turn to when you have an hour to play a game with six of your closest allies. It’s a blast, plain and simple.”

    Another one I don’t own anymore. And I bought this one. No glowing.

    Maybe you’re cool to buy games that aren’t top shelf, but I’m not going to piss my money away on anything less than a solid 8. Of all of the “Best Games We’ve Ever Played”, either I own or one of my buddies owns every one of them.

    Look, it’s not my problem that he hasn’t got friends willing to take one for the team, so to speak. And my friends aren’t a “dedicated review group”, I ask them to play games, they play them, we vote. Easy.

    I’m saying is that if you get given a product to review, do your damned job. Fulfill your commitment. If you get 1 play and that’s all you can palate, a review stating it’s a 1 play review and that it sucks is better than not telling people.

  14. Nate

    Make some revisionist history and skewed arguments if it makes you feel better. I call saying a review is not “positive” until it is a 9 on a 0-10 scale is crazy and misleading. In your very own words you called a game “brilliant” and “a blast” and rated it a 7.5. THIS is your view of negative? How is anyone supposed to get that a 7.5 isnt worth buying and this is a negative review when you are throwing around adjectives like that? Come on, man.

  15. Pete


    Revisionist arguments? When, exactly, have I ever said otherwise? I’ve always said that, actually, but thanks for playing.

    ” THIS is your view of negative? How is anyone supposed to get that a 7.5 isnt worth buying and this is a negative review when you are throwing around adjectives like that? Come on, man.”

    Not negative, I never said negative. I simply said, “not positive” and “7.5 ain’t shit.” And I stand by that. If the reader reads the article, then they’ll know. It’s really easy to take two words in a wrapup and put them into whatever context you wish.

    “Brilliant”, “a blast”

    I can do the same for the obverse of the coin:

    “It’s not going to be your favorite, for sure”

    Try context next time.

    “For such a simple game, it’s brilliant”.

    It is a fun game. And the premise is both simple and brilliant. But Top Secret Spies will never be your favorite game. They missed some opportunities to make the game more interesting. It’s a fun filler for a big crowd of gamers who aren’t all that into games. SEVEN ~POINT~ FIVE.

    A game that gets a 7 is a decent game. Not a great one, but decent. A game that gets an 8 is a game that could’ve been great had they not missed something or screwed something up. a 9 is a game that is nearly perfect, with only minor flaws, that anyone who LIKES THAT KIND OF GAME can enjoy.

    A 10 is a game that you just have to love. If you don’t, you’re a fun murdering douchebag who shouldn’t be reading my reviews since you clearly don’t share my opinons or the opinions of my friends.

    Any questions? You want to throw some more stones?

    And it’s not crazy or misleading…just go to the index and look at the scores. I clearly title them, it’s REALLY not that hard.

    Now, I’ll be first to tell you that my style of review has evolved considerably. I used to pretty much do a rules revamp and put a usually sardonic topper on. So it’s totally possible that my earlier reviews sucked. But the scores have always been characterized the same. I poll people. They tell me the scores. We rinse and repeat three times. I average the scores. That’s the score.

  16. Nate

    If you want to say that “not positive” doesn’t equal negative the vast majority of time, fine. I won’t bother getting into an argument over the infinitesimally small point that is the crossover region from positive to negative. If you want to say that a game can be both “brilliant” and “ain’t shit”, fine. If you want to act like your worded description of that game was “not positive” because you threw in some CYA it-may-not-be-for-you words, fine. Sounds like every other reviewer to me dude.

    You tried to act like I took you out of context by not including the “For such a simple game” bit, as if that remark were a negative counterbalance to “brilliant”? Whatever. Simple isn’t a drawback in my mind.

    For the record, virtually every review I’ve ever seen is exactly like these crap ratings you are citing as your good examples. Use great adjectives, say it might be good for you if you like such-and-such type of game, rate it sort of high. You are EXACTLY LIKE EVERYONE ELSE PETE. You are not a unique and special snowflake.

    You can act like your rating system is super clear if you want. I read your blog for over a year and never stumbled into the definitions you are referencing. I’m sure they are there if I cared to look. This might be because I look at the main content and ignore the rest. People aren’t perusing your site. They read the last article you posted and move on. You need to get that if you want your system to be clear. Maybe you should just skip the rating BS altogether.

    You can say pretending like you were always righteous and high and mighty and better than everyone else while providing reviews like that isn’t you rewriting history in your mind. Whatever helps you get by, bro.

    Ok, I’m done here. I’ll read a reply if you got one, but I have a job and family and better things to do than argue with you. You know, DUTIES. Serious shit that your game reviews really aren’t.

  17. Not positive is not equal to negative. It’s not a small point or crossover region, it’s a huge line in the sand. For me, the 6.0-7.999 region is a vast sea of mediocrity.

    Here’s the ratings system, first link on the upper left, under SEARCH.

    Anyhow, if you think simple’s not a drawback, I can’t help you. It’s clear that I am using it as a backhanded compliment, but that’s just clear to me.

    For the record, I don’t CLAIM TO BE ANYTHING SPECIAL, NATE. I NEVER HAVE. I make no fucking guarantees that you’re going to see smashing authorship, Jack, and all my “terms of use” are right there for all to see. Big words “Rating Methods” just under “Index”, big as shit.

    The only things I even remotely guarantee is that games get played thrice, that almost all review games get passed onto someone, that we can’t be bribed (primarily because my friends never know if it was gotten via review copy or if I bought it, not necessarily because I’m stoic), and that the site is not-for-profit. That’s all. Everything else is caveat emptor.

    I ~NEVER~ pretend to be anything. I make dick jokes and curse a lot, that’s me. I ~AM~ better than anyone who shills shit, and I ~AM~ better than someone who plays a game and doesn’t review it SOLELY because they don’t like it. That’s about all I’m better than.

    As for an argument, there’s no argument. There’s you with your opinion, there’s me with mine. Like they say, I can explain it to you but I can’t understand it for you.

  18. Nate

    Pete – Just a follow up to help you. I’ve probably never noticed your ratings explanation because it doesn’t appear on the mobile site, and that is where most of my viewing happens. Yes, I am aware that you haven’t had a mobile site forever, it is just a tip for you. I won’t revisit the argument. I comprehend your points, but disagree with your logic.

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