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When Reviewing Reviewers


I was recently invited to speak alongside some other content creators to a group of board game designers and answer their questions on the reviewer/designer relationship, such as what is most important to reviewers when looking at a new game (spoiler: it’s clear rules). It was a great experience and helped to clarify some misconceptions about reviewer/designer/publisher dynamics.

But during this panel, one question stood out and I thought I would share it here along with my response. What I thought would be an obvious, cookie-cutter answer, turned out to be neither to the group, and this seemingly simple question turned into the longest discussion point of the panel: What should I (a designer/publisher) look for in a reviewer? 

If you are reading this, you are probably aware that there is no shortage of board game reviewers (but since you are reading this, I sincerely thank you for checking out the content at Everything Board Games. Take off your shoes and stay a while). And since there is no shortage of reviewers, designers—especially new designers—may have difficulty parsing through all the volunteers that appear on the Board Game Reviewers Facebook page replying to their post. Unless the designer is offering a print and play (PnP), they can’t realistically consider sending a full prototype to everyone that requests it, so I gave the attendees five things to look at when deciding on a reviewer.

1. Look at their audience – You should have an idea of the target audience for your game, and it should align with the target audience of the reviewer. If you are designing an after-dark game for adults, you shouldn’t be spending time and money sending a prototype to a reviewer that focuses primarily on using games for homeschooling or games with kids (even if they request a copy for review). The audiences probably won’t align.

And while that example may seem a bit obvious, you’d likely get the same result sending a dice-chucker to a reviewer that does a lot of abstract games and vice versa. However, some of this can be mitigated by the second point, as follows.

2. Look for groups – For the most part, I do not like games that rely heavily on luck (i.e. games involving a lot of dice and dice rolls). I would not be the best fit to review that type of game. That being said, I am not the only reviewer with Everything Board Games and while I do not like that style of game, there is someone on the review staff that does and would be a better fit to review that game. So, while I pass, and others may pass too, it eventually falls in the lap of someone that likes that style of game.

This is the benefit of looking for reviewers that are part of a group, or network of reviewers, rather than one-person shops. Your game is more likely to be paired with someone that really wants to review that style of game and will get a better review because of it. Plus, groups and networks are typically better places to…

3. Look for diversity – While it shouldn’t be, encouraging diversity in anything is a lightening rod for all kinds of wonderful anonymous internet tough guys and gals. If you want to expand your audience, look for reviewers that have an expanded audience, but I offer this one caveat.

My wife is a reviewer and she is Asian. Now, you may be thinking, “Sweet, I can check off two of the diversity boxes with one reviewer.” But I will warn you, she can smell the “let’s just check this group off the box” requests from a mile away. And if she detects that she’s being used for a diversity checklist, she’ll decline.

Now, she admittedly does not speak for every woman, or Asian, or minority, and there may very well be some that take the opposite approach and do not mind being used solely for their minoroty status--it is their choice to do so.

But, when looking to diversify your reviewers, it may be best to show that you know more about them as a reviewer by mentioning previous reviews and why you think they would be a good fit for your game (you should be doing this anyway; see tip #1). Demonstrate that you know more about them than their race/gender/sexual orientation. Look at the content they produce and build your request around their skills, instead of solely around their minority status.

4. Look for criticism  No one wants to hear that their baby is ugly, but you need to be wary of the reviewer that describes every game as a “must-buy” and/or extolls every game that hits their table. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use positive reviewers, but look for something that, in their content, demonstrates critique. This may come in the form of structuring the content with Pros and Cons, or Strengths and Weaknesses, or Good and Bad and Meh, or phrases such as “This aspect could be better” or “I wish the game did ____.

Look for the method they use to show that they have a depth of thought and enough plays to construct a genuine critique. And when you use this reviewer, don’t shy away from sharing the review that includes a little criticism. The fact that the reviewer offers a critique will make the good parts of the review stronger and more reliable to the audience.

 5. Look for involvement – A reviewer isn’t your default marketing department, but if they write the best review in the world about your game, and it sits on their website or channel collecting dust because they are not actively sharing the content, it’s not going to see as many eyes as it would otherwise and your reach is diminished.

When looking for reviewers, it’s important to look at their follower counts, but also at how active the reviewer is as at promoting their content. Are they active on multiple social media platforms? Do they participate in other creative outlets such as podcasts or videos or blogs that could possibly double or triple your exposure for the cost of one prototype? Do they have a history of revisiting games they review? Do they talk with their followers, rather than simply talking to them? Do they have an online presence that you would want your game associated with?

There is definitely a cost associated with your prototype, so getting the most bang for your buck is crucial. Look for someone that is actively tweeting, sharing, Instagraming, hash-tagging, posting on BGG, sharing the review in newsletters, etc. so that your game gets in front of as many eyes as possible.

 *** 

While it took all of five minutes for you to read this commentary, these topics were discussed, refined, defended, and refined again for close to an hour and a half with a diverse group of board game designers. Like board games and their designers, not all content and the reviewers that produce it are created equal. Look for the group that best meets your needs, aligns with your values and interacts with your prospective audience on social media, and offers fair critique.

And once you find the reviewer that writes the glowing, yet fair, review, be sure to give them a shout out and share it on social media. They’ll appreciate it.




Nick Shipley - Reviewer

Nick is a compliance consultant by day, a board gamer at night, and a husband and father always. When he is not bringing a game to the table, he is running (most often to or from his kids) or watching the New York Yankees. Nick lives in Oklahoma.

See Nick's reviews HERE.
When Reviewing Reviewers When Reviewing Reviewers Reviewed by Nick Shipley on October 22, 2019 Rating: 5

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