Should we critique EVERY aspect of a game?
In previous versions of The Board Game Bulletin, I used to write reviews of a wide variety of different board games. Despite enjoying writing reviews, I don't anymore, primarily due to my lack of free time to do so on a consistent basis. Last week though, I had an unexpected notification from one of my reviews that I had posted on BoardGameGeek.
"I see all your points but I have never understood a review that docked points for something that isn't about the game. Box size? Who really gives a rats ***?? Might as well ***** about all the other games that come with inserts that don't support sleeved cards... Funny thing is, I saw some other review that talked about box size and I was caught off guard. I was thinking, what kind of stupid point is that?"
(For privacy's sake, I'm going to keep this messager's identity anonymous. I do want to point out that this interaction lead to a healthy debate and that they very quickly apologized for the rudeness of their original message.)
Somebody had sent me a private message about a review I had posted in which I criticized a game's box size for being excessively large given the amount of components inside of it. I knew when I posted that original review that some people might disagree with me or not see that as a big issue, which I actually addressed in that original review:
"The purpose of my reviews is to help you, a potential buyer, make an informed decision about games you might be interested in. That decision-making process can include other factors besides gameplay, including price, component quality, artwork, theming, etc...
I think it is irresponsible of reviewers to intentionally avoid discussing these topics. Gameplay isn't the only aspect most people consider when getting a new game, so that shouldn't be all that we talk about."
Looking back at that review, I would say that I still stand behind that statement (although perhaps "irresponsible" is a tad bit dramatic). I am someone who has gone through the process of publishing a game and I am currently going through that process again. I can tell you that when it comes to publishing a game, somebody has to make a decision about every aspect of the final product. The mechanics themselves, sure, but also the artwork, the box size, the inclusion (or exclusion) of an insert, component quality, rulebook layout... Every little detail has to be decided upon and sometimes some details get more attention than others.
At the end of the day, a large chunk of people watching board game reviews are interested primarily in the gameplay, so it should come as no surprise that gameplay is what the majority of reviewers focus on. Likewise, it's no surprise that gameplay is potentially what gets the most attention on the publishing side of things as well.
However, I believe that many publishers make the mistake of putting too much focus on just a few aspects of their game at the expense of other important aspects. You're not just selling gameplay. You're selling a product.
The artwork, the box size, the component quality, the rulebook, the graphic design... Whether we like to admit it or not, humans DO judge books (or in this case, games) by their covers and we let those judgement impact our purchasing decisions.
The Oscars don't just give out awards for best screenplay. They look at acting, directing, visual effects, cinematography, production design, costume design, sound design, makeup, musical score...
Without critical feedback, buyers can't make truly informed decisions about the games they purchase and publishers can't grow and learn to create better gaming experiences.
Do you agree? Are there any aspects of a game that you think reviewers DON'T need to talk about?