Features// Michael Fox's Table Top Gaming Column

Posted 15 Feb 2013 15:59 by
Hello lovely people. Welcome to Michael’s Column About Boardgames. I’ve been ill this week. Like, properly ill, struck down in my prime by a virus that has knocked me for six. Stomach cramps. Throwing up. Pooping like someone’s turned on a rusty tap. It’s been great!

Obviously, it hasn’t been great. I’ve been laid up in bed, occasionally stumbling to the sofa, and pretty much unable to do anything bar check the odd email. There’s certainly been bugger all in the way of actually playing anything – hanging out with mates on Monday got called off, my usual Tuesday night session was pulled, Wednesday‘s games were cancelled. It’s been a bit bobbins.

What’s also annoying is that this impacts my 'Work'. It’s hard to write about games when you’ve not played anything, so bang up-to-date reviews are pretty much out.

Still, I’ve got a bit of a backlog to work through of stuff that I’ve managed to play, so I’m still able to get content up on the Little Metal Dog Show site. Also, as I’m working through my emails, people are getting in touch and seeing if I’d like to check out their new games, which is adding to the Pile of Shame (yes, we have them in Tabletop World too) but is very lovely.

This gets me to the point of this week’s column. Two emails in particular have stuck in my mind, making me think a lot about the world of reviewing and what’s expected.

The first was a throwaway comment about how the vast majority of the stuff I write is positive:

“Do you ever have a bad word to say about the games you review?”
That was the basic gist. When it comes to board games, I’ve only ever written one negative piece about a truly awful Doctor Who effort that should have been scrapped at the concept stage; seriously, it was a fucking abomination. It’s not that I don’t play bad games, but I generally attempt to see the good in them.

Constructive criticism FTW
Most games at least have an interesting idea in there, a nice art style, decent production... there’s normally something to redeem them, even if they happen to be generally horrible. People should be applauded for the good stuff they do, not battered for their mistakes – there are plenty of reviewers out there who prefer to take a negative approach and I just prefer to not be one of them. Constructive criticism FTW, people.

I’ll happily give something a kicking if it deserves it, but finding an example of such a game is rare. Seems to be more common in video gaming, admittedly – see all the fuss that’s sprung up over Aliens: Colonial Marines (reviewed here).

In a roundabout way, that links in nicely to my second bit. A:CM has had some (apparently well deserved) terrible reviews, criticising its poor gameplay and shoddy development.

However, the reviews weren't universally negative. Where most sites decried it as the worst game since Daikatana, one site wasn't so damning.

The second email that has been rattling around in my head was from a company asking me to check out their game. Of course, I’m not going to say no – I’m not an idiot who’ll turn down a new thing to play – but they also asked me how much they’d need to pay for me to review it.

What the fuck?

“Who in their right mind would PAY to get someone to write about their game?” I thought. But apparently (after not a lot of digging) this happens a lot in a variety of worlds. One book reviews site won’t even consider looking at what you’ve written until you chuck $500 their way. A couple of consumer sites are spectacularly blatant about the fact that they’ll give positive write-ups if you pay them. And that’s disgusting.

If you’re taking money from people, you’re not going to be independent. You’re not going to be honest. Your opinions will be skewed by the fact your bank balance has been boosted. What I write on littlemetaldog.com may be overtly positive, but at least it’s truthful.

Always has been, always will be. Sure, I have the occasional bit of advertising on the site or sponsorship of the odd episode, but it never has any effect on the content. The moment you cross over and start letting advertisers influence you, you lose all integrity.

It may be odd for some eejit who writes about little plastic figures and pushing wooden cubes around a board to be talking about integrity in journalism, but seriously – screw you if you’re only in it for the money, no matter what your subject matter. Sure, I’d love to turn my passion into a full time job one day, but when it comes to writing I’m determined to remain impartial through and through.

Wowsers. That was a lot more serious than I expected. Next time will be light and fluffy, promise. Go and play something, and think of me and my stomach cramps.


Darrell Louder 15 Feb 2013 17:12
My, you're an angry elf! :)

You can say it however you want, but the bottom line is you are 100% correct. This is also why I ignore any reviews/previews that have been paid for. I can't help but think they skew your reaction to the product. Ads, though, are a different beast as you aren't being asked to give your opinion with an ad.

So I agree, worded angrily or not, you are spot on.
John 17 Feb 2013 08:19
I hope you feel better soon Michael :)
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