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Barnes on Games presents Theel, Mann and Campbell on Games- Review Corner Showcase

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Barnes on Games presents Theel, Mann and Campbell on Games- Review Corner Showcase
There Will Be Games

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Something a little different this week.

For the first time in Cracked LCD's eight year history, I won't be writing the reviews. Instead, I wanted to highlight some of the great writers I have working for me at Miniature Market's The Review Corner. We're coming up on six months' worth of writing reviews for this project and let me tell you, applying the ol' editorial red pen to six or seven reviews a week tends to make you VERY critical. Not that I wasn't already.

So here are a couple of folks I'd like to bring to your attention- I think they're doing great work and really carrying the torch for high quality WRITTEN reviews, which I still believe to be vastly superior to the hordes of cutey-poo video reviews that sadly pass for game criticism these days.

charlie

First up is Charlie Theel, who has been seen also around 2d6.org and FortressAT.com. He's my Lead Writer, but secretly he is the Johnny Ramone of this entire Review Corner project. He masterminded it, brokered the concept with Miniature Market, and brought me on board. He came to me a while back looking for some advice about his writing and I gave him the "you'll never make a dime, kid" but it didn't work. I'm glad he stuck it out, because he's a damn fine writer with a good critical eye and I'm happy to be working with him. Charlie tends to specialize in highly social games and miniatures, but he covers a wide range of titles. He's also a designer himself- check out Fistful of Dinero.

Charlie's review of Star Wars: Armada

Charlie's review of The Resistance

byron

Next up is Byron Campbell. I just promoted this guy to Senior Writer and he has completely earned all five of the extra dollars that we are going to pay him per piece. I had never heard of Byron before Charlie recruited him and I kind of wish it had stayed this way because this guy is costing me money. His reviews of Darkest Night, Legendary Encounters and Sylvion opened my wallet like a smooth criminal. But more importantly, Byron's reviews have a refined, multidisciplinary approach- he appreciates that games are artistic, expressive mediums capable of storytelling and illustrating themes. He's written for Entropy Magazine, Indie Cardboard and NerdSpan and now he's rockin' his Mohawk for us on The Review Corner.

Byron's Review of Sylvion

Byron's Review of XenoShyft

kyle

Finally, we come to Kyle Mann. I fired Kyle on his first day on the job for insubordination but somehow he didn't get the memo. He continued to submit reviews regardless of the pink slip, and I figured what the hell, I'll publish them. And then I wound up promoting this lumberjack shirt-clad feller to Senior Writer as well. Kyle is my go-to man for any kind of wargames writing- he comes from an old school Avalon Hill background and maybe that's what has informed him about what makes a really good "pop" wargame. But he's versatile, and I've come to really enjoy editing- and reading- his fine work.

Kyle's review of Quartermaster General

Kyle's Review of Fortune and Glory

We've got some other great folks on board too- Dan Thurot, Drew M., Craig Cliessen, Shane White, Pete Ruth, Nate Owens, Jason Meyers- check them out while you're over there too. I'll highlight some of their better work the next time I find myself with no article ready on Thursday morning!

 

 

 

There Will Be Games

Michael BarnesFollow Michael Barnes Follow Michael Barnes Message Michael Barnes

         (He/Him)

Editor-in-Chief

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

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tomvasel's Avatar
tomvasel replied the topic: #206407 16 Jul 2015 22:36
Isn't it possible to say that these guys write excellent reviews without spitting out hatred towards video reviews?
repoman's Avatar
repoman replied the topic: #206408 16 Jul 2015 22:54
Not until Minature Market green lights video reviews. Then they will be the best thing ever.

Kind of like how paid reviewers were just shills...until they weren't.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #206409 16 Jul 2015 22:59
I greatly prefer written reviews. I appreciate the work you do Tom, but written reviews have to be more carefully crafted by their nature in order to make their points. They can't resort to gimickry or bling to hide their faults.

Granted, if someone fails at a written review they're toast. But when they succeed they're sublime. Good writing is majestic. No one in this industry has the time or money (or incentive) to create majestic video reviews.

S.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #206410 16 Jul 2015 23:37
Jeffery, do you have some kind of evidence that these guys or any other writers I manage - or myself - are "shills"? Because I will tell you straight up that these are hard working, honest people that are doing an awful lot of work for literally peanuts. They wouldn't be doing it if they weren't honest, passionate about games and committed to good writing about games. I personally wouldn't have them on staff if I felt like they were shilling anything and I'll stake my entire career to defend my writers' credibility. We also have the blessing of the Miniature Market people - including the owner of the company - to provide completely on-the-level, no punches pulled reviews. I insisted on that in our first conversation about this project because, as I told him, we needed 100% integrity if this were to succeed.

But maybe you can indicate to the readers here that you have some kind of example of the reviews where there is "shilling" going on?

While you're at it, I'd also like for you to find any instance in my 13+ years of writing about games professionally where I have at any point declared that paid writers are shills. In fact, why don't you take a look at the article I wrote a couple of years ago "Games Journalism?" where I argued that part of the reason that games criticism has failed to break through a certain level is because there is no professional incentive for there to be serious, consistent games writing. In other words, because the field is largely filled with unpaid, amateur writers and those with the talent and ability to do more are doing so elsewhere, where they are being paid.

Pretty rude to attack not only me, but also these writers, their credibility and the work they are doing right here on the front page. But please, by all means, if you have something to back up your BGG-style passive-aggressive comment, let's hear it.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #206411 16 Jul 2015 23:44
Sorry Tom- no hate spat here- I just don't care for video reviews at all. It's a format that I think has pretty much torpedoed widespread interest in written reviews, and there are very, very few video review programs that provide any kind of consistent, valuable games commentary or criticism. Most are, unfortunately, exactly what I said- cutey-poo.

I'm not disparaging or discrediting the hard work and commitment that running a show like The Dice Tower requires. But shows of substantial quality and consistency are very few and far between.

And games writing has suffered because of it, IMO.
repoman's Avatar
repoman replied the topic: #206412 16 Jul 2015 23:52
Firstly, let's clear up your misuse of the word passive-aggressive. That in no way describes the shots I take. They are clear and in no way passive.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Pete Ruth is one of your staff writers, is he not? He also is the same Pete Ruth who spared no effort in condemning reviewers who were compensated saying time and time again that their objectivity could not help but be compromised in the process? I seem to recall numerous rants on the subject.

I also seem to recall a certain dismissive tone used in reference to Tom Vassal. the implication being that his success at branding his name and actually being able to make a living off his reviews somehow invalidated their worth and credibility.

Also, having a large ad for a commercial website posted on the front page of the fort masquerading as an article is in somewhat poor taste.

Lastly, I would be willing to bet all of my lunch money that the second Minature Market offered to pay for video reviews, the snarky shots, like the one Tom rightly calls you on, would quickly be replaced with glowing praise for the cutting edge work being done on their site.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #206413 17 Jul 2015 00:20
Full disclosure- Pete Ruth expressly asked to NOT be paid for his work. _I_ insisted. I can produce email evidence if need be. Pete and I have scrapped in the past, but after getting to know him I will tell you that he is one of the most straight up genuine people in the world. And I ain't letting him work for me for free.

Tom Vasel is one of the most successful personalities in games. I've not ever suggested that his success has made him "invalid". He sells a very successful product. Good for him. Doesn't matter what I think about it.

Charlie and I both explicitly discussed keeping video reviews off the table because neither of us care about them. If MM wants them in the future, we would likely not be involved and they would probably be in house productions.

What's in "poor taste" - aside from you taking personal umbrage at a "political" post on our FB page last week under the guise of offering us "advice"- is being a dick like this on the front page of our site not only to me but also to these writers that I am very proud of and want folks to take a look at.

Feel free to PM me wih any further negativity or unfounded aspersions.
tomvasel's Avatar
tomvasel replied the topic: #206419 17 Jul 2015 06:24
Michael said...
Pretty rude to attack not only me, but also these writers, their credibility and the work they are doing right here on the front page. But please, by all means, if you have something to back up your BGG-style passive-aggressive comment, let's hear it.

I am sometimes just astounded that you can make comments like this. You JUST DID THE SAME THING to all video reviewers, who put a ton of work and credibility into their work.

Michael, whenever someone insults you, your hackles go up, and you scream about "passive aggressiveness", and then you do it yourself! Like I said, your writers do a fine job. It is perfectly simply to say that they do a fine job without then insulting a pile of other reviewers.
ThirstyMan's Avatar
ThirstyMan replied the topic: #206420 17 Jul 2015 07:32
Wow! You're certainly right it's something completely different this week...it's an infomercial.

You know what? I don't remember you EVER showcasing the Forts writers in this way and never on the front page. It is totally out of order for you to use a front page spot to advertise ANOTHER SITE. Since when did we become a free advert for Miniatures Market? I don't remember that being discussed. You want to advertise another site then PAY FOR IT like everyone else has to.

I don't really care how you earn a crust but I totally object to you trying to redirect subscribers to the Fort to a DIFFERENT site so that you and your writers get more exposure by bouncing off this site.

I repeat, where was this fawning praise of OUR writers when it was needed? Nowhere to be seen.

Tell me again how the Miniatures Mart gig would not affect the Fort at all??

While I'm at it, I have no fucking idea who the staff members are at this place any more. Shellie asked us to contact her for seats at the table. I never heard anything back, so who are the overlords and what are their responsibilities? Interested parties would like to know in case, you know, they don't have enough time to devote to the Fort due to other paying gigs.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #206422 17 Jul 2015 08:49
Concerning video reviews - Michael and I were in complete agreement about the vision of the Review Corner being mostly written content to remain distinct from the other media outlets. That may limit our exposure perhaps, but we both vastly prefer the written medium.

I could definitely see The Review Corner having videos some day for miniature product reviews or perhaps painting tutorials or modeling examples for the miniatures side of the site.

I actually am a Dice Tower and Tom Vasel fan and I don't think I've hid that before. I walk on my lunch break at work every day and consume a great deal of their content. Tom was also gracious enough to review A Fistful Of Dinero and gave it the "Approved" verdict. I met Tom at Origins in 2014 and liked him. I will likely see him at Gen Con and say hello, so no ill will at all.

In regards to this being a big advertisement? I can see that. I don't think Michael really intended it that way, I think he didn't have an article and thought this could be a neat idea and I have to admit when he mentioned he was going to do this the other day I didn't think about the backlash that would likely occur.

Is this a step farther than linking your own reviews on other sites? Probably a bit, but it's still the same kind of thing.

I get the anger but I think people are taking things a bit too seriously. This is the closest thing Michael has to a blog and I view this as that type of post.

I guess we'll never be able to shake the shill thing even if we've given 2 1/2 stars or less to the following:

Chaos Marauders
Eclipse Ship Pack One
Empire Engine
A Fistful Of Dinero
Just Desserts
King Of New York
MERCS: Conflict
Mythotopia
Space Hulk: Death Angel
Imperial Assault Ally/Villain Packs

My own game was given an average/low average rating. Miniature Market's subsidiary Homeland games has over 100 copies of it still, so do you think they really wanted a less than glowing review?

King of New York is another one that I haven't seen a negative review on from a major media outlet. In a world where we're shills there's no way that's getting less than 3 stars.

A couple of writers have said they feel even more free to give a negative review in this context as opposed to a review copy from a publisher as there's no risk of damaging a relationship.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #206423 17 Jul 2015 09:15
I'm a little pissed off that you used a professional model in your photos, attempting to pass it off as Charlie Theel. Just another example of how low you'll stoop for click-throughs.

No gamer is that pretty.
ThirstyMan's Avatar
ThirstyMan replied the topic: #206425 17 Jul 2015 10:02
Yes, it is quite a big step further than linking your reviews and I'm surprised that you can't see that. I never had a problem with Barnes linking his reviews in previous years but this is an outright ad for MM. Some of those writers are absolutely nothing to do with the Fort and have never contributed here.

The shill argument is not relevant and never has been.
Grudunza's Avatar
Grudunza replied the topic: #206426 17 Jul 2015 10:07
Tom, Michael did say "which I believe to be superior to" and specifically referred to "the horde of cutey poo video reviews." So he stated that he personally prefers written reviews (I read the same essential comment by people on BGG all the time) and wasn't necessarily disparaging *all* video reviews.

I usually prefer videos, but not necessarily the review aspect of them. I just want a brief visual interactive overview of a game to gauge my interest from, and I've usually clicked off by the time the *review* portion comes around. I do value your voice and opinion as a game reviewer, Tom, but by the time you've gone through the gameplay overview in a video I can already tell how you feel about the game (usually).

Well written reviews can be a lot more satisfying in terms of game analysis and perspective, but a lot of times I don't care about that too much unless I'm already into a game or on the fence about buying it... then I want to read how others feel about it in a more in-depth sense. I suppose it's odd to only read more involved written reviews of a game after I've already bought and played it, but that is where the value of written reviews is of most interest to me.

For my time, SU&SD is the best thing, overall; very entertaining and creative (without being hokey), timely (who has time to watch those 45 minute game overviews/reviews??), an engaging personality with good pacing (I can't watch Rahdo for more than a few minutes because he can be so jittery and hurried in his delivery that it physically makes me nervous), and with a real personal review and perspective that is not only described but is often demonstrated as part of the video production. He is great at specifically showing you *why* he likes/dislikes a game (or aspects of the game) as an integrated part of the experience he's presenting. Within ten minutes, he's given you some solid game analysis, some entertainment and a good visual overview of how the game plays and feels.
jay718's Avatar
jay718 replied the topic: #206428 17 Jul 2015 10:26
I've been a fan of both Barnes' and Vasel's reviews for many years now. Both reviewers (and their respective types of reviews) have influenced my game purchases or lack thereof. I totally get how as a writer, Barnes wanted the project that he was leading to be only written reviews. Makes perfect sense. That being said, I don't think a game review necessarily needs to be written, much less written eloquently to be effective.

With a video review (especially ones that are done as well as the Dice Tower) you can actually see for yourself the quality of the components, actual gameplay, and whether or not the game looks fun or if it's to your liking. While this can be conveyed through a well written review as well (such as those penned by Barnes and Charlest), much more is left to the readers imagination. I'm not the slightest bit interested in watching a video review of a book or a movie, but for a board game, it makes perfect sense.
VonTush's Avatar
VonTush replied the topic: #206429 17 Jul 2015 10:34
Video didn't kill demand for written reviews or valuable games commentary or criticism, there just never was big demand for it to begin with, but written was the only supply as recently as just a few years back so people settled.

Video is the next best thing to a test drive, and I for sure wouldn't buy a car based solely on what the professional pundits say until I got behind the wheel and tried it for myself.
MacDirk Diggler's Avatar
MacDirk Diggler replied the topic: #206430 17 Jul 2015 10:47
Seems like a pretty good precedent has been set that a poster to this site will cross link to their blog or review and open a thread here where we can have a discussion about it here. I see this instance of Barnestorming as a failure because some of the reviewers you mentioned are unknown here and we are not using this space to have a give and take with them about what they wrote. Instead we are debating what is passive aggressive, video vs. written boardgame reviews, whether it's a breach of an unwritten rule to link to a commercial game site.

Ok, I take it back.... Not a failure at all. It's actually kinds interesting and entertaining.

Friday freak out worthy?

But as a solution to all this, maybe have those reviewers open their own thread with their review in it here, and we can discuss them?
That's mostly why I come here... To read discussion about games.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #206435 17 Jul 2015 12:04
I prefer written reviews over video reviews, because I can read at my own pace but I can only get through a video review at the pace of the video. Also, there are a variety of situations where it might be convenient to read text but not listen to/watch a video.
Motorik's Avatar
Motorik replied the topic: #206436 17 Jul 2015 12:28
Two points:

1. Some of us are extremely busy and can't justify the time commitment required to sit through a video.

2. The majority of video reviews are glorified demos (no different than what you'd get at a gaming con) with a little bit of opinion tacked on at the end. There's nothing wrong with that, but the level of insight and analysis you get from a video review doesn't come close to what's offered by the best written reviews.
ThirstyMan's Avatar
ThirstyMan replied the topic: #206438 17 Jul 2015 12:45

Alastair MacDirk wrote: Seems like a pretty good precedent has been set that a poster to this site will cross link to their blog or review and open a thread here where we can have a discussion about it here. I see this instance of Barnestorming as a failure because some of the reviewers you mentioned are unknown here and we are not using this space to have a give and take with them about what they wrote. Instead we are debating what is passive aggressive, video vs. written boardgame reviews, whether it's a breach of an unwritten rule to link to a commercial game site.

Ok, I take it back.... Not a failure at all. It's actually kinds interesting and entertaining.

Friday freak out worthy?

But as a solution to all this, maybe have those reviewers open their own thread with their review in it here, and we can discuss them?
That's mostly why I come here... To read discussion about games.


The issue isn't really a link to a commercial game site. Barnes has been doing that for a long time. It's discreet and I don't mind. A huge front page infomercial on MM is a different matter altogether. I don't give a shit about THEIR writers but I do give a shit about OUR community. Some of those guys have NEVER been seen here. Come on that is definitely a step too far.
Mr. White's Avatar
Mr. White replied the topic: #206440 17 Jul 2015 12:56
Yeah, I'm also not a big fan of this Review Corner Showcase.

I'd be curious if these cross postings are a two-way street. I mean, when someone puts up a great article here is it mentioned/linked/highlighted at GameShark/NoHighScores/Miniature Market/Wherever or is it all one way traffic diverting eyes away from The Fort?
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #206441 17 Jul 2015 13:09
Now I'm embarrassed- not for myself or these writers, but for FortressAT.com. I don't even want to direct my own staff over here to participate given this reception from a couple of members.

We've got Tom Vasel popping his head in- not to talk about games, of course, but to get defensive about something and claim that I "get my hackles up and scream passive-aggressive" or whatever when I don't think I've ever actually done that before outside of criticizing his "Let's Donate to BGG!" comments in the thread on that site where my eternal banning was announced. And he's taken offense, for whatever reason, that I have a low opinion of video reviews. Yet I said nothing about The Dice Tower or anything he's done. In fact, I praised him for being so successful at what he does- I actually have a lot of respect for him in terms of marketing himself as a brand and becoming effectively the face of hobby gaming. That takes a lot of work and commitment as well as good business sense.

We've got members raging about "infomercials" on the front page WHEN EVERY SINGLE REVIEW YOU WILL EVER READ OF A GAME IS TO SOME DEGREE AN ADVERTISMENT. You know why companies give out free games for reviews? BECAUSE IT'S ADVERTISING.

You are damn straight, I am 100% advertising my work and my writers. We are affiliated with Miniaturemarket.com and there is 100% transparency there. You can go read these reviews free of charge and there is no obligation to sign up for anything, participate in anything or buy anything. It's a subsite at an e-retailer that houses content that I curate. And they actually pay their people instead of appealing to good will and "passion" for the hobby or whatever community. Because of this job, I have extra money each month to take care of my family. And I get fucking grief from a VOLUNTEER site that I have worked on, contributed to and promoted for getting up close to ten years.

And I get this "where were you when our writers needed promoting"...well, why the FUCK do you think I asked who I felt were our strongest writers to get on board with us? Aside from that, where is all the great feature-level F:AT writing from the past three years? There hasn't been much. But lately, F:AT has been going through a renewal and there has been some nice work on our front page. It's been a while since we had fresh content every day other than whatever me or Matt post. So I'm not sure what you're trying to get at there, Andy. Especially when I've been this site's biggest cheerleader since long before you joined up.

Surprise, there are great games writers outside of the tiny, backwater F:AT community. I specifically tasked Charlie with finding mostly UNKNOWN or LOW PROFILE writers that WOULDN'T be recognized by the people here or elsewhere. Fresh faces. Some of whom had no idea what F:AT is (or used to be). How terrible I am for promoting them as well as my own project that I've put a lot of time and effort into. How could I have ever expected the community I helped found to support me...

Pitiful.

The video versus written review discussion is useful at least, it is an aspect of the culture that gets tossed around but rarely seriously discussed. But it's also not the intent here. All I wanted to do was say "hey, I like what these guys are doing, maybe check them out if you're interested". That's it.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #206442 17 Jul 2015 13:21
Look at all these panties, all bunched up.

I like video AND written reviews. Although honestly as far as video goes, Tom is about the only one of them I can stand. He gets to the point.

I don't think Miniature Market is poaching any attention from this site. The people that come here don't come here for anything that is offered elsewhere, in my opinion. Nor are they confused on what the MM review corner is.

Lighten up, people.
Motorik's Avatar
Motorik replied the topic: #206444 17 Jul 2015 13:40
Please don't lighten up; I want this to evolve into a douchey, self-righteous "it's about ethics in game journalizm!!!111" Gamergate-style display of impotent opprobrium, so I can point and laugh at it.
Green Lantern's Avatar
Green Lantern replied the topic: #206445 17 Jul 2015 13:50
I'll admit I don't get all the fuss either and don't really care. I only come here for the chicks.
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #206446 17 Jul 2015 13:51
Written reviews of games implicitly invite a different level of engagement with the subject, both on the part of the reviewer and the reader. Video reviews or overviews as currently structured are much more about how a game presents itself, visually and mechanically, but these often don't get into the places where a game really "seasons" and sinks into a player's experience, where it takes hold in the context of other game experiences or genre expectations. You instead get an overview of the components, some rules explanations, a few turns of the game, and a general product assessment. Those videos that attempt to go deeper than this often become long unstructured rants, which can be informative but sometimes difficult to sit through. That's really where good writing and editing come into their own: in the more considered critique and sometimes broader cultural context of a game presented with a clarity and depth that seem to elude most if not all video content.