I stumbled into doing boardgame reviews in a rather odd way. I responded to a post by Charlie Theel, who was looking to add written reviewers to Miniature Market's Review Corner. Having previously reviewed video games and anime for a variety of websites and print magazines, I thought I would give it a shot and sent a few samples. I received a response that they would be interested in having me write for the site and I would receive a modest sum for each review submitted. In my mind, I would just use whatever I received to fuel my boardgame addiction; a little less I would have to spend on games.
However, before my first review even ran, the Miniature Market gig imploded when MM decided to focus on video and podcast material. However, rising from the ashes was a request from MM Editor-in-Chief, Michael Barnes, to bring the talents of the writers at the Review Corner to the established site of Fortress Ameritrash and that it would be re-branded with a new name. This would become Therewillbe.games. The pay would be less than that of the Review Corner (a.k.a. It would be zero) but we would be writing for an established site with a passionate following. I jumped at the chance, I didn't have the time or desire to start a Wordpress site or podcast or whatever, but I loved the idea of writing with people I respected about the things that I love.
During my residency at Therewillbe.games, the subject of transparency has come up a number of times. Mostly, I didn't feel it applied to me. When I worked for videogame and anime magazines, every release we reviewed was supplied to us via the publisher. Being a physical magazine, we didn't waste the time or column space to state: “A review copy of this release was provided by the publisher.” It was a given, at least in my eyes. The thought that a free copy of a game was enough to sway my opinion was laughable, especially since every single game was provided by the publisher.
The boardgame industry is a bit different. I have requested review copies of games and been a) politely deflected or b) ignored. Once again, this has no effect on my reviews. If it is something that I think I will really enjoy, I'll go out and buy it. My review of a personal copy will likely run later and doesn't get “priority” in my “to be played” queue. When a publisher provides a review copy, it is a contract (at least in my eyes). If you value my opinion and my review skills enough to provide me with a copy of your game, I will make sure I get to it in a timely manner and give it priority over something I purchase myself.
In an effort to be transparent, I will be going back and adding the following line to reviews where the games were publisher provided: “A review copy of this release was provided by the publisher.” My question is: Do YOU think this is needed? Can you flip though my reviews and tell me “This one was provided by a publisher”? I certainly hope you CANNOT because a “free” copy of a game does not influence my review. A quick glance at my current reviews reveals:
The number of 5 star reviews of games that were provided by a publisher? Zero.
The number of 1 star reviews of games provided by a publisher? Zero.
The number of Top 5 Card Family Card games provided by a publisher? Zero.
The number of provided games on my “Best of 2018” list? One.
The number of great games I would not have been exposed to without a provided review copy? Dozens.
And, in response to other unasked questions:
I don't have a formal Top 10
I don't have a favorite designer
I have never taken a “Shelfie”
I own zero pieces of IKEA Furniture
I generally don't like co-ops
I always play a game more than once before reviewing it
I try to play the game at various player counts before review.
If I have a question about rules, I will e-mail the designer/publisher before writing the review.
I still constantly get, at least, one rule wrong
I don't put pictures “in line” with my review because it just feels like work. Sorry.
I've been paid to write for a handful of magazines and websites but I have never, ever received one cent from a game publisher, designer or anyone working on a game. I don't do paid reviews, previews, unboxing, whatever. If I receive a game, I'll review it. Good or bad, it will be my thoughts and they will be unaffected by whether or not I paid for a game. This is my contract with anyone who reads my reviews.