Review Pressures – fun versus review (Topic Discussion)
When you publish a review every week, there is a certain amount of pressure to frequently play games that are new to you. Even if you bear in mind that I sometimes re-review a game and that once a year I list my top 5 games as well as look back at the past 12 months, that still leaves around 50 games that I need to get to the table and play a few times. That’s a fair amount and risks taking the fun out of it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love playing board games and I am not particularly picky either. There is a wide range of mechanisms, settings, themes, player counts and game lengths that appeal to me. I probably enjoy competitive games more than cooperative ones, but only slightly. Basically, there are very few games that I would never play again and only a handful that don’t give me at least a minimum amount of enjoyment.
Balancing the Fun
However, there comes a point where something that is fun can become tedious and eventually even stressful. Even the most enjoyable activity can become problematic if you do it too often. Something that’s entertaining when done as a hobby may well turn into a chore when done as a job, at least after a certain amount of time. I am very lucky that I was able to convert working with computers back in the 80s from a hobby into a well-paid job. However, 40 years later, my steam is slowly running out.
Let’s return to board games though. I know there is nobody telling me that I have to release a new review every single week. It’s a pressure I put on myself. My blog is also not a job. What I do in the modern hobby game community is for fun. So I really shouldn’t complain about it – and that’s not what this article is about.
I just want to try and share with you my experience of the hobby from the angle of a reviewer. I want to illustrate how it can change things. Having a reviewer hat on is different to playing games without any expectations, neither from other people nor from yourself.
Bring Your Own Game
Most of the games I review are games that I bought myself or that friends brought to games night. That means they are likely to be fun. I try to avoid spending good money on something that I don’t expect to enjoy. Similarly, friends tend to buy games and bring them to games night only when they think the group will enjoy them. So, on the whole, playing games is still always fun, even when I have my notepad out to record my thoughts and the experience everyone was having.
The situation changes slightly when I play a game for the first time and don’t really enjoy it. I can decide not to play it again and therefore not review it. Yet, I also think about how many other games I have in the pipeline. As I said, it’s me putting pressure on myself to release a review every week, but it’s still pressure. So sometimes I decide that we need to play a game at least once more, ideally a few more times, even though we really didn’t like it.
Luckily, my games group tends to be open to that suggestion, especially if it’s one of them who bought the game. After all, first plays can sometimes be a bad experience, which gets much better in subsequent sessions. That willingness from my friends allows me to potentially review a game, even if it still is not enjoyable after several plays and after ensuring we played by the rules – or it means I can write about a game that takes a while to get used to, but is ultimately worth it.
I have also started to receive more review copies. As long as I am confident that I will get the game to the table, I’m more than happy to review it. The difference between games I or my friends bought and copies that a publisher sends me for free is that with review copies you basically promise to publish your article within a reasonable amount of time. That promise isn’t always explicit, but any half-decent reviewer will apply it implicitly.
So now the pressure is a bit different. Technically, it’s still me putting it on myself, because I agreed to write about the game, but there is now an expectation from a third party that I do so. Again, my games group is always very happy to play a game that I promise to review. If the game doesn’t hit the mark after the first play, they are often also very happy to play it again, because they know I need to write about it on the blog.
Yet, playing games that I was sent for review does change the experience slightly. There is always this uneasy feeling that nobody really wants to say anything negative. That’s especially true for games from a self-publisher who poured their heart and soul into it. So while most people are happy to openly share their thoughts on a game that one of us paid for, a game that was sent for free changes that attitude to some degree.
Don’t Lose the Fun
So my concern is that I sometimes lose the fun of playing games with friends and family. I should always appreciate spending time with people whose company I enjoy. Yet, when I have my reviewer’s hat on, I feel I don’t always do that. I also worry that I put unnecessary extra pressure on my friends to play lots of different games with me.
Sure, it’s always nice to have something new to try. That’s especially true when it’s the latest and maybe a not-yet-available game. When a publisher sends me an advance review copy, it feels very special. Being able to tell my friends and family that the game they’re playing isn’t generally available yet is amazing.
At the same time, playing the same game more than just a handful of times is also special. There are games we love and can’t get enough of. The thing is, playing a game for the 10th time doesn’t add much to my opinion of it. Also, once I have published my review, there is no benefit to the blog if I play the game again.
I have to make sure I never forget what our hobby is all about – having fun. Whether that’s alone, with friends or with family doesn’t matter. We are supposed to enjoy the experience of playing a game. It’s the emotions that they evoke and the stories they tell that are important. A last-minute victory after the most amazing turn is so very memorable, just like the feeling of frustration when your perfect strategy wasn’t as perfect as you thought.
It’s All About Balance
As I said at the beginning of the article, it’s all about balance. I think, on the whole, I have it right. I don’t feel there is too much pressure on me to release new reviews every week. I actually think that the schedule is one of the main reasons why this blog still exists. Without it, I would probably not really write much.
I also think that I don’t overwhelm my friends with new games that I must get to the table. I am lucky that they often bring games we haven’t played before that I can review. The blog doesn’t just feature the latest games, but I happily write about ones from many, many years ago. That flexibility is also important and helps reduce the pressure.
So, yes, I think it’s all fine and I have enough fun. It’s just sometimes good to remind yourself of where you’re at and where you don’t want to be. Let’s hope I can continue on this path and bring you more interesting articles and reviews.
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