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News Bits: 10/29/2012

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I had a great weekend of gaming (including first plays of the incredibly fun Space Alert). But enough of that. Now the NEWS.

MTV Geek Interviews Geoff Engelstein about Space Cadets
Continuing his preview of Space Cadets, Matt Morgan of MTV Geek interviewed Geoff Engelstein about his lighthearted cooperative game. I get more interested in this one the more I read about it.

Fantasy Flight Games Previews Merchant of Venus
After the dust has settled and the lawyers are counting their stacks of cash, Merchant of Venus is finally on its way to gamers. In true Fantasy Flight fashion, the previews are starting early, including PDFs of the rulebook (classic and upgraded). This game, like much of Fantasy Flight’s catalog, looks like a little much for me, but I’m sure it will find its fans.

Reviews in Review
Several reviews were released this week of games I’m interested in. You might be interested in these too:

Monopoly’s Anti-Monopolistic Roots
I found this article interesting, which talks about the history of Monopoly and it’s supposedly socialistic roots in The Landlord Game. I will allow any commentary on the article’s accuracy to discerning readers.

Kickstarters of Note
It looks like we’re back in the swing of a tabletop Kickstarter boom. Check out these projects:

  • The Keep: This is for a game storage system rather than a game. It doesn’t look like this one will make it–again. Still, if you want to contribute, you might be able to make this happen! Various buy-in levels.
  • The Official Settlers of Catan Gaming Board: This is an officially licensed Settlers of Catan tile-locking board. It seems great if you play Catan a lot. (I do not, so my tiles will just have to slip around.) $25.
  • Castle Dice: This dice-drafting worker placement game might interest you. It doesn’t interest me because I’ve played Quarriors. But I’m sure it’s better than that one. Still, it requires a hefty donation to secure your copy. $28 for the PDF, $65 for the published version.
  • Eight-Minute Empire: This appears to be a super short civilization building game from the designer of Empires of the Void and City of Iron. This game looks interesting, it’s already fully funded, and it has a cheap buy-in at $20.
  • Twin Tin Bots: The designer of Small World and Olympos (two games beloved of the Dragon) has a new game up on Kickstarter. I’m not sure it’s my cup of tea, but it might be yours. $55 (or $45, if you’re fast enough).
  • Small Box Games Trio: Small Box Games has three games sharing a Kickstarter campaign: Shadow of the Sun, Stone & Relic, and The Valkyrie Incident. The games look beautiful, the campaign is already funded, and Small Box is definitely a game company to support. $5 for a PDF, $23 for individual games.
  • Moongha Invaders: This was once a grail game by Martin Wallace; now it’s on Kickstarter. I suppose $60 is cheaper than the grail prices, but it’s too rich for my blood. Yes, that’s $60.
  • City Hall: This game looks interesting to me, and I’ve heard good things through Unpub and other sources. It’s a game of running for the office of mayor and all the backstabbery that that entails. $50.

Unrelated Awesomeness of the Week
I really need to retitle this section, as it’s usually just my short commentary on current gaming issues. So…neither unrelated nor awesome, but my two cents:

The big deal in the board gaming community on Twitter this week was the question, What does it mean to be a reviewer? (This was asked in relation to what many deemed as bad behavior on the part of a publisher.) In response, InD20’s Larry Fettinger filmed this video (disclosure: I didn’t watch the whole thing; 16 minutes on the topic of reviewing seems a bit excessive).

For my part, I think it’s easy in this discussion to pile on the publishers and say they should be hands-off in the matter. And indeed, I think the publisher has certain responsibilities in releasing copies of a game–for review or otherwise–into the wild. But the reviewer also has a number of responsibilities that we must keep in mind. First, honesty. (And this is the one that some have felt is under attack at the moment.) A dishonest or overly biased review benefits no one. Second, knowledgeability. A reviewer who doesn’t know much about the game isn’t offering a service to anyone. (This relates to the Boardroomers’ earlier discussion of how many times a reviewer should play a game.) I’m not offering a simple formula here of how many times a reviewer should play a game before offering a review, but I will say this: a negative opinion based on one play of a game is completely unacceptable. Whereas I don’t think it necessary to play a game 40 times (as some were advocating in the wake of the Few Acres of Snow incident), I do think that all avenues for charitably viewing a game should be exhausted before writing or filming a negative review. Why didn’t the reviewer enjoy it? Was it the group? The rules? The gameplay? Was the game not suited to individual taste? It’s fine if reviewers don’t like a game, but they should be able to articulate, in the clearest possible way, why not. And above all this, they should do so with charity and grace. Publishers and designers are people too. If the term “broken” must be used (I’m not so sure it must), reviewers should be absolutely sure before assigning it to a game. I’ve always said that rants and raves are the easiest reviews to write . They are also the least valuable (though often the most entertaining).

Now, what is the publisher’s recourse if a reviewer behaves badly? That’s a good question. I work for a book publisher, and it’s frustrating when a reviewer doesn’t seem to “get” what we’ve done, or worse, doesn’t seem to have read the book we sent before writing a review! But you know what? At the end of the day, there’s not much we can (or should) do. There will always be good and bad reviewers (which has nothing to do with whether they like/dislike a game). If a publisher is dissatisfied with a reviewer, vitriol (public or private) is not the appropriate response. Good games will rise to the top, despite a bad reviewer’s bad opinion. Like the Eurogames I love so much, I think indirect interaction is best. It is reviewers’ prerogative if they want to be irresponsible; it is the publisher’s prerogative to not provide review copies. But as long as a review is honest and reflects due diligence, a good or bad opinion should stand.

Of course, all of this assumes that reviewers matter, but as Drake of Drake’s Flames reminds us, they don’t.

I’ll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

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