Shenanigans: Review Process

Shenanigans: The Musical has returned from its dormant state and is once again undergoing active development. The gameplay and art are now complete and we’re increasingly putting development time into the crowdfunding campaign that will breathe life into it. Today’s post is about the process of getting reviews for the game, that’ll help people decide whether it deserves to live!

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In case you’ve not come across crowdfunding before (skip to the next image if you know all of this) the idea is very simple: We post the game’s development so far in a public place and ask people if they’d be willing to pay to have the finished thing. Everyone takes a look and if they decide they like it then they pledge to support it. No money changes hands immediately, instead the campaign goes on for a fixed length of time. At the end of that time, if enough people have pledged for us to make the game their money is transferred to us and we have an obligation to make and deliver the game.

The beauty of this is that nobody stands to lose any money if there isn’t enough support for the game, your pledge is only collected if the game funds. The reason that we need to do things this way is that game factories typically require us to order a minimum number of games. If we spent £10,000 to deliver 1000 games then we can ask people for £10 for each game, but we need at least 1000 people to order it because if only one person does we still have to pay for the other 999 games. Crowdfunding lets us make sure that people actually want the game that we’re working on before it’s released and avoid potentially costly mistakes (which is particularly important since we’re a charity!) It’s great from your point of view too since we can offer the game much more cheaply than we could if we were having to throw in some extra mark up to cover the possibility that we might not get enough orders.

The danger to this process is that the game might be great, but nobody can *tell* that it’s great and so people don’t pledge to make it happen. That’s where reviewers come in, they take a look at all of the games out there asking for help and direct people’s attention to the ones that are truly special. Getting a lot of good reviews can really help a project and increase the odds of it being made. Getting those is a two step process (1) Make a game that’s any good and (2) Persuade reviewers that it’s worth their attention to check them out.

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The first step of getting reviewers to look at your game is finding reviewers. Fortunately most reviewers love to share their work and are doing everything they can to be noticed. Unfortunately all other reviewers are also doing this and you don’t want to throw a game at just any reviewer.

The ideal reviewer is one who (1) Is interested in the type of game that you’re making (2) Writes reviews for an audience interested in the type of game that you’re making (3) Writes fair and informative reviews and (4) Has a bit of panache (or style or x-factor) that makes their reviews stand apart. In this case it’s also critically important that they’re up for reviewing prototypes, as many aren’t interested in seeing anything less than a completed game.

Obtaining a list in the first place isn’t hard. You can google up a lot of board game reviewers. Alternatively you can search for board game reviews for a game that’s similar to yours (which has the advantage of showing reviewers who at least consider games in your genre). There are also a few opt-in lists of reviewers floating about, such as this one on James Mathe’s site. Once you’ve got a list, probably through an aggregate of these approaches, you can start the arduous process of cutting it down to the reviewers that you’d be most interested in looking at your game.

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Then begins the step of contacting them and asking them to have a look at your game. I’m still trying to find my feet here, I’ve read a number of articles on the subject, but there seems to be a certain amount of difference of opinion with regards to the ideal approach. I’ve been chatting about it a little on boardgamegeek too, in order to get a few more perspectives. Increasingly I don’t think that there’s a single right way to do this: Some people like images, others hate them, some value a personal touch while others prefer for you to get to the point. I’ll keep trying things with all of my different games, but at the end of the day there’s not a one-size fits all approach.

That being said there are some fairly vital things to make sure that you include. Obviously you should mention the key details of your game (Title, Player Count, Play Time, Age Range, Genre, Key themes and mechanics etc). Your relation to the game and what you’re looking for is also important, it’s surprising how easy it is to overlook mentioning that you’re offering a review copy and asking for a preview. It’s also important to be up front about the fact that the game is for a crowdfunding project – that’ll put some reviewers off but not nearly so much as failing to mention it and springing it on them at some point down the line. The best way to phrase all of this information and the order in which to bring things up likely varies based on the taste of individual reviewers though.

After that it’s a case of creating decent review copies with decent rules (decent here having a meaning of “easily comprehensible” rather than “wonders of graphic design”) and sending them out while – and this is very important – leaving reviewers plenty of time to get around to looking at the game and stewing their thoughts. Nobody likes to be rushed and if it’s at all possible to give more notice or more time it’s almost always desirable to do so.

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So hopefully that gives you some idea of where the project’s at and what we’re doing with it at the moment. Sorry that we’ve disappeared for so long and apologies in advance for the fact that we’ve got a bit of scheduled “empty time” coming up in a month or two to make sure that we’ve given everyone involved adequate time to develop their thoughts on the project :) In the meantime, the people’s projects blog should be back to weekly updates on our ongoing efforts to build a charity card game about truth, lies and musicals!

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