Game Designer vs Game Reviewer Pt 2 – The Cons

Hi folks! This week is the second half of my look at Game Designer vs Game Reviewer (see my last blog for a recap if you missed it!) so I’ll just get straight into the cons of mixing these two elements of the table top industry.

  • A designer can sometimes view a game how THEY would have liked it to work or what the theme should convey. As such, there’s a risk a designer will approach a review with pre-conceived notions which, if not fulfilled, may colour the review itself. It isn’t healthy for a reviewer to have a ‘pre-opinion’ in any situation; a review should be done with an open mind and without agenda.
  • An extension of the first point, a designer can sometimes, in truth or as perceived by the review audience, come to a game with a mercantile agenda. A designer may want to produce a review purely as a means to promote their own projects or besmirch another that may sit in their same wheelhouse, for example a designer with a 4X space game giving a poor review to Eclipse. This in turn can be a rep-wrecker, rightly or wrongly, and in such a close-knit industry this may be the end of the designer’s career. Bit dramatic I know, but something to consider!
  • The perception that your opinion may be ‘less valid’ than a non-designer, simply by dint of being considered ‘arrogant’ for believing they know a game’s worth. This is a bit of a stretch I admit, and would probably only apply to new or obscure designers trying to tackle games from more established ones. However, reputation can count for a great deal, and the followers of say Bruno Faidutti or Antoine Bauza may not take kindly to ‘Hugh Man’ with a single design credit to his name giving Takenoko a rough treatment when writing their opinions online. “What do you know, you only made one game?” or “Your negative opinion is just sour grapes” may not be the best arguments, but people can be very passionate about what they love.
  • You may be burning bridges with a bad review. If you don’t like a game, and the designer/publisher hears about it, would they be as willing to talk to you about bringing your latest project to market? I wrote a review last year about a game I’d been asked to review following a successful Kickstarter campaign (sorry, I don’t want to name names, I know, I know, I’m a chicken, bwark bwark!), and needless to say I wasn’t a big fan. The game was fine, just not great. Anyways, I wrote it, published it and let them know it was up. Needless to say, I haven’t heard from them since, and I know for a fact they didn’t link the review on their website. I think I’ve effectively taken them out of the running as a contact for my next project, all because they didn’t like what I had to say about their game. It shouldn’t matter, but no-one likes to be told they have an ugly baby, and it’s their right to refuse your business on any grounds they choose.

Phew! The cons turned out to be longer than the pros. The take home message for those who skipped through (I promise it’s worth reading, honest!) is that if we lived in a perfect world where people could dissociate their feelings from the opinions of others, designers should have no negative repercussions from their review, provided they are balanced and written from a purely neutral perspective with no agenda. The reality is that feeling may get in the way, leading to rightly or wrongly perceived notions of arrogance and foul play from designers giving their opinions on games.

To me, designers should strive to always be open and frank about their thoughts. It’s no good giving a good review to establish a positive relationship with a publisher if that game is garbage; you’re hurting your reputation with non-designers and causing damage to industry as a whole. Equally, as a designer you don’t want to sabotage yourself by giving an honest opinion on a game only to find the publisher would be a perfect fit for your next project. The line that must be tread is very thin, between self-preservation and industry integrity.

  • Do you think designers can be reviewers, bearing all this in mind?
  • Are there any cons I missed in the list above?
  • Would the reviewers/designers amongst you be willing to give one up for the other?

As always, we’d love to hear from you! Contact me on twitter: @bluecatgames and send me your thoughts, or send us an email:

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Also massive thanks to everyone who contributed to these articles, I feel humbled by the response and time each of you gave and honoured by the help. Much appreciated folks!

From Twitter: @MFGCast, @funeral0polis, @Cephalofair, @TGIK_Games_CR, @Stephen_Avery, @dicehateme, @benny275, @phillier937, @KindFortress, @PolyhedronC, @HeavyCardboard @ginobrancazio

From Reddit: slow56k, Oreoshake, glencurio, TheTruthandtheAnswer, ElPrezAU

From BoardGameGeek: Paul DeStefano, GeekInsight, Mike Jones, TTDG, Take joy from your wins; take lessons from your losses, David Monteforte, Tony Go, Pete Lezecruz


  • Behrooz 'Bez' Shahriari

    Writing a negative review is always a risky proposition. Specially so for designer/reviewers, who have even more to lose if they turn off folk.

    I was kinda planning a series called ‘play, gift, destroy’ about whether I keep, give/sell a game or destroy it. It’s probably not a great idea as it’s a very negative thing (I was first inspired by some terrible games I want to get rid of, but feel the need to ‘say goodbye’ to somehow.) and it does very much invite a backlash towards my own games.

    I think maybe the key is simply to go in depth with your negative reviews. Positive reviews can be brief, but if you’re being negative, you better explain yourself.

    I personally don’t see any downside to the designers who choose to only publish positive reviews, although I guess that in itself could be seen as a question of authenticity.

    • Bevan

      Never even thought of that, length of article being affected by whether you’re giving a negative or positive review. I’ve gone back and looked at some of my earlier reviews and it looks to make sense (although I have far fewer negative ones!)
      Maybe I need to add a disclaimer that I was always taught ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’!

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