What happens, if during testing, we find out, the game is bad, and why it’s still worth to review?
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Board Game of English Magic was one of the most anticipated game of 2019 for me. I like the book, and I think the tv show was well-made too.
The game wasn’t even published yet, but I already decided that I want to buy it. Immersion is very important for me in every game, and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell seemed perfect for this.
When I opened the box, I was really impressed by its look. I was positively biased about the game. But, alas, from the beginning of the testing, I had a very strange feeling about the game. I felt, that for some of the mechanisms, some physical component is missing from the box.
Every game went the same way; quite early, in the first rounds it became obvious for us, that nobody would win. Not beacuse of our bad strategic decisions, or bad luck, but because the same glitch happened every time, rulewise.
Let me wonder off from the topic a little, to be more understandable at the end. I’m not a – let’s call it maybe – professional board game critic, just as the 90% of board game reviewers in the world. I self-trained myself, got some experience, and learnt from my own and other’s mistakes to become a reviewer. If I review a game, before, during and after testing, I watch other reviewer’s videos about the game, just as everbody else.
I have various reasons to do it. Naturally, I’m interested in other reviewer’s opinion, I want to take it into account without being influenced by it. It is also important to have my own style; you can review a game, which was already reviewed by others (obviously), but you have to do it in your own specific style. It is really interesting what other reviewers emphasize about a game. Maybe the same as me, maybe something different.
And the most important, from the perspective of this article; does anybody else recognized the things I did, be it good or bad.
Back to topic; I realized about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, that the Marseilles cards are broken. These cards control the strength growth of the fairy, the number of invitation and introduction cards you draw at the end of the turn, and the elements you can use for magic in this turn for free.
I really like games where you can use cards in more than one way (Great Western Trail, Among the Stars, Alubari: A Nice Cup of Tea, for instance). Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is not one of those games.
These Marseilles cards want to control more than one thing, and they fail. When I reached this point during testing, I fell into despair, and quickly watched all reviews of the game again. Did I misunderstood something? Does anybody else recognized it, mentioned it too?
Maybe I misread some rules, maybe we did something wrong? We continued testing, but the error happened over and over again. I rummaged the whole internet, looking for an answer. At last, the desingers confirmed my qualm; originally these three mechanisms (fairy power, card draw, elements) weren’t controlled by one card, but before publishing, it was changed by the publisher, to reduce the components in the game.
I was shocked, but relieved at the same time. I wasn’t wrong, I didn’t misunderstand anything. This answer gave birth to a new question; should I review this game, and if so, what shoud I say about it?
I know that is is trendy to be positive, supportive about everything. I also know, that if somebody says negative things about something, some people call them negative, dissatisfied, or God forbids, mean and evil.
I thought about the whole thing for two days. A the end, what helped me decide was a youestion for myself; as a board gamer, as a consumer, what do I expect from a review. And my own asnwer was: honesty. If a game is good, I will praise it, but if it’s bad, I have to tell it.
After that I made the episode, and this game got the worst score from me ever. Make no mistake, this is not the worst game out there, but the worst I reviewed.
But what’s the point in reviewing a bad game? Beside honesty being very important for me, I think that you have to hear about bad games too. In the last couple of years, more than a 1000 board games were published every year. We don’t have time to know all of them. It is physically impossible. Besides that, we for of missing out, if we don’t back the Kickstarter project, we won’t have a second chance. To make this situation a little better, board game reviewers have to tell you if a game is bad.
This is what I respect in Tom Vasel the most: he is honestly critical about board games (although sometimes excessively, and he can be wrong too).
This is our job as board game critics, and I really hope this is what all of you expect of us.