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Modern Board Game Journalism

September 19, 2012

In recent years, the board game industry has seen some massive growth; the popularity and number of board games in the United States is greater than ever before. It can be quite a task to stay informed on new releases and to gauge the quality of a game before buying it. Fortunately, board game journalists help hobbyists navigate a veritable sea of cardboard and dice, and their work continues to expand. Through articles, reviews, and podcasts, board game journalism is a powerful ally to the hobby: informing us, helping to drive the industry, and bringing us together.

“I played Warmachine and only Warmachine and if it wasn’t Warmachine I didn’t really know about it. I really was missing out on a lot of what was going on in the gaming world around me,” Jason Koepp of Table Top Gaming News expresses a common sentiment; the world of games is larger and more wonderful than we can imagine. His personal mission is to help bring certain games to light that, “most people would find interesting, if they only knew that the things existed.”

Even the most dedicated hobbyist can find the sheer number of available titles quite daunting. According to a quick search of Board Game Geek, there were roughly 800 games published just last year; a staggering statistic to be sure. Board game journalists manage information on these games to help people make purchasing decisions and discover the latest and greatest games. “I want people to come to our webpage and find out about as many board games as possible,” says Tom Vasel. His site, The Dice Tower, is one of the most prolific in the industry, “Board Game Journalism has changed because there is so much information readily available,” Vasel continues. To handle the work load, Tom and others have formed The Dice Tower Network: a network that loosely organizes over a dozen podcast groups to give better coverage on games. Other networks, like the Table Top Gaming Network and Game Salute’s news network, use a similar approach to collecting news and generating reviews.

Reviews can be invaluable these days, particularly with the massive influx Kickstarter projects. Crowd funding websites, a hot topic in games this year, have helped put many great games on the market, but they carry a slightly greater risk for consumers. Many “kickstarted” games are published by individuals or small groups, and don’t have the track record of quality that comes from a proven publisher. For every great game there is also a flop, hobbyists turn to articles and reviews to distinguish between the two. Every journalist I interviewed mentioned that Kickstarter has become a frequent subject on their site. “Honestly, we’ve struggled with that. At times, we had to make a conscious effort not to become exclusively about Kickstarter,” says David A. Miller of Purple Pawn, whose site tries to maintain a broader approach to the industry than most, “But I think we’ve settled down to the point where we cover Kickstarter projects just like we’d preview other interesting game projects in development, or we cover them because they present an interesting business story”

The relationship between Kickstarter and board game journalists goes both ways. According to Tom Vasel.  “Board Game Journalism is a driving force in Kickstarter”  Jason of Tabletop Gaming Network echoes that sentiment,  “I feel places like TGN are a vital part of why a funding campaign can make their goals. . . We can show a new game or expansion or whatever at its earliest to the public. The deals that come out of those campaigns, usually through stretch goals, are big draws.”

Many Kickstarter projects offer some of the best value in the industry, but many projects get overlooked.  “I’m still amazed at the number of kick starter campaigns that start advertising halfway into their run,” Says Tom Vasel and, like David Miller he commented that Kickstarter is just a part of the industry and many of the best games out there are still coming from traditional publishers. It’s certainly a balancing act, especially as Kickstarter settles into an industry role.

“I’m hesitant to make any call with Kickstarter, it is pretty impressive what they’ve done so far,” Says Vasel.

More than ever before, hobbyists can access and share information. Whether it is in helping each other make informed game choices, or supporting indie designers through kick starter. Jason commented “Even someone living in a small town in the middle of nowhere—as I used to—can feel connected to other gamers and discuss the hobby they love.” Board Game Journalism plays a huge part in connecting hobbyists, but journalists must also pay mind to “Educating the larger community about the central role and value of games,” says David A. Miller. The community of people playing games will, like the number of available games, continue to increase in the years to come. Miller continues,

“While there are some exciting things going on in the hobby game space, games play an important role in human society and we’d like everyone, gamer and non-gamer alike to recognize that.”

Having heard from these board game journalists, I am particularly impressed by their dedication and their knowledge. Journalism is a huge part of this industry, and an invaluable asset to players and designers. If you’re looking for a new game or just want to learn more about what’s available, I highly recommend looking at these fantastic news sites.

~Links~

Tom Vasel : The Dice Tower : The Dice Tower Network

Jason Koepp: Tabletop Gaming News

David A. Miller: Purple Pawn

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