Seriously? (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

I have previously talked about how some games try and tackle a serious topic and treat it with the respect it deserves. Some games also go one step further and try and educate us about the topic as we play the game. My article “Sensitive Settings” tried to look at games that tackle plagues, wars, colonialism, genocide, executions, experimentation, extinctions, terrorism, abuse and death in a sensitive and meaningful way. In this article, I want to look at games that use a specific setting as a backdrop for a fun experience and that make no attempt at treating the serious issues in a serious way – and that setting is Nazi Germany. So, please bear this in mind when you decide if you want to continue reading this article or not.

One of the most popular themes seems to be Nazi Germany and in particular Hitler. I don’t want to name names, but I’m sure you can think of at least one game that has Hitler in the title. When you use World War II, Nazi Germany or specifically Hitler as the backdrop for your game and then proceed to make that game all about fun and laughter, then you’re clearly missing the point. Your game is making a joke of the atrocities that happened, the millions of people that were killed, the tens of thousands who fled their homes to try and get to safety in another country, that often didn’t welcome them with open arms, and then thousands of people who stayed behind and hid and lived every day in fear of being discovered and sent to a concentration camp.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with games trying to entertain us. After all, we call it “playing” games. Games are supposed to be fun – even though I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Games can also be educational or thought-provoking, but that’s a different discussion. Yet, trying to entertain people by making fun of atrocities and suffering is just wrong. There are many other topics that are much better suited for that – and that’s the part I don’t understand.

These games, that make fun of the horrible events that took place in Nazi Germany, are often really well put together, with clever mechanisms that create a memorable experience. It would be pretty easy to replace the setting with something else and end up with a game that can be genuinely entertaining. So there must be a reason why Hitler is chosen.

I do sometimes wonder whether Germany and the German people are often seen as funny, or something to be made fun of, at least in some English-speaking countries. Germans often struggle to pronounce the “th” sound correctly, often replacing it with “z”, which sounds funny. Hitler was also often caricatured in World War II propaganda in an effort to discredit him. So you end up with a sort of clown image of a mad German who tried to take over the world – and maybe that then leads to the idea that you can make a fun game out of it.

I struggle to see the logic in that, but maybe that’s one explanation.

It is, of course, also possible that Hitler is chosen as a topic, because it’s controversial and will attract a lot of attention. It could be a basic marketing ploy to get a lot of people talking about it, which will probably sell lots of copies of the game – and I have the feeling, that often works successfully. These games clearly got me writing about them, so there is obviously some truth in that theory.

At the end of the day though, I don’t know the actual motivations of the people behind these games. It could simply be naivety or a lack of understanding. All I can say for certain is that I completely disagree with these attempts of trivializing the horrible events, the persecution, torture and murder of millions of people, the aim to exterminate a whole people and the attempts to “cleanse” the German population. I don’t understand why these games didn’t choose another setting or topic, which would have been easy enough.

Before I finish this article, I would like to clarify a few things.

I am not against games that deal with wars in general or World War II specifically. I’m no expert, but I truly believe many war games are respectful of the events they try to emulate. At the very least, many don’t try and poke fun at the real historic setting they inhabit, even if many war games gloss over the amount of death and destruction that took place.

I’m also not against games that deal with difficult subject matters. I think it is possible to create games that deal with these subjects in a sensitive and respectful manner. I even think that games can teach us something about these events. In fact, there are a number of games available already that try to do this and I am planning to look at many of these more closely to understand why they work well or why maybe some don’t handle the subject matter properly.

Also, I don’t think that humour should not be used when it comes to tackling serious topics. I think there is a difference between making fun of something and using humour. For example, I think the film “Jojo Rabbit” uses humour really well. Humour is set against the terrible events that happened during World War II, and specifically the events that affected the protagonist directly, which creates this huge contrast that makes the terrible things seem a lot more terrible than they would have been viewed otherwise.

I appreciate that games with a backdrop of suffering, pain or even death will not be for everyone, but I do think that the games that deal with these settings in an appropriate manner do have a place in hour hobby. After all, our hobby is maturing and more and more games respect culture and ethnicity and don’t blindly appropriate them and more and more games try to be more representative and inclusive. So there is also room for games to try to tackle serious topics respectfully and sensitively – not just war, but a wide range of things that are often taboo in our lives.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Wind tunnel (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

Nobody likes a game with more rules than necessary. The more rules there are, the longer it takes to learn a game, especially if there are also a lot of edge cases or exceptions. Too many rules can lead to confusion and slow down the flow of a game and consequently increase playing time. In this article, I want to look at streamlining games and how it can affect the playing experience.

Let me continue with what a game feels like that has way too many rules. That usually means that two or more rules basically say the same thing and each variant might just deal with an edge case or exception. That will be confusing and ensure that players will refer to the rulebook many, many times as they play the game, which means playing time is noticeably increased due to the re-reading of the rules. So that’s definitely something that needs to be addressed or the game experience will be painful as the flow of the game and the immersion in the game’s world is constantly interrupted.

In fact, edge cases and exceptions should be removed completely, whenever possible. If something can’t be covered by a general rule, then it will mean players will either get stumped when they encounter an exception and will have to look it up in the rulebook or they may not even realize that there is an exception and fall back to what they believe is covered by a general rule. If edge cases are missed, players won’t be playing the game as it was intended and chances are, they will have a negative experience – even if sometimes, accidentally “house ruling” a game can lead to a better experience of course.

So, let’s assume the rules have already been optimized insofar that there is no duplication. However, there can still be way too many rules and by that I mean more rules than most people are likely to be able to remember. That rules complexity will usually make for a bad playing experience, because nobody is quite sure what they should do, which is made worse if players have multiple options on their turn. Games will feel like walking through treacle, except that treacle is at least sweet, while the playing experience will be bitter.

If the rules of a game can be streamlined and cut down to a manageable size, then playing the game will flow a lot better and therefore feel much nicer. If a game has only a handful of rules, then it will be easy to learn and remember. On your turn, you will know what you can and can’t do and chances are you will be able to formulate a strategy that will guide you through the game. Players will feel much more in control of the gameplay, as opposed to games with huge rules overheads that feel like they are playing you.

Saying that though, just because a game has very few rules doesn’t mean it’s not going to be complex, of course. Many games, that seem very simple at face value, turn out to be really thinky, because players have many options on their turn or they have to plan several steps ahead to be successful. Just think of something like draughts, which has very simple rules but will take a while to master and become good at. Go is, of course, another example of a game with relatively few rules but huge complexity that arises from the players’ choices.

Let me try and go full circle though, because sometimes it’s actually nice to play a game that isn’t fully streamlined and requires you to spend a good amount of time learning the rules before you can start playing. Even during the game your brain is not only occupied with deciding what to do on your turn but to some degree also remembering the rules. There is a fine line here between the relatively large number of rules making for an enjoyable experience and a game becoming really painful because the rulebook is more like a badly written novel.

There are more elements to all of this, of course. It’s not necessarily just the number of rules that will affect the players’ experience of the game. Clarity, just like duplication and edge cases, is very important – rules need to be well formulated so they are easily understood. The order in which rules are presented also matters and is probably one of the hardest things to achieve in rulebooks. Often it is clear which rules should come first, but not always – and making the right decision here can make the difference between a game that will never get played and one that will make your brain burn while you ask for more and just can’t stop playing it.

What do you think? Do you prefer games with very few rules or do you quite like reading a large rulebook? What games have you come across that have hardly any rules, but still create a deep and memorable game experience? What games do you think have just too many rules, so that you have house ruled them to make them easier and more fun to play? Please comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Out of memory (Topic Discussion)

Remembering things is not my strong point. Not because I’m getting a bit older now – I’m only in my 40s – but because I’m relying more heavily on technology to remember things for me. Online spreadsheets tell me what game to review next or what article to write. Oh, speaking of which, articles are made in advance and then scheduled in, along with all the related social media messages. So, no, I don’t need to remember much. Maybe that’s why I don’t like memory elements in games, but let me use this article to go into this in a little more depth.

So, I used to play Memory a lot when I was little and then again with our daughter when she was little or my nieces when they were young. Yes, I’m talking about the quintessential game with a memory element. Memory, if you don’t know it, is a game where a certain number of tiles are face down and you have to turn over two tiles at a time and if they match, you get them, but if they don’t, then you have to turn them facedown again. The game ends when all pairs have been found and whoever has the most, wins. It’s really simple, but gets harder, the older you get.

The thing is, I actually like the memory element in Memory. Of course, because without that, there would be no game. That’s obvious. However, there is another type of memory element in some modern board games. It’s when information is revealed, either to everyone or to only a select few players, and then it’s hidden again. Anyone who has a good memory will excel at these games, but I find those games often frustrating and annoying.

After all, if the information was available at some point in the game, then it makes more sense to me to keep it available. You could, in theory, write down the information as you play and use your notepad as an extension to your brain. Of course, that would be frowned upon – or maybe even completely banned. However, it often seems stupid to me why someone who is younger, more awake and/or generally better at remembering things should have an advantage here. It usually doesn’t add anything to the game for me.

All right. You could say that Memory does exactly what I just described. All information is hidden to start with, then some information is revealed and then hidden again. However, there are no other mechanisms in this game. If you allowed everyone to write down what the revealed tiles were and what position they were in, then it would become a game of pure luck. Whoever got to turn over the most pairs would win. So, yes, in Memory you do want the memory element.

What I’m talking about, are games that have plenty of depth and interest and where the memory element really isn’t necessary, but ends up being a very important, if not the decisive part of gameplay. You basically can’t win unless you can remember the information that is revealed.

That’s why I like games, such as Oath, where there is hidden information and when a player is allowed to peek at that information, they don’t have to remember it. At any point during the game, after they have already peeked at that information, they can look at it again as often as they like. So, yes, you probably want to try and remember the information, so you don’t have to keep looking at it again, which would get very annoying for other players, but if you can’t remember it, there is nothing stopping you from refreshing your memory. To me, that’s the perfect approach for the game and I would have hated it if the rules had told players that they had to remember the information they gleaned.

On the other hand, I do love the memory element in Dune. No, not the deck builder, but the tokens-on-a-map, make-pacts-that-you-will-definitely-break, back-stabbing-is-expected version that Gale Force Nine re-printed last year – or maybe it was the year before – I can’t remember now. Anyway, in Dune it’s so much fun when you desperately try and remember the single most important piece of information you gained three turns earlier, but have now forgotten because the battle on Arrakis is heating up and you need to stop the Guild from winning, but the Bene Gesserit, who had previously pledged their absolute loyalty to the cause, decide to slow-blade you instead.

In Dune, the memory element is crucial, but there isn’t a huge amount to remember. It is manageable – or would be, if there wasn’t so much else going on all the time. That’s what you get when you try and invade a planet that’s constantly changing.

I also enjoy the memory element in trick-taking games. I suppose, it’s not so much of a memory element or at least it’s relatively limited and the more you play a trick-taking game, the easier it is. Some people say it’s about card counting, but that’s not actually true. It’s much more about knowing what important cards are in the other players’ hands and then keeping an eye on them, ticking them off your list, that is the list that you’ve got in your brain, as they get played. Chances are, there are maybe half a dozen important cards that you need to keep an eye on. In some games, there could be a dozen cards you need to worry about, but as tricks are played that list gets heavily reduced, because when certain cards are played, many other cards that were previously important, are suddenly of no interest any longer.

So, I suppose, I don’t really hate the memory element in games as such. It’s much more about how heavily it is rated in the game when compared to other mechanisms, or how much there is to remember overall. If the balance is right, then memory elements in games can actually create extra excitement and only one way to victory out of many different options. If the balance is wrong, then you end up not having any chance of winning, unless you have a photographic memory.

What do you think about memory elements in games? Is your memory good? Do you like it if information has to be remembered? What games do you think do it well and what games get it wrong? Please share your experiences in the comments below. I’d love to hear what games you think use the memory element to great effect.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Superficial depth (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

I really enjoy writing reviews for board games, but maybe not quite as much as I enjoy writing my “Topic Discussion” articles, like this one. For some reason, reviews require a bit more effort from me and often don’t quite flow as easily as my thought pieces. In this article, I want to show you what goes into writing a board game review for the blog.

Let me start by saying that what I describe below is how I approach board game reviews. I’m not saying that this is how board game reviews should be made by everyone or that other people’s reviews are better or worse than mine. There are so many different ways of approaching reviews. A “first look” or “initial thoughts” piece has just as much use and value as an in-depth tear-down of a game’s design, mechanisms or a strategy guide. They will have different, but overlapping audiences and all try to help the reader (or viewer – or listener) understand what a game is like – and hopefully, help them decide if they want to play the game and maybe even buy it.

I never set out to review games on this blog. I’m more of a creative writer. So when I first started reviewing games, I found it quite hard. The reviews were more of a summary of the rules, some stats and maybe some quick thoughts about how I got on with the game. They were rather dry and mechanical. Sure, if you read any of them, you could probably work out if it’s the sort of game that you might like – or not. However, there was no real feeling in any of the reviews, no idea of the game experience.

Over time, that changed, of course. These days, I tend to talk about rules or mechanisms very little. The focus is on the experience. I like to mention components more often these days: chunky dice, thick cardboard, etc. I talk about laughter, frustration and other emotions. I talk about theme a lot more and the visual appeal overall, specifically illustrations and artwork. I tell you if a game makes your brain hurt or if it’s just a lot of quick, light fun. I even mention what others have told me about how they felt when playing the game.

Mechanisms still get mentioned, especially when they are new or add a twist to established mechanisms or if it’s a specific mechanism that directly evoked certain emotions or reactions in the players. I also still mention playing time, in particular if the game is very short or very long. Rules and rulebooks also still get talked about, but more from the angle of whether they’re easy to understand or unnecessarily complex.

I hope that people who read my reviews can identify with those emotions and decide if a game is for them. However, these days I expect readers of my reviews to also look at playthroughs or download a game’s rulebook, if they want to know more about how a game plays, from a mechanical perspective.

My reviews also often tend to be positive, which is because most of the games I have reviewed so far, are ones I bought myself. So, of course, if I bought a game, it’s because I was expecting to like it. That means, reviews have often been a foregone conclusion. However, that’s now changing. I’m being sent review copies a lot more nowadays, so it does now happen more often that my reviews aren’t as glowing as they may have been previously.

Saying that, even when I first started writing reviews, I would always point out if there was anything I didn’t like, didn’t understand or otherwise didn’t get on with – and that’s still true now. Irrespective of whether I paid for a game myself or was given a review copy, I will not hesitate to point anything out that’s not right – in my view. However, I will always say why it’s not right or why I don’t like something. It’s about constructive criticism and not about just dissing a game.

After all, just because I don’t like something, doesn’t mean someone else won’t like it. I might not like games that take more than 3 hours to play, but for other people, it might be the perfect length. However, rather than me saying that I didn’t like a game, I will explain that I didn’t like it, because it was too long for me. The reader can then decide if the game is for them.

In fact, I do think that’s an important point about reviews in general. A negative review isn’t a bad thing. As long as you know why a reviewer didn’t like something, you can work out how you feel about it. Sure, if your taste in games is similar to mine, then a negative review from me might put you off buying a game. However, I doubt your taste in games will actually be exactly like mine. So when I don’t like a game, you might still like it.

Anyway, I digress a little.

The other thing I make sure of is that I play a game enough times before I review it. It will depend on the game what “enough times” means, of course. Some games you only need to play a couple of times, others you need to play half a dozen times. In fact, some games you probably should play dozens of times, but there comes a point when I have played it enough to be pretty confident that I can talk about my experience with the game and review it.

The thing is, in reality, I should probably not only play a game several times, but also at different player counts. After all, many games do feel quite different when played solo, with two players, three players or more. Yet, I really can’t do that, at least not usually. Some of my reviews do specifically say what player count I played the games at, others aren’t quite so specific, but it’s hard to play games several times per player count. In fact, it’s impossible to do so.

You have to bear in mind, that I do have a day job – and that’s probably a really important point. If I was writing board game reviews professionally, I would have a lot more time to try out games in as many ways as possible and be able to write much more detailed reviews. They would probably be more like analyses of the games, than reviews, but you get the idea.

So, I do as much as I can to give a game a fair chance. That also means that I will contact the publisher, designer or whoever the relevant person is if I have questions or if something doesn’t seem right. After all, it is possible to misunderstand or misinterpret rules or make mistakes as you play a game. I’m sure we’ve all been there. It happens, so I do the best I can to play games as they are intended before reviewing them. I’d hate to write a review that’s based on a rules mistake – and that’s irrespective of whether the review turns out to be positive or negative. If it’s based on mistakes, it’s not good.

I hope this article has given you a rough idea of how I approach reviewing games. It’s a little behind-the-scenes look, which might help you see the blog in a slightly different light.

If you have any questions about my approach to reviews or anything else that I do, please feel free to get in touch. You can leave a comment below or contact me directly. I’d love to hear from you.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Divisions (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

The board game community continues to work towards inclusivity, representation and diversity, which is great to see, but of course, the road is rocky and we’re still a long way away from where we should be. It is important we continue to call out bad behaviour and it is great to see more people and companies are prepared to own up to their mistakes and genuinely try to do better. In this article, I want to look at a related question: whether it is better to look for commonalities or differences, not just in respect to calling out bad behaviour, but also more in general.

My starting point is that as a community, people in the board game hobby should encourage inclusivity. Everyone should be welcome, as long as they themselves are welcoming people, of course. We don’t want anyone who is trying to exclude others. So looking at what it is that we, as a group, have in common, what it is that we all share, seems to me to be very important.

Obviously, we all love board games. Sure, we don’t all like the same kind of games, but we all like to play games. In fact, it’s not just board games. It’s also card games, role-playing games and all the other games that are part of our hobby. I’ve still not found a good term that includes them all, other than maybe the word “games” on its own, and that’s why my blog has “Tabletop Games” in its name. I wanted to invite everyone who likes to play a game on a table to come to the blog. However, I do know games aren’t always played on a table, but on the floor, in your hand or maybe on your lap – and I do want all types of games, and gamers, whatever that term means, to feel welcome on the blog.

Anyway, I digress a little. The point is, what we have in common is that we like to play games. That’s a great thing that we share.

Many of us also enjoy the social aspect of playing games. It’s about sharing an experience with others. However, there are many solo players who are part of our community and part of our hobby. They must not feel excluded, but what I’m trying to say is that some of us have things in common, even if we don’t have that in common with everyone in our community.

So, commonalities can be wide-reaching or they can be restricted to smaller groups. However, ultimately they are things we share and that tie us together and make us feel part of a group.

The flip-side to this is, that anything that we share as a smaller group implies something that’s different between us and another group. Those differences can be a positive thing though. I might love resource management games that last one to two hours while others prefer dexterity games that last 15 minutes to half an hour. That’s what makes us different, but that’s also what makes this hobby so interesting. There are many different preferences and tastes in our community and there are many games that will meet those preferences and fulfil those tastes.

That is, until there isn’t a game that actually meets our expectations. I’m not talking about a game that we thought was going to be amazing, but turned out to be really disappointing. I’m talking about not seeing enough diversity represented in our hobby. Most games are aimed at white cis men. So, the differences in our community, the things that make us all unique, are not represented enough in the games we see in our hobby.

Of course, things are getting better. We’ve seen an increase in women designers and black designers recently and I do hope the trend continues and we see more gay designers, trans designers and so on, so that our hobby becomes really diverse. I also hope we see a larger diversity in the roles such as illustrators, game developers and publishers. Yet, this article isn’t about diversity, so I won’t go into this topic much more at this point.

However, I do want to illustrate that there are many differences and these differences are a good thing and we need to encourage more of them, as long as we can also find commonality in wanting to see those differences in our hobby and in being welcome to anyone and everyone.

The problem comes when differences are purely pointed out to sew the seeds of hostility and division. We don’t want to discuss whether we should have white or black designers, male or female. It’s not one against the other – it’s about us, all of us. Whenever I see discourse about “us and them” I shudder. The discussion should be about “all of us”.

Oh, and before you say it: no, I’m not saying “all lives matter.” Black lives matter – trans rights matter – these are hugely important and must not be forgotten. Positive discrimination is important to help address imbalances and try and move away from a status quo that’s purely based on a terrible history. However, as I said, that’s not the topic of this article.

My point is that sometimes two groups are pitted against each other, when they’re actually not on opposing sides. We sometimes don’t see that we’re actually going in the same direction, even if we’re coming from different starting points. I do feel that we should put more effort into finding where we can work together towards a common goal, even if we’re on different journeys and are aiming for slightly different targets – but chances are, that we can go some of the way side-by-side and help each other.

As I said at the beginning, we need to continue to call out bad behaviour. We can no longer just tolerate everything. I know I have to do better and I’m still learning. I will most likely make mistakes along the way and probably sometimes still turn a blind eye when I shouldn’t. However, I hope that I am on a similar journey to many of you and that together we can make our community an amazing place where everyone feels welcome and where all of us, however different we are to each other, can find a common goal: enjoying board games.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Paid preview (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

According to the online Cambridge Dictionary1, a preview is “an opportunity to see something such as a film or a collection of works of art before it is shown to the public, or a description of something such as a television programme before it is shown to the public.” It’s generally something you can attend, either virtually, in the case of watching a preview of a film online, or in person, by going to an early screening of a film in the cinema. Some previews are free, some you have to pay for and sometimes previews are only offered to a limited number of people. I want to look at the term “preview” in the context of board games and also investigate what a “paid preview” means in our hobby.

My immediate reaction to reading the dictionary definition of “preview” and comparing it to what we call “previews” in the board game hobby is that there is a difference between me watching a film before it’s being released or attending an art gallery before an exhibition is open to the public and me watching a YouTube video or reading a preview for a board game.

In the former, I am actively involved. In the case of a film, I get to see the whole film. In the case of an art exhibition, I can look at the pieces for as long as I like (within reason, of course) and take each piece in myself, seeing each one with my own eyes.

The latter relies on the creator of the video or the written piece to present everything to me. I can’t touch the components. I can’t play the game myself. It’s an indirect experience.

It’s also different to a board game preview event organised by a publisher or distributor, where people can touch the games, try them out, usually in the form of a demo, speak to the designers or other representatives there to ask questions and get a direct, first-person impression of what the games are like.

It seems as if the board game previews that we’ve become used to seeing are not actually proper previews. They are filtered, through the lens of another person. That in itself isn’t a problem, but the more board game preview videos you watch, the more you get the impression that the focus is on the positives and potential issues or problems are ignored. I understand that a preview isn’t a review, so there is no need to point out the pros and the cons, but because a board game preview doesn’t give me an opportunity to discover the problems and issues myself, it is necessary for the person creating the preview to do that for me.

Of course, even during a preview event that people can attend, the organiser will put the most positive spin on everything. They might not even allow some games to be inspected more closely. Demos of games may be limited to the parts of a game that are the most exciting. Yes, a preview event is often very much like a marketing event – and in the same way, many board game preview videos or articles are actually much more like promotions.

That case is even stronger when you think about paid previews – and in this context, I mean paid for by the publisher, distributor or someone directly linked to the project. Simply the fact that they are paid for means they are promotions – or adverts. Someone is paid to present the game in the best light. Even if the person previewing a game has the best intentions of being impartial and genuine in the way they represent everything, they’re still creating promotional material. Even if they criticize the game, the gameplay, components or whatever, because they’re getting paid to make the video or write the article, it’s still a promotion. Even if the payment did not come with any strings attached and the “previewer” was asked to be completely open and honest, it’s still an advert.

Of course, in different countries, the rules and regulations differ. So in some countries, you don’t have to specify if something is paid for, if it is a promotion or an advert. In other countries, you are required to say so. What classifies as an advert also differs between countries or jurisdictions. So it can get very messy.

However, I think it is important that previews that are paid for are always shown as such, irrespective of jurisdiction. In fact, I strongly believe they shouldn’t even be called previews, but adverts or promotions, especially if these videos or articles appear to be presented by a person in their own right. If a video appears on a publisher’s website or their YouTube channel, then I will immediately assume that this is a promotional piece – even if it doesn’t actually state that anywhere. However, if the same video appears on one of my favourite board game reviewer’s channels, I will assume it’s their honest, personal opinion. So it would be disingenuous to call the video a “preview”, when in fact it’s a “promotion” or an “advert”. As I say, I don’t even think calling it a “paid preview” is right if the video appears on a reviewer’s channel – and even if that reviewer genuinely presents their personal opinion.

I also don’t understand the problem with calling something a “promotion” or an “advert”. It’s as if these terms are dirty somehow or cheapening the work that’s been put into them. I often admire well-made adverts. Epic videos showing a board game in a cinematic style are amazing and should be celebrated. There are a number of YouTubers who do great work in that area and none of them should be afraid to call their videos “adverts”. It’s great if they get paid for the work they do and get paid what they deserve. In fact, that’s another issue that the board game industry still often gets accused of: expecting people to do work for free or only offering small remuneration.

So, maybe it’s time that we remove the apparent stigma of promotions and adverts and encourage people to call their work what they are. That way we also lift up those people who write reviews without any payment, like myself, whose work is done independently and not influenced by a publisher or distributor and whose opinions are genuine and honest.

What do you think of the use of the term “preview” in the board game hobby? How do you feel about “paid previews”? Do you believe the work that’s been paid for by a publisher is genuinely independent and not influenced in any way by the payment? Do you think the words “promotion” or “advert” are bad when applied to work that’s paid by a publisher or distributor? I’d love to hear what you have to think, so please leave your comments below.


  1. Definition of “preview” from the online Cambridge Dictionary:

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Emotional high (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

When you play board games, you usually don’t think about the wide variety of emotions that they can create. Playing, board games or otherwise, is mostly associated with fun. Yet, board games aren’t always fun, as we all know. They’re sometimes frustrating or disappointing. They can be calming. They can create anticipation and excitement. There can be tension, love, hate, surprise and much more. In this article, I want to look at some of the emotions that board games evoke for me.

If you know me, you’ll probably also know that there is one game that I have a real love-hate relationship with. That game is Scythe by Stonemaier Games. I feel a lot of love for the game, as well as anticipation, even before we start playing. I really look forward to it and can’t wait to start playing it. I’m excited about choosing a faction, setting everything up and finally being able to take my first few actions. However, as the game progresses, I start to get frustrated. What seemed like a great plan turns out to be a disaster in the end. I lose horribly and hate the game. Yes, I hate “the game” not the other players. It’s nothing personal – it’s all aimed at the game. However, after I’ve slept on it, my hate very quickly turns into love and anticipation again.

Already here are a number of emotions, one following right after the other. It’s a real rollercoaster and that’s probably why Scythe is a game that means so much to me. It’s one of probably only a handful of games that evokes so many emotions in such as relatively short timespan.

Other games evoke more temperate feelings in me. Mystic Vale by AEG is a game that makes me feel quite calm. I’ve played it such a lot now that it reminds me of the feeling I used to get from playing trick-taking games such as Skat or Doppelkopf. When you play a game enough, a lot of what you do is almost automatic. You don’t really have to think about it a lot. Maybe it’s similar to the feeling a good chess player has when following one of the many well-documented and highly analyzed openings. There isn’t much thinking going on. It’s muscle memory. Maybe it doesn’t give you a zen-like experience, but it’s pretty calming in my view.

For a chess player, that feeling changes of course as soon as they go off an opening and get into the meat of the game, so that’s where the comparison stops.

Next, I want to look at tension and excitement. I think most games create those moments when things are close. Maybe in a competitive game, the players’ scores are only a few points apart right at the end or in a cooperative game there are only two cards left in the deck that decides when the game ends and you’re so close to winning together. Everyone is on tenterhooks, because nobody can call it yet – but it won’t be long until the outcome will be revealed. It creates tension and excitement, which will eventually resolve into happiness or disappointment and possibly laughter and joy.

There are also moments during a game, especially a competitive game, when you secretly hope that the other players can’t work out what you have planned for your next turn and all you can do is watch and pray that nobody uses the worker placement space you so desperately need or that nobody cuts off the railway route that is your only option to complete your routes. It’s a very personal moment, but usually a very memorable moment, especially if your hope becomes reality and you can do what you had so desperately wanted to do.

Times of high tension will evoke the strongest emotions. It can be especially disappointing when something doesn’t work out or you can feel really elated when you got away with something and everything turns out just as you had planned.

Some games can also evoke feelings of unease or maybe even disgust. I always mention The Cost by Spielworxx and Stasi – Over and Out by DDR Museum when talking about games that raise moral questions and ask players to make decisions that will leave a bitter aftertaste. I completely understand that feelings of unease or disgust aren’t what we expect when we sit down to play a game, but I do think those types of games have a place in our hobby and are something I am seeking out at the moment.

Games can also create emotions indirectly. I think we all know the feeling when we introduce others to a game that we are really excited about, but we’re not sure how it will be received. We hope that at least some people will like it. We also hope that we can teach it well enough for people to get into it quickly and enjoy it. So when everyone really gets into the game and clearly enjoys it or even asks to play it again, you’re going to feel amazing.

Mind you, even thinking about what game you might want to play next or even buy next, working on a different strategy for a game you played the previous day, marvelling at the artwork of a game or the clever mechanisms or, in my case, writing about games, all evoke emotions – mostly of joy and excitement.

I think that’s one of the reasons why the board game hobby is so amazing. It’s not just the community, but it’s the games themselves, buying or swapping them, looking at them, playing them and everything else that is a great feeling.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Dying of exposure (Topic Discussion)

When you’re starting out as a freelancer, things can be tough. You haven’t got any clients yet, you probably also have no prior work to show to prospective customers, at least no professional prior work and you’re probably still working out a few things to make sure you can work effectively and efficiently. After all: time is money. At least that’s how it should be. In reality though, as a new freelancer, you will probably charge less than other, more established people in your field. You might even consider doing some work for free, so you can prove yourself to a new customer and also build a portfolio of work that is your track record for future jobs. That’s all fine, if that’s what you want to do. The problem comes when an industry expects you to work for free or for only very little financial reward or maybe for compensation in kind.

I’ve seen quite often where a big company has put out job offers to illustrators, videographers, writers or others for no pay. The compensation was said to be “exposure”. The idea is that it gives a newcomer the opportunity to prove themselves and it associates their work to a big name in the industry, thereby making it easier to get jobs in the future. It’s exactly what I said above: sometimes it might be worth working for free, if that’s really something you want to do or if it’s a project you’re really excited about.

However, there is a difference between a big company not offering payment for work and you offering your time for free.

If a company is successful in getting its work done for free, it sets a precedence for other companies. It can become a trend and will make it harder for others to get paid what they’re due. After all, if company A got their project completed with zero budget, then company B and C should try that too. It’ll reduce their costs, which allows them to either reduce the price of the final product, making it more affordable to the consumer and thus potentially increase the number of sales, or the companies keep the prices the same and increase their profit margin instead.

If a freelancer decides to work on a project for free, because they want to and not because they feel they have to, then that’s not quite so bad. However, it’s still an issue, because it also sets a precedent. It basically tells companies that they can get their work done for free, or at least for cheap, if they always hire people who are just starting out. I know the reality is that when you’re new to something you start on a smaller salary than someone who is an expert at something and has many years of experience. Yet, even if you’re an apprentice, you get paid something – a minimum wage of some sort – or at least that’s what you should get paid.

Ultimately though, what really irks me about all of this is the idea that “exposure” is a form of remuneration. Being known for something is great, of course. You’re more likely to be asked for more work, because people have seen another company trust you with their project. “Exposure” doesn’t pay your bills though. It doesn’t buy food. It’s not something that you can use to invest in new tools or training or other things that would further your skills and move you further along the path you’ve chosen as a freelancer.

The expectation that there is no need to pay anything and that “exposure” is enough is just wrong. It sets a bad example and will only drive down prices overall and most likely lead to a below par result. Of course, I’m not saying that doing work for free will always be bad, but you’re more likely to work harder if you get paid for the time you spend on something.

Now, I know what you’re going to say next. I make this blog for free. I write a review and a topic discussion article every single week. I record each article for the podcast. I also film and edit the odd unboxing video. About every month I record a 1 1/2 hour podcast and edit that too. All without getting paid anything for it.

Well, first of all, I do get paid a little. My amazing Patreon supporters help me pay for web hosting and some other bits, for example. I’ve also been paid via Ko-Fi before. So, there is some payment, but I know what you mean. I don’t get paid by the hour or by the word or anything like that.

However, I’m also not employed by anyone. I do all of this, because I enjoy it so much. It’s a hobby, even though I do approach it very much professionally. It also means that my reviews are independent, because I don’t get paid for them. Sure, I do get review copies sent to me for free, and I do say this on the review to clarify it, but that still leaves me independent. In fact, I do often send review copies onto someone else, so it’s not like I end up with a game afterwards. Also, many review copies are often more like prototypes, and when I do get a production copy of a game, I never sell it on, so I don’t profit from any of the games I receive.

Yes, you could argue that receiving review copies creates a certain level of dependence, because if I write a bad review, that company may not send me any more review copies. However, most of the games I review I paid for myself or are a friend’s copy. So it’s not like I’m reliant on companies sending me free copies of their games. I can, and still do, buy my own games to review.

Anyway, my point is that what I do for the blog is really just a hobby. Yes, I do have other commercial ventures outside of the blog and these I do approach with a commercial hat on, but when it comes to the blog, I’m happy to do the work for free. I’m not employed by anyone, not even by myself, so I don’t expect to get paid.

However, if I was ever offered a commercial job and told that there was no financial reward, but that the “exposure” I get from it would make up for it, I’d tell them to… well… to take their offer somewhere else.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Storytelling (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

We probably all have a favourite children’s story that we loved as a child or maybe a favourite book that we’ve read many times or a favourite film or TV show that we love watching and that takes us away from our day-to-day. In this article, I want to look at how games tell stories and how they draw us into their world.

The first type of games that come to mind are storytelling games, in particular, role-playing games. Here you literally have someone tell you a story – a real person who guides you and your fellow adventurers through this world and tells you what peril you face. You will have to come up with ways of dealing with the problems that are presented to you and verbalizing your ideas. The story is woven by everyone as a joint effort and you really feel in the middle of it all.

There are also storytelling games that rely on storybooks where you read certain sections and are presented with a number of different options that you can choose from to decide what you want to do next. These games can be a singular experience, very much akin to reading a book, but they can also be a group experience where the other players will help you make a choice and together you live through the story – and even in competitive storytelling games, the other players are immersed in what’s happening and maybe secretly hope you make the wrong choice. Either way, the story is set by the book and you, as the players, find a path through it all.

So far, I’ve talked about stories that will be new to you, unless you’ve played the game before, of course, but by using a well-known IP as their backdrop, games can also immerse you in a story, even if the story is already known to you, because you know the IP. Let’s say you’re playing Back to the Future: Dice Through Time, you probably know the films and thereby you know the story this game is telling you. At the same time though, you’re changing that story with your own actions and the decisions you make will retell the story in a different way. Maybe Biff will win and you never make it back to 1985.

Settings can also put you into a world you know, whose stories you’ve heard before or are at least aware of. You don’t have to play a Lord of the Rings game and you can still enjoy a world of hobbits, orcs and magic. The game’s story will be completely different, yet you recognise things and know what is expected of you, even if you’ve never read any of Tolkien‘s books. These settings have become bigger than the imagination they originally sprang from and are now part of our culture and they have taken on a life of their own. Of course, that’s not only true for fantasy games, but also science-fiction, crime and such. These tropes have become commonplace in the Western world and there are many more in different cultures as well.

There are also more literal stories told by history-based games. War games are a huge genre and the battles they try to emulate are real-life events that we can read about and learn from. Those games usually only tell a fraction of the real story, but they do still tell a story of some sort. The suffering and terrible events that took place in these battles are usually glossed over and the focus is much more on strategy and tactics, but you can often still get an understanding of what happened and get a sense of the scale of those historic events.

There are also games set against a historic background that aren’t war games, of course. I’m thinking about games such as Brass: Birmingham or The Cost. All of these types of games tell stories, some of them using the time period as a setting for an economic game while others try and tell you about some serious events that happened and help you get a better understanding of them.

I also think abstract games can tell stories. Yes, even a game like Splendor, which has a very vague setting. You can talk about how you’re purchasing mines to dig for gems, how you improve the infrastructure to deliver those gems to craftspeople who will refine the raw gems into expensive works of art. In On the Underground, the game tries to show you how the tube network was built, but of course, when you actually play, you end up with routes that are all over the place and randomly zig-zag through the tunnels to get the most points. The resulting story feels rather funny, but it’s a sort of story nevertheless.

Finally, the players themselves will also always tell a story through the choices they make or the decisions they take. Pulling off amazing combos, getting away with a risky strategy or just having pure luck are all things that tell a story. Sometimes players intentionally leave a game’s setting behind and create a completely new story as they play. We can be creative in games and bend the world into the shape we want it to be, so that we end up with the experience we want.

There are probably many more ways in which games tell stories and I’d love to hear your thoughts. What other ways do games use to tell stories? What games have you played that told an amazing story? How do the people you play with tell stories in games? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (

Games nights (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

Our weekly games night has been running for many, many years now and even though the day of the week has changed over the years and we’ve had one person leave while another one joined, at its core, it’s become something of an institution. It’s something I always look forward to, because it’s time I can spend with friends, talking about what they have been up to and immersing myself in the game, or games, we play that evening. It’s a way for me to get away from the day-to-day and allow my mind to focus on something else for a while.

To me, it’s not much different to other social activities with friends, like going to the pub, the cinema or spending an afternoon at the seaside or the park. The benefit of games night is that we’re sort of doing all of the above at once, except maybe for going to the seaside or a park, that is. We get time to share what’s going on in our lives and let off some steam. We may have an alcoholic drink or two, if we feel like it, even though that’s rare these days – it’s mostly soft drinks, tea or coffee, to be honest. We play a game or two that occupies our minds in some way and can take us into another world. At the end of the day, it’s a way of relaxing and everything that comes with it.

Games night is more than just a habit. It has become almost like a comfort blanket and in a way, like a child’s comforter or favourite toy is the most precious thing in their lives, games night is very important to me in my life. Sure, I can do without it, but knowing that every week I’ll be catching up with friends and that we’ll be playing games together, is a good feeling.

Playing games is more than just a hobby. It’s time when I tend to the relationships with my friends and time to salve the soul. Playing games with my wife and daughter is even more special for the same reasons. At the end of the day, it’s about bringing people together, enjoy each other’s company and find out more about everyone, while at the same time giving you a way to escape and recharge.

Our games nights have always been in-person events, of course, but when we were no longer able to meet, I knew I had to find a way of continuing our meet-ups. So we went online, like many other people did. We used voice chat and online gaming platforms to continue our weekly get together and even though it’s not the same as seeing each other face to face and being able to physically touch and move components, it was close enough. Ultimately, it was about continuing what we had been doing for years and not losing touch and carrying on with having time set aside where we could just be ourselves and have fun together.

Going online wasn’t for everyone, which is completely understandable. Many of us work in front of a screen all day, so spending more screen time in the evening isn’t great. It was to be expected and something I was worried about, but luckily most of the group was happy to make the switch and meet virtually.

So we continued to play games every week and we even had a new member join the group, who lives far away and wouldn’t have otherwise been able to take part. It shows that modern technologies have their pros and cons. So the group continued and by having someone else join, we started to play games they knew and we hadn’t played before. It felt refreshing to play games that our original games group probably wouldn’t have tried and allowed us to try out something new.

In fact, many online gaming platforms are free, opening up your choices. Suddenly you have so many more games at your disposal that you otherwise probably wouldn’t have given a moment’s thought. That came later though.

When we first went online, we tried to find the games we used to play in physical form in a digital format. That wasn’t always easy and some online platforms are better than others. Some games we struggled through, just because we loved them so much, even though it was painful taking your turn online, when it was so much easier in real life. Other games were a lot easier to play online, because the setup was done for you and you didn’t have to put things away afterwards. Housekeeping was also taken care of, so no need for calculators or remembering what to do at the end of each round to refresh resource pools, etc.

Then we learned what platforms worked for what types of games and started to discover that we now had more choice than before, if we selected carefully. So, as I mentioned earlier, we did start to play new games that we didn’t know of. It felt like we were onto a good thing here.

Online games nights do have their benefits. There is no travel time, because we just start up our laptops and log in. Nobody needs to play the host and keep everyone’s drinks topped up and supply snacks. There is also no setup beforehand and clearing up afterwards.

Online games nights do lack a fair few things though. Being able to see the other person as they talk to you about what they’ve been doing or seeing them think about their turn and maybe being able to gauge what they’re planning. There are no physical components that you can touch and move around on a board. There is no such thing as table presence either, no wow moments when a game is set up on the table and just looks amazing.

So, yes, I do miss in-person games nights, but at the moment I’m not comfortable to meet up – at least not yet. It’s something to look forward to and between us we have probably about a dozen games that we’re yet to play, that is either because they’re not available online or because we’ve played them online but not in physical form yet. It’ll take us many months to catch up on those and there are a few I have a particular hankering for.

Until then, the weekly online games night works well enough and will keep us going for some time to come.

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (