Just read a blog post I responded to in depth. Hopefully I actually responded to it, reading the blog certainly sparked me to write the following. But I am reposting it here on my own blog.
Here we go:
As we all go deeper into the hobby, we quickly find the world is filled with more games than we could possibly ever play. We play a tiny fraction of the games. We play good games, we play bad games. And then we will try to figure out the difference, because sometimes seemly good games aren't any fun and we start to wonder if the rest of the world is crazy or if its just us.
Reviewers spend all their time trying to figure out what makes a game good. Much like literature, or movies, you can spend a great deal of time clinically analyzing what is good only to find an example that breaks every rule you just made and is obviously good (maybe just to you) in ways you would never expect.
Board game designers take all of this creative analysis and use it to fuel the design of games. What they like, what they don't like, maybe what they think other people like/don't like. The kinds of things reviewers flail around about on the Internet, the designer I think pushes it inward into the creative process. So you don't see it, you just feel it when you play the game.
Indeed, for a board game designer, the search for what is good must be a tempest of insanity. Ideally, a designer wants only to make good games. Yet looking back on the games I like the most, I can't find a single designer who creates games I universally admire. Usually there is one game I really like, and the rest of their catalog I could take or leave.
So I think the truly good games these designers produce are about 66% intense effort on their part, and 33% blind luck that the games they make match up to whatever my brain wants a good game to be. How frustrating!
And this isn't some conscious, thinking part of my brain. Infuriatingly, Its a weird itchy lizard part in the back somewhere.
So reviewing is a process of answering a question which is ultimately unanswerable. And if it was answerable, it would probably only apply to myself. But again, by happy (or unhappy depending on how you value my opinion) coincidence my own internal turmoils match up to a small fraction of other people in the world.
And so I find the same with other reviewers I watch, read or listen to. Much of what they say actually applies only to themselves. Yet occasionally they can be a beacon to point me towards where I should be allocating my limited time and attention.
And yes, we should place admiration on the designers above reviewers. Because while the reviewer is shouting into his or her megaphone around the Internet, the designer is having the same struggle, hidden, silent, and using it to fuel his or her own creation.
I wonder if maybe one job of the reviewer/promoter is to talk more about the designers of the games. But then what exactly would we talk about? While a game has many interesting rules and components, designers are people, and this can be quite a challenge to talk about. Would we talk about a body of work?
It's much harder, but it definitely needs to be done.
This is something I will think about in my own writings in the future.