Review Embargos, Quality vs Price, and Other Tapestry-Inspired Topics

27 August 2019 | 39 Comments

I spent this past weekend at an out-of-town wedding in rural Virginia, which severely limited my internet access (though I was able to chime in on rare occasions when I was sitting next to the wi-fi hotspot). When I returned, I learned about some Tapestry-related conversations that I thought I might address all in one place. Let’s jump right in!

Review Embargos

For our last 7 product releases, we’ve implemented an embargo date for the advance copies we send to reviewers. The primary reason is that we do not want to rush reviewers–we want them to have ample time to play the game, evaluate it, and compose their thoughts so their reviews can best serve potential customers. Without an embargo date, reviewers can feel pressure to be the first to release their review.

The date I’ve chosen to end the embargo for all 7 of those products is the day that our direct preorder begins. I want someone to be able to watch a review, decide that they want the product, and instantly be able to order that product (there’s no risk of them forgetting). Our preorders last a few days–it’s not like there’s a race to watch/read reviews–and even if some people don’t discover the reviews until after the preorder, our games are constantly reprinted and are available from retailers worldwide.

Quality vs Price

Among its many components, Tapestry features 18 prepainted landmark miniatures. I knew this was a risk for several reasons (the aesthetic of a painted miniature is highly subjective, and it involves an increase in cost/price). However, Rom Brown’s sculpts inspired Tapestry’s design, and throughout the development process they continued to feel like an integral part of the experience of building a vibrant, colorful civilization.

Some have wondered if Tapestry’s price (which isn’t publicly information yet*) could have been a lot lower if we had used tiles or unpainted miniatures instead. For tiles, absolutely, the game would be cheaper, but the presentation would have been dramatically different.

For unpainted miniatures, though, the difference in MSRP would have been minimal. The MSRP I selected for Tapestry is artificially lower than what it should be based on a 5x multiplier on manufacturing costs (i.e., a game that costs $8 to make would have a $40 MSRP). So even though unpainted miniatures are cheaper to make, the actual difference in MSRP would only be approximately $10. 

Just like any component in any game, it’s the job of the publisher to decide if the increase in quality is worth the increase in price. I think a $10 increase in price for prepainted miniatures in Tapestry instead of monochromatic or grey miniatures is absolutely worth it. Plus, there will be plenty of places where you can purchase Tapestry for less than MSRP, including directly from Stonemaier Games from September 4-7.

*Why haven’t we revealed the Tapestry MSRP? Because we’re not selling it yet, and we don’t want anyone else selling it until we start to sell it ourselves.

Ratings

Recently, Rotten Tomatoes made the news when they announced that people would only be allowed to rate movies on their platform if you could prove that you’ve actually seen the movie. Makes sense, right? How can you indicate how much you like a movie if you haven’t actually seen it?

The most popular rating system for tabletop games is on BoardGameGeek. Anyone can rate any game on BGG at any time for any reason. The hope, obviously, is that people only rate games that they’ve played, but it doesn’t always work out that way. There’s an entire subculture on BGG of people who give unreleased games a 1 rating (out of 10) for a wide variety of reasons, as well as others who try to counteract those 1s by rating a game 10.

We’re not going to get into a debate about how this system works. You’re welcome to enter ratings as you wish. Rather, this is about how and when you choose to look at ratings on BGG or elsewhere (for any type of product).

Basically, the takeaway is that I recommend only looking at the ratings for any product after a critical mass of people have actually received it. I doubt that any of the 120+ people on BGG who have rated Tapestry have actually played it (particularly the final printed version), especially given the review embargo.

***

This post is reflective of my personal, subjective opinions based on my experiences producing and marketing games while trying to look after the best interests of our customers. I can’t claim to always achieve that goal, and sometimes I have to make choices that lead to a successful company so that we can continue to make stuff for our fans (otherwise the price for all of our games would be $1!).

If you also have some opinions to state as such, you’re welcome to do so in the comments. I’m also happy to answer your questions.

If you gain value from the 100 articles Jamey publishes on his blog each year, please consider championing this content!

39 Comments on “Review Embargos, Quality vs Price, and Other Tapestry-Inspired Topics

  1. It’s definitely annoying the pre-ratings on BGG, but sadly it seems to happen with all big games (and also with games that are post release, I still remember the weird ‘how dare a non-Euro get BGG #1’ sentiment resulting in a lot of 1 ratings for Twilight Struggle (and in turn 10 ratings for it, 1 ratings for the two other games that were contenders for #1 at the time – Agricola and Puerto Rico – and 10 ratings for those, there might have been a smaller contingent doing that back when Agricola first took the crown from Puerto Rico but it didn’t feel as noticeable as when started to look like it was going to rise to the number one spot, about 8 years after release and when a of any production quality acceptable outside of the wargame, and maybe heavy economic game, circuit (it has a board rather than a paper map you’re expected to put a piece of PVC you acquired elsewhere over the top of!).

    I’m just unsure what BGG could actually do about it – Most games don’t have a definitive release date, including yours. Some get released in , some have a pre-order process that filters out before the games street date, or are available at a convention prior to that date, some don’t really have a street date and just start going on sale as stores get their copies, and some get released in different territories in different years, making the question of ‘when did this game come out’ a weirdly complicated one. And beyond that it’s a symptom of a wider problem that’s mostly addressed via behind the scenes algorithms that’s meant to address both games with fewer ratings having less accurate ratings, positive or negative, and that of disputable reliability.

    And while I’d be very curious to see a site that does what metacritic, rotten tomatoes, and open critic’s main function is – aggregating review scores into an easy to read metric while linking to more specific opinions – for board games, but most board game reviewers don’t actually publicly rate games outside of BGG’s system! Rahdo explicitly doesn’t, just gives his final thoughts following a playthrough, and review aggregators that assign scores to reviews that don’t score games always feel… Dishonest… to me, while sites that try and assign non-numeric scores numeric value often feel weird. Should On Board Games traffic light system convert to 100/50/10? 100/50/0? 33/66/100? Is a 5 star system a simple 20/40/60/80/100? What about sites that use 1 star not as 1/5 but as the first rating that it would consider positive, as I’ve seen some outlets use for film reviews (typically with bomb and then 1/2/3/4/5 stars rather than 0 and then 1/2/3/4/5 stars)? Do you count Tom Vassel’s scores when he only states his scores after the review in his ‘week in reviews’ summary, rather than as part of the review, unless it gets the vague indication of getting a dice tower seal of approval/excellence (Which last time I heard were ‘anyone under the site’s umbrella gave it a 7/10/8.5/10 for the seal of approval/excellence), how on earth would you aggregate Dan King’s saxophone serenades, the only score system he seems to have? 100/0?

    Board game reviewers seem allergic to anything that makes sense to aggregate, while also only seeming to be interested in doing consumer facing reviews rather than more in depth critique of the themes and so forth that tends to start emerging as media get more established as an art form, even for older titles outside of occasional blog posts on blogs that don’t focus solely on reviews, and maybe the Ludology deep dives but they tend to be on the ‘why might this design decision have been the right or wrong one for this game’ – deep diving on the design and what we can take away from it as people interested in game design for whatever reason – rather than ‘what does this game as is say about the world at large, intentional from the deisgner or otherwise’ (often via various media lenses)
    .
    I definitely agree with you that it’s not worth looking at the ratings until pre-orders start getting played in a decent quantity, though.

        1. I am one of those people who always looks at the balance between user and critic reviews such as IMDB for movies or metacritic for console games. I will glance at the overall score but then read comments of the audience. I got upset on your behalf about the guys balancing out, but again… Won’t get into that, some people are dumb and have too much time in their hands!

          Can’t wait for this release, I agree the increase in price on miniatures won’t influence my decision to purchase and I like good components. Just checking the new Castles of Burgundy release and I prefer the original print but they missed a trick in not making better components for what is a great game… They really do enhance game play.

          PS: Glad Biddy all good, been following on Instagram!

      1. Hey Jamey, just pre ordered Tapestry. I the review embargo was great for exactly the reasons you’ve stated. Just wanted to check where the Australian orders ship from and which carrier?

          1. Thanks Jamey! Pumped to get it to the table!

            It’s a shame some of the more vocal members of the board game community seem to have somewhat targeted Stonemaier, but I’d take it as a sign of just how successful you are.

    1. Jamey,

      Akin to your reasoning for the embargo on reviewers, I appreciate that you took the time to respond to the deluge of threads, comments, and posts surrounding these very topics. Well-stated as always and look forward to September 4th.

      Cheers,
      Joe

      1. Thanks Joe! In this case, I actually didn’t even try to catch up on all the threads–there was too much to return to when I got back from the wedding. But I got the gist of them and consolidated my responses here. :)

    2. Thanks Jamey, I’m grateful for your reply to the many comments on these topics and I respect the choices you’ve made. Personally I’d prefer to have the opinions of the previewers to be released with their initial videos, especially since I’m considering preordering on the 4th. I’m looking forward to this game, it looks amazing 👍.

    3. i love the look of this game, and i want it so bad but damn! the price looks steep, i live in Australia and the only place ive seen so far has it at $160, thats a lot! gloomhaven was only like $120, i wish there was a version with unpainted miniatures, that drop in price may not be much to some people but to me $25 makes a difference, i wonder if there will be a version with tiles for those 16 special buildings, i know its not as striking but if i had the choice it would be no question.

  2. To be clear by “Review Embargo” you mean no one is allowed to publicly release a review until a date you set, correct? While I’m sure reviewers have a ton of respect for you, how do you enforce this? Is there a contract you have reviewers agree to?

    1. From what I’ve heard, Jamey asks for a non-binding agreement. It sounds friendly. And the reviewers could break that agreement. But I imagine if they did, they wouldn’t receive any more advanced copies in the future. I’d imagine reviewers would like to keep making meaningful reviews rather than Scoop everyone else by breaking the agreement.

  3. My favorite BGG ratings comment on Tapestry right now is this: “I wanted to rate this game pi so my rating would be irrational, just like everyone else.” :)

  4. Interesting article! Thanks.

    Wouldn’t it be awesome to send GeekMail messages to 10 random people- 5 who awarded Tapestry a “1” and 5 people who gave it a “10”? As the designer, you could ask them to justify their ratings because “you’re interested in their opinions”. I’m already laughing at the mental image of their faces :O haha

      1. Hi Jamey,

        For a long time I have appreciated your transparency. You created a brand that is trustworthy, consistent, and you make games that are fun to play.

        As I was reading your response, I fir the impression that you came up with these questions, and thought long and hard about your answers, before the game wad even close to being produced. I wish more people, in general-not just in board games, put the forethought and care into what they create.

        Thank you, Jamey, for caring. Run for office. You’d have my vote.

  5. $2 for painting 18 miniatures. A bit over 10 cents per miniature. I think a lot of people would have assumed that this process would cost a lot more. Honestly in a perfect world I think it would cost more than that. I know almost all board games (and most other products) are produced under the same conditions but this $ figure really jumped out at me.

    1. I would say the total MSRP increase between unpainted and painted was about $17 (price, not cost). So that’s the number to use in your calculations, not $10. The key point in my post is that I artificially decreased the MSRP a bit despite the higher cost of the painted minis.

  6. With the amount of data that is generated over the internet each day (2.5 quintillion bytes of data) and the insatiable appetite of people wanting to learn about the latest and greatest, you would have to be insane not to put some boundaries (i.e. embargos) on a product that has yet to hit the market.

    Jamey has demonstrated day in and day out in his Facebook posts, newsletters and blog what it takes to deliver a successful game to the masses. As far as I can tell this is of his own volition and this is exactly what makes Stonemaier games the cream of the crop.

    Here’s to a successful launch Jamey!

  7. I guess creating premium versions of games leads to “feels bad” type of situations, that I typically encounter on kickstarters I’ve missed out on.
    I get why people want games cheaper, but board gaming in itself is a luxurious hobby.

    But 10 bucks ain’t alot. Looking forward to Tapestry.

  8. A 2 hour game built to be as appealing to collectors as possible should have a higher price tag.

    What realm gets me is when games aren’t produced with quality and still remain higher priced than they should.

  9. Thanks for answering the questions!

    I for one am really happy they’re gonna be pre-painted. Especially as the price increase is not too high.

    As for the ratings system – what do you think about a system where you, as a publisher could have a “switch” that lets you turn ratings on or off? As in, until you turn ratings “on”, people couldn’t SPAM 1s and 10s for a game that they very likely haven’t even seen in person, let alone played?

  10. Good morning Mr Stegmaier,

    I am new in this hobby, I own 11 games only (one of them being Scythe, which, by the way, I consider a solid game with a very ingenious architecture) so take my comments as a very humble opinion. I expect the amount of work and energy required to create a board game to be considerable. I can’t even start to imagine how much is behind a board game in terms of time, study, creativity, testing, artwork, content, ect… With this in mind, I looked at your Review Embargos as a kind of reasonable shield in defence of all the people involved and the time spend and effort made. In my opinion, this effort should not be diminished by the reviewers’ time schedule and potential buyers deserve reviews emanating from a deep knowledge of the game.

    I would expect your Embargo to be taken positively by the respectable reviewers.

    Like many, I also rely on reviews to have a first understanding of a game but we are all different and we like things in different ways. So after buying a very highly rated game on the basis of so many good things said about it and not liking it as expected, I have learned my lesson. Reviews are welcome but my understanding of the game and my gut feelings are more welcome. In any case, I never take into account any rating in BGG which is not supported by a reasoned argument. Unfortunately, those ratings still affect the overall numbers, but there are things out of our control.

    With regards to the prepainted miniatures, it’s true that the aesthetic of an element is highly subjective but this can apply to everything in a board game (colours of the tiles, shape of the board, the smell of the plastic, if we really want to be picky). So the subjective factor is always a possibility, but from the perspective of a buyer, I would rather look at efficiency vs price. I had to spend a lot of time painting (badly and cheaply because I refuse to go down that expensive path of miniature painting) the hundreds of miniature bases from War Of The Ring just to make my life easier when setting up the game. I would have preferred to pay more and have that hassle spared. So efficiency would be another criteria I would like a producer to have in mind. I understand that the competition is harsh, and that is why is always admirable any effort to balance quality, price and efficiency in consideration of the amount of money the board games aficionados invest in this business. All the best :-)

  11. I have purchased prepainted miniature games and am amazed as to how they are still priced reasonably (assuming it’s not a “Premium” edition which I also have purchased and are priced somewhat higher). So, I like prepainted components, even the SunDrop option from another company. I have given a “10” rating (w/ comment as to why) after reading through other ratings with “1” ratings w/o any comment explaining their reasoning. Of course, I’m a middle child!!! ( – ;

  12. While I like to paint my own minis, the quality of the prepainted buildings in Tapestry looks really nice. So in my opinion, I think going with them was a great decision. :) The quality and presentation is what drew me to the games published by Stonemaier games and Tapestry looks like it is going to be another stunning addition to my collection. Is it wierd that I don’t really pay attention to the BGG rating scores, yet I try to rate everything I play anyway? I agree that it makes sense to look at those scores after more people actually have the games in hand. But for me personally, I find the comments link beneath the rating more interesting/informative. But even then, useful or helpful opinions there are usually sparse until a few weeks after a game’s release. It’s why I love prerelease gameplay videos.

  13. Since you started mention it i just make a side note.

    I see also alot of games wich still needs to come out and already getting 9’s and 10’s.
    Some also just based on a prototype.
    That seems not fair to me as well. But i don’t see publishers complain about that.
    They only complajn when they start seeing 1’s.

  14. I’m late to this discussion because I only just got the game. I think the pre-painted minis are great and worth the extra $10.

    However, I am pretty disappointed in the quality of the rest of the game, and wonder what others who have now gotten the game now think.

    Every cardboard component (except the cards) is thinner than I’d expect in a game this expensive. The player mats all warp very easily. The main board has trouble laying flat at the split because it’s thin enough to have been warped just shipping in that tight shrink-wrap I guess. I’m going to need to find something large and heavy to sit on everything for a couple days to see if that helps.

    I’ve had other games with player mats this thin that didn’t bend/warp like these, so I don’t know if it’s something with the paper, or that very cool texture on them, or what. But everything just feels cheap to me, sitting on the table with edges not quite sitting flush, etc.

    Everything else about the game – the design, the art, the printing quality, is beautiful. I just really wish all the cardboard was a little heavier to match the quality of the intangibles.

    1. Dan: We actually choose a premium form of player mat to avoid warping–based on the material and the frosting we chose, they really should not warp at all (and if they do, it’s easily solved by bending them the other way a little bit). As for the main game board, again we went with a premium cut for rounded corners; however, I have heard that a small percentage of those boards warp slightly. As for the cards, again we went with ivorycore (which a mid-tier cardboard, and the thickness is standard for nice games).

      I’m sorry certain components *feel* cheap to you–and I respect those feelings–but objectively everything you see in the game is standard for a game of this cost or nicer.

      1. The cards seem perfectly fine. I think the feel of the main board is off to me because I’ve been playing a lot of Charterstone lately. I compared the boards closely, and while they appear very close or the same thickness, the Tapestry board is demonstrably flimsier.

        It bends much more easily – to the point that it feels like I could fold it with one hand and little effort. The Charterstone board feels like it would take two hands and would break before folding.

        This isn’t to say the board feels “cheap”, just “cheap for the price”. Maybe the cost of the very nice rounded corners was the trade off? I do like the look of those, but would have been happier with a stiffer square cut if that was the choice.

        Regardless, just my 2cents! Played the game twice so far and enjoyed it :)

  15. I totally agree that its probably best to not rate or read the ratings for games until a game has been out for a little while. Although I would say that the earliest ratings for Tapestry on BGG were all 8 or higher if you actually look at them, so presenting it as people giving 1 ratings and others giving 10 ratings to offset them is a little odd. Any pre-release rating should be viewed with suspicion at best and casting it as 1 giving trolls and heroic balance loving 10 givers really doesn’t help anyone.

    As far as quality VS price goes, I do think this is something that Stonemaier games is king of, game mechanics and theme are a matter of taste in my opinion, but the quality of product is an objective fact and I’ll say that even when a Stonemaier game hasn’t been to my taste as a game I’ve always admired the sheer quality of the product. I’ve never felt the price has been unfair, and the product that there is has always been presented to give an excellent sense of value and quality. Charterstone was at the upper end of what I’m personally comfortable spending on a game, but as soon as I pulled out the chunky bag of metal coins and magnet catch internal box I felt in safe hands that even though half the content was obviously buried due to it being a legacy game I knew that I’d not wasted my money whatever else game up.

    The preview embargo is the one thing I find a little odd, not the embargo itself but it ending along with the pre-order opening so people won’t forget to order because the pre-order is ‘a few days’ long. Does this mean that between the first preview of the game and the game going on full release is only a few days? Do you have any worries that rather than fans ‘forgetting’ to order their game they’ll feel the time pressure to get on a pre-order system that might sell out and so not necessarily access the widest available range of reviewers prior to making the most informed choice possible, which might happen if the reviews came out even a few days prior to the pre-order system opening, when even the most committed fan would only be able to read a range of reviews?

    1. Glenn: We typically allow previews of the game well before the preorder date, just not reviews. Though for a more recent project, I allowed reviews a few weeks before the preorder date (there was still an embargo date for the reasons mentioned in this post, though).

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