Three days ago, Kurt Wiegel posted a Game Geeks review on Burning Empires (video review). Kurt is a very upbeat, positive guy who likes to say only good things in his game reviews. As far as anyone could remember, this was the first time one of his reviews was not really complimentary. Not that he was negative; he seemed more perplexed (and perhaps consternated by the prospect!) He kept saying “I just didn’t ‘get’ this game,” meaning, it’s not that it’s bad but that, as he also repeated, “it’s not for me.”
This ignited a long thread on RPG.net, still going on after 20 pages. That’s about the same result I got when I wrote a review of this game last summer. The BE fanboys just Will Not Quit. Apparently, this game is so finely crafted and inflexible that it is impossible to mess with its rules and setting, but the same people believe that gamers have infinite flexibility to adjust and conform to the game. If you don’t have fun with this game, it’s because you didn’t read it right; if you find it constricting and you can’t play anything but a narrow range of stories, it’s because you’re missing it’s brilliance. And saying “I don’t get it” and “it’s not for me” qualifies as a negative review.
Frankly, I think Kurt’s review was in fact a bit weak because he seemed to be holding back from explaining why this game was not his bag, as if he didn’t want to criticize. Trying to be conciliatory and handle the fanboys with kid gloves did not work at all, as can be readily seen from the on-going flack. I tell you, this sort of nonsense has me resolved to be more critical in my reviews, not less. The velvet gloves treatment does no one a favour; the reviewer still gets hammered by the fans, the fans are obviously not happy with less than perfect scores, and the reading public is just confused.
So to be clear, kids, we’re grading on the curve. If it’s average, it gets a 3; if it’s above average it gets a 4, if it’s a model for other games to strive for, it gets a 5. And if it’s below average, it gets a goddamn 2, end of discussion. I hope I don’t ever playtest anything deserving a 1!