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Third-Party Reviews

I ordered review copies this week, and I will be reaching out to reviewers over the weekend to have reviews available when the campaign launches.

Countdown: 38 Days. Since returning from Gen Con on Monday, my focus with Lanterns has been on review copies. I placed an order for over 20 review copies from Andrew Tullsen at Print & Play Productions (I’ll write up more about working with Andrew for prototypes and review copies soon), and I will be reaching out to reviewers over the weekend.

Having third-party reviews available when a Kickstarter campaign launches is extremely important — more important than I realized with our Relic Expedition campaign. Third-party reviews for a Kickstarter campaign serve two main purposes:

  1. Reviews raise awareness of your campaign. Some people who see a review will not have heard of your campaign yet, and seeing the review will let them know about the campaign.
  2. Reviews give potential backers confidence in backing. People will find out about your campaign through multiple channels — browsing Kickstarter directly, from an advertisement link, from a social media share, etc. — and third-party reviews give people an unbiased perspective to help them make a decision about whether or not to back the project.

When I launched the campaign for Relic Expedition, I primarily saw reviewers as a way to send more traffic to my campaign page. (I completely underestimated the importance of #2.) I launched the campaign without any third-party reviews available for the game. I did have feedback I had gathered from playtesters and I had mailed out a handful of prototype copies that would eventually lead to reviews, but nothing was published from a third-party reviewer at launch. (Because I primarily saw reviewers as a way to send more traffic to my campaign page, I didn’t think it mattered if they sent traffic on Day 1 or on Day 20.) Our review copies for Relic Expedition were expensive and time-consuming to produce, so we didn’t have many of them. I was very concerned about the size of a reviewer’s audience: because I primarily saw reviewers as a way to send more traffic to my campaign page, I only wanted to send my precious few copies to reviewers that I thought would send a lot of traffic my way.

In the first few days of the campaign, a potential backer sent me a message asking if any of my playtesters would be willing to post their comments to BGG. I realized that this person really liked the look of the game but wanted the feedback validated by a third-party source; they just weren’t quite willing to take my word for it that the game was great. I don’t know how this potential backer discovered the campaign; I know it was not through a review, and I know that a few third-party reviews would have gone a long way to give this potential backer the confidence they needed to back my project.

I suspect a lot of people in a similar situation simply clicked the “Remind me” button to get the 48-hour reminder email. There are probably a lot of reasons why people choose to click that instead of backing the project, but I think one main reason people did that with Relic Expedition was because the campaign page wasn’t compelling enough without the third-party reviews. I think plenty of people had found the campaign but wanted more confidence that the game was good before they backed it. We had a big influx of backers at the end (see chart below), and I think a big chunk of that came from people who found the campaign more compelling with the reviews.

Daily Backers for Relic Expedition (

Daily backers for Relic Expedition (

As a project creator, I would have much rather had those potential backers back at the beginning instead of waiting until the end. I think having those third-party reviews available at launch would have made the campaign page more compelling from the outset and would have given many of them the confidence they needed to back it then.

So where did we get our reviews for Relic Expedition? In the first few days of the campaign, I had four reviewers contact me about getting review copies. I was working on an order to get a few more, but I wouldn’t have any to send out for a few weeks. One of the reviewers asked about a print-and-play. I couldn’t imagine a reviewer printing and cutting out 100+ hexagons and 100+ circles, so I didn’t have one ready. I worked feverishly that first week (when I should have been doing other things for the campaign) putting a print-and-play together. Three of the reviewers actually print-and-played the game and reviewed it. (I sent a review copy to the fourth one a few weeks later.) I am so grateful to those reviewers for doing that; I don’t know if the campaign would have funded without those reviews.

Towards the end of the campaign, the review copies I had mailed out all resulted in reviews. I saw some bump in backers when they went live, but nowhere near what I had hoped. (Some of other marketing efforts were more effective in increasing backers.) I realize now that third-party reviews are much more important for giving potential backers confidence (#2 above) than in raising awareness of the campaign (#1 above).

This Post Has 15 Comments
  1. One more thing I should note: I don’t think it’s bad to have reviewers post their reviews before the campaign launches. With Relic Expedition, I was actually afraid of that happening and waited too long before sending out review copies. (Since I had overestimated the value of #1, I didn’t want anyone to publish a review before our campaign launched and then have people who saw that review not have a way to back the project!) I think this was a huge mistake. I still think it would be best to have a number of reviews go live in the opening days of the campaign to send potential backers to the campaign, but I would rather a lot of them go live a little *before* launch day instead of *after* launch day. I’ll be asking reviewers to link to [], which redirects to a preview of the campaign and has a way for people to sign up for the reminder email.

  2. What a helpful article thank you. I’m surprised you achieved reviews from print and play versions. Can you delve into that a little more? Do you think there is threshold of time and or cost of P&P to be aware of for reviwers? I also presume you want a high quality P&P version for reviewers too?

    1. I was also surprised that three reviewers were willing to print and play Relic Expedition. (I didn’t even have a PnP available when the campaign launched because I thought it would be too much work for anyone to cut out 100+ hexagons and 100+ circles!) Review sites like this need games to review; the smaller/younger the site, the harder time they might have getting games. In our case, Relic Expedition looked just interesting enough (because of the cool animal meeples) and these review sites were just small enough that it made sense. But I know for a fact that these same sites today (1.5 years later) are in a different situation and would not be willing to PnP a review copy. I should have had review copies that I could send these reviewers, and I will have spare review copies on hand for Lanterns when I launch that campaign. But I will also have a PnP available for potential backers to download and try out the game. (I’ll write a post about that shortly.)

      Should a PnP have all the artwork from the final game? That’s a good question. The Lanterns PnP will not; it will have simple abstract artwork with solid colors instead of the gorgeous floating lantern tiles. There’s a few reasons for that:

      1. You’d have to have a really good printer for the artwork to work, and my home printer prints out the tiles as a big muddy mess.
      2. With solid colors, players can use Ticket to Ride train cards instead of the lantern cards if they own that game. That makes the PnP 4 pages instead of 8 pages with a lot less cutting.
      3. The final artwork costs us money to have done, and we aren’t willing to give that away for free. It’s pretty common to give a prototype PnP away for free but charge for a full artwork PnP.

      Players will not get the full experience with this prototype because the artwork is an important aspect of the game, but potential backers will be able to get a feel for the game play to know if it’s something they want to buy or not.

  3. I realize that Kickstarter supporters have different standards than the world at large, but this whole pre-review thing puzzles me.

    As I tweeted a couple days ago: As Kickstarter for games becomes more competitive, I see more and more “paid reviews”. Why would ANYONE believe ANYthing in a paid review?

    And since we don’t know whether reviews are paid or not (a problem in video games for sure), why would we believe any review-before-publication?

    1. @lewpuls,

      Some great questions! The board game space is a lot smaller than the video game space, and I think that makes a big difference into how the culture of reviewers and publishers has developed.

      Here are some thoughts:

      * I don’t plan to pay any reviewers to do a preview or a review.
      * Most reviewers in board games do not do paid reviews. (Some require a published copy of the reviewed game, but that doesn’t feel like payment to me. That only really happens with a crowdfunding campaign; with a published game, you’d have to send them the game in order to review.)
      * The reviewers I’ve seen who do paid previews are very explicit that they are paid previews.
      * Reviewers have a reputation to uphold. If their audience stop trusting them, they will lose that audience. I don’t think there’s enough money in board game publishing or board game reviewing to give anyone any reason to take money secretly to give a positive review for a product that they did not actually really enjoy.)

      What do you think?

  4. “As a project creator, I would have much rather had those potential backers back at the beginning instead of waiting until the end.”

    I agree – more backers makes the project look better and they might tell their friends. However, I’m not sure it’s that sizeable a difference.

    A bigger difference might be folk who click the button but don’t actually check it out again for whatever reason (away from PCs, e-mail gets buried, reluctance to follow a link on that particular day etc)

    1. As a project creator, it was quite agonizing to have my Relic Expedition below its goal for 30 days. We reached our funding goal with four days left, but I think I would have enjoyed the campaign more if I had reached it much earlier.

      As a potential backer viewing the campaign page, I think it makes a *big* difference if the project has funded already (or at least seems likely to fund). I’m not exactly sure the psychology behind it, but it seems to me that people don’t want to back a project that won’t succeed. It’s technically no risk because Kickstarter won’t charge your Amazon account if the project doesn’t reach it’s goal, but I think the uncertainty of the outcome makes people hesitant to back.

      1. As a 1st time project creator, I’m definitely finding it more emotional than expected. 

        I guess we are all humans and logic alone can’t explain human behaviour.

      2. For me, running a Kickstarter campaign and manufacturing a product had moments of sheet excitement, terrifying agony, crushing defeat, and unspeakable joy. There were times where I didn’t think it was going to be worth it. (I still haven’t recovered all my costs for Relic Expedition.)

        There are moments I will treasure forever. Here’s the most recent one: a dad told me Relic Expedition was his 8YO daughter’s favorite game. (WOW!!!) He lives in Indianapolis, and we planned to meet at Gen Con. When his daughter left for school, knowing he was going somewhere that he’d see LOTS of games, she told him: “Find another game like Relic Expedition.”

  5. Totally agree with your comments about the agony of sitting watching the project just below goal and the likely benefit of reviews/previews. We are at about 88% on our campaign for Flocks & Flyways with 15 days to go but our backers have dropped to like 1-3 a day and I feel like if we had reviews and up it might be turning more people to backers. Seems so important to have them lined up probably a month before launching. next time… 

    Curious, do you recall what you saw daily for video views/visits? I’ve been tracking ours in a spreadsheet since Kickstarter doesn’t give you daily video view tallies and it’s really the only way I have of knowing visits. Would be nice to hear from some other folks what they averaged as far as views and views to backer ration.

    1. I do not recall my stats for those. I didn’t think too much about video views, and I didn’t realize at the time that I needed to track those items myself. (Oh, Kickstarter!)

      At the end of the campaign, I see 5,879 plays (with 40% of them complete ) and 620 backers. I used Kicktraq to look at backers and pledges, but I never correlated that to video views.

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