#Wargamer vs #Boardgamer – My commentary on when best of intentions go wrong (and not helped by an obnoxious attitude)

I WAS MORE than a little curious when one of my favorite wargame designers, Tom Russell of Hollandspiele, made this tweet.


I was lucky and my google-fu was working and I quickly located the video in question. It was painful to watch. Tom was right; the reviewer had absolutely NO interest in the game and their comments reflected that. It was obnoxious and personally offensive. Not in what was said, but in how it was said.

When I viewed the video it had 25 “Likes” and 65 “Dislikes” (I was number 66). Fortunately for Tom, the comments were running heavily in his favor. I guess I was lucky because within an hour of my viewing the user had deleted the video. While I am happy the user deleted the video, I am sad that it happened in the first place. It would not have happened if the user had stopped a moment and found some ethical grounding for what they do.

Somewhere I vaguely recollect that the Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) was looking at codifying ethics for content creators, but in the present absence of those I think hobby gaming content creators could look to food critics for an example of proper behavior. The Association of Food Journalists (AFJ) posts their Code of Ethics online. They start with five core principles:

  1. We take pride in our work, and respect the work of others.
  2. We do not abuse our position.
  3. We avoid conflicts of interest.
  4. We recognize and respect diversity.
  5. We are committed to transparency in our work.

Before you jump ahead and claim “reviewers are not journalists,” I will point to the AFJ Code of Ethics that states, “Reviewers should subscribe to the same accepted standards of professional responsibility as other journalists.” The AFJ also talks specifically about negative reviews. There are many hobby gaming content creators that could learn from these words:

Negative reviews are fine, as long as they’re fair and accurate. Critics must always be conscious they are dealing with people’s livelihoods. Negative reviews, especially, should be based on multiple visits and a broad exploration of the restaurant’s menu. Following a consistent reviewing policy without deviation may protect a critic from charges of bias or favoritism, while providing a platform from which to defend the review.

In this situation, I strongly believe the content creator clearly failed to respect the work of Tom. The video was very dismissive of the game, even stating, “I don’t know why someone sent this to me.” I could make an argument that the content creator abused their position.

I earnestly want to make the argument that the content creator failed to respect diversity. Not because of Tom’s race, but because Tom is a wargame designer. From the beginning, Tom knew not to send this particular creator a wargame because they not only dislike wargames, they openly hate them. As a personal position I am fine with that, I am not going to tell someone else what to think. The problem I have is that this content creator has monetized their opinions which, in my mind, means a higher ethical standard is needed.

Courtesy BoardGameGeek

Finally, I question the judgement of the content creator. Why did they make the unboxing video in the first place? Do they unbox every game without any sort of prescreen? If the reaction was that emotionally negative, did they not pause to ponder if their video was “fair and accurate” or just a visceral outpouring of their biases against a genre of gaming? There was obviously no thought. Just imagine what could of happened if the creator had contacted Tom and politely stated he was declining to post his video because “it’s not in my wheelhouse.” The ensuing conversation would of likely been good for both sides.

Feature image Brave Little Belgium. See my impressions here.

10 thoughts on “#Wargamer vs #Boardgamer – My commentary on when best of intentions go wrong (and not helped by an obnoxious attitude)

  1. They actually unboxed it? I remember when they got it for the “Boring Unboxing” (the videos where they open up mail parcels) and I knew from the start that it wouldn’t be a good mix. I said as much in the comments on that video. Thing is, the Tom Vasel of 2011 probably wouldn’t have minded it. If you go back and look at the Dice Tower’s older videos, he played a few wargames and even was a fan of Columbia Games’ titles. They don’t have the world’s best component quality. Far from it, in fact.

    But the Tom Vasel of 2019 is much, much more into the aesthetics of the games he looks at. He’s much more a “judge a book by its cover” guy now. And that’s almost certainly due to the huge amounts of games they receive, unbox, and review each month. If the components aren’t up to “Euro game” standard, none of the Dice Tower guys are even going to look at a game, because their perceptions are immediately colored. Even Sam, who plays light wargames on occasion, would hate anything he unboxed that didn’t have a mounted board. And that’s unfortunate. Brave Little Belgium is a cool game, with great artwork, and only 8 pages of rules (something they would like). I didn’t see the video before it was deleted obviously, but I’m betting that if the board was mounted and the rulebook was glossy, they would’ve been more favorable. That happened with GMT’s Pendragon — Sam unboxed it, purred over the board and pieces and card quality, but wilted when he saw the rulebook. And the game was never played or reviewed by them.

    Luckily we have plenty of dedicated wargamer channels now. They produce just as much content for our side of the hobby as the Dice Tower does.

  2. I guess I count myself lucky that I saw the video before it was deleted… or maybe not, because those were to cringy minutes to watch.
    Anyway, I don’t know much of Tom Vasel’s work, but I believe his general content concept is to pour out as many videos as possible. That the video in question seems to be part of a series called “Daily Unboxing” reinforces that notion. And if you unbox one board game per day (and make a lot of other videos on top of that), I think it is impossible to do the individual game justice. Results like this are bound to happen.

    1. Sorry, I can’t accept the “Results like this are bound to happen” position. He has built a position of great influence in the boardgame community. With that position comes responsibility. He acted in a petty manner far beneath his towering image. The fact the video was posted means they have no sense of that responsibility & instead shows that they pursue the almighty $$ unreservedly. Like I said, I once respected his opinion but over the years listened to him less as I found my tastes wandering from his. I was ambivalent to him; now he has shown that he doesn’t deserve my respect.

      1. That’s what I am saying – if you focus on quantity of output, quality losses (like a video that should have never been made if he had given it a thought) are inevitable.

      2. Got it. Agree! Wish they had paused to think but they didn’t. Alas, they made one less video subscriber. Chump change to them I’m sure. But I feel better distancing myself.

  3. Wow, I can’t believe somebody would do that, especially to an established entity.

    If this was a first-time designer or something like that, I could see the potential for error (just send it out to everyone!). But an experienced game company knows who would already be dead set against their game and wouldn’t send it.

    As a content creator, that would be my first question, and I would reach out to the publisher and ask why it was sent to me.

    But then to make a video trashing it instead?

    That’s unreal.

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