Who are your favorite reviewers? (potential Rosebush article)

:sob: :green_heart:


I’m especially grateful to reviewers that support smaller events, and I tend to read more reviews in that context.

In terms of personal taste, I enjoy Mike Russo’s best of all. I also appreciate Rovarsson, JJMcC, and Victor Gijsbers. Wade Clarke also writes great stuff, though he isn’t as prolific.

Edit: I should mention Brian Rushton, too. His encyclopedic knowledge of games/movements/authorship in IF gives him a perspective that really no one else can match.

Edit #2: Kastel, too. I always look forward to their stuff.


Mathbrush for sure. Other people write more in-depth commentary about games, which it’s good to read after playing, but Mathbrush’s reviews are perhaps the most useful to read before playing. I don’t always agree with him. We have different tastes. But it’s easy to see that if Mathbrush thought X, then I’ll probably think Y.


In addition to the many that are listed here, @aschultz. The depth and feelings conveyed in those reviews are so sincere. I also really appreciated all comments and insight from @vivdunstan, @EJoyce, @rovarsson, @VictorGijsbers and @manonamora. I am in utter awe of the time and effort spent playing, reviewing and then writing about that by so many.

Thanks again to all!



Brett’s daughter!


Jim Nelson deserves a shoutout here. He doesn’t do too many reviews, but his style of prose is both engaging and insightful. This review of Meritocracy is a great example of it.


Thanks all for the recommendations! I’ll probably try to move this ahead in the next couple of days, so I wanted to give this a quick bump to see if anyone else has any thoughts.


A good review should tell you what the game is about, its strengths and weaknesses, and anything that is unique or unusual. For a parser-based game, it may additionally suggest some overall game-playing strategies.

I don’t normally read reviews for games that I haven’t played, as there may be spoilers. I do read reviews for games that I have played, as I’m curious whether other people thought the same as me. Similarly, I read reviews of my own games, as I want to know what people thought of them and whether they struck any issues.

The thing that surprises me is that the majority of the reviews that I’ve read do not cover the basics mentioned in the first paragraph. In fact, many of them are just long flowery essays that try to highlight how well read the reviewer is, typically referring to books that I haven’t read and games that I haven’t played, so I have no idea what they’re talking about. More often than not, I’ll tune out partway through, because I can’t see any relationship between the essay they’re writing and the game that I’ve played and am familiar with.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that a review should be a review, not an essay on some unrelated topic and, for this reason, I don’t have any favourite reviewers. I know I’ve read some good reviews, but I don’t recall the names of the reviewers.

I think modern-day reviewers would do well to read proper reviews from computer magazines from the 80s and 90s. These determined whether or not we would spend money on those games.


For me, among frequent / active reviewers, it’s Kaemi, Mike Russo, and Victor Gijsbers.

I’ll also put in a vote for Drew Cook - less prolific, at least for contemporary stuff, but always has an interesting perspective.


Thanks for your perspective Garry. I don’t think I can convert you to my own favourite style of reviews, but I think I can at least explain why people like me write them the way we do! As you point out, the 80s and 90s reviews were usually written to help people decide whether or not to spend money on a game. For that purpose, you want a spoiler-free review that gives you a factual account of the game and, of course, an indication of how good it is.

But this is usually not the situation we’re in today. We don’t spend money on games. We spend time on games, of course, and so it’s still useful to have this kind of factual review; IFDB reviews written outside of a competition contest often still have this form, or at least come close to it. But when we’re in the middle of something like IF Comp, the situation is different. What you write about yourself is true for almost everyone:

When I write a game during IF Comp, my audience is people who have already played the game and, also very important in my mind, the author. Neither group needs a review that explains the basics of the game to them. They already know the basics. So I sometimes don’t even mention the basics, but go straight to… well, it could be a lot of things, it just depends on what I think I have something interesting to say about! Sometimes I’ll talk about the interface, or the plot, or the puzzles. Sometimes I’ll talk about the theme. And sometimes, often in order to talk about one of these things, I find it helpful to show where the game is located in a broader cultural space. If someone makes a game where there’s a turn limit and you have to collect as many treasures as possible within the turn limit, then in order to understand how this puzzle was designed it’s going to be useful to compare it to Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder and Sugarlawn. You won’t get as much out of my review if you haven’t played those two games, that’s true. But then I hope it’s still useful, because now you know about these other two games.

So, here’s an especially egregious example of what you complain about: my review of LAKE Adventure. Most aspects of the game aren’t mentioned or explained, and there is me, quoting poems by Hardy and Dickinson! But you’ve got to see this review in a certain context. When I wrote it, there were already about 15 reviews of LAKE Adventure. I had read all of them. I felt no need to repeat what those other reviewers had already talked about. But I felt a strong need to talk about what I found touching, interesting, emotional, about LAKE Adventure: it’s steadfast refusal to see the death of the sister as in any sense positive, not even in terms of something that made the protagonist grow or that they managed to ‘give a place’ in their lives. That’s a tough, tough theme; and it reminded me of those poems; and I felt that those poems expressed my point at least as good, maybe better, than I could. And I hope that at least some readers of the review will read it and think: yes, yes, that’s what I felt when I played this game, that’s what I couldn’t put into precise words. And if so, mission of the review accomplished. Because I’m not here to tell you whether or not to buy that game, but to help you make sense of the experience of playing the game, or even, which happens to me with the reviews I love most, to enrich that experience after the fact.

Maybe it doesn’t work for you, and that’s okay! But I don’t think any of us is in the surely rather stupid business of writing essays

I promise you that I’m not rubbing my hands cackling, “ha ha, those guys and gals over at intfiction.org will be really impressed by my literary knowledge”!



I may have said this before.

I think it’s fine for people to do what they like. In fact, I hope that they do, provided the doing brings them and/or others joy and harms no one. Even if it’s something I don’t like!

The more joy, the better, I say.

I realize, looking back, that I failed to mention Kaemi. Forgive this oversight!


It’s still the same problem. I need to decide whether or not to spend money time on a game. So reviews that expect me to already played the game is useless to me.

Therefore, my favorite reviewer is @Warrigal just so you know. Although @kaemi is good, too.


I don’t write reviews nowadays. I should, but I always seem to be too busy writing, playing and testing games, and doing maps and solutions for CASA.

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I think these folks have already been nominated but happy to second/third/fourth @manonamora @vivdunstan and @rovarsson


I don’t have time to play though all of the comp games these days, so summaries are useful for people like me to get a sense of the “highlights” of the competition that we shouldn’t miss.

They also serve at least one other useful purpose: reassuring the author (and other readers of the review) that the reviewer has actually played through the game and understood what it’s about.


For the thread in general, I don’t support saying one type of a review is more right or ‘proper’ than another, and feel that it’s nice having a variety of styles. I did want to comment on this though:

That’s definitely one of the most important roles of my reviews. I got into reviews by seeing how many games on IFDB had no reviews on them; I had been using other people’s reviews like book blurbs or newspaper movie reviews, i.e. as a way to decide whether to play a game or not and what to expect. So to have games without reviews just seemed ‘bad’, especially when there were games I knew a lot of people had played (many Infocom games lacked reviews, for instance).

So the purpose of most of my reviews are to:
1-Catalogue games and provide a quick blurb for them to let others know what to expect
2-Like @evouga said, to prove (to the author especially) that the game has been fully experienced, and to try to provide your summary of the game and its content/themes, so that the author can now how effectively or not their idea was transmitted.

Unlike many reviewers, I do not have artistic intent in my reviews, and I usually do not use my reviews to share part of myself the way I use game writing. The exception is when the game is somehow tied up in my life, like Where the Water Tastes Like Wine.

I always identified Victor Gijsbers as one of the instigators/early influencers (depending on how you see it) of the ‘artistic review’ movement, with Emily Short another strong influence.

For me, I value my volume of reviews over my quality, and especially on under-served areas (which there are a lot less of now that so many people are reviewing!). That’s why I don’t think I personally would be the strongest representative of a review roundtable, and would prefer others to be there. I value and enjoy ‘reviews with artistic intent’ and find them to be very good and proper reviews, and I hope the roundtable focuses on that segment of reviewing.


I wouldn’t be surprised if you were influential in making that happen. Certainly, the “every game deserves reviews” ethos seems to have risen since you started.


I concur with @prevtenet that your influence – if not in style, but in the importance of the practice of reviewing – is fairly evident. I believe for that this very reason, you would be an essential representative at the table.


Coming in late with a non-useful response because he’s no longer an active IF reviewer, but I just wanted to mention that I always enjoy Paul O’Brian’s reviews when I come across them.


Paul O’Brian still occasionally writes new IF reviews (of old games, usually) on his blog; for instance: