I've not made a great habit of writing reviews on the blog. In fact it was sort of a policy of mine initially that I wasn't going to do them. I've let that slip from time to time because a great product or other has caught my attention, and also because, let's face it, Yoon-Suin benefited hugely from very kind reviewers who gave their time to write about it in detail; it would therefore be pretty churlish of me to object to reviews in principle - not to mention bad karma.
That said, my friend Patrick (I think I have known Patrick and been playing games with him since at least 2010, which is kind of terrifying) recently posted an interview with Bryce Lynch, the man behind Ten Foot Pole - one of the best and most rigorous RPG review sites on the internet. And this gives me the opportunity to think and write about reviews in general.
When the subject of reviews of "OSR" type products comes up, one of the first things that will pop out of somebody's mouth is that there is almost no proper critical engagement with the work, and everything is just unthinking and uninformative enthusiasm. I've never had a huge problem with this. In fact, I think of it as an evolutionary process of a kind. The products that people buy and like, get eulogised to the heavens. The products that people buy and dislike just don't really get talked about. Thus by a process of natural selection you tend to end up hearing about the signal and not hearing about the noise.
The natural response to this is that without critique you will tend to get work that doesn't push boundaries, innovate, or satisfy needs. To which the quick answer is: Have you read Fire on the Velvet Horizon? Castle Gargantua? A Red and Pleasant Land? And the long answer is: Seriously, you think boundaries get pushed by having lots of critics? Have you seen any film at the cinema lately? We now have more film critics than ever before, with more access to bigger audiences (in fact everybody is a film critic these days, spewing opinions onto the internet in volumes inconceivable 20 years ago). Does it strike you that this has been a boon for innovation and quality in Hollywood?
I also think there is something about creator-owned art which ought to insulate itself from harsh or rigorous critique. There is nothing to be gained by giving a kicking to something produced as a labour of love by somebody in the evenings and weekends. In fact, since the creation of labour of love products is so uncynical and fundamentally good-hearted in 99.9% of cases, I see no problem at all in the adage that if you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything. I would rather review the things I like and hold them up as examples of best practice, and simply not mention the rest.
None of this holds true for "professional" products produced by the big companies, of course. But I don't buy any of those. My review for all of them is: don't waste your money. There's a rebuttable presumption that they are shite.