Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Feminism Discourse Part 3: Who else has asked this question?

I'm certainly not the first to question the disproportion of men to women in the boardgaming hobby.  Here are just a few recent efforts (and one not-so-recent) to shed light on the question in one form or another.

  • The State of Games podcast Episode 60: The One about Women in Gaming gives voice to three women's perspective.
  • Elisa Teague, co-designer of Geek Out! (Playroom Entertainment), is compiling an anthology of essays by women in the gaming industry called Girls on Gaming, which will fund on Kickstarter about eight hours after this blog is posted.
  • Bruno Faidutti, designer of Citadels (Fantasy Flight), has a blog in both French and English.  He has tagged some of his posts "Women and games" and it's interesting to read his unabashedly French take on feminism.  His most recent post with that tag, "Minimalist Games and Big Characters," includes a short paragraph on why Mascarade is a feminist game:
It’s a feminist game, because of the King and Queen abilities – the Queen does the same job as the King, but is just paid one third less. The real issue now, at least in France, is not that women are paid less than men for the same job – the law is quite strict on this – but that, with similar qualification level, there are many more women in less paid jobs and many more men in well paid ones, but that’s a bit more complex to explain in one minute on TV, and also less fun to implement in a game – at least in this one.
  • Insightful blogger Meg Simpson reflects on how women are sometimes patronized just for expressing their enjoyment of the things they love - like boardgames - in her post, "Enjoying it Wrong."
  • Linda Mosca, designer or co-designer on five SPI and Decision Games titles, wrote an article for Moves magazine almost 40 years ago regarding women in wargaming.  I have to admit that I can't think of any female grognards (although I'll bet my buddy Grant's mother Patricia would take to wargaming like a fish to water given half a chance).
  • My post last week listed a number of women designers.  That post drew heavily from geeklists assembled by other geeks seeking to catalog games designed by women:

Obviously boardgames aren't alone in gender disparity.  I'll highlight just one other field.  Whereas boardgamers seem generally open to the idea that women could find a greater presence in the community, women encounter considerably greater obstacles to acceptance and equality in the video game culture.  If nowhere else, the Twitter conversation #1reasonwhy has given voice to the frustration of female video game designers and players - as well as to a backlash from an unreceptive, unsympathetic videogame sub-cadre.

I hope we boardgamers can cultivate an accepting community for those women who play among us and for those who would like to.  No one should miss out on the opportunity for fun and social community that boardgaming offers.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Feminism Discourse Part 2: Who are the women that design games?

Last week I started to consider the question about why it seemed that there were so few female game designers.  But that post admittedly begs the question:  Is it actually true that game designers are disproportionately male, or is it just that male designers are simply better known?  I decided to actively identify women designers and some of the games they've designed to see if I could validate the notion that they are rare - or if not, to investigate why they are not as well known as male designers.

There are a few boardgamegeek.com geeklists that highlight women designers (Women Game DesignersDesigning Women).  I'm still working my way through them, but I've started to consolidate a couple of lists:

Women designing on their own
Maureen Hiron, designer
of Cosmic Cows and
  • Maureen Hiron - over 40 titles, including Cosmic Cows
  • Peggy Brown - 22 distinct titles, including Backseat Drawing
  • Leslie Scott - 21 distinct titles, including Jenga and Ex Libris
  • Joyce Johnson and Colleen McCarthy-Evans - 17 distinct titles, including Sounds Like a Plan (each also designed a few others on her own or with other design partners)
  • Andrea Meyer - 17 distinct games, including Ad Acta
  • Mary Jo Reutter - 12 distinct titles, including Sumo Ham Slam
  • Susan McKinley Ross - 13 distinct games, including Spiel des Jahres winner Qwirkle
  • Joan Wendland - seven games, most published under Blood and Cardstock Games
  • Kim Vandenbroucke - seven distinct titles, including Party Playoff (two in partnership with Randy Klimpert, his only designs)
  • Marsha Falco - six distinct titles, including Set
  • Linda Mosca - five wargames (four with SPI), including Battle of the Wilderness
  • Roberta Taylor - four distinct titles, including Octopus' Garden
  • Carol Wiseley - two titles on her own (including Loopin' Louie) plus one in partnership with Jim Bousman
  • Miranda Evarts - Sleeping Queens
  • Victoria Lamb - miniatures sculptor who at last report was seeking a publisher for Labyrintus
  • Liz Spain - Incredible Expeditions
  • Gina Manola - Koboldbande (also designed one game in partnership with two men)
  • Mary Couzin and June Fobes Keeley - Hollywood's Reel Schpeel
Women designing in partnership with men
Markus and Inka Brand, designers
of Village, 2012 Spiel des Jahres
  • Inka Brand - 47 distinct titles, including Kennerspiel des Jahres winner Village, most in partnership with Markus Brand
  • Doris Matthaus - 14 distinct games, all in partnership with Frank Nestel (his only designs as well)
  • Ase Berg - four titles in partnership with Henrik Berg (his only designs as well)
  • Brigitte Ditt - four titles in partnership with Wolfgang Ditt (his only published designs as well)
  • Ursula Kramer - three titles (including Wildlife Adventure) in partnership with Wolfgang Kramer (who has many titles of his own, including El Grande)
  • Karen Seyfarth - two distinct titles, both in partnership with Andreas Seyfarth (who has eight other designs, best known for Puerto Rico)
  • Claudia Hely - two titles (including Santiago) in partnership with Roman Pelek (who also has two other game design credits)
  • Flaminia Brasini - two titles (including Egizia) in partnership with three men on the Acchittocca Italian design team
  • Rosanna Leocata - two titles (including Terra Nova) in partnership with Gaetano Evola (his only two designs as well)
  • Gina Manola - Notable Novelists in partnership with Townes Durbin and Nick Rudd (their only designs; Gina Manola also designed one game on her own)
  • Lauren Banerd and Jennifer Schlickbernd - Advanced Civilization (Avalon Hill) on a design team with eight men 
  • Victoria Belunina - Enthullt, in partnership with Guus Twint (his only design as well)
  • Monica Dilli - Crash by Crash with Ivan Dostal (his only design as well)
  • Sarah Reed - Triple Threat in partnership with Will Reed (his only design as well)
  • Susan Van Camp - better known as an illustrator; designed Dragon Storm in partnership with Mark Harmon (his only design as well)
  • Stephanie Palermo - the currently Kickstarting Flocks and Flyways in partnership with Matthew Hickman (his only design as well)
  • Suzanne Zinsli - Tessen in partnership with Chris Zinsli (his only design as well)
  • Krista Witt - Eons in partnership with Christopher Witt and David Villegas (who have a couple of other designs)
  • Judy Martin - the recently released Quilt Show in partnership with Steve Bennett (his only design as well)
  • Sydney Englestein - Space Cadets in partnership with Geoff and Brian Engelstein
  • Federica Rinaldi - Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas in partnership with Enrico Pesce (his only design as well)
So although I haven't even finished my survey, it is clear that there are many women designing games.  So far they seem fairly evenly divided between those that design games on their own or in partnership with other women and those that design in partnership with men.  Of those designing on their own, many appear to be designing games in the "specialty toy" sub-genre, a gaming category that does not generally recognize designers by name outside the industry itself.  The partnerships with men in most cases produce the entire design output of both members of the team - that is, the two partners design all their games together.

So what can I conclude from this survey of women designers?  First, there are many more women designing games than I realized.  Second, part of the reason that men seem to predominate the list of well-known designers may be that men tend to design the "designer Euro" games like Puerto Rico and El Grande whereas women tend to design "specialty toy" games in relative anonymity.  Third, game design partnerships tend to consist of men and women who exclusively design together.

The bottom line is that many more women design games than we hobbyists may realize.  Those women are recognized within their own professional circles but do not enjoy the same public acknowledgment that some of the more celebrated male designers do.  I hope to understand better why that may be - or at the very least, I want to be sure to expose myself to the complete range of game designs that both men and women offer.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Feminism discourse: Why are women the exception in boardgame design?

Susan McKinley Ross at
2013 New York Toy Fair
I've recently come to consider seriously why most of the game designers with which I'm familiar are male.  I became more aware of this observation when I learned of a couple of women who won game design awards over the last few years and realized how unusual it seemed to me at the time - specifically, Susan McKinley Ross, who won the 2011 Spiel des Jahres for Qwirkle (which I only learned of when Tom Vasel interviewed her last November), and Leslie Scott, who won the 2012 TAGIE for Excellence in Game Design for Jenga.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Confusion: Do I get it?

(c) Stronghold Games.  Used by permission
I've been enamored of Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War (designer Robert Abbott, artist David Ausloos, publisher Stronghold) for a long time - partly for the cold war theme, partly for the bakelite components, but mostly for the really clever "reverse Stratego" mechanic of knowing what your opponent's pieces can do, but not your own.  Keith Ferguson picked it up the last day of WBC 2011, and we've played it a few times since - most recently during open gaming at WBC earlier this month.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Third annual-ish "What to pack for a vacation"

I like looking into which boardgames work for taking on family summer vacations.  The last time I looked at this question was July 2012.  This year we have plans to visit points of interest in southwest Virginia - the Skyline Drive, Lexington, the Natural Bridge, and Monticello.  We specifically will be leaving laptops at home.  Anticipating some quality family downtime, of course that means boardgames.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

WBC 2014 Saturday and Sunday: WS&IM fleet action, Acquire semifinal, and demos

One quick go-back on my earlier posts recounting my World Boardgaming Championships experience this year:  The very first thing that Keith Ferguson and I did Thursday morning, on our way to the registration desk, was to bump into Josh Tempkin of Tall Tower Games.  He spent a good part of the convention demonstrating several of his games:
  • "WarTime," which I've written about before as a fascinating, innovative real-time wargame involving sand timers
  • "Throne Dice," which surprisingly I still haven't taken the time to play
  • "Commissioner," which I learned at UnPub 4 as "Lesser Evil"

Thursday, August 14, 2014

WBC 2014 Friday: WS&IM loss, Acquire victory, and EIC demo

(c) Rio Grande Games - used by
Friday August 8 was the day that the Vendors' Area opened at the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, so Keith Ferguson and I headed there as soon as the doors opened to see what we could find.  I had a few specific games in mind, and I was fortunate to find immediately the one at the top of my list, Concordia, designed by Mac Gerdts and published in the U.S. by Rio Grande.  I was initially attracted to this game simply because the title, after the Roman goddess of harmony, shares the name of the protagonist in my wife Kathy's series of historical murder mysteries.  Reviews led me to believe that I would appreciate this game in its own right, so I look forward to giving it a try.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WBC 2014 Thursday: TPA and a day of not winning

Last week I conducted my fourth annual pilgrimage to the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the summer highlight of my gaming year.  I had a fairly loose schedule in mind, with only a few key tournaments that I specifically wanted to hit.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Second annual List of Shame: The Unplayed Games of 2014

Last year about this time, inspired by Chris "GamerChris" Norwood, I posted my "secret shame" - a list of unplayed games sitting on my shelves.  When I did that, I thought surely, I am now motivated to work my way down this list and play all these games - or pass them along to someone else who will.  Surely, in the next year, say, I will have played nearly all my games and the list will be shorter.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

UnPub Mini Chantilly Recap

Last Saturday, Keith Ferguson ran an UnPub Mini event at Game Parlor Chantilly.  (I helped a little.)  We had about twelve designers and about 20 gamers playtesting over the course of the 11 hours that the store was open that day.  It was about as successful as we could have wanted.  For my part, I got to playtest "East India Company" and "Reactor Scram" one time each, as well as to play about four other games, though there were many more I wish I could have played.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

More designers for 21 June UnPub Mini in Chantilly, Virginia

As I mentioned in a post on May 8, there will be an UnPub Mini event this Saturday 21 June at
Game Parlor
13936 Metrotech Drive
Chantilly, VA 20151
We now have a full slate of eleven designers lined up, so we have plenty of opportunities for gamers to come and try out new game design prototypes and provide feedback to the designers.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Leaner, meaner "Company"

I've been giving some thought as to how to streamline "East India Company."  There are a few approaches I can take.  The scientist in me wants to make one change at a time and test each change independently.  I've heard at least one designer specifically recommend that approach so that you always know the effect of each specific design change.  But my gut tells me to identify the essential core elements of the game, eliminate everything else in one big purge, and then see if anything should be added back in, painstakingly, one element at a time.

Monday, May 26, 2014

East India Company returns to the shipyard

Last February I mentioned that I'd submitted a prototype of "East India Company" to a publisher at UnPub 4 to evaluate for publication.  I just heard back from them, and they
do not find it to be a good fit for our upcoming releases. At the end of the day, the play time and complexity does not create a conducive product for a broad success, as the trends are leading away from complex play and longer play times.
I can certainly accept that evaluation.  Game length has been a challenge with "EIC" since its inception, and it certainly is complex.  Given the nature of today's game market, I agree that its appeal as it currently stands would probably be somewhat narrow.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Luck, skill, and research

Last week I opened a discussion on my effort to quantify game characteristics.  I had in mind that I would explore this question on my own, somewhat in a vacuum, based on my own experience and opinions, as something of an exercise to see what defensible conclusions I might reach.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Thoughts on quantifying game characteristics

Gamers tend to characterize games in terms of luck vs. skill, replayability, lightness vs. depth, and so forth.  These qualitative assessments help us to evaluate what we might like or dislike about a game before we've played it ourselves, or help to consider which games might be appropriate for a specific social, tournament, or convention setting.  These characterizations also help in establishing design goals and parameters as well as assist publishers in determining which potential titles will fit within their product line.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Reactor Scram: early playtesting

I have finally started working in earnest on a co-op idea I've had percolating in my mind for the last few weeks.  The theme is that the players are workers in a nuclear reactor plant whose maintenance has been neglected, until finally the bad day comes when everything seems to break at once.  The goal is to get the plant into a "safe condition" without melting down a core or irradiating any of the workers.

First prototype of "Reactor Scram"
I ran a couple of solo playtests.  I won one and lost one, which made me think that I've got the initial balance at least coarsely in the right neighborhood.  What surprised me was how quickly each game completed - roughly ten or fifteen minutes per game.  I usually have the opposite problem with the games I design - play times that run way too long.  Right now I've got a game that takes more time to explain than it does to play.  So I want to figure out some way of extending the gameplay as well as the "story arc" so that I'm not just "making it longer" for the sake of making it last.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Winter photos

A quick gallery of games played over the last three months:
Agent for one of the Lords of Waterdeep in the Jester's Court to recruit thieves...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 5: Finals

(c) Rio Grande Games
Used by permission
Saturday of PrezCon was a wonderfully full day of gaming.  It started at 9:00 AM with a game of Power Grid (designer Friedemann Friese; artists Antonio Dessi, Lars-Arne "Maura" Kalusky, and Harald Lieske; publisher Rio Grande), which I love but really don't play well.  We played on the original map of Germany, and I started in the north, where I found myself immediately in competition with Henry Ho.  I think the two of us beat each other down pretty aggressively, stealing cheap connections and forcing each other to leap-frog one another in order to expand, so we both ended up finishing poorly.  James Henderson, against whom I'd also played Acquire earlier in the week, narrowly won our game over Joe Rudmin in second.  I placed third powering 12 cities.

Monday, March 24, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 4: Social gaming

Part of what I love about conventions is re-connecting with gaming friends as well as meeting new people.  This year at PrezCon, I got to meet in person Dan Patriss, whom I'd heard many times on the Geek All Stars podcast.  He was with Chris Kirkman of Dice Hate Me Games, and Friday night we got together with Stephanie Straw, T.C. Petty III, and Darrell Louder for a couple of late-night games.