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Friday, September 19, 2014

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

This post is the second in a series of three essays, following
Feminism Discourse Part 1: Why are women the exception in boardgame design? 

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
  • 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
  • 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.

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


  1. Roughly, do you feel you have all the listed female designers from boardgamegeek? If not, where is the remaining grunt work to finish your database?

    1. No, Aaron, I have barely scratched the surface. The geeklist that I'm still working through is "Designing Women," which has 88 entries at this writing. I'm not sure whether I'll take the time to compose an exhaustive survey. I do feel as though I compiled enough data to make some preliminary observations.

    2. Oh, and here's the link to the "Designing Women" geeklist.

  2. Part 1:
    First, thanks for the reminder to update my BGG profile… somehow that fell off my to do list! Oh and Randy Klimpert has been a prolific toy and game designer since his days at Marvin Glass & Associates, and he’s now a staff designer at Hasbro. But like many inventors of his generation, they don’t often tie their names to their toys and games. In fact, the invention firm I started with refused to have its name anywhere on the box for fear of frivolous lawsuits. Not to mention it doesn’t have the panache here as it does overseas. Additionally, I think many of the mid-sized to larger mass-market toy and game companies didn’t want an inventor’s logo or name on the box, granted that’s been changing over the last several years.

    I think you’ve made a good point about the area of product development for the women listed above. There are others that I know of that are pretty much in the same arena, as they are my competitors. I’ll be honest in saying I know more about the people this area of game design than those who work in the more hobby or euro-style game area simply because it’s where I spend my time. On a whole, I would agree that there are more women working as game designers/inventors than many realize, but I also think that we are still largely a minority in the industry. Granted, I think that’s been changing over the years, but when I look at who is walking out of a client meeting in front of me it’s more often a man versus a woman. Additionally, I think the larger inventor groups are predominantly male. I’m talking about groups like Lund and Company, Big Monster Toy, and the others who tend to do most of their business with the larger toy and game companies.

  3. Part 2:
    As to why there are more men than women? I don’t exactly know. There are many men who have been in this business for years or stepped into the roll as part of a multi-generational family business that started back when fewer women worked outside of the home. Granted, there are also women who have been in this business for quite some time (Maureen Hiron), although they are far fewer in numbers. Overall in the portion of the industry I “play” in there are definitely more men in the decision maker rolls (on the corporate side) than there are women. There are times where there’s an “old boys club” – or even just “boys club” feeling, which may not only deter some women but also it may have an impact on the success of women designers -- but that’s just speculation. I would be lying if I said there weren’t times in my career that I’ve been treated differently or even inappropriately because I’m a female designer. Sadly, it wasn’t just early on in my career either. Just this past Toy Fair I had a horrible meeting with a new client who not only made some *extremely* inappropriate comments, but also assumed I was a “stay at home mom” who just did this for fun and showed little respect for me during our meeting. It’s hard to forget a meeting like that and maintain a working relationship with that company – so that’s one less client I have, but I know several male designers who have seen great success with them. Granted, I am glad that’s the exception and not the rule, but sadly it wasn’t the first and I’m guessing it won’t be the last time that happens in my career.

    I don’t think that alone explains the difference in gender numbers, but I also believe there are many factors that play into it. I think someone could also say that women (big generalization here) tend to be more risk-adverse than men. Working for royalties is tough. The stuff I do now won’t come out for a year or two and so it’s a big money gamble. Many of the women I know who work as independent inventors also take side development jobs to make sure there’s a steady income, which takes away from the time they have to invent. Some I know have even transitioned away from the inventing side to do more freelance work because it’s hard to turn down money from a project right now to spend time trying to reach for the golden carrot dangling in the distance that could come with a great invention. You could also talk about the proportion of men to women who earn degrees in industrial design/engineering. I graduated with a degree in industrial design and less than a quarter of my class was female. Many of the inventors I know have one of these two degrees, so that could also have an impact on the numbers.

    Like I said, I think there are many factors that play into the gender disparity, however, there are many women out there – we just tend to fly under the radar.

    1. Kim, thanks for such a thoughtful, detailed comment, and for the deep insight into the nature of the business. You seem to deal with many of the same issues that I see women facing in my own business - systems engineering - although an aspect of government contracting is that people take gender respect very seriously. The average female engineer still has to work harder to achieve the same professional reputation and credibility that a male does, all else being equal, but at least "inappropriate comments" are (I think) very much the exception.

      Your observation that certain segments of the industry avoid putting designer names on boxes reminds me that I'd read something similar about the Avalon Hill wargames that I grew up on in the 1970s. You could find designer credits on the back page of the rules, and the company had a bimonthly magazine in which designers wrote articles about their games and the history on which they were based, so they weren't entirely anonymous. But they weren't exactly celebrities, either. We always knew which games were Avalon Hill vs. SPI; we didn't necessarily know whether they were designed by Don Greenwood or Craig Taylor. (In compiling my list, I was stunned to discover Linda Mosca; I had no idea that any of those hex-and-counter wargames were designed by women.)

      I have a feeling that since, as you say, many women designers "fly under the radar," many other women would-be designers have a harder time visualizing themselves as professional or free-lance inventors actually pitching games to publishers. For my part, I'm inspired by reading about the successes of Reiner Knizia and Richard Garfield and meeting other designers at conventions. If they were nearly all women, would I feel out of place to consider designing a game myself? Possibly.

    2. I was happy to comment on your post (obviously, as I wrote a small novel). I feel that this question has been brought up over and over in recent months, but I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone genuinely want to explore it until now. Granted, like I said in my mini-dissertation, I think there are loads of factors at play here and there’s probably no exact answer as to why there are so few female inventor/designers and why people don’t know of them. Although, I do like your point about feeling out of place being one of the only men if everyone else was female. It’s definitely not a place for the thin-skinned at times.

      I also loved your sentiment about being inspired by seeing others succeed. I do like to see other women succeed in this industry, and maybe a tad more than I like seeing some of my male friends succeed -- although I'm happy for them too.

  4. @BoardSimple tweeted a link to "The Board Games Women Make," a similar article posted December of 2012 by Margaret "ochredraco" Maloney on MetaFilter. There is some overlap between the lists, but plenty of names in the article that I hadn't seen before. It just goes to show that if there is a comprehensive list of women boardgame designers, I haven't found it.

  5. Well, I think I have found that "comprehensive list of women boardgame designers" - or at least one that is closer to the mark. Elizabeth Hargrave, designer of the Spiel des Jahres winner Wingspan, has compiled Women and Non-binary Game Designers, which at this writing lists over 200 non-male designers. I consider her page to be the definitive compendium on the topic.