International Tabletop Day is here, and I couldn’t be more excited to celebrate by playing great board and card games with friends. Gaming is a wonderful way to exercise your brain, connect with a larger community, and just have some good old fashioned fun. However, while most of you are probably familiar with the sexism entrenched in the video game industry, many are unaware that the same diversity issues also exist in tabletop games, especially when it comes to representation of women.
Artwork in board games often oversexualize women, dressing them in revealing clothing while the men get to be covered up. This is especially true in fantasy role playing games, where women are depicted with slender waists and giant breasts, fighting battles in what is essentially lingerie.
Female characters also often fall victim to harmful stereotypes, relegated to roles with lower skill attributes than the males. For example, while the cooperative game Eldritch Horror offers an equal number of female and male roles to play, the females are saddled with unflattering, stereotypically “feminine” roles, like actress, shaman, redeemed cultist, and, oddly, “psycho.” The men, on the other hand, get to be soldiers, leaders, astronomers, and politicians. Also, the only Asian character? She’s a martial artist, naturally.
Subtler forms of sexism lie in the dense rulebooks that accompany games. These rules often default to using male pronouns when describing player actions, even when there are an equal number of male and female characters offered.
That being said, there are many game designers making a real effort to be more inclusive to women and people of color. So this year, why not try something different? Here’s a list of some great games to play, featuring positive female characters, gender parity, and female designers. Have fun!
Legends of Andor
This cooperative game is set in the fantasy realm of Andor. You and your fellow heroes must defend Andor by embarking on quests and completing objectives in this story-driven adventure. Each male hero has a female counterpart, with the exact same skills and nearly identical clothing. The rulebook even makes a point to clarify that the word “hero” also refers to heroines.
Dead of Winter
Dead of Winter is a game set in a post-apocalyptic world, where a group of survivors attempt to survive a dangerous winter. While the game may seem cooperative because players must work together to survive, players must also complete their own secret objectives in order to win at the end of the game. There is a good balance between female and male characters, and the women’s roles are diverse, including a pilot, a librarian, and a doctor. The rulebook also uses both female and male pronouns when describing actions.
Pandemic is an awesome cooperative game, where you and your companions are part of a disease control team that travels around the globe to prevent outbreaks and find cures against a ticking clock. There are several female roles to choose from, each with a unique skill set matching the strength of the male roles. The women range from specialists to scientists, and wear clothing appropriate to their job title (not oversexualized). The newest expansion, Pandemic: Legacy, introduces even more female characters and adds complexity to the base game.
Seven Wonders: Leaders
In Seven Wonders, you are in charge of leading one of the great ancient wonders of the world, developing your civilization through military, science, or architecture. What makes the Leaders expansion so great is that it includes leader cards based on real historical figures, including many women most people might not have heard of before. Among them are Amytis (Babylonian princess), Tomyris (Queen of the Massagetae), Hypatia (Greek mathematician), Sappho (Greek poet), Nefertiti (Egyptian Queen), and Zenobia (Syrian Queen).
Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game
Much like the television show it’s based on, Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game features complex female characters with a variety of skills and assets essential to the game. The roles range from feisty pilot Starbuck to the wise President Roslin, and the expansions offer even more options. It’s a cooperative game for the most part, except for the traitors secretly working with the Cylons.
This popular, award-winning game consists of tiles varying in color and shape. One by one, players add to the grid of tiles in order to create certain patterns and lines that are worth victory points. Qwirkle was designed by the talented toy and game designer, Susan McKinley Ross.
Dixit is a creative game for people who love to tell stories. Each player takes turns being the storyteller, who makes up a short story about an image on a card. The others must then guess which card the story was based on. The gorgeous artwork on the cards was made by talented female illustrator Marie Cardouat.
This is a two-player card game set in a dystopian, cyberpunk future. You can choose to play as the corporation, whose goal is to advance agendas, or as a runner, whose goal is to hack into the servers and subvert the corporation. The playable characters run the gamut of diversity and women of color, including a Latina journalist, an Asian amputee, and several strong female leaders.
Betrayal at House on the Hill
This cooperative game has you and your companions exploring a haunted house room by room, where you encounter spooky objects and beings that can help you or haunt you. Eventually, one player turns into the traitor, who you must defeat using your wits and your relics. There are an equal number of male and female roles to choose from (a rarity), each ranging in age and skill.
Dungeons and Dragons, 5th Edition
While many fantasy role playing games still struggle with positive female representation, the publishers of the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons are making great progress. For instance, the rule book for the 5th edition of D&D specifically states that, “You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender,” when describing character creation. The artwork also includes a variety of skin tones and takes care to not oversexualize women.