Inclusion has historically been difficult in board games and board game designs, despite the overwhelming participation of women as gamers throughout history. Representation of non-binary and women characters remains very low, and very few women or non-binary designers make their way into the top 100 of board games. Given that the name of our blog is Girls Who Like Board Games, I have no interest in discussing the reason behind the lower representation or why it occurs. Our blog has made our case abundantly clear: We support people of colour, we support women, we support non-binary and abinary folks, and we support their inclusion in board gaming in every facet in which they wish to participate.
Therefore, this article attempts to highlight board games designed by particular women and non-binary designers in the hopes that more people will seek out these designers and play their games. There are many more, but these are a few that I have personally played and enjoyed. Comments with additional ideas are encouraged!
Susan McKinley Ross has developed Qwirkle, which won the Spiel de Jahres in 2011. Qwirkle is a game published with Mindware that is easy enough for small children to play but complex enough for adults. You match colours or shapes in lines to obtain points. By placing your blocks strategically, you can score points to ultimately win the game. This game, with thick and colourful shapes on a black background, is visually appealing to players and can be used for simple shape and colour recognition for younger children or for people with disabilities. This is really where Ross shines; she makes games that children and adults both love and want to play together. Qwirkle is, in my opinion, her best, but her game Hoot Owl Hoot also deserves a place on the shelf.
Rachel (Bowen) Simmons is a transwoman who created The Guns of Gettysburg and Napoleon’s Triumph. Both of these games bear mention for being nominated for a small pile of awards and for their outstanding gameplay. Those interested in war games that simulate these time periods will enjoy these games quite a bit. Even as a mostly non-war gamer, I found Napoleon’s Triumph extremely enjoyable and interesting to play, to the point that it really sparked my interest in wargaming in general. This game specifically recreates the Battle of Austerlitz by Napoleon and really brings home that battle in a way that I truly appreciated.
Grace Holdinghaus works for Fantasy Flight games and co-created Mansions of Madness 2e. This game holds a special place in my heart due to my time spent with friends playtesting it and some of the expansions. Mansions of Madness manages to take the overextended Lovecraftian Mythos and make them interesting and playable in ways that few other games have managed. The pieces are solid and beautiful, it comes with miniatures (always a perk!) and runs off of a well designed app that allows all players to play together in a cooperative adventure.
Nikki Valens also works for Fantasy Flight games. Although they also worked on Mansions of Madness, I feel their inclusion here is most necessary because of Legacy of Dragonholt. First, I don’t think enough people have heard of this lovely game. My children and I had the pleasure of playtesting this game, and have subsequently bought copies for others (as well as for ourselves). My oldest daughter specifically wrote to Valens to exalt the beautiful storytelling while we were involved in playtesting for this game. As an introduction to RPGs, this game really excels. In some ways, Dragonholt is a fantasy based choose your own adventure cooperative game, but it goes far beyond simply that. We also learned that much of the game can be completed (so long as you have someone who can read) on long car rides, so it’s 10/10 for entertainment value based just on that!
One of the most beautiful games that I’ve ever played is Lotus, designed by Jordan and Mandy Goddard. This game is simplistic in its beauty and design, and somehow managed to recreate the feeling of cultivating a flower garden using beautifully rendered cards and a handful of colourful, insect-shaped wooden pieces. Lotus lists itself as appropriate for ages 8 and up, and it is truly one of the most calming games in my collection; it’s a game you can pull out as a palette cleanser between heavier gaming sessions, as a last game of the night, or even just in its own right as a light but thoughtful game. I particularly enjoy playing this game with my children as we talk about heavier topics; the beautiful artwork creates a zen-like atmosphere that makes those discussions go smoothly.
Having had the pleasure to meet Shanna Germain in person a few times, I can say that she has always seemed to me to be one of the most enthusiastic game developers I’ve known. Like many of the other wonderful women developers here, Germain has seen her name on several big name games, but I’m going to focus on one of her lesser known delights. For Germain, this is No Thank You, Evil. This RPG designed for children is a fun and upbeat way to show kids how RPGs can be as much fun as you’d like. It also introduced to our gaming group an extremely important point: the “No thank you, evil” trump card, whereupon a triggered or upset player can put down a “Nope” card to indicate that they do not wish for the continuation of a current point on the table. As older gamers, we sometimes see that certain topics are off limits to certain players. Session zero often takes care of the big topics, but what if you absolutely forgot something that might trigger a sensitive player that you never dreamed happening in Session Zero. And every Game Master knows that players are absolutely notorious for taking the game beyond what you ever dreamed at the beginning. Having the ability to subtly but firmly take something out of the game if it is unduly upsetting is something that gaming groups really need more of if the point of the game is to be fun for everyone.
I have plans for other writers and developers for tabletop games, but couldn’t possibly cover all of the wonderful women, non-binary and transfolk in one article. Please feel free to comment if you have an idea for someone who you feel should be included in future articles.