I know it doesn’t get a lot of space here, but I happen to be a huge lover of board games. The more complicated, the better! The kinds of games I like to play tend to have lots of pieces and moving parts. So it shouldn’t be too surprising, given my previously stated interest in fantasy-themed roleplaying games, that I loves me some Descent.
Descent is a competitive dungeon-crawl board game in which one player plays the Overlord and the other players play heroes. The players are trying to defeat the dungeon while the Overlord is trying to kill them all until they lose. It’s a fantastic game that’s very high-crunch and very finely balanced – no mean feat when you consider all the possible ability permutations that both sides have to work with. Over the past few years, I have played a few hundred hours of Descent, so I think that I can state unequivocally that I’m a huge fan. The dungeon setup is fun, the abilities are fun, the competition is fun – it’s a fun game all around. The only part that isn’t fun is character creation.
See, Descent has pre-made characters that the players choose randomly at the start of a new game. But the odds are pretty overwhelming that when we’re drawing characters, I won’t get to play a female character. (I’ll disclaim at this point that we don’t have all the expansions. We own and use the base game, Well of Darkness, and Road to Legend.) See, out of the 23 possible characters I have to pick from, only seven heroes are women:
It might look ambiguous from the cropping in some of these portraits, so let me assure you that it’s quite clear when looking at the figures that only one of these characters (Tethrys) is wearing pants – and she has a ridiculous belly shirt. And of course we have stupid sexualized poses, like Astara thrusting out her ass while spell-casting and Red Scorpion managing to show off both her strangely pointed tits and ass at the same time. Thankfully, the fact that the figures are paint-able means that it’s possible to fix some of the more egregious aspects of these character designs. When painting our figures, my husband made sure to paint Astarra so that she’s actually wearing pants:
So, you know, not surprisingly my only options for female characters are sexualized Barbies in armored lingerie. Aggravating.
Even more aggravating is the fact that the two worst characters out of these 23 are not only female, but the least clothed females in the bunch – Lyssa and Red Scorpion. Even though the rules state that you have to play the hero you select, I’ve house-ruled that I am allowed to mulligan Lyssa and Red Scorpion since not only are they irritating to look at, but they’re also completely broken and useless in play.
Not surprisingly, the male characters enjoy a diversity of depictions that the women don’t get. And of course, the vast majority of them get to wear freaking clothes:
What’s interesting to note here is that there are quite a few non-humans tossed into the mix, which is not the case for the female characters. So apparently only men get to be awesome and bestial looking, or awesome and undead (whatever), because it’s too important that women look sexay to allow them to be anything other than human. Also, every single one of these characters has a great unique ability. Some of them aren’t necessarily my play style, but they’re all sufficiently rewarding that I wouldn’t mulligan any of them.
Now there are a few male characters that are scantily clad as the female heroes, but when you examine them, it becomes clear that you can’t exactly compare them with the unrealistic lingerie ninjas that the female heroes are depicted as:
First off, two of the four heroes are not human. The two non-humans are also pretty clearly not sexualized to the ridiculous extent that the female heroes are. They’re posed in such a way as to emphasize their muscle-y arms, and their poses show them poised on the brink of action. The only thing the female heroes are posed on the brink of is a pole-dancing routine. And while I’ll give Fantasy Flight props for actually depicting nipple on Runemaster Thorn (seriously, people, they exist), I wouldn’t call this a sexualized depiction either.
The only character that I think you could make a half-assed argument for being sexualized would be Nanok, and honestly this pose is way more about making him look tough and badass than it is about making him look sexay. Note that he’s not contorted into anatomically improbably positions, his anatomy is pretty well human normal, and he’s not thrusting his junk at the viewer.
All in all, as far as character design goes, the guys at Fantasy Flight get a big fat F from me for Descent. I know it comes as a shock, but they might want to remember that there are women who actually play this game. It would be appreciated if there could be some female heroes that aren’t ridiculous fantasy cheesecake in the future, rather than me having to choose between playing a character that doesn’t look like me or a character that does look like me, but pornified.
Civilization the board game (the new version)
This is a game I picked up more recently, and actually the reason I was prompted to write this post in the first place. We’d played the Eagle Games Civilization boardgame (not the original that came before that one) and were very disappointed in it. So when the new game came out and was well-reviewed, my husband asked me to pick up a copy at GenCon, which I did.
Part of the randomized setup for the Civ board game is choosing a leader, and I do have to at least acknowledge that the leaders are evenly split male/female. However, there’s a pretty big difference between how the male leaders are depicted and how the female leaders are depicted:
How surprising. All of then are shown as being completely covered while all of them women have their breasts exposed. Yes, they’re at least posed as being strong and confident like their male counterparts and not like strippers like the Descent women, but that’s only a small mercy. All of the male leaders are wearing outfits true to their era, not distorted to emphasize secondary sex characteristics. But the female leaders have had their costumes distorted for the purposes of showing off their breasts.
Now I’ll admit that Wu Zetian is a bit ambiguous. When you look at paintings that purport to depict her, the height of the collar varies wildly. It’s entirely possible that her costume would have displayed that much cleavage. However, as Wu Zetian displays the least amount of breastage, I’m more concerned with Catherine and Cleopatra.
My husband was kind enough to do some digging for me and he discovered that the dress that Catherine is wearing is actually a formal dress version of a regimental uniform. When you look at the dress, it’s pretty clear that the collar is not that low. There’s just no way it would have exposed that much cleavage. Also, if you compare the portrait of Catherine with the photo of the dress, she’s wearing the dress with all of the buttons unbuttoned, which is clearly now how the dress is meant to be worn – not with how closely tailored the jacket is.
Now it’s true that when you look for pictures of Catherine the Great, you do see several that show her wearing very low-cut corsets. But none of them are so low that her breasts are on the verge of popping out of her corset. And anyhow, if they wanted to show Catherine in a cleavage-y corset they should have picked one of the many dresses she wore that showed actual cleavage rather than a regimental uniform that didn’t show any.
Cleopatra is even worse, what with her incredibly distorted anatomy. She’s got a severe case of Chest TARDIS, not to mention Invisible Corset Syndrome. (The only way to get a waist that small is with extreme corseting, only I definitely don’t see a corset…) Also, her boobs are gravity-defying and kind of freaky-looking. They’re round on the inside but not on the outside?
What’s even dumber is that if Fantasy Flight had wanted to depict her as being bare-breasted, they would have had a pretty strong historical record to point to for backup. Instead, they chose to cover her up with a metal bikini tube top, which is historically and culturally inaccurate, not to mention insanely stupid. Now I realize that this being North America, they couldn’t expect to sell a game with a bare-breasted woman as a possible leader. (As a friend of mine pointed out recently, we all know that the nipple is the evil part of the breast.) But they had a perfectly cleavage-y, non-breast-revealing option available to them which they decided to ditch so that they could make her more naked without being TOO naked.
So I guess it would be kind of a relief that the game itself was kind of disappointing, were it not for the game’s hefty price tag. Still, it makes me a little sad that as much as both of these games fail at depicting women, the game that fails less is the game that is less fun to play. Looks like I’ll just have to keep hoping for male characters next time I play Descent.