Terra Mystica: a terrain-based Eurogame with puzzlingly bad art


My husband and I are board game aficionados, to the point where we actually try not to buy board games; we have a games closet that has already overflowed into basement storage, not to mention the fact that with a toddler in the house we just don’t have the time for board games (or really any kind of games) that we did pre-child. However, the exception to this rule for the last few years has been my yearly trip to GenCon, when Kit sends me with a shopping list of things to acquire – which is how I wound up purchasing Terra Mystica.

It’s not something that I would have purchased on my own; Terra Mystica is a eurogame[1] – which I tend to find hit or miss. (Also, I was annoyed at my husband for making me buy something full of hundreds of wooden tokens that I had to carry around all day. Terra Mystica is HEAVY!) More importantly, though, the art is pretty bullshit. Each of the game’s 12 factions is pictured on the box, and only 3 of 12 are gendered as female. And of course, the female-gendered art is some grade-A bullshit:



Great. So the two choices for the Green faction, which is tied to Forests and is thus the most “nature-ish” are both flavors of breastacular. And of course we have Mermaids, because Mermaids.

This is something that I actually found sufficiently irritating in our initial game (which has a suggested setup for faction selection when you’re playing with people who have never played the game before) that I refused to play female-gendered anything and played the Halflings instead as I didn’t want to deal with having to look at this bullshit cheesecake right in the middle of my damn play mat while I was trying to make decisions about how best to allocate my resources.

Now to be fair, the Witches do almost manage not to be bullshit. The fur bustier is pretty ridiculous, but she’s got a cloak and hasn’t been twisted into some ridiculous pose meant to show off her feminine “attributes”. It really wouldn’t have taken much for the witches to be actually not-terrible, unlike the Auren. She has the stiffest, most rigid breasts that are completely unaffected by gravity, and the drape of her garment only obscures enough to make things even more confusing. Like, where is her left leg? Does she have a left leg? What about her spine? What is it doing? And why is her torso such a perfect cylinder? That’s really not how ribcages work.

Even the Auren can’t compete with the Mermaid, though, who is so very broken that I decided it was time to do a redraw[2], since it’s been a while since I’ve done one of those. Looking at her, it seemed pretty clear to me that the artist had one priority in mind – show her breasts front and center and don’t let anything like “anatomy” or “perspective” get in the way of that.

I realize that the perspective of the pose does make it a bit difficult to tease out what’s going on here, so first let’s start with a draw-over:


Looking at this, I imagine the artist’s inner monologue while drawing the Mermaid went something like this: “Face. Okay, hot, because no ugly chicks. Also, she’s a mermaid so we gotta see her tits. Arms? Eh, I dunno, let’s just half ass some shoulders and slap some arms on there. I can hide the one arm behind her hair and nobody will pay attention, because boobs, right? And then, I dunno. A tail. Who cares about that, you can’t have sex with that part, so whatever.”


So there are a lot of things that are just flat-out wrong, and all in the name of putting TEH BREASTS front-and-center. First, how about her face, which looks to be sliding down and to the left? Because if she is looking UP and to the RIGHT, her face should not be DOWN and too the LEFT. I know this may seem like a minor quibble, but given the number of factors that seem to point to the artist literally not caring about anything other than her tits…

Her arms are an even bigger problem, and seem to be tacked on mostly because that’s a thing that people are supposed to have, right? At first look, it looked to me as though her right arm was bending backwards, but now I honestly can’t tell which way it’s supposed to bend. I do know that with her upper arm at that angle, that degree of foreshortening on the lower arm wouldn’t be possible, because human elbows just don’t bend in such a way that her arm could possibly be correct. Her left arm is even worse – the artist just hid it behind her hair, waved his hands and said “foreshortening”. Which. No. Given that the hand on that arm appears to be the same size as the hand on her right arm, which is supposed to be much closer to the viewer, there’s no way that foreshortening would account for what is going on with that arm.

The biggest problem of all, however, is her damn spine. In order for the viewer to have that full a view of her breasts and for her tail to be at that angle, it would require actually snapping her spine in half at a ninety degree angle, not to mention that it would also require not actually giving her a sufficient ribcage in which to store vital internal organs.

Now part of any redraw involves actually correcting the pose once the flaws have been pointed out. However, back bends are difficult – sufficiently difficult that I’m turning to pictures of yoga from Wikimedia Commons to help me cheat:


This level of back bend is just about the limit of human bending ability, short of actual contortionism[3]. I happen to think that it’s pretty damn unlikely that a swimming Mermaid is going to voluntarily twist herself into this sort of position while swimming, but it is important when doing these exercises (at least it is to me) to honor the spirit of the pose and replicate it as close as possible.

Now this picture is a side view, rather than a 3/4 front view, but it was still useful as a reference of what should go where, once I flipped it around to the appropriate angle:


There are several things worth noting here. First, regarding her breasts – when breasts hang – they become elongated and DO NOT retain a spherical shape. Admittedly, water would diminish this effect, but not eliminate it completely.

Second, when her spine is arched properly and NOT snapped in half, you should be able to see her rib cage clearly underneath her breasts. The breasts are flesh sacks hanging off the pectorals, which are attached to the front of the rib cage. They would not completely obscure the thing to which they are attached.

As for her arms, I can’t guarantee that they are totally correct – I would have needed to get assistance in having someone take my picture while I was twisting my arms around in front of a mirror, and as my neck and shoulders haven’t been too happy with me of late I figured I wouldn’t push it. However, while I’m not sure about her left arm (foreshortening is haaaard), her right arm should be pretty close to correct.

Lastly, her tail is where I’m on the weakest footing, given that I know human anatomy but am not not conversant on fish anatomy. Still, it seems that most artists draw the lower half of mermaids as though they were two legs fused with fish skin, so that’s the approach that I have taken – which means that her tail would not be able to fold in on itself to such an extreme degree.

Interestingly, when you look at my redrawn version, it doesn’t look all that much different – sure lots of things have been tweaked but the general structure has been retained, right? Well… Look what happens when I plunk the original pose (outlined in red) over top of the newly redrawn pose:


In deciding how to line her up, I made her head the same size as the redraw for the purposes of aligning the two versions. I nearly decided to use her breasts as the point of alignment, but that would have inflated her head to somewhat freaky proportions, so I left it as is. Which really emphasizes how incredibly squished this poor woman was. Anything that didn’t contribute to TEH SEXAY was either an extreme afterthought or completely removed.

Which, you know, call me crazy but if you’re going to sexually objectify women in your game art, can they at least look like real people? Because random assortments of ill-fitting body parts assembled in a haphazard fashion aren’t just unsexy, they’re creepy and unsettling. Which is distracting, when I am trying to figure out how to allocate my SEVENTY BILLION DIFFERENT RESOURCES in order to take my turn.

[1] Hundreds and hundreds of tokens! So many moving parts! Badly translated rulebooks that are confusing to parse! Super-complex strategy!
[2] And of course, having decided this I could NOT find my tablet’s stylus, so this was done using my old monoprice tablet. I apologize for the shakiness of the lines.
[3] As a matter of fact, I do know an actual contortionist who can sit on her own head. It’s weird and I refuse to call that a human ability, regardless of the fact that she is human and can do it. That level of contortionism requires some serious monkeying around with all sorts of stuff that usually does not get monkeyed with.

Sentinels of the Multiverse: why you always need a woman in the room

[Disclaimer the First: I am going to primarily refer to women and sexism in this post, because this was inspired by a personal experience and that’s the angle that I approach this issue from.  However, you could very easily replace these terms with “trans/non-binary person and transphobia” or “PoC and racism”, and everything I’m saying here would still apply.]

[Disclaimer the Second: I’m going to pick on Sentinels of the Multiverse a lot in this post. It’s a fun game! I enjoyed it! I’d probably play it again! So please don’t interpret this as a scathing non-endorsement. This just happens to be a conveniently illustrative example.]

I recently got a chance to play Sentinels of the Multiverse for the first time, and it was pretty cool. Sentinels is a cooperative deck-based card game in which you play a group of superheroes attempting to defeat a supervillain while also dealing with environmental threats like fires or train derailments. It’s a well designed game that is focused pretty tightly on genre emulation, and it does a great job of it. Sentinels reproduces the feel of superhero comics pretty faithfully through its use of high-powered superhero combat, ridiculous backstories, and… bullshit sexist character design:

Wraith splash

That’s right, all of the female heroes in the base game are drawn with impossibly narrow torsos that leave no room for internal organs and impossibly perky sphere-boobs. Most of them have costumes that expose either cleavage, thighs, or midriff (the Visionary gets all three); though even the one exception (Fanatic) wears boobplate armor that allllmoooost shows cleavage, so even she doesn’t get a pass. The sexy costumes aren’t even “appropriate” to the character concepts! Wraith is a thinly veiled Batman clone, so what’s up with the swimsuit and bandages? Why can’t she have some goddamn armor? Expatriatte is a Punisher-analog who doesn’t have powers, she just has shit-tons of guns. And again, for someone who fights primarily with guns, wouldn’t body armor be more the ticket instead of spandex?

What’s more, Citizen Dawn (a villain) is supposed to be the mother of Expatriette, except you’d never be able to tell because there is no such thing as a woman in comics who appears to be older than mid twenties. Visionary is supposed to be 18 according to her backstory, but you’d never be able to tell from the art that Citizen Dawn isn’t her age!

Sadly, there wasn’t one of the female heroes that wasn’t awful to some degree, and I’m not going to lie: it definitely ruined my fun a little. I tend to want to play female heroes, so long as the female heroes don’t suck (I’m looking at you, 1st edition Descent). But in this instance I stuck to male heroes for the two games we played, since I was playing mostly with people I didn’t know so well and didn’t want to ruin everyone’s fun by harping endlessly about how bullshit some of the card art is.

An important sidebar about depictions of race:

While I said that I was going to focus on issues of sexism as seen through my experience as a woman, I would be remiss in not mentioning that there are some definitely problematic depictions of race in Sentinels as well:


For example: Haka is a Hulk analog who is Maori. And that could have been cool? Except despite Sentinels being set in a modern timeline, there is some serious noble savage all up in Haka’s backstory. There’s also the problem that Haka’s powers come from his culture, whereas all of the white heroes’ power come from their backstories – which is exotifying and definitely not cool.

Ra, on the other hand, almost falls into the trap of “powers because culture”, except he narrowly avoids that trap by falling into a different trap. Turns out that Ra has actually been reborn on Earth… as a white dude from New Jersey. And look, Egyptian gods reborn as/portrayed by white people is really fucking common, but it’s also just plain shitty.

[end sidebar]

In reflecting on the game afterward, I was strongly reminded of exactly why it is that I came at superheroes through cartoons and not through comic books. I have a definite soft spot for superpowered hijinx, but even before I became a feminist I was never able to get past the feeling that comics were NOT FOR ME. Cartoons like Batman and X-Men may have had their problems, but at least there were female characters I could latch on to that weren’t depicted solely as titillating or objectified. Storm! Rogue! Poison Ivy! Harley Quinn! Their costumes might have been stupid, but they at least got to be people and not collections of sexy bits offered up to a (presumed) straight white male viewer.

And that sucks for a lot of reasons. It sucks that bullshit sexism is so ingrained in comic books that faithful reproduction of comics almost always comes with an equally faithful reproduction of the things that make comics so very problematic.

Worse, it sucks that I want to like superheroes, but most of the time I feel like I just can’t enjoy them the way my male comics friends do. Because well-done superhero stuff that doesn’t fuck up, or at least doesn’t fuck up too much? Oh man that’s just the best ever. Captain America 2 was the best! The new Ms. Marvel is pretty fucking great! And Avengers might not have passed the Bechdel test, but I’m Team Black Widow forever. Superheroes are great, and compelling, and just plain fun! And all I want, all I have ever wanted is to be able to like them as uncritically as my dude friends have always been able to. Because it’s hard to give something your entire heart when that thing won’t stop telling you that it’s just not for you.

But most of all, it sucks because looking at the art for this game and the character concepts, I get the feeling that the team behind Sentinels didn’t intend to make a game full of sexist art. Because yeah the female character designs suck, but the card art still shows them being heroes and not just broken-spined, dead-eyed assemblages of sexy parts of female anatomy. (Except for that one boobshot-with-no-face of Fanatic. Seriously, what were you thinking letting that one through?) To me, it feels like this was a case of there just not being any women[1] in the room.

Because that’s the problem with the vast gender imbalance in the gaming industry. When the people working in the industry on game design and development are overwhelmingly white and male, shit like this is going to happen without anyone ever thinking that maybe they should do something different. Sexist character design is so very, very entrenched across geekdom, and privilege keeps many male game developers and designers from even seeing that it’s there.

When sexism is the background radiation that pervades our lives, the people who benefit from sexism (men) often don’t notice that it’s even there. Even the most well-intentioned, enlightened, feminist-leaning dude is just plain going to miss shit. He doesn’t need to see it, after all, because it doesn’t affect him. Which is why it’s so very important for there to be women at the table during the process of game development[2]. Sometimes what you need is someone who can speak up and say, “wait, you get why that’s bullshit right?”

Let me tell you, I’ve had variations of this experience more times than I can count since starting this blog that can be summed up as a male friend being surprised when I complain about sexist art in a game because they hadn’t even noticed[3]. And then they admit that, shit, yeah – that thing they like is pretty sexist, and express some level of embarrassment that it needed to be pointed out to them. It sucks! (And not just for them, because let me tell you, I don’t enjoy being that person who craps on people’s fun[4].)

But not failing doesn’t have to be hard! Game design is not a solitary process – it takes time and an awful lot of eyeballs. So just make sure to include women and other not-white-het-cis people as some of those eyeballs, and make sure that they know you’ll take their feedback seriously. The wonderful thing about game design is that it is an iterative process! It’s impossible not to fuck up your first draft – but early designs are always a hot mess of bad writing and clunky design. If you make spotting -ism fails part of your design agenda, it is absolutely possible to make games that don’t punch girls in the feels and tell them they have cooties.

[1] Or n-b folk, or PoC, etc.

[2] They also need to have an environment where they feel safe and supported in speaking out against sexist design decisions, which is something many women in the games industry don’t have. But that’s a topic for another post.

[3] I don’t mean this as an indictment on you, dudes, promise. I’m getting better about spotting racist tropes, but I’m still pretty shit at spotting transphobic and ableist tropes. I’m trying, but it’s hard when that shit just doesn’t apply to me. (See how that works?)

[4] I’ve accidentally ruined Guardians of the Galaxy for a more than a few people and I still feel really bad about it.

Hey, game devs. Knock it off with the corpse tits! [NSFW] [MANY IMAGES]

Yesterday, I had occasion to post the following on Twitter:

File that under the list of Shit I Wish I Didn’t Have to Say. Sadly, 95% of internet feminism seems to be saying shit that really should be completely obvious. (You know, like “hey – women are people”. Stuff like that.)

What prompted the Twitter mini-rant? Well, someone on my Google+ feed happened to link to this:


It’s like the artist was going through a mental checklist. “Okay, we’ve got 4 different skin tones. Staples, check. Rivets and metal plates, check. Creepy-looking veins, check. Just got to make sure I don’t forget the titties!”

Seriously. How ridiculous is it that the stitching and patches are actually more believable than the breasts, which have impossible cleavage (without support, breasts hang DOWN and AWAY from one another), seem to have no areolae, and definitely have no nipples. But then, as referenced in my tweets, this is hardly a new thing in games, tragic as that may be.

This particular gem is courtesy of Louis Porter Jr, who hasn’t bothered to hide the fact that he holds pretty regressive views on the portrayal of women in games. Back when I had just started this blog, he actually commented on a post I had made about Paizo, saying that he was glad that that Paizo was doing positive things with regard to racial diversity, but that sexualized wimmenz were just good business sense.

Uh. No. But thanks for playing, dude.

Still, it would be unfair to pick on LPJ too much, considering that Franken-Tits here isn’t exactly a unique phenomenon. So here is a totally-not-at-all definitive list of corpse tits in games that I had either run across previously or was able to find with only a modicum of Googling.


I honestly don’t know what game this first image is from, but frankly it pretty well sums up the problem that I’m talking about quite nicely:

That was on one of the first few pages of search results for “female lich”, which is an image search you should not do if you don’t want to see a whole lot of gory necro-tits with occasional gruesome necro-crotch.

Disturbingly, but not all that surprisingly, corpse tits are such a common phenomenon in gaming that they can be found in every subgenre of gaming.

It didn’t take much work at all to turn up these images for games funded on KickStarter. The image on the left comes from a game called Hands of Fate, which I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know was fully funded. Phew! I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine the horror of living in a world where a game of such bold artistic vision failed to become a reality.

The image on the right is from a game called Zpocalypse, which also fully funded. Right on! It’s so great to see so many independent creators get to realize their dreams of creating games that feature creepily sexualized women’s corpses.

Now I will give them credit for having a jawless zombie, mostly because I’m still bitter about not being able to play a jawless female Forsaken in World of Warcraft. But they just lose the points again for giving her weirdly pristine (considering the state of the rest of her) corpse tits.

Then we have this gem, which is actually (as far as I can gather) the cover image for Lich Queen’s Beloved – an official, Wizards-published  adventure module for D&D. Of course, on the Wizards site they only use the thumbnail on the left, which an amusing bit of obfuscation on Wizards’ part. Given the amount of embarrassing cheesecake art that I’ve seen in official Wizards’ products, it’s amusing that this is sufficiently awful that they don’t want to include the full image on their website.

But Wizards of the Coast is hardly the only large publisher guilty of this nonsense. Disappointingly, despite that Paizo seems to have been trying to not fail quite as much at female characters lately, they still included this character in some published material released August of last year.


And sure, she’s not as bad as the others. But the fact is that she is dessicated, her skin and muscle tissue are clearly withered and dried out. So WHY in god’s name is she wearing boob plate? Given that her nose and lips rotten and she is clearly giving zero fucks about that, I highly doubt it’s a fashion statement. And if her limbs and lower torso are at that level of desiccation, it’s not like her tits are going to be perky enough to need any support, not unless she’s had some very selective embalming done.

But let’s not forget video games! Because there are so. Goddamn. Many. corpse tits in video games.

One of the elder statesmen of video game corpse tits would have to be WoW, who from the very beginning made it clear that even in death the women in the WoW universe would have supermodel faces and amazing tits.

What makes it even more frustrating is the fact that apparently there are a few artists who work for Blizzard whose heads aren’t completely up their asses:

I have pretty much zero interest in playing a character like Barbie McCorpse-Tits, but I would totally play the shit out of her! Look at her! Rotten nose and face, not sexualized, just getting shit done. AWESOME. MORE OF THAT PLEASE. And less of this shit:

How sad is it that Resident Evil has the least sexualized female zombie? What the hell? Why is this a thing that game companies are competing over? Still, if I had to give an award I would give Guild Wars the trophy for the grossest corpse tits ever. Seriously, look at her. The skin on her face is leatherized but she’s still got fucking basketballs pinned to her chest. I’m surprised they didn’t put nipples on her for gods sake.

But wait! There’s more!

Even Facebook games just can’t resist getting in on that sexy necro-boob action. Look at miss Zombie Prostitute here. Sure her face and arm are all decayed and gross, but don’t worry, the important stuff is still perky and fleshy. (Also, the contrast here just underscores everything I’m saying here. Why do female zombies never get to wear any fucking clothes, but male zombies walk around in three piece suits and the like?)

The Bottom of the Barrel

As bad as all of that is, it actually gets worse. “But, wundergeek!” I’m sure you’re asking. “How could it get worse?”

Well, gentle reader. As bad as the above examples are, they aren’t generally being used to promote the brands that the represent. As awful as corpse tits are, most companies still have the sense not to use them to promote their products to a wider audience.

Of course, some companies aren’t put off such tactics by things like “common sense” and “taste”, which is how you end up with things like this promo image here:

Aww, yeah. We’re getting a first look all right. RIGHT AT HER TIIIIIITS! HIGH FIVE BRO!

…bad enough that you’re using Valindra Shadowmantle, the most boobular of all video game liches, as the promo for your game. But did you really need to make it worse by making an arrow pointing right at her necro-cleavage? Her impossibly fleshy and perky necro-cleavage?

However, I’m afraid that Valindra loses the crown for Worst Promotional Necro Boobs to Dead Island, whose publishers also net themselves an award for Shittiest Human Beings In Game Development:

That’s right, folks. For this box set, they actually included a promo figurine of a mutilated and disembodied torso with big, weirdly compressed fake tits. And then advertised the fact. AS A SELLING POINT.

Now given that Techland is the same studio that caused the uproar over their inclusion a skill named “Feminist Whore” in a test build of the game, misogynist promotion shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Still, publisher Deep Silver really went for the misogyny gold with this one. I can only imagine the conversation that led to this being a thing that actually happened:

The Boss: We need a promotional item to include with the box set. Ideas?

Operations Exec: A toy? Maybe a figurine?

Marketing Exec: Figurines make excellent limited edition items. They’re very collectible.

The Boss: Very good. Talk to me about how we can make this a quality, value-added proposition for our customers.

[Marketing Exec and Operations Exec look at each other]

Operations Exec: Well I was thinking a mutilated torso.

Marketing Exec: What a disembodied torso?

Operations Exec: Oh, yeah. Obviously. No limbs or anything. Just a torso. A mutilated lady torso.

The Boss: Interesting. I like your style. Do go on.

Operations Exec: [to Marketing Exec] So her torso should be totally mutilated, right? Except for her boobs?

Marketing Exec: Oh, totally. You can’t mutilate the boobs.

The Boss: They should be large and round. And firm. Very firm. There’s nothing I hate worse than saggy tits.

Operations Exec: [taking notes] Uh-huh. Got it. Does it have a face?

The Boss: Does what have a face?

Operations Exec: The mutilated torso figurine. Does it have a face?

The Boss: No. No face.

Marketing Exec: Why would it have a face? It doesn’t need a face.

Operations Exec: All right. So the spec I’m handing to my artist is mutilated torso, no limbs, with very large, very firm breasts, and absolutely no face.

Marketing Exec: I’ll get to work on promotional branding right away.

The Boss: This is some damn fine work, people. Damn fine indeed.

Operations Exec: Thank you, sir.

A Depressing Conclusion

Corpse tits in games go from depressing to outright scary once you consider the logic and carry it to its natural conclusion. Gaming culture is one that demands that all game women should be attractive and entirely available for the sexual gratification of a presumed male viewer. Game culture also objectifies women, breaking women down into their pleasing and less pleasing parts, emphasizing the pleasing bits and de-emphasizing the less important bits. When these two concepts collide, that’s the kind of thinking that leads to necro-tits.

At no point during the design of these characters are they ever considered to be people. They are designed piece-by-piece, carefully degrading their not-sexy parts while preserving the holy trinity of boobs, crotch, and ass. Often the face is allowed to be shown as decayed, because who cares what comes out of women’s faces? Ladywords? Ladyfeelings. Boring. Heads aren’t even mandatory, as evidenced by Dead Island.

Some of them might have story tacked on as an after-thought, but most won’t even get that much. Because the category of “woman” trumps that of “human”, and even in death women must be rendered as sexually pleasing objects, not people. Never people.

But that begs the question – why is there such a need to have sexy corpses in so goddamn many games? Why is no one taking a moment to be like “dude, that’s a corpse“? Frankly, if you’re capable of finding any of these images sexually appealing, I don’t really want to know you. Ever. But the dehumanization of women in games is so rampant, so systemic, that even the concept of FUCKABLE CORPSES doesn’t raise eyebrows.

A bit of followup silliness

In my previous post, I complained about the new Civilization board game and how it sexualized the female leaders and not the male leaders. This prompted Scott (a commenter) to make the following observation:

One bizzare sidenote, Catherine the Great’s cleavage stops midway up her chest. It looks really weird, like her breasts are somehow fused together. Does the artist even know what breasts look like? Just another example of the absurdity. Probably more a result of lazy artists than anything.

Also, if they had drawn Lincoln thrusting his junk out, I would buy this game today. If we’re gonna have ridiculous sexualized depictions, let’s make it equal and have some fun with it!

And dammit. I could not get the vision of a junk-thrusting Abraham Lincoln out of my head. I mentioned this to my husband, who elevated the concept to a new level of terrifying by suggesting that he cover his junk suggestively with his stovepipe hat – with no pants of course. And then I really had to draw it.

So I suppose you can blame Scott for this monstrosity:

I’m so sorry. I had no choice. NO CHOICE AT ALL.

To the folks at Fantasy Flight Games, I have designed this specifically for the next edition of the Civilization board game. You may use it royalty free. You’re welcome.

Fantasy Flight fail: Descent and (the new version of) Civilization the board game


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:

He also made her not white since all of the human heroes are so very, very white. But that’s an entirely different kettle of fail.

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:

TOP: Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, and Wu Zetian BOTTOM: Caesar, Bismark, and Lincoln

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.

>Why the phrase "games for girls" makes me cringe

>I’m going to take a break from gaming-related porn here. The thing about delving the depths of the internet is that you always discover that there’s an entirely new level of awful that you didn’t know about until you went looking. Instead, I’m going look at girls’ versions of board games today as kind of a palette cleanser. Before I start, though, I’ll note that several of these pictures were ganked from an excellent article on The Society Pages that deserves a read.

Anyone who has ever tried to buy a board game for the children in their lives will know that toys and games for children are marketed in a very gendered way. It is not at all uncommon to go to a toy store and see displays like this:

Stuff like this just makes me cringe because this isn’t me, nor has it ever been me. As a child, I refused to own anything pink – although to my mother’s credit she was far less dismayed by this than by the fact that I refused to wear dresses from the age of 8 onward. So the fact that the robots in marketing departments everywhere have decided that LITTLE GIRLS LIKE PINK is discomfiting to me. Sure I liked pants better than dresses and took tae kwon do instead of ballet, but I’d like to think that didn’t make me any less of a girl.Now of course I’ll admit that there’s a good reason why game companies do this – these things sell. Look at the Disney Princess line; it’s practically a license to print money. But just as with any group of people, not all little girls have the same tastes – so it makes me sad to see game companies marketing to girls as if all girls ever want the same things, especially when that same marketing comes with the added sexist baggage that goes with it.

I mean, check this out:

OMG! Why bother with the boring game when I can just pose with this pretty, pretty purse?

So, yes, a pink version of Twister is pretty ridiculous. I defy you to give me a rational explanation of how the default Twister is a “boys’ game” and thus warrants a “girls’ version”. But aside from the total eyeroll factor, check out the packaging and you’ll notice that Twister Pink doesn’t come in a game box – it comes in A PURSE. Even better, there’s a tiny drawing of some girls actually playing the game up top, but the image that dominates the packaging is the girl posing prettily with the purse.Does Milton Bradley think that girls won’t play games if they don’t come in gender-appropriate containers? Like little girls who would not have played vanilla Twister IN A BOX would suddenly jump all over playing Twister Pink IN A PURSE? How is the purse a value-added feature? Arg. Just… arg.

And there’s plenty of other examples of patronizing packaging as well. Like:

“F*CKYOU” would also be a bingo, and would be worth a lot more with F, C, K, and Y. Too bad its two words.

Fashion? FASHION? There’s an entire world of seven letter words out there, like “entrail”, “retinas”, and “inertia”. And you chose to go with FASHION. I mean, even from a Scrabble point of view it’s a shitty word since five of your seven letters are 1-pointers.And, man, what are you trying to say with this? That the only reading girls do is Twilight, fashion mags, and celebrity gossip? That fashion is such an all-consuming part of a girl’s life that even while playing a board game her thoughts are, naturally, about what she’s wearing? That she can’t relate to any concept that isn’t directly related to fashion?

Well, that would at least explain this monstrosity:

Monopoly for girls! Colon capital D! I have to have one!

This edition of Monopoly comes with the pieces in a jewelry box. And even better, all those boring properties like “Boardwalk” and “Park Place” have been replaced with things way more relevant to girls – like shopping malls, hair salons, and fashion boutiques! Because heaven knows that girls can’t ever aspire to be usurious property barons out to make a quick buck. That would make them successful business people! Much better to change it so that the things that they own are stuff that boys wouldn’t want to own anyway. Eew, cooties!But then, everyone knows that girls can’t expect to have the same careers as boys:

Quick! Someone give me some insulin! I’m going into pink overload!

So the great thing about this game is that you get to play to figure out what kind of career is best for you. Don’t worry about having challenging professions – your options are all things won’t be intellectually taxing. (And if they are they’ll be jobs men don’t want.) Potential careers include things like: “Fashion Designer”, “Animal Doctor”, and “Super Mom”. Because it’s important to start teaching girls at a young age that the only value they offer to society is their ability to reproduce.I realize that this is an older game – from about 1990 – and I don’t honestly know if there’s a newer edition. I devoutly hope not. But I thought it deserved a mention since I found it while browsing through Board Game Geek. Wei Hwa Huang wrote an excellent review of the game called “Most Condescending Game Ever“, and then some BGG users proceeded to then argue that this actually wasn’t sexist at all.


Other things that are, apparently, not sexist include:

New preschool curricula include Disney Princess Recognition. True story.

It doesn’t really matter what pictures you use for Memory as long as there are two of them. But you know what I’d love? A “Girls Edition” of Memory with pictures of astronauts, spaceships, and power tools. I would totally buy that for the girl toddlers in my life.Last we have something that a friend alerted me to:


The fail is so large it practically has its own gravitational pull.

So. Much. Hatred.

The bottom right hand of the package says SOLID WOOD BLOCKS (are pretty in pink). Because I guess it’s important that all board games for girls are pretty. What makes this extra terrible is that it’s essentially Truth or Dare, but without the Dares and with only really insipid Truths. Like “If you had one wish, what would you wish for?” and “who do you have a crush on right now?”.

Now, I’ll admit to creating a Truth or Dare Jenga set with some friends in university, and it was always a blast to play. Why not create a non-gendered Truth or Dare Jenga and let the game stand on its own merits for crying out loud?