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Wingspan and Women in Gaming

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16 Mar 2020 09:30 #308131 by Jackwraith
I confess to being one of the great unwashed that...

Birds, as the English say.

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16 Mar 2020 13:52 #308132 by ubarose
Good article. There has been a lot of chatter in various corners of the internet about Wingspan that feels a lot like gate-keeping - like the the narrow end of the wedge to broaden the discussion into disparaging women board gamers and designers, and Hargrave specifically. I think it what you have to say here is important, particularly "If you're a new player, who perhaps identifies as a woman, and so is already looking at two barriers to your being accepted in these situations, Wingspan might be the open door with the warm, tavern light streaming forth because it helps create a scenario that makes you feel more welcome; like you already fit in (which you should.)"
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16 Mar 2020 14:06 #308133 by Jackwraith
Thanks! I started it simply as an examination of why Wingspan didn't appeal to me, in contrast to its immense popularity. But I think that, in the same way that Hargrave realized that certain themes weren't being represented in games, there are also people that aren't being represented. We talk about it often and it's something of a meme in the gaming sphere ("Wait... There's a woman in a game group!") but we don't talk about the fact that many women might be reluctant to participate because they're expected to just adapt to whatever is at the table without being made to feel as if they're welcome at the table. That feeling of welcome can just be the attitudes of the other players, but it can also be a sensation that what's happening (the game) puts you on the same level as everyone else.

I've never gotten into Dominion for a number of reasons, but prominent among them is the fact that I learned from two veterans. What they were doing at the table was way beyond what I was doing. I felt like I was clueless and I didn't really enjoy it. Wingspan finds a good level there in that it's so easy to understand and the gameplay is so generally positive (barring a really awful draw) that I think it's difficult to end up in that situation where you feel like you're in over your head and, by default, not in a situation where you feel welcome.

I spend a LOT of my game nights teaching new games to people. I always try to gauge what's on the table to the group's inclination (for as much as I know the people involved.) In my case, Wingspan was so "unchallenging" to me (for lack of a better term) that I felt sure I owned other games that I could introduce to "non-gamers" (whether they actually are or not) that would still be as welcoming as Wingspan and not bore me at the same time.
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16 Mar 2020 15:35 #308141 by Shellhead
I assume that at least one of the major players in the board game industry has done some market research about female board gamers, but all that I've seen was that brief survey by Stonemeier Games a while back. Aside from a generally safe observation that a majority of board gamers are male, I don't know if anybody has more than anecdotal information about what women board gamers are playing. It seems dismissive to assume that they will only play easy gateway games that eschew direct conflict, but I've never met a female war gamer. (To be fair, I have not met many war gamers in general.)

In the last year and a half, I have been playing board games on a monthly basis with a younger group. The average age is maybe early 30s, and maybe 2/3 are not seriously into board games. Aside from myself and the two hosts, different people show up every month, with some returning from time to time. Typically, we have more female players than male players. Last month, 9 out of 14 players were women. The hosts tend to push party games, fillers, and light games that are low on conflict, even though the husband prefers Ameritrash kickstarter games and the wife prefers puzzle-like abstracts. But people bring other games, so I have observed female non-gamers also enjoying thematic Ameritrash games like Camp Grizzly, Zombicide, and The Gothic Game. Last time, somebody brought 7 Wonders, and it fell flat with with four of the seven players, including two women.
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16 Mar 2020 16:05 #308146 by Gary Sax
I love the setting of Wingspan, my big let down is that the game wasn't more actually thematic! This is an area where Evolution does a great job, even though it isn't to my taste really either.

Opening up to more appealing settings and pairing them with engaging themes would be a big positive if just an appealing, broader setting on a pretty bog standard tableau builder was enough to get people *this* enthused and attract new audiences.
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16 Mar 2020 17:24 #308153 by ubarose

Gary Sax wrote: I love the setting of Wingspan, my big let down is that the game wasn't more actually thematic! This is an area where Evolution does a great job, even though it isn't to my taste really either.

Opening up to more appealing settings and pairing them with engaging themes would be a big positive if just an appealing, broader setting on a pretty bog standard tableau builder was enough to get people *this* enthused and attract new audiences.


I'd argue that it isn't "bog standard" to people who are novice gamers. It has a refinement and polish that makes many things that have become second nature to us long time gamers, more transparent. For example, we experienced gamers don't have much difficulty activating items in the proper order in a large messy tableau, and tracking what we have and haven't done, and what we can and can't do. We sequence and "tap" cards without even realizing we are doing it. Wingspan forces players to activate cards in a specific order and clearly tracks their activation. It feels a bit restrictive if you are accustomed to playing something like Argent the Consortium, but for a novice gamer it removes some ambiguity and fiddliness, and makes remembering the rules and what to do on your turn easier.
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16 Mar 2020 18:48 #308159 by ChristopherMD

ubarose wrote: For example, we experienced gamers don't have much difficulty activating items in the proper order in a large messy tableau, and tracking what we have and haven't done, and what we can and can't do.


Some of us experienced gamers still suck at this.
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16 Mar 2020 19:07 #308162 by Jackwraith
Yeah, it's pretty variable, pending rules/game involved. A perfect example (to keep citing Root) is watching an "experienced gamer" try to get the Decree to function while playing the Eyrie, as soon as it goes past, say, 4 cards. Keeping track of that, plus what everyone else is doing, plus what you wanted to do with your hand of cards, can see turmoil show up right quick.

Uba's point is valid, in that Wingspan is laid out in a very clear manner so you don't have to do a ton of planning for future turns in order to be successful, but you CAN do so to make it work even better.
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16 Mar 2020 23:46 #308170 by Sagrilarus
Great exploration of the hobby. More like this please.
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17 Mar 2020 06:10 #308174 by Davidjc
Thanks for the interesting article. One of the recent trends that I have noted is an increase in the amount of gaming podcasts featuring women - whether as co-hosts or standalone (e.g. Not playing to win). I am really finding them quite refreshing (and often very humorous) with a different perspective on games. I hope this trend continues and reduces the gatekeeping in the hobby.
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17 Mar 2020 09:13 #308176 by Jackwraith
Cool. Can you recommend any? I don't listen to any other than Josh and Al from this here site. Most of the rest of my podcast time is taken up by (Euro) football and history topics.

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17 Mar 2020 10:01 #308179 by ubarose
Marc mentions that the theme and art of most board games makes it seem that board games are designed to be marketed to 14 year old boys. I think perhaps the key is not the "boy" part of the equation, but the "14 year old" bit. Wingspan is a card game with lovely illustrations of birds - which has rather more appeal to non-geek grown-ups.

It also requires zero geek-literacy to understand. Someone once said to me, "I like Ticket to Ride because it is about a real thing that I understand. It's not like that outer space game, where everyone calls each other a toaster, that makes no sense at all."
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17 Mar 2020 10:37 #308181 by Jackwraith
Right. I think that was part of the appeal of the German era of the late 90s and early 00s. Most of the themes were based on fairly mundane "real world" topics. To some degree it was a focus on mechanics over theme (the old "Euro vs Ameritrash" argument.) But it was also a measure of what kind of audience those games were aimed at. Boardgaming in Germany and other European cultures wasn't just something you did with bored 8-year-olds on a rainy Sunday (or when waiting out a plague...) It was and is a social activity. I can't say for sure that Knizia and others were aiming at a more "adult" audience, but I think they were aiming at a wider audience, in general, which definitely includes women.

But I also don't want to harp on that "non-geeky" approach too heavily. There are many people who identify as women who also happen to be fans of SF and fantasy themes. There are many women who are Marvel fans. Last I knew, HBO said the audience for Game of Thrones was pretty evenly divided between men and women. There's nothing inherently "less cool" or "less adult" about being into dragons. I think the key aspect of something like Wingspan is that it doesn't imply a foreknowledge of those "geeky" topics in order to be a part of the game. It's about birds. Everybody knows birds! You don't have to know anything about Malcolm Reynolds and the Unification War in order to "get it."

As an interesting codicil, Jamey Stegmaier released a "Favorite combat mechanisms" video the other day. Stegmaier is, of course, the publisher of Wingspan and runs a company that's known far more for Euro-type designs than for its SF thematics (no matter what the box covers of Scythe will claim.) First, off: COMBAT; generally seen as antithetical to female gaming interests (not true, but it's a perception.) His top 10?

In order: Kemet, Cry Havoc, Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Dice Throne, Blood Rage, A Few Acres of Snow, Arcadia Quest, King of Tokyo, Flipships, Cosmic Encounter.

I'm counting one (1) non-SF/fantasy game in that list. Does that mean that combat really IS a "14-year-old" realm that many adult women won't be interested in? Or does it mean that, if the publisher and designer of so many games that seem to have strong female appeal enjoys these, perhaps they have wider appeal than first thought? Or does it mean nothing at all (sample size)?
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17 Mar 2020 14:48 #308203 by Davidjc
One podcast I find very funny is Not Playing to Win. It will never make it onto the Dice Tower Network over language and occasional adult humour - but they offer an intereting take on games - often three games that have a similar theme like an episode on BOSK, Photosynthesis, and Arboretum.
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18 Mar 2020 01:25 #308237 by marcnelsonjr
"I like Ticket to Ride because it is about a real thing that I understand."

This is a big deal.

I'd still enjoy Wingspan if it were about space traders or post-apocalyptic gangs - but it's SO much easier to introduce normals to games with themes that are universal and easy to relate to.
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