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It Takes a Village – Board Game Grrrls and the Importance of Women Gaming Groups

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Games of all sorts are a fantastic way to connect with people whether they’re old friends or you’ve just met. Whenever my partner and I move to a new area our first priority is finding a local game group, and a few of those folks always wind up becoming good friends. For women this can be a little intimidating – sometimes game spaces seem very male dominated, or one or two of the members can be unintentionally (or intentionally) creepy. In the past decade gaming has seen the rise of girl-friendly or girl-only groups both to build positive space for established lady gamers and to create a welcoming environment for new ones. I caught up with Board Game Grrrls facebook group founder Saille Warner Norton this week to talk about games, grrrls, and the importance of  inclusive game spaces.

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Why did you start Board Game Grrrls?

I did it on a whim after Yet Another Awful Thread on another FB board game group. I’ve always been community orientated, and I am one of the admins on another female focused geek group, so it was an easy jump for me to create. I thought I’d maybe get a handful of other female gamers to chat with about gaming. I used “Grrrl” because I came of age during the Riot Grrrls movement of the 90’s, and I think that history and meaning is suitable for us today.


Whats your favorite game? Least favorite? Why?
I have yet to pinpoint my favorite game. I have a number of games that I will always play.  Currently, I’m on a Sagrada kick. I also love Tokaido and Karmaka. Both games are beautiful. My favorite games tend to be ones with gorgeous art and mechanics that match their themes. I also play quite a few 2 player abstract games, like Santorini and Onitama, with my eldest. He’s been playing chess since he was 7, and its one of the only ways I have a chance to beat him!  My least favorite is hands down, Cards Against Humanity. CAH allows people to bring out their worst selves under the guise of a game. It is all the -ists rolled into one. I really don’t understand the fun of that. Now that being said, I hold great respect for the company for putting their ill gotten gains towards a greater good. I’m just not sure the ends justifies the means in this case.
Do you feel like the game community is general welcoming towards women? How could it be improved?
My local community seems very welcoming, in general. Several of our local game stores are woman owned. But I know that is not the situation across the board. I hear reports all the time of women being treated poorly by both store employees and other gamers at the table. One would think in this highly competitive market stores at least would be more welcoming and inclusive. Private gaming groups seem to be much more welcoming. But issues still come up. I think awareness is the number one way to improve inclusiveness. We need men to step in and be the ones calling out misogyny and sexism in our gaming communities. Women need to know that our gaming spaces are safe and that should there be an issue, other players have our backs. Unfortunately, I think online communities still have a very long way to go.
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How long have you been gaming?
My siblings and I played board games and cards all the time. In fact, when I was 10 or so, I used my birthday money to buy Payday. And then played it all the time. My parents and extended family frequently played cards, so we kids just followed suit. I grew up playing Pitch, Canasta, Gin Rummy, 31, Kings In The Corner, Hearts, Spades. The late 80’s and early 90’s were an explosion of the party game genre, and games like Pictionary, Balderdash, Scattegories, Taboo, and Trivia Pursuit were all the rage. During college, there as even a local Pictionary tournament, which I and my team won. After college, I was more involved in CCGs, tabletop RPGs and LARPs. I got involved in hobby board gaming after my youngest was born. A friend brought over Carcassone and Puerto Rico, and that was all she wrote. So I think I can safely say I’ve been gaming for 40 years.
Why do you think its important to have female specific game spaces?
Many women seem to think they’re anomalies as female gamers. We’re not! Female specific spaces allow us to find our tribe, to realize we are not alone, and to share our common experiences. For women who are already marginalized in our wider society, and then marginalized in this very small niche community, these things are invaluable.
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Who would you recommend Board Game Grrrls to and why?

I would love to be able to reach each and every woman gamer out there. Because you do not have to go it alone. We have had a number of members meet up in person at this point, and I absolutely love that BGGG has been a part of women finding other local women gamers. I have hopes that someday we’ll be able to do that on a larger scale, and be a recognized force for change within the wider gaming community and industry.

Board Game Grrls has grown in just six month to over 1200 gamers. The group is always abuzz with chat ranging from game suggestions to rules mechanics. The Grrrls are quick to answer questions and always welcome new gamers. Join the conversation at Board Game Grrrls on Facebook here.

PAX Unplugged and The Roll Initiative

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Unplugged

Lords, Ladies, Lads, and Lasses – I have recently returned from attending my first convention as an exhibitor. Thia the Bard was gracious enough to provide me some questions to answer about my experience.

How did you find out about The Roll Initiative?

I saw an ad posted by The Roll Initiative on a Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League facebook page looking for volunteer Dungeon Masters for PAX Unplugged. I’ve had experience playing in the AL and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to step up and DM, delving deeper into the league.

What is your favorite thing about TRI?

I like that it’s just starting out and this was the first event they were orchestrating. The entire lead team are also gamers and fans of D&D. I was able to be myself and ended meeting a lot of fun people. I hope I made a few friends along the way.

What are you most excited about for PAX Unplugged this year? 

Since this was an official D&D event, TRI was able to get Fai Chen to attend our RPG slots. (Fai Chen’s Fantastical Faire is the D&D Adventures League trading post.) Players in the league can use Fai Chen at conventions to trade magical items they don’t have a use for. I’ve collected a few myself, and honestly that was my biggest goal in attending the convention. 

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That’s our logo!

Did you get to attend any panels?

I was so busy running modules over the weekend I was unable to attend any of the panels. I would have liked to have seen the Critical Role gang.

What advice do you have for newbies headed to events like PAX Unplugged?

Be patient. The role playing game fandom is HUGE and sometimes the organizers underestimate how many wonderful people they’ll need to accommodate. The lines this year were incredible and this was the first year for both PAX Unplugged and for TRI’s RPG tables. Next year I’m sure everyone will have a much better experience.

Do you have any tips for gamers who are looking for a group like TRI?

TRI is growing, I can’t speak officially for them, but follow the link above and check them out. I’m sure they could use more DMs. You can also stay active on social media. Facebook has a lot of fan pages for DMs, players, item trades, and games with open slots. Also, if you find a page, or group you like…share it. Word of mouth is the best way to expand what we like about gaming.

Catlilli Games – When Science meets Board Gaming

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I had the good fortune to meet the driving force behind Catlilli Games at my first game demo at WashingCon last month. I was immediately hooked by Tacto, a programming in the guise of Tic-Tac-Toe that both teaches programming AND is genuinely fun to play. Catlilli Games has successfully bridged the gap between learning AND fun, developing educational games that are exciting to play in addition to teaching STEM.  Since the company was formed they’ve won numerous awards including awards from the Imagination Gaming Awards and three International Serious Play Awards this year. This week I sat down again with Catherine Swanwick to talk about women in games and game development.

What prompted you to get into game design, and why educational games?
I’ve loved board games my whole life.  I used to collect them and my parents would become exasperated when they took up so much room.  When I became a teacher, I started creating them (simple, short ones) whenever I could for the classroom.  One of my colleagues, Jon Nardolilli, did the same thing, and I discovered that not only was he a board game lover, too, but that he had designed his own actual full-length game.  I became inspired and started to design games, also.  We decided to form our own company, Catlilli Games (part of my first name and part of his last name).  We are both STEM teachers, and as a former scientist, I am passionate about educating the public about STEM concepts.  It’s the reason I became a teacher.  My company, Catlilli Games, is extremely mission-driven.  We want to transform STEM education with gaming.

How long have you been gaming?
I’ve collected/played/loved board games my entire life. I only started designing games in Jan. 2015 when Catlilli Games was founded.

Do you feel like the game design industry and tabletop community is positive towards women? Why?
Overall, I have to say that no, I don’t feel the game design industry/tabletop community is welcoming towards women.  I haven’t experienced outright animosity, but I am naturally excluded from gaming groups, and I do feel slightly uncomfortable when I want to attend game nights at stores but they are mostly men.  However, there are pockets of very welcoming communities, such as Labyrinth on Capitol Hill (Washington DC), where I have found men and women present in equal numbers and I have always felt a warm, friendly, accepting vibe toward women.

Whats your favorite game? Least favorite?
My favorite game is so very difficult to choose!  In general, I like cooperative games (Pandemic, Forbidden Desert, Mole Rats in Space – basically anything by Matt Leacock), although I do have a special place in my heart for Machi Koro.  My absolute LEAST favorite game is PieFace – I call it my archenemy.  It goes against everything I stand for as a game designer.

Why do you think educational games are beneficial/important?
Games are important for education because they are a natural way of engaging students.  They automatically stimulate their attention, and they let them interact with the material in a hands-on, creative, exciting way.  Even better, they allow students to talk through questions/problems and learn from each other in many ways.  I also believe that gaming experiences will help them retain the material for longer periods of time.

Whats your favorite stage of the design process?
My favorite part of the design process are the very earliest stages, when I or my former partner had the seed of an idea and knew it has the potential to make a great game, so we would sit for hours going through all the permutations to set up an initial prototype.  The excitement is indescribable.

Looking for an entertaining way to help a kid in your life with science? You can purchase Catlilli Games from their website. (And try Tacto – its outstanding!)

Interview with Joe Kerr Cosplay

Hello, lovelies! Rinshi here with another cosplay interview – just for you! This time I had the pleasure of interviewing the very talented Joe Kerr Cosplay. As you might imagine from his name, Joe Kerr specializes in cosplaying The Joker from the Batman universe, and believe me when I tell you that he’s one of the best I’ve seen. Do you doubt me? Then read on!

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