March 11, 2020

The UX Design of Board Games, Part 3: Diversity

I love board games. I play board games a lot. I even go to board gaming conventions! And I'm not referring to Monopoly or Scattergories (those are fine!), I am referring to "Euro-style" games like Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, and Ticket to Ride. After playing a lot of games, I started to notice certain aspects of the designs that could be improved to create a better user experience for a wider audience.

This post is the third in a series of four that will cover specific areas of game design that should be addressed for better user experiences. The first post covers the use of color in board games. The second post was about iconography. This post will cover diversity in board games.

Like in all forms of media, representation in board games is important. Why you might ask? The answer is simply because REPRESENTATION MATTERS! It is hard to explain to someone who is always represented in media and board games (white men) why representation is so important. I'm disappointed if I don't get to play with characters that look like me. Having a game that offers diversity is a confidence boost to those individuals who don't find themselves represented often enough in board games (and other media).

Games should include diversity within:

  • Gender Identity & Expression
  • Race & Ethnicity
  • Culture & Religion
  • Body Type
  • Ability
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Age

Are there other ways that game designers could add diversity to board games? Please share in the comments below!

Game researcher, Tanya Pobuda, conducted a study of the top 100 board games on the website Board Game Geek. She took inventory of the individuals represented on the cover art for each of the board games on the list. She found that board game cover art overwhelmingly overrepresented white males compared to females and non-white persons.

Example - Poor Diversity

In the card game, Silver, all of the characters (all 13 of them!) are white. The characters are split pretty evenly between male and female characters. When the expansion to Silver was released, I was disappointed that all of the characters (except for the non-human characters) are white AGAIN. I don't understand it. Making the characters a diverse representation of races would not have increased the cost to produce the game.

Examples - Better Diversity

The board game A Path of Light and Shadows has great diversity over several different characteristics. There are characters of different races, genders, and ages. And I'm not talking about a token female or black character, the entire deck of characters is diverse.

The board game Fog of Love offers versions for heterosexual couples as well as same-sex couples. Please note this is not how the game was first released. Fog of Love was originally only released with the heterosexual couple on the box. But after listening to user feedback, the publisher released the other two versions to be more inclusive.

It was difficult to find characters of different abilities represented in board games. Thanks to members of my local gaming community, I was pointed in the direction of Dead of Winter (and it's various expansions) and Topiary. Dead of Winter: Warring Colonies has two characters with visible disabilities. Atticus Sanders is a veteran in a wheelchair and Kumar Sen is visually impaired.

The board game Topiary includes a character meeple in a wheelchair. During my research, I found a couple of different meeples in wheelchairs that you could buy to customize your games, but Topiary was the only game I found that included a meeple in a wheelchair as standard. I think that's pretty cool!


In wrapping up, another quote from Game researcher, Tanya Pobuda:

“Media, such as board games, shape our cognition,” she argues.  These types of gaps between “representation” and demographics create a “vicious circle or a feedback loop of exclusion and confirmation of the in-group,” she says.

“Fair play means we must listen, learn, measure and improve. I am hopeful that the discussion will continue and we will, as a community, find a way to solve the problem of marginalization, ensure inclusion and achieve diversity. Only then will our hobby truly level up.”

-Tanya Pobuda from Study: Board Games Don’t Do Enough To Reflect The Diversity Of America’s Population by Celine Ryan

Stay tuned next week for my next post where I tackle instruction manuals in board game design! I will also be giving a lightning talk hosted by Ignite UX Michigan on May 12 at the Circ Bar. Please join me if you can!

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One comment on “The UX Design of Board Games, Part 3: Diversity”

  1. More diversity in board games!!! I was disappointed while playing Arkham Horror to discover the only player characters of color were a black stereotypical "tribal shaman" and an Asian "bookworm."

    There's at least one game we have played where you can buy a guide or slave, if I recall correctly. I think that kind of tone-deaf decision shows that board game designers need to include more diversity in their artistic teams. It's just embarrassing.

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