FLAVOR (by Tom Russell)

Mary Russell

In most card-driven wargames/political conflict games, each card has a unique effect that, in theory, is meant to represent the effect in game terms of the historical personage or event that it represents. This is underlined with a few lines of flavor text. Because your cards are hidden from your opponent and vice-versa, players must operate in an atmosphere of uncertainty.

The "event" cards in This Guilty Land are, barring a handful of exceptions, not event cards in this traditional sense. Each card within a certain type (Public Opinion, Organization, et cetera) functions in precisely the same way (though some cards might be more effective than others). You have complete knowledge of what cards your opponent has available this turn, and they have complete knowledge of what cards you have. And there is no flavor text on the cards, though each card does get a reasonably full description - sometimes a paragraph, sometimes the bulk of a page - in the playbook.

This is a decision which resonated with some players and very much didn't with others; some players felt that the fungible nature of events within a type made the game feel too abstract, and hard to connect to; the lack of flavor text right on the cards only exacerbated this feeling. After we announced The Vote: Suffrage and Suppression in America, some of those folks expressed the hope that I would use the opportunity to course-correct, either by using more "traditional" events, or at the very least by adding some flavor text directly on the cards.

Those folks are going to be disappointed on both counts, and I thought it might be helpful to talk about that decision. I'll address the lack of flavor text first. It mostly comes down to available real estate. Some of the cards are quite complex, capable of different actions and reactions. These are represented by icons printed right on the card, and once you've got those icons in place, it's hard to find room for a couple of lines of italicized text. Now, the pictures on the cards could be smaller - they're more than double the size of those for This Guilty Land - but I felt that the larger images helped make the game more thematic, and certainly more approachable and appealing to the eye.

At any rate, there's also the nature of what that flavor text would entail. How do you summarize Alice Paul in a couple of lines? In a way, that's the challenge facing any CDG designer, but here it's a little thornier. The game is not a simple celebration of the woman's suffrage movement, but also a cry of outrage on behalf of those the white suffragists intentionally left behind. Simply mentioning Paul's role in the suffrage movement would paper over her blinkered, privileged racism, and would not embody the game's intersectional argument. Appending an acknowledgement of that racism at the end of the flavor text would either downplay it in favor of her accomplishments, or overshadow them, depending on the exact wording. I didn't want to do either of those things, and didn't see how it'd be possible to avoid it. Brevity is the soul of wit, but not of nuance. The playbook gives me room for that nuance and for context. If the physical cards themselves don't explicitly advance the argument via flavor text, they at least do not contradict it, which I think would be far worse, especially in a game that's making an explicitly moral argument. (Likewise, I need the room not just to characterize the arguments made by those oppose to suffrage, but to point out why they're bunk, and to highlight how those same arguments are made today against other causes.)

And in a way, that's why this game uses "fungible" events: every Public Opinion card acts like any other Public Opinion card, whether it's representing Ida B. Wells or Mary Wollstonecraft. My aim is to focus your attention on the game's model and argument, not on the cool effects of this card or that one. As with This Guilty Land, my goal is to give you space to observe and contemplate the model, and to grapple with its implications, to ask yourself questions about your own complicity in systemic oppression that might not have answers, or whose answers might be deeply personal.

In fact, I could have gone further with this, removing the titles of the cards altogether, but I think that would have been too abstract, created too much distance. I need to give players something to hang onto, and my specific choices also allow me to lightly highlight aspects of my argument. While the Ida B. Wells card doesn't necessarily always represent Ida B. Wells, but can stand in for any argument or activist for woman's suffrage, the choice of Wells - who advocated fiercely for women's rights and against lynching, in contrast to white suffragists like Paul who went out of their way to assure white supremacists that woman's suffrage would not pose a threat to Jim Crow - is deliberate, as that choice embodies the intersectional nature of the game's argument.

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