About a month ago, we played The Shores of Tripoli from Fort Circle Games and really enjoyed the entire experience. Well produced, good rules, fast playing but interesting and surprisingly deep strategy game on the Barbary Coast and the trouble there with the Tripolitan Pirates for the fledgling United States. After that I caught wing the Fort Circle was working on an interesting card driven game about the women’s suffrage movement of the 1920’s. I reached out to Kevin Bertram who put me in touch with the designer Tory Brown and now I am bringing you this very intersting interview with her.

If you are interested in Votes for Women, you can back the project on the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fortcircle/votes-for-women-0

Grant: First off Tory please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?

Tory: I am a political strategist and advocacy specialist for social justice causes like the labor, racial justice, and women’s movements. I am passionate about empowering people to use their voice and build power on important issues in local, state and federal government. 

I live in Washington, D.C. with my partner and two cats. During the pandemic we’ve been watching a lot of prestige TV and playing “new classic” games like Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride. I’ve also been learning watercolor and tatreez (Palestinian embroidery).

Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?

Tory: I’ve been friends with Kevin Bertram from Fort Circle Games for more than 20 years. He has been incredibly supportive of not just the ideas behind Votes for Women but of my ability to translate the historic narrative into a fun game. I really enjoyed the research and card material – when our graphic designer Brigette Indelicato came back with the Votes for Women box design based on suffrage broadsides I almost cried. The notion that this game will be enjoyed by people I’ll never meet – and may even inspire a few players to consider joining today’s social justice efforts – fills me with pride. 

Grant: What designers have influenced your style?

Tory: I am in awe of Jason Matthews and the game 1960: The Making of the President. He distilled a ton of information into gameplay that was not just informative but also fun. From that game I learned that it’s ok to be a little bit ahistorical to create interesting dynamics and useful clashes. 

Grant: What other games have you designed or dabbled into?

Tory: Votes for Women is my first game! Shout out to new designers – you can do it too!

Grant: What was your motivation to design a game on women’s suffrage? Why did you think this was a topic well suited to a game?

Tory: My initial motivation to design Votes for Women was the timing. 2020 marks the Centennial of the 19th Amendment and there has been a lot of interest in looking back at that time in our nation’s history. I also saw an opportunity to shed light on some aspects of the struggle that don’t get taught in most classrooms. 

Social movements translate well into gameplay: the story has highs and lows, heroes and villains, and even the notion of winning is supercharged when the stakes are high. 

Plus, if you think about it, the suffragists were playing a game of their own – making great strides and then enduring demoralizing defeats just to get back up and take another turn.

Grant: What sources did you consult on the history of the suffrage movement? What one must read source would you recommend?

Tory: Because of the pandemic, I did most of the research about Votes for Women online. The fact I couldn’t spend hours at the Library of Congress or National Archives broke my little nerd heart, but their online collections are phenomenal. I leaned on the work of many writers who helped me ground my research in the authentic, diverse nature of the struggle, including Ellen Carol DuBois’s Suffrage and Elaine Weiss’s The Woman’s Hour. I also highly recommend the state historical society websites! We should all learn about local “forgotten sheroes” closer to home and carry their stories into the next 100 years.

Grant: What challenges presented themselves in boiling the topic down to a playable simulation?

Tory: I probably had enough source material for at least 200 cards – the hardest part was paring down everything I learned and collected on the subject to just 45 cards per side (90 in total) that hit the highlights and still add to people’s understanding of the era. The imagery from the suffrage movement is just incredible. I fell in love with all the memorable art and campaign ephemera (like sashes and buttons) as well as the primary source documentation. But for the Votes for Women event cards, I had to be ruthless.

Grant: I understand the game has several playable modes. What are the modes and what was the most challenging thing about designing a game in this way?

Tory: Votes for Women, like the issue itself, is fundamentally two-sided, with one side opposing equal franchise and one side pursuing it. But there are multiple modes of play. Votes for Women can be played with two players (or teams) against each other, or as a cooperative game with all players on the suffragists’ side, or solitaire. The automated “bot” used in cooperative and solitaire play was challenging to create, but it works well and makes the game fun for players who just can’t bring themselves to fight against political equality. 

Grant: How is the game played? 

Tory: Votes for Women is played over six turns of six rounds each. It usually takes about an hour from start to finish. 

Each round, a player may (a) play a card to catalyze an Event; (b) discard a card to take a Campaigning action; (c) discard a card to take an Organizing action; or (d) – in the last two turns only – discard a card to take a Legislative Vote action.

Playing a card as an Event may allow the player to do a variety of things, such as:

  • placing influence markers to build political power in a given state
  • helping or hindering Campaigning or placing new Campaigners
  • starting or ending wars.  

Discarding a card for a Campaigning action allows a player to place influence markers in states and/or move from one region to another. Instead of a card having an “Ops” value like in 1960, a player rolls a 4-sided die for each Campaigner their side has in play.

Discarding a card to Organize allows a player to receive three (if the Support player) or one (if the Opposition player) organizing buttons. An Organizing button can be spent to re-roll bad die rolls.

Discarding a card to take a Legislative Vote action only happens in the last two turns, which occur between 1919 and 1920. The player selects specific states to hold a vote on ratification. For each state, each player rolls a six-sided die, then adds any influence markers in the state and any bonuses from cards.

Grant: I see where the opposition cards highlight the events, forces, industries and individuals, many of them women, who nearly thwarted the greatest expansion of citizenship in American history. How did you go about setting up these cards to be able to stop the movement?

Tory: The women and men who opposed suffrage had a big advantage: the status quo. Then and now, the American political system is built to maintain the current course of action. Change requires significant political energy. The player on the opposition side has cards that emphasize traditional social norms, fear of unintended consequences, and backing from the industries that stood the most to lose financially if women developed political power. The opposition player can also exploit the divisions that emerged among the pro-suffrage side, not the least of which was the exclusion of women of color. These are strong forces reflected in powerful cards.

Grant: Can we get a look at the map? Can you describe the various spaces and tracks and their purpose?

Tory: The U.S. map that I designed shows six regions containing eight states each, roughly reflecting areas of strength or weakness for the suffragists. Many cards and influence actions occur in these six regions. Regions are also important since a player must expend Campaigning points to move from one region to an adjacent region.

Grant: What role do the organizing buttons play?

In playtesting Votes for Women it was clear that there needed to be a way to mitigate bad luck. I really hate those games where everything is at the whim of the dice! So in Votes for Women, players can choose to spend an Organizing Button to re-roll a bad result. Thematically, this makes sense – a well-organized social movement can expect better outcomes. But spending resources on organizing – in this case, by discarding a card to get more Organizing Buttons – means resources not utilized elsewhere. In the real world, campaigns are about tradeoffs and this is an important factor in the gameplay.

Grant: How does a player call for a vote in state legislatures to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment?

Tory: A state votes to ratify or reject the Nineteenth Amendment in three different ways.

  1. At the start of the fifth turn (the first of two 1919-1920 turns), every state that has four Support influence markers immediately ratifies the 19th Amendment and every state that has four Opposition influence markers immediately rejects the Amendment. 
  2. During play in the 1919-1920 turns, if a state contains four Support markers or four Opposition markers, it again immediately ratifies – or rejects – the Amendment.
  3. If a player has decided to hold a Legislative Vote, each player rolls a die, adds the number of their markers in the state, plus any bonuses from cards. The highest roll wins the state.

Grant: What are the victory conditions?

Tory: To achieve ratification of the 19th Amendment, the Support player must win 36 states. The Opposition player only needs to win 13 states to guarantee rejection of the amendment.

Grant: What do you like most about the design?

Tory: It was interesting to design a game based on a historical movement that had imbalance at its very core. For the 19th Amendment to pass, three-quarters of the state legislatures needed to approve it. For it to be defeated, only one-quarter plus one state needed to reject it or not even bring it up for a vote and remember inertia is a powerful weapon. But, for Votes for Women gameplay, I wanted both sides to feel like they had a real chance to win.

I love how social movement dynamics are captured in the game and how much we can still learn about them today. Social movements face unlimited strategy options with limited resources, trade-offs that mean spending energy and time in one area while another area is ignored, the luck of the draw and roll of the dice. Votes for Women reflects the simple fact that it takes a lot of unknown people and unexpected events to make history. 

Thanks for your time answering my questions Tory. I am very interested in this game as I do love various politically focused card driven games such as Twilight Struggle, 1960: The Making of the President and others. I wish you luck on the campaign and look forward to playing the game in the future.

If you are interested in Votes for Women, you can back the project on the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fortcircle/votes-for-women-0