Elizabeth Hargrave at GenCon 2019.
Image: BoardGameGeek

Elizabeth Hargrave, the game designer behind the critically acclaimed board game titles Wingspan, Tussie Mussie, Mariposas, The Fox Experiment, and Undergrove, has posted critical data for the German board and card game award Spiel des Jahres via Twitter. The data collected showed the vast gap between male and female nominees of certain Spiel des Jahres categories, displayed on pipeline charts. Here is a summary of the collected data by Elizabeth Hargrave:

  • Spiel des Jahres nominees since 1999: 103 men to 5 women, with no female nominees present in the last two years.
  • Kennerspiel des Jahres (Connoisseur Games) nominees, since its inception in 2011: 52 men to 5 women. This award has no female nominees this year. Furthermore, the reward has never seen more than one female nominee per year (if any).
  • Kinderspiel des Jahres (Kids Games) since its inception in 2012: 43 men to 8 women. This is the only Spiel des Jahres category that has a female nominee in 2023 (one out of 9 games) – Sara Zarian, for her game Carla Caramel.

In summary, the data clearly shows an overwhelming male presence in the Spiel des Jahres awards throughout the years, which is still strong today. Elizabeth Hargrave has explicitly stated that the post and data are not posted as criticism towards Spiel des Jahres, but “as a criticism of the PIPELINE”, in her words.

Identifying Key Problems and Issues

Elizabeth Hargrave further identifies three problems of these statistics: who tries to make a game; who pitches games; and whose games get chosen by publishers. She feels that game design and publishing are areas that are not as accessible to females as they are to men, and that making them more accessible to women will lead to Spiel des Jahres having better games.

And she does make a valid point. The board games industry is dominated by men. So is the gaming industry in general. However, it is important to point out that changes are coming, albeit slowly. Females are slowly coming through, becoming braver with their ideas, playing what is genuinely attributed to “male hobbies”, and succeeding in them.

Yes, the year 2023 certainly doesn’t show this, but the Spiel des Jahres reflects mostly the German board game market. On a global scale, the statistics could be better, albeit not by much. Still, we hope that in the future, that will change for the better. I, as a father to a little girl, certainly hope so.

Elizabeth Hargrave has also expressed interest in revisiting the data with a strong focus on region and race. And while she doesn’t have the number yet, according to her – the data will be very similar, and the community suffers for it, restricting the brainpower and life experience that goes into games. We can only hope that with the new wave of inclusivity and positivity, the board game world will be a better place.

A self-proclaimed warrior-poet, Krasen is a man of many hobbies – ranging from combat sports training, LARPing, to writing poetry. One of those many hobbies happens to be board games. Be it with a fist, pen, sword or keyboard – he aims to be just, merciless and effective.