Entropy

I’m still riding the wave of feeling accomplished and pleasant after a week of serious acrobatics, so let’s focus on a gorgeous little game today that makes me quite happy: Entropy!

For those of you unfamiliar, Entropy is a secret action game themed around the collision of 5 parallel worlds. You have to navigate actions around other characters to find fragments of your reality to rebuild your little corner of existence. It’s fairly fast, easy to pick up, but with a fair amount of subtle strategic complexity. I like it quite a lot.

Plus the artwork is just GORGEOUS.  It makes me happy to just look at it. Plus it’s made by Australian designers, and I always enjoy supporting the local gaming community. 

Here’s a picture of the six playable characters (including The Ronin, which I think is technically an expansion, but I believe they came with all of the original Kickstarter releases?) At a glance, we can already see it does pretty great on the representation front. Winning all around!

Entropy Playable Characters

But let’s unpack it a little more.

Race/Nationality

Of the six playable characters, two are white and one is a robot/cyborg/machine-bodied. The other three are coded as people of colour. This is awesome!

But the action cards lose this casual and delightful mix of different kinds of people–of the 5 action cards in each player’s set that depict people, all 5 of the people pictured are white. Not sure what happened there.

But we weight playable characters higher in general and either way, this is a solid:

2 stars

Gender

Two of the characters are pretty clearly male-coded. One is fairly clearly female-coded. The cyborg has a traditionally female name (Mary) but no visual gender coders. Only The Ronin’s eyes are visible–their gender like most of their identity is concealed. 1 Advaranau is coded quite genderqueer to me.

It’s worth noting that within the theme, these characters are all from parallel worlds, and I enjoy the idea the art invokes that the gender and gender-presentation of characters may be different because the societal lenses of their home world could be different.

I’d say ‘I’m unable to sort characters into a strict societally-induced gender binary’ to be a pretty solid top score for diverse gender representation.

3 stars

Also, you’ll never convince me that the Anchor isn’t a Georgia O’Keefe-esque definitely-not-vaginal-art-what-are-you-talking-about wonder: 

A picture of The Anchor. Which definitely doesn't look like a shiny vagina. (I lie. It totally does.)

Sexuality

There aren’t any mechanics that allow choices that imply sexuality, but both Advaranau and Jessup read queer to me. As they’re both playable characters, this also earns top marks:

3 stars

Body

We actually don’t have heaps to go on here. Of the humans pictured on the action cards, most are only partial views of bodies, swathed in clothes, etc., but the art is very evocative of actual humans with realistic proportions and a few different fairly average body shapes.

The playable characters are only heads and tops of the chests. They too all have a very ‘actual human proportions’ feel to them, with a bit of variety in face shapes and such.

Also, one of the only games we’ve seen featuring people with physical impairments! It’s unclear to me whether this is a subtle part of the world-building I am not aware of, but many of the characters have something going on with their left eye. The Ronin, who has been in the Nexus (place where the fractured realities intersect) the longest, appears to be completely blind in this eye. Advaranau has a clear biomechanical implant in place of their eye. Jessup possibly does as well. Cenec appears to have his biological eye intact, but injured. Only Kintriel appears to have both eyes healthy and unimpaired, but she has a facial tattoo around this eye. (Mary–the cyborg–has no visible eyes at all.)

I am very curious about the reasons behind this, but also pleased to see people with a physical impairment featured so heavily in the playable characters (particularly in a way that seems subtle, interesting, and intriguing–a double bah to the bullshit crowd that says any depiction of people with disabilities or impairments in game art is always ‘forced’ or anachronistic).

3 stars

Overall

Our highest scoring game to date! (If you recall, Villainy got close but was docked points for grossness. No grossness here.) 

I love a lot about this game, but the subtle and natural weaving in of a whole variety of people is definitely a wonderful part of it.

And seriously, the artwork, whoa. Just go look at it.

Overall,

Race ★★☆
Gender ★★★
Sexuality ★★★
Body ★★★
Overall Average 2.75

Notes:

  1. I realised just as I was about to publish that the rulebook explicitly refers to The Ronin with male pronouns, but this doesn’t really change any of my overall thoughts here.

Villainy

So I played this game Sunday night while visiting a friend out of town. The first moment of the game when I drew my random character and she was a fat queer-coded woman villain, I knew I was going to have to write a post on it stat. When we laid out the first random row of henches and not a single white male appeared, I knew I was going to be pretty happy about its score in said post. (One glaring exception, which we’ll get to at the end). Also I got to have a dinosaur. This is all I’ve ever wanted.

Villiany playor tableau, showing the Villain and three henches: a disreputable doctor, a dinosaur wit han eye-patch, and a golden alien.
My villain and her henches, about halfway through the game.

For those of you unfamiliar, Villainy is a…. let’s say worker management?… game where you’re a bit-rate wannabe super-villain trying to put together a team to enact your nefarious EVIIIIIIL PLAAAAAAANS (which are all completely ridiculous).  With a perfect mix of frivolity, luck, and strategic complexity, it also has flavour text that had my gaming partner and I choking on laughter the entire game. It is just sheer fun.

It also has the most diverse and well-represented cast of characters of any game I’ve played since I started this adventure of having too many opinions about representation in tabletop gaming. Let’s take a closer look.

Race/Nationality

There are eight playable characters (the wannabe villains). Zero of the eight playable characters are white men. (Although there are two white women.)

Rex Roofer (seriously this game is great) is a black man; Doctor Loom is brown-skinned but not entirely human. Ms Tikal is a woman of colour–seems to be coded Latina with her name and the artwork. The rest of the playable characters have non-natural skin colours (green, blue, purple, etc).

Many of the henches are not human or even humanoid. There are about 15 that are human-or-close-to-it; only 4 of them are white men. 6 have a non-human skin colour, and there are 4 women and 1 man who are people of colour.

The game also includes naming titles so you can add your own flavour and identity to your characters. We’ll talk about these more below, but there are Spanish words and titles included among these titles (Jefe, Señora, Fuego, and a few more).

Overall, a stand-out game on the representation front and indisputably:

3 stars

Gender

This game is also a stand-out on the gender front. The game uses gender neutral language throughout the rulebook, and only uses gendered language when referring to a specific character — which varies between he/she/them/it (the last for for animals and robots, not people) depending on the character. I also liked that it used the word ‘henches’ instead of ‘henchmen’–I actually had to repeatedly stop myself from saying ‘henchmen’ even when referring to non-male henches. Male-specific language is so entrenched.

Of the playable characters, 4 are male-coded and 4 are female-coded. BUT the dynamic of the naming titles allows you full flexibility to give a character any gender-signifying title or naming you like, regardless of their coding. The naming mechanism has no purpose other than game flavour and developing your character’s identify; this leads me to feel that the ability to queer your character’s gender is explicitly allowed or even encouraged. High-fives all around. Oh, and also:

3 stars

Sexuality

Okay. So we’ve talked in The Scale about how it’s inherently problematic to try to guess someone’s sexual identity from just a picture of them. But it’s a limitation of the medium, so we’re left we making guesses from their artistic ‘coding’.

There’s also the inherent problem of defining what queer-coding even is. What makes someone ‘look’ gay? Even some of the more obvious ones–queer haircuts, for example, often chosen by queer folk for the explicit purpose of communicating their queerness to others–run afoul when trying to decide if someone just has a cool, punk alternative style or if they are intentionally declaring themselves queer as hell. (Plus you can obviously be queer as hell with a totally mainstream haircut.)

And finally there’s also a long media criticism history calling attention to the problematic queer coding of villains (here’s looking at you, Disney) and you could make an argument that it’s not actually a good thing that there are so many queer-coded characters in a game called Villainy where everyone is an aspiring bad guy.

But but but…. I kind of don’t care. I LOVE that a majority of the women in this game look like women I’d flirt up in coffee shops or expect to see at LBGTQ rallies or have actually dated. 2 of the playable female characters are queer/alternative coded. 3 of the hench-ladies are definitely folks I’d hit on under the right circumstances. 1

It may not be a perfect proxy, but multiple characters who look like me and my queer women and gender-diverse friends? This is good enough for me.

Between this and the ability to queer your playable character’s gender choices, I’m leaning strongly towards:

3 stars

Body

Finally, I was pretty excited about how well this game does this in category as well. With the playable characters, one of the characters is gloriously fat and thoroughly kickass. The women are all appropriately clad, with slightly different bodies.

Unfortunately, the playable men all have pretty identical (muscular) bodies BUT there’s a huge array of bodies among the henches! Super muscular (not sexy lean muscly) women, chubby men, old women, scrawny people, huge stocky dudes, etc. A good cross-hatch of humanity.

All the playable characters are fully able-bodied appearing, but we have a few signs of physical impairments among the henches–one hench who is missing a leg, a character with an eye patch (okay, it’s the dinosaur), and a few such things hints at a higher level of ableness-diversity than we’ve seen in any other game I’ve looked at.

3 stars

Overall

So! Our first game with 3s across the board. But–unfortunately there’s a but. And it’s a big one. 2

Where this game failed is in the neuro-diversity/mental health area. As per The Scale, there’s not a particular category for this, but I was going to award bonus stars in the body category for games that did it well. Not entirely sure how to handle a game that does it poorly, except I don’t feel comfortable endorsing this game as a complete standout for representation with this bit it in.

Essentially, there’s an element of the game where you can give your characters ‘specialities’ in different categories: Weapons, Science, Loyalty, Deception, etc.

Take a look at the Deception tiles and see if you can spot the problem:

Eight 'Deception' titles reading Got Plans, Good Liar, Smooth, Crazy, Hypnotist, Seductress, Tricky, and Bipolar.
…seriously?

My guard was down because the rest of this game was so delightful and inclusive, so I was extra horrified to draw two Deception tiles and find them to read ‘Crazy’ (cringe) and ‘Bipolar’ (what the actual hell). You seriously couldn’t come up with one more silly descriptor that wasn’t the name of an actual (manageable) mental health issue that millions of people are living with? Was it really necessary to get a dig in against people struggling with mental illness for what, a cheap laugh at their expense? I seriously don’t understand this, but I am pretty disgusted by it. I thought about giving the Body category a fail for overt ableism, but it didn’t quite feel right since this category isn’t usually looking at mental health issues, so I am docking a half-star to the overall score and giving the most serious of serious side eye to the shitty decision to include those two tiles.

SERIOUS SIDE EYE.

Overall,

Race ★★★
Gender ★★★
Sexuality ★★★
Body ★★★
Overall Average
(with -.5 for grossness)
2.5

Notes:

  1. Full disclosure, *my* hair is queer as hell in large part so I get read as queer by ladies I’d like to flirt with. So definitely showing my bias here.
  2. Heh, heh, a big butt. #mature