Published on February 20th, 2015 | by Nicole Jekich3
I’m a Damsel, I’m in Distress and I Can Handle It
Monsters & Maidens Review
As part of Game Salute Loot we received a handful of new games. Most of the titles consisted of successfully funded Kickstarter products including the Monsters & Maidens dice game from Seattle area designer Fred MacKenzie of Clever Mojo Games. I have long had my eye on Monsters & Maidens since the Kickstarter campaign ended in November 2013.
Approaching this game, I already had a pretty strong bias towards not liking it. As a female gamer with an interest in breaking gender norms and creating a diverse showing of female characters in games, Monsters & Maidens feels stuck in past assumptions.
A Damsel in Distress Game Hmmm…
I was disappointed at the popularity of a ‘damsel in distress’ centric game from one of my favorite local companies. Clever Mojo Games has brought a couple innovative games to the market with Sunrise City and the popular sci-fi centric, Alien Frontiers dice placement game. I feel Monsters & Maidens was an odd diversion from their previous portfolio. Its gameplay and theme are uninspired and unoriginal.
Now I have definitely seen worse treatement of women in board games before. I’ve seen way too many chainmail bikinis and boob plate. Monsters & Maidens doesn’t come close to those offenses. The game’s female characters are fully clothed and are not sexually exploitative. Still, invoking the damsel in distress trope isn’t limited to suggestive clothing-does anyone remember Olive Oyl? This classic trope relies on the idea that women are a weaker gender and need rescuing by a male hero.
Monsters & Maidens was funded before the 2014 Gamer Gate fiasco. Thanks to female critics like Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency, a large chunk of the gaming crowd and consumers now understand that women receive more internet bullying and harassment in video games based solely on their gender. What I remeber most about Sarkeesian’s 3-part video series, “Women as Background Decoration”, is the rampant use of women as objects in video games. There were so many titles listed in the videos and multiple examples. This trend carries over to multiple tabletop games, RPGs, fiction, TV shows, commercials, etc as well which begs the question, why in the world do we need another game featuring a damsel in distress?
“They say I can’t play pirates with them…because they need someone to save.”
Monsters & Maidens boasted the inclusion of a female hero. This hero card features the same maiden character decked out in armor, sword and shield. She definitely looks badass and is a great example of a female warrior; however, having this female hero option still doesn’t detract from the maiden. There is a female character that has no action or voice in game.
I’ve Played This Before:
Now that I have all of that off my chest, I need to share my thoughts on the gameplay. Monsters & Maidens is a casual dice rolling game. Each turn, a player takes the maiden, hero and monster card and rolls the 9 dice. Every maiden icon rolled is rescued by the hero and placed on his or her hero card. The remaining dice featuring the hero and monster icon square off in a battle. One hero die cancels out a monster die. Any remaining hero dice will rescue additional maidens and any remaining monster dice will steal maidens from the hero card. A player can alway choose to reroll the dice (the ones that aren’t maidens) to push their luck to collect more maidens. Play then rotates to the next player. These rounds continue until players reach a certain point threshold and win fame and fortune from the king.
Gameplay is very dull. I roll dice, sort them into piles and choose whether I want to roll again. The push your luck factor is the only decision-making I have available in this game. The actions and points aren’t gratifying enough. I feel that Monsters & Maidens is a re-hash of other popular dice games (Zombie Dice, Cthulhu Dice, Quarriors) that came before it. It doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the game genre. I also received the expansion set of dice which does little to improve the game. Now players can roll 13 dice in a single turn. These expansion dice add four elements that can alter the results of your roll. Two of die sides are blank which do not yeild any special results.
High Quality Components:
Despite all of its game design flaws, Monsters & Maidens has some of the best component quality I have ever seen and felt. The game and expansion boxes are stiff, thick and have a matte finish which leaves the outside very smooth. The custom etched dice are the best quality I’ve ever used in gaming. They are slightly larger than standard dice size found on Chessex. I do wish Monsters & Maidens came with a dice cup as rolling 9-13 dice is a lot to hold. The art featured on the cards and the iconography are top notch! I love the cartoony style of character and the exaggerated features. I would love to see these character designs used in a game that expands the world and is free of damsels!
I have seen many good things come from Clever Mojo Games, but this game (except the art and components) isn’t up to the quality of game I have come to expect from them. More and more women and young girls are coming into board game hobby as gamers and designers. We need to continue to foster a community focused on making everyone welcome and shedding misogynistic assumptions and expectations. There is no more room for old, sexist tropes.