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Subject: What do you think about the theme of this game and how the game deals with it? rss

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Hardy
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In continuation of this thread.

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1409144/let-me-guess

I think it has a strong relation to the game to discuss how well (or not) the theme is implemented...so it should be a point of discussion in this forum.
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Initially, I was quite excited about Mombasa, both for the mechanics and the theme.

Now that the rules are out, I'm quite disappointed with how the game deals with the theme; or rather, how it ignores it. If the game actually engaged with the theme of the colonization of Africa, it wouldn't have bothered me at all; but as it stands, it's pasted on and ignores the "very dark chapter in human history", as the rulebook puts it. If, as a game company, you're going to set a game in a "very dark chapter in human history" without actually dealing with that subject, why not just paste on a different, less controversial theme?

Sadly, it's off my list now.
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Daniel B-G
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Not to drag us towards the fate of the original thread, but how would you handle it better.

To dwell on the unsavory elements of the theme would make the game unsellable. It encourages you to reflect on the era, but without making you feel like the bad guy.
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Andrew MacLeod
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Well, Endeavor did a reasonable job at it; and Martin Wallace's Struggle of Empires handled it extraordinarily well. But that's not my point:

If the theme is totally pasted on, why not just opt for a different one? If a given game is all and only about the mechanics, why not opt for something that is not controversial?
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Daniel B-G
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I don't think that the theme is entirely pasted on. From what I can see, it's a game that involves colonising from the outer edges into the hinterlands, then climaxing with economic conflict in the centre. This is only really possible with the colonisation of Africa. Colonisation of South America was much less contested, colonisation of North America was accompanied by far more military action. The growth of trade in the mediterranean involves colonisation outwards pushing the colonising forces away from each other which wouldn't work mechanically.

Perhaps the only other similar one is the colonisation of India, though that contest was relatively lopsided, and the British treatment of the native Indians can hardly be described as ethical.
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I'm sorry to hear this, Andrew. But I can understand you. I repeatedly said this in discussions about the theme: Mombasa is a fictional game. If you want a colonization feeling, you are wrong here.
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DAAAN wrote:
I don't think that the theme is entirely pasted on. From what I can see, it's a game that involves colonising from the outer edges into the hinterlands, then climaxing with economic conflict in the centre. This is only really possible with the colonisation of Africa.

I see your point; but I think the colonization of Siberia also fits into this scheme.

DAAAN wrote:
Colonisation of South America was much less contested...

I beg to differ!...Unless you mean contested by other colonial powers.

DAAAN wrote:
...colonisation of North America was accompanied by far more military action.
Indeed: although the Americans had a much higher level of military action in their colonization attempts than did the Europeans....Unless you mean contested by other colonial powers. Regardless, to quote from Mombasa's rulebook:

Quote:
Although Mombasa is loosely set within this time frame, it is not a historical simulation. It is a strategy game with an economic focus that roughly refers to historical categories and places them in a fictional setting.

Speaking from the perspective of a somewhat "retired grognard", not being a "historical simulation" is no big deal: I've come to expect that from most designer games. But having read the rules for Mombasa, there's just not enough theme for my tastes. I was hoping this would be a game about later 19th century Africa; and it's not. Even throwing in something as simple as the frequent resistance of the various African peoples would have been an improvement; but its not there.

Will I never play this? Well, I have a strong suspicion a friend of mine will probably be buying this, so I'll probably end up playing it eventually; but I certainly don't want to buy it.

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AlexP wrote:
I'm sorry to hear this, Andrew. But I can understand you. I repeatedly said this in discussions about the theme: Mombasa is a fictional game. If you want a colonization feeling, you are wrong here.

Alas, Alexander, I never saw those statements, otherwise I would have signed off on this game quite a while ago! Nevertheless, I sincerely wish you the best of luck with Mombasa: I have utterly no doubt many people will love it!

But my question still stands: since the game has so little to do with historical 19th century Africa, why wasn't a different theme chosen, rather than something that has already caused controversy?

Thanks!
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Alexander Pfister
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amacleod wrote:

But my question still stands: since the game has so little to do with historical 19th century Africa, why wasn't a different theme chosen, rather than something that has already caused controversy?
Thanks!
It's a game in the age of chartered companies. So I would put it somewhere in the 19th century. I think it makes sense to be set in Africa. I would not have liked it to be in fantasy island.
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Andrew MacLeod
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AlexP wrote:
amacleod wrote:

But my question still stands: since the game has so little to do with historical 19th century Africa, why wasn't a different theme chosen, rather than something that has already caused controversy?
Thanks!
It's a game in the age of chartered companies. So I would put it somewhere in the 19th century. I think it makes sense to be set in Africa.

Yes, that would make a lot of sense, then, setting it in 19th century Africa. My complaint is that the rules only marginally "feel" as if they're about chartered companies in 19th century Africa! Therefore, why not transfer the mechanics to a less controversial subject, like the colonization of another planet, for example?

AlexP wrote:
I would not have liked it to be in fantasy island.

With all due respect, there will be people saying it is set on a "fantasy island": the Africa of the game is not the Africa that existed then.
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AlexP wrote:
I repeatedly said this in discussions about the theme: Mombasa is a fictional game. If you want a colonization feeling, you are wrong here.
I think ignoring parts of history by labelling a work as "fictional" is part of the problem, especially if the part that's being erased is the bad consequences of the actions described.

EDIT: The game's introduction does mention the history. See my comment below.
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Alexander Pfister
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amacleod wrote:

Yes, that would make a lot of sense, then, setting it in 19th century Africa. My complaint is that the rules only marginally "feel" as if they're about chartered companies in 19th century Africa! Therefore, why not transfer the mechanics to a less controversial subject, like the colonization of another planet, for example?
As with every game, some people might not feel the theme - in this case investing in chartered companies. For them you are right, fantasy planet would also do it. Others feel the theme, including me. For them Africa makes sense.
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Kevin Ryan
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This is always a difficult topic to discuss, this phenomenon of board games having themes that some players find offensive, or (in this case) themes that “whitewash” or even ignore certain aspects of their time and place. One almost doesn't want to defend such a game for fear of seeming, by proxy, to defend the practice in question.

And let’s also say right up front that there is a big difference between saying, “This game and its theme make me uncomfortable; I don't want to play it,” and, “This game whitewashes a dark chapter of this time! This game is unacceptable!”

The first sentiment is fine. It is not possible to argue it. It is a feeling, and they are what they are. If someone does not like a theme, I can only sympathize. Arguing it is like the men in C.S. Lewis’s “The Abolition of Man”. One man says, “I feel sick!” and the other man says, “Nonsense! I feel quite well!” We can discuss, but we cannot argue it.

The second sentiment is more complicated. It is more complicated for a few reasons. One, it has more than a little bit of subjective opinion woven in. While some things are universally condemned (such as slavery), other things are not as clear.

And note that I am not completely sure which camp some of the posters fall into. Maybe THEY are not even sure. My point is not to argue with anyone here, but to further the discussion.

The thing that I don't like about some of this discussion is the tacit assumption that any boardgame theme must include “the whole picture”, and not conveniently delete objectionable parts. If one were writing history, then we would all agree. But with boardgames, I am not so sure. I just quickly went through a random sampling of my games to find the ones that are "unacceptable" because they have ignored or “whitewashed” the seamy underbelly of the “theme”.

By this criterion, the following games could be considered unacceptable.

Any WW2 game: they all pretty much ignore the question of the Jews and the gas chambers.

Puerto Rico: ignores slavery.

Any ACW game: same as above, but only worse.

Black Fleet: ignores the terrible crimes of real pirates and the real human suffering it exacted.

1805: Sea of Glory: it ignores the terrible practice of “press ganging” young men against their will into the Royal Navy. This practice makes the modern sweat shops of shoe manufacturers look like a holiday by comparison.

Twilight Struggle: ignores the gulag.

T’zolkin: ignores human sacrifice.

Zooloretto: ignores the suffering of certain free-ranging animals whose glory is to roam their realm.

Napoleon 1815: ignores the unbelievable, mind-numbing suffering of men and horses being blown to pieces (but not mercifully dying) by cannonballs and canister shot.

In fact, human history is one long, unhappy tale of human suffering interspersed with microscopic episodes of human greatness, mercy and compassion. Almost any game with an historical component could go under this microscope. And one reviewer I love (Richard Ham) didn't quite like Brew Crafters because its theme was beer, and he seems to be a teetotaler. (Of course, that falls under sentiment #1 above, which he himself makes clear.)

So here we are with Mombasa. Now, I think the game might be too dense for my gaming group, but for me the theme of exploring into the interior of the “dark continent” is almost inebriating. Can I never have a game with that theme without including the element of the worst aspects of European colonization? Could I enjoy this game in one compartment of my head while, in another compartment, go on believing exploiting human beings for gain is evil? Yes, I could. The one doesn't have anything to do with the other.

We are confronted with, and have empathy for, the suffering we see every day of our lives—our own, those we love and (if we are good men) those we don't even know. I want my innocent little hobby of boardgaming to be an escape from that, not a reminder of it. (A notable exception would be Freedom: the Underground Railroad, whose theme IS the evil of slavery. And it deals with it in an absolutely wonderful way.)

Also, to be clear, this is not addressed specifically to any poster here. We all seem to be pretty good men. But this question comes up occasionally in threads on the Geek, and this seemed a good place to get down some random thoughts about it.
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Andrew MacLeod
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Well said, Kevin (even though I don't entirely agree with you)! For me, it's pretty simple: if a game has a historical theme, I want it to have a decent amount of realism. There's a few "historical" games I like (Concordia, for example) that are very light-weight theme-wise, but which I love because of the outstanding mechanics. It's just hard to get me to play them that first time because they ain't very historical!

As for some of your examples of games "ignoring" historical aspects:

Quote:
Any WW2 game: they all pretty much ignore the question of the Jews and the gas chambers.

If you're referring to wargames, they can ignore the horrors perpetrated against the Jews, the Roma, etc. since the persecution of these groups was not what the Axis were fighting for; and WWII wargames are about the fight, not the unspeakably evil policies of the Nazis and their allies, or even of their occupation policies. Hence the name "wargames".

Quote:
Puerto Rico: ignores slavery.

Agreed! PR is about the colonization and economic development of Puerto Rico, and slavery was a huge part of that.

Quote:
Any ACW game: same as above, but only worse.

See comments on WWII.

Quote:
Black Fleet: ignores the terrible crimes of real pirates and the real human suffering it exacted.

Agreed! There's a few pirate games I play, but I generally feel uncomfortable with them...unless I'm fighting the pirates!

Quote:
1805: Sea of Glory: it ignores the terrible practice of “press ganging” young men against their will into the Royal Navy. This practice makes the modern sweat shops of shoe manufacturers look like a holiday by comparison.

See about WWII and ACW; and while I don't agree with the concept of impressment, I do disagree with saying it makes modern sweat shops look like a holiday by comparison!

Quote:
Twilight Struggle: ignores the gulag.

While a pretty abstract game, Twilight Struggle does have the Purge card. Plus, the game has actually encouraged a lot of people to look into the history of the Cold War.

Quote:
T’zolkin: ignores human sacrifice.

No comment, as I haven't played it, and have no desire to!

Quote:
Zooloretto: ignores the suffering of certain free-ranging animals whose glory is to roam their realm.

That is entirely dependent on a player's views on the nature of zoos and animal suffering: thus, some may view this concern as not an issue.

Quote:
Napoleon 1815: ignores the unbelievable, mind-numbing suffering of men and horses being blown to pieces (but not mercifully dying) by cannonballs and canister shot.

Agreed!...and still love that game! Again, though, like many (if not the vast majority) of wargames, one is encouraged to actually study the topic ("theme") at much greater length. So while the carnage is not in the game, it will be seen in the almost inevitable reading that tends to follow/precede most wargames (at least in my experience).

Then there's Mombasa, a game about the economic exploitation of Africa in the late 19th century. A major part of that exploitation involved the conditions under which native Africans were "employed"; and there's not a hint of that in the themeing of the game. Therefore, I gotta let it pass.

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Hi Andrew,
First off, thanks for reading my post carefully.

As for WW2 games not being “about” the Jews or the Gypsies, fair enough. But it was ultimately the exact same impulse of the Nazis that lead to the war—the belief in Aryan superiority. In the one case, “let’s exterminate the “lesser” races that we can get at here at home”, and in the other, “let’s move out and subjugate the other nations and races to spread the Aryan ideal”. But that is starting to go deep into the weeds on these things.

As for the zoos, that is why I mentioned the free-ranging animals. I should have said, “Large, free-ranging animals.” I have no problem with zoos as I think many of them keep their animals in great conditions (and who can look at the meerkats and not think they are having the time of their lives!) I live a few hours away from the San Diego Zoo, which is world-class in its treatment of animals. But the point was exactly what I was driving home—some folks would not give that a second thought, but for others it is a moral and ethical issue. That is why sentiment #2 can get complicated. I, for one, am deeply conflicted about animals like lions being kept in any enclosure, but at the end of the day, I think the good that places like the SDZ do outweighs that.

Yes, TS has the “purge” card. (I had forgotten about that.) But then that would clearly be a case of whitewashing what the reality was.

We may have a different view of what impressment meant in the age of sail. In most cases of impressment, the young man only had about 1 in 3 chance of ever coming home alive. And they lived in conditions we would consider absolutely unspeakable. And it was involuntary, in essence another form of “slavery”. The conditions of the regular sailors were the same (yet far from what the officers experienced), but they were there voluntarily, not so the young boys (in many cases as young as 10 or 11.) I spoke hyperbolically about the modern sweatshop being a holiday by comparison (and it was fair for you to call me on it) but still I think the differences are enormous.

I think we pretty much agree in the main on the “philosophy” of this stuff, except for some instances of “degree” (always tricky in hot-button topics), but it is yet another illustration of how gaming is more than just “games”.

Yup, I agree. Napoleon 1815 is one of my favorite games of all time. Just a stunning achievement in game design.

Again, thanks for the thoughtful reply. I really appreciate it, Andrew.

Gaming is a blast, isn't it?
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Also, realize that in all those cases I listed in my first post (and they were just stream-of-consciousness items), I was not actually arguing those things. I was merely pointing out that someone COULD argue them not unreasonably. I play ALL those games and enjoy them.

Yes, Concordia looks so good. Another case of Rahdo’s fault for me getting the game…


Oh, and when we are talking about games ignoring evil, I forgot the most egregious example of all—New York 1901. It completely and shamelessly ignores the fact that the Yankees will eventually play there.

Boom. I rest my case…
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To somewhat retract my comments earlier, now that the rulebook have been posted (BGG subscriptions don't notify on new links posted ):
I appreciate that the introduction acknowledges the troubled history, and encourages readers to learn more on the topic.

And in case this isn't clear, any criticism I have of the game's theme, or handling of it, doesn't reflect on my opinion of the gameplay - I'm excited to learn more about it
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This is very rambling. Sorry. tl;dr: Some thoughts about the differences between US and German markets which cause these "clashes of cultures".

nat whilk wrote:
I just quickly went through a random sampling of my games to find the ones that are "unacceptable" because they have ignored or “whitewashed” the seamy underbelly of the “theme”.
Let's not use "unacceptable", which is very subjective, and settle for "problematic", which is less so (and is a bit of a wishy-washy term, but still).

Many of the games you mentioned are very popular, so they're obviously not generally considered as "unacceptable", but I think it's easy to point out their problems, like you did.

War games in general could be seen as problematic, as they mostly ignore the horrors of war, and the power hierarchies(?) of leaders sending people to kill and die to achieve national or political goals, or nessecarily displaying one side as good and the other as bad, when it's just . No need to latch onto WW2 and Nazism.

And I think it's mostly about cultural relativism. Many of the pasted-on-themed games come from Germany/Europe. Much of the criticism, at least to my admittedly narrow, echo-chambery, perspective, comes from BGG, which is mostly US-centric.

Germany, culturally, shies away from war themes, due to WW2 (and I can't say much more about that, since I don't know).
On the other hand, it doesn't have the history with slavery that the US has.
So some themes that US culture deems problematic, are not seen as such in the German culture, and vice versa.

When US publishers sign a contract to distribute a German game in English (or specifically, the US market) while it is still in development, I assume they have very little say regarding theme or artwork. Sometimes they distribute an older game, and do not wish to invest in changing the artwork or theme.

One more related point:

Looking at the games coming out from the US, compared to Germany, I'm noticing some differences regarding theme and representation:
* "Fun" family/gamer-style games from US publishers are rarely about historical settings, unless it's ancient times. They tend to be fantastical, futuristic, or alternative-history (steampunk). If it's a historical theme, it will usually be set in the US, and be about a growing industry. German publishers tend to pick idealized historical themes, before WW2. Usually ancient civilizations or colonization.
* Such games usually depict characters of various genders and races as player characters, or in the box cover or card art of the game. There's a big emphasis on inclusion and representation. Most German games usually depict white men as the player characters. Women are rarely seen in art, or the box cover, and if they do, usually in traditionally feminine roles. Sometimes they are just used as decoration for the cover art. (e.g. Luna, Strasbourg). German games that do depict various genders are usually classified as children's games.

(I'm purposefully not discussing other European markets since I find them harder to classify, but there are some traits that French games have, for example, that German ones don't.)

From what I gather (and I may be totally wrong here) these differences come from marketing reasons: the German market expects certain kinds of themes and representations in certain kinds of games. Change one of them, and buyers might instinctively classify it as a different kind of game (Example (EDIT: the response is probably about the color scheme and not gender representation)).

US culture, on the other hand, is moving towards better inclusivity and representation in all media, and local publishers follow suit (whether out of a will to fit the market, or out of a sense of obligation)

Personally, I much prefer the US approach, but I think I understand where the German mindset is coming from. I'd sure like it to change, but it would probably take more than BGG talking about it. We are not the only consumers of these games.
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AlexP wrote:
amacleod wrote:

Yes, that would make a lot of sense, then, setting it in 19th century Africa. My complaint is that the rules only marginally "feel" as if they're about chartered companies in 19th century Africa! Therefore, why not transfer the mechanics to a less controversial subject, like the colonization of another planet, for example?
As with every game, some people might not feel the theme - in this case investing in chartered companies. For them you are right, fantasy planet would also do it. Others feel the theme, including me. For them Africa makes sense.

So is it fictional or not? You seem to be hedging your bets here?

It's either fictional, in which case it makes no sense for it to be in Africa, or it's not, in which case you'd expect it to be thematically engaged with the history of the setting in some fashion.

Now, you might say that you're more interested in some elements in that setting than others, that's fine. But that doesn't make it necessarily a free pass to exclude or ignore some parts of a thematic setting without risking upsetting people, or seeming insensitive.

Some people disliked Archipelago because of colonial elements. I didn't. I don't think there's anything wrong with exploring some of these things, provided it's done sensibly and with tact.

But, and this is the point were I might have a problem with a game, there's a difference between a game taking a thematic setting and being morally neutral about difficult subjects, and a game taking a thematic setting and just leaving all the difficult subjects out.

Edit: detail.
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It is fictional, these companies have never existed. And nevertheless I prefer it be setted in Africa (or Europe or America... I like maps ). Would Tiket to Ride be that interesting if it would play on the moon? Not for me. However it could, mechanically.
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AlexP wrote:
It is fictional, these companies have never existed. And nevertheless I prefer it be setted in Africa (or Europe or America... I like maps ). Would Tiket to Ride be that interesting if it would play on the moon? Not for me. However it could, mechanically.

Apparently it did! :

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Don't forget

Age of Steam Expansion: The Moon and Age of Steam Expansion: Sun / London
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Let me ask one question, why any players of Africa origins do not complain about this game theme? I think that especially them (and only them) have the right to complain if they feel improperly because of this game theme.

I only see America, East Europe players who complain about a theme of the game which do not apply to them. Political correctness is a funny thing.

It is a pity that Germany players is not protesting against the determination of a Polish concentrations camps in some board games






 
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Rocy7 wrote:
Let me ask one question, why any players of Africa origins do not complain about this game theme? I think that especially them (and only them) have the right to complain if they feel improperly because of this game theme.

I only see America, East Europe players who complain about a theme of the game which do not apply to them. Political correctness is a funny thing.



No: I mean, really:

And again, I say:

Why on Earth (or any planet, for that matter) would only Africans have the right to complain about a game lacking in historical accuracy?!?!? To use an admittedly exaggerated example, it's no different than me (a person not of African descent) complaining about a game with a Roman Empire theme where the Romans in the game are dressed like Aztecs!

Once more for the record:
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Also, pretty sure there aren't many African people in BGG, let alone ones who are going to end up playing this game.
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