Votes for Women, from first-time designer Tory Brown and second-time publisher Fort Circle Games, is an historical game about the battle surrounding the passage of the 19th amendment, which guarantees that the right of citizens to vote cannot be infringed on account of sex. A more contemporary rendering would likely say “on the basis of gender.”
There is a fine tradition in historical gaming of one player being forced to adopt a troublesome, dare I say “problematic,” role. Someone has to play as the Nazis or the Confederates if this whole thing is going to work. In Votes for Women, one of you plays as the Suffragettes, while the other takes on the more nebulous persona of the Opposition. This is a tug-of-war, with both sides adding and removing influence across the country.
There are up to six rounds, and each follows a similar formula: draw up, then take turns playing one card, either using it for its event or discarding it to perform one of several actions. In the early rounds, both sides can Lobby, which will either push the amendment closer to or further from consideration by Congress. You can Campaign, which places influence cubes out on the board. You can also Organize to gain Campaign Buttons, which are used to re-roll when you get an undesired outcome and become an important form of currency for the Suffragettes. These actions form the core of the game, as nearly all the events in each faction’s deck do a variation of one or another.
Once the Suffragettes succeed in getting the amendment before Congre— You know, honestly, “once” is presumptuous. Scratch that.
If the Suffragettes succeed in getting the amendment before Congress, Votes for Women pivots into its tense second phase, during which players fight to ratify or reject the amendment state-by-state. The moment either faction ends up with four influence in any given state, that state immediately passes or rejects the Amendment. The board slowly fills with wooden green checks and red x’s, the Suffragettes racing to get out 36 checks before the Opposition manages 13 x’s.
The third phase happens at the end of round six, provided neither player has hit their requisite number: Final Voting. From what I’ve heard of the general reception for Votes for Women, the Final Vote is divisive, but I think it’s great. State by undecided state, chosen in turn by each player, you both simultaneously roll a die. Any cubes present in the state add to the respective faction’s total. The side with the higher total wins the state. Again, it’s a race to 36 or 13. Drama.
Cast Off the Shackles of Yesterday!
By the end of the first game, you’ll have a good idea of what the cards in each deck can do. Each game informs the next, as you learn the cards and you learn to adjust your play style to exploit the openings your opponent leaves you. During my second game, while playing as the Suffragettes, I realized with alarm that it was in the Opposition’s interest for me to get the bill to Congress. I slowed my frantic Lobbying to spend more time interfering with their clear majorities on the board.
The production is stunning. Fort Circle Games have exceeded themselves. The board is beautiful, and those wooden checkmarks and x’s might be my favorite component of recent memory. The box includes a plethora of facsimiles period documents, all lavishly printed. Every design choice in Votes for Women is practical, making the game as legible and engaging as possible, but it simultaneously approaches objet d’art.
The included solo mode, the Oppobot, is terrific. It’s quick to set up, easy to operate, and successfully creates the emotional and intellectual experience of a two-player game. You can get a full solo game done in less than an hour without breaking a sweat. Votes for Women advertises itself as for 1-4 players, but it unambiguously shines brightest at 1 or 2. 3 works alright, two Suffragettes against an Opposition player, but 4 slows things down.
Our Daughters’ Daughters Will Adore Us
There are serious lessons to be drawn from Votes for Women. There is nothing inalienable about an inalienable right. They are in fact won through hard, grinding battle. Victory is never assured. Women in the United States gained the right to vote because they adopted Susan B. Anthony’s attitude: “There shall never be another season of silence until women have the same rights men have on this green earth.”
We’re talking about a board game that has the potential to depict a timeline in which the 15th Amendment—“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”—never passed, let alone the 19th. The long arc of history may bend towards justice, but it’s more down to chance than we like to think.
For our immediate purposes, none of this matters if the game isn’t good. Votes for Women is excellent. The game is tense, thematic, beautiful, tactile, and entirely approachable while rewarding familiarity. It is remarkable that this is Tory Brown’s first published design, and Fort Circle Games’ second publication. I love it. I absolutely love it.