The Myth of Vagrantsong | Board Game Biographies Episode Two -

The Myth of Vagrantsong | Board Game Biographies Episode Two

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during and post Civil War

American vagrancy laws and Black Codes:

Interviews on the game:

Railway hobos:

Black hobos:

(book available free to borrow)

HAINTS and Hoodoo

Gulla Geechee

The haints/scenarios:


Artwork in the game:

Emperor Norton:

Rubberhose and stereotyping:


  1. Wow, this is fantastic, so much research and really fascinating!

  2. I don't know what I think about that one. It is really obvious that you put a lot of time and sweat to make this video, and I greatly appreciate that. It is very interesting to analyze boardgames as something more than just a basic game. It seems that nowadays, theme is increasingly important for designers, and they should gain concern about the meaning and the history of the theme they choose.

    Now, you must know I haven't played the game, I don't really plan to and I only vaguely heard of it before now, so it may be possible that what I'l say is just wrong. But I think you may have done more researches than the developers have done. You read a lot behind every words of the rulebook, and make analogies where you maybe should not have to. Now, I'm french, not american, and I know very little of the hobo lifestyle, but to me, it remind me a lot more of "On the Road" from Jack Kerouac than anything else : just a couple of friends without a penny in their pocket who choose to travel around the country, meeting and helping strangers on the way. Nothing ill-intended (unless I completely misunderstoof this book !)

    I don't know how deep the designers wanted their theme to be. If they really wanted to use all those stories and characters to teach something, or if they just wanted to use monsters they thought were cool and iconic. The game doesn't appear to be a recreation of accurate events or persons (where, for example, "Freedom : The underground raildoad" wants to be much more educative and close to real historical events), so I really don't mind approximations. After all, ghosts aren't real, so …

    Eventually, I would be less vehement than you towards the game and its creators, at least as long I don't read or hear what were their thoughts during the creation process. It doesn't mean that the video wasn't interesting or that it does'nt ask the good questions, and I strongly agree with you that, even in a boardgame, bad representations remain bad representations. I guess I would have liked it better if you took several other games as examples (games that speak about their subject accordingly, and maybe other that don't) to illustrate your subject as, maybe, a problem as a whole, and not just for this game.

  3. This has been an absolutely fantastic review. Honestly I enjoyed this so much

  4. Your reviews are simply like no other. Props, guys!

  5. This video is brilliant. Thanks a lot guys, you did it once again 🙂

  6. Love this video! And love this game, but it’s always important to understand the cultural implications of the choices we make as game creators and players. Thanks for always doing the dirty work of diving deep into these subjects

  7. The industry needs more of this…the critical well researched review, not the other thing being reviewed.

  8. The use of 'haint' is almost certainly a reference to the stage play 'The Emperor Jones' by Eugene O'Neill. I live in the western coastal US, and I have heard the term haint on and off for all of my 62 years, even though it is known to originate in the south. There is a lot more cultural crossover than you might imagine; in Oregon, for example, I have seen quite a few porches with ceilings painted blue, a southerner would know what that means. Culture and words spread like honey over the surface of civilization and inevitably become universal if they do not fade and vanish.

  9. So this was a 30-minute video to explain that vagrantsong misunderstands its theme? There wasn't anything in this video that told me about the game outside of that. I usually don't mind the history lesson presented in NPI videos, but this one was a big miss for me. Usually the history lesson is there to reinforce the opinions that are shared. The only opinion shared in this video was that the theme is misrepresented. That could have been summed up in a couple of minutes and then moved on to gameplay, since it is a game after all.

  10. Great to see more of Elaine! Interesting game and video.

    What’s with “the organization”? Does YouTube not allow creators to mention certain groups by name? Why not?

  11. Thank you for the video. I feel like these longer deep dives are looking to expand on how board games aren't " just games" they are interactive art and they tell a story. They place us in the middle of the story. When making artistic choices one needs to consider the full implications of those choices. Maybe I missed the entire point of the video but my take away is that designing a board game is no longer designing "just a game" and mechanics and themes pasted on. But that mechanics, and theme, and game art all tie into a story being told and the implications of each of those aspects should be thoughtfully considered into elevating board games into a more transformative medium.

  12. Ok, first off I am an absolute simp for Wyrd Games to the point I've dedicated the majority of free time to their games and making fan content for said games. Grain of salt here.
    I enjoyed this deep dive. NPI did the thing I always try and do and see a real world reference and try to dig deeper and learn about it. Wyrd puts a lot of references into their games, not as a lesson on who the character or actual thing was, but a 'how is said historical character/fictional character translates into this game'. It's a hook to get you to go look and learn or immediately clue you in on what the character is about, not a teaching tool in and of itself (though Herbert Kitchener is a monster in both this fiction and real life). I'm not saying that's a 100% positive thing, but I've learned a lot more about late 19th early 20th century history playing Malifaux and googling names on a whim than I ever would have otherwise.
    Vagrantsong isn't perfect. It brings up dirtier parts of our history simply by its setting and art choice, which is reflected here. IMHO some mistakes were made in some choices but there wasn't any evil intent. For example, I didn't learn that the Wendigo was a Faux Pas until this past year when the game was already in print. I brought it up with them in an interview and their response was of a similar sentiment. The devs were mainly focused in presenting not just general American folklore, but that of Appalachian culture in regards to their Haints. Wanting to represent that in many ways can lead to hiccups if the folklore is borrowed i.e. the Wendigo. As far as my basic research has gone, the Wendigo was one of these entities that had spread out from Native cultures into its own thing.
    As far as rubber hose goes, I appreciate the response isn't immediately "How dare you?!" but instead 'tread lightly everyone". I personally don't think it's as far gone as certain German symbols and iconography to a place where no one should use it ever, but it's modern representation needs to start pulling back the reputation to that of an art style that can be used if handled correctly. Nothing in the game I could find was referencing the racism of the time, and the characters are a diverse group of people more or less devoid of hurtful caricatures or stereotypes. The CHOICE of using rubber hose was, if I recall correctly, the design that brought the whole game together. Once they saw that style they knew it would perfectly convey the lighthearted intensity that you mentioned while also referencing the time period the game was set it. Sadly we have to measure success in the capitalistic way if we want to prosper and the art style is ALSO a very quick and obvious hook to bring people to the game.
    In short, I think the devs made a few mistakes in trying to convey the flavor of the game and the folklore they were passionate about. From what I know of the company, though, is that they are willing to see their mistakes, admit them, and address them in time. Malifaux still has a few problematic elements that are holdovers from its early edition, but if you go look at the models, characters, and lore, it's come a long way and now sports some of the best diversity in the miniatures world.

  13. Great in-depth video….. Plus I really like the acrylic figures, they save a lot of painting and look great in their own right.

  14. More comments for the engagement god, likes for their throne. 👏

  15. That’s exactly why this series is so important. If we don’t take thematic in boardgames serious and always say „It’s just a boardgame“, we will never get out of this „niche-hobby“ Where everybody just says: „Oh! You are playing Boardgames? Like Monopoly?“ We have to take it serious. Otherwise we will not satisfy our beloved hobby.

  16. I guess I live in a part of the world in Asia where a lot of those specific connections don't exist or are not prominent (although we certainly have others in a similar vein). So while I can appreciate the critique that there might be a thread of sentiment left underexplored by the creators, I find myself having to say; yes, it is only a game, and it doesn't need to be much more than that.

  17. Thank you NPI! You once more did an excellent and thorough job here, that taught me a lot about histories I'd never even heard of (I'm from the Netherlands.) In fact I just finished reading Octavia Butler's 'Parable'-series, a gut-wrenching dystopian story about the near future of the U.S. that is, sadly, not so dystopian any more reading it in the current post-Trump era…. The two books actually talk a lot about criminalized vagrancy and communities of people roaming the country to secure a safe and humane life. And because of this video I understand much more of it's history and relevance, and makes me want to read more about it!

    But that's not all. With this series, and the amazing video about colonialism in boardgames, you acknowledge that the hobby should by now be seen as a proper art form and cultural expression. One that comes with the same responsibilities that things like theatre, literature and cinema have went through when they first started growing in popularity. This elevates the hobby to so much more than 'only a game'. Elaine's repeated jabs at this common phrase/excuse really drove that point home for me. It is clear to me that by now, board games really are NOT only games any more, they're part of culture.

  18. But… Is it any good?

    If I was a budding board game designer (aren't we all?) I think I would steer clear of any interesting topics and stick with Cubes in Space. If every effort to include and diversify is met with catcalls when perfection is not achieved, I don't think I'd take the risk.

    But then again, the designers are called Matt, Justin and Kyle, so another part of me wants to say, 'Guys, what were you thinking?'

  19. Sunny San Francisco? You know Mark Twain said the coldest winter he ever experienced was summer in San Francisco. 😉

  20. Huh I’ve never seen a wendigo with horns before

  21. Boardgame Bios are masterpieces of video. NPI is clearly becoming a label of great quality

  22. One thing about the rubber hose style I don't think you mentioned is that, correctly or not, it evokes the time period in which the actions of the game are ostensibly set. Great analysis. Love your videos. Were two of those characters just kind of, weirdly gray?

  23. Great video! Really like these longer, essay like reviews!

  24. Thank you for the huge amount of research behind this review and also for the information I learned from it.

    But I have one main question, We all know that nuclear power at first used and designed for weapons of mass destruction. If I am using/advertising/… electrical power supplied by nuclear plant nowadays, do I need to condemn the origin publicly to show my good intent?! It seems your main problem is the art style (which some the other problems directly and coincidentally related to it), why should we not distinguish the style from its original setup?! (Either in Cuphead or in Vagrantsong). Focusing on the origin of the art style pushes you to see modification of the dice-rolling as the pure gambling or action tokens as gambling devices. While dice rolling and action tokens/cubes/cards/… and linking this two together are typical elements in the hubby.

  25. Thanks for another deep, thoughtful exploration.

  26. This made me think of a great little game called fearsome wilderness (who imo got it right) where the creator very clearly did a ton of research and indeed has added to the physical record and awareness of often obscure american folklore.

  27. What an incredibly refreshing, well researched and presented peek behind the curtain so to speak – talking about items that we just don't consider when making purchases of board games and what they are communicating – or should be communicating to the players. Thank you Elaine for this presentation. As a Patreon – it is a pleasure to see how my small contribution can help to raise these topics to the surface.

  28. There's a real lack of this kind of criticism in the boardgaming space. Regardless of whether people agree with NPI's conclusions in this video or not, asking these kinds of questions should be celebrated. Thanks for doing all this research and sharing it with the world!

  29. Listening to how the folklore has been utilised for this game feels like a massive unmined resource, possibly due to the constraints of the game itself. How great a sourcebook this would make for something like Call of Cthulhu, or an American version of Vaesen.

  30. NPI videos always make me think about games in new and different ways. I always appreciate that. Although, as a Bay Area denizen, I hope the "Sunny San Francisco" reference was sarcastic.

  31. Thank you for these videos. As a librarian by trade with a history degree, I find these fascinating.

  32. Very thorough analysis. The rubber hose style in this context just doesn’t work for me and I’m not surprised to see it wasn’t part of the original conception of the game.

  33. That art and cartoon style was not friendly or kind to the African American community. Thank you for putting that fact and many others out there. Publishers and designers must and we repeat MUST do better.

    And also, as always, great video!

  34. I love the way you don't just give me a board game review but instead go into the context and history of the board game's themes.

  35. Watching your video, I feel I have leveled up in the hobby. Brilliant!

  36. Super interesting! Learnt a lot. Thank you 🙂

  37. This is one of your best, NPI! Great work Elaine!

  38. I really enjoyed the parts of the video which talk about history of Vagrancy. I don't think I've ever seen a show or movie which discusses the cause. One can think of Colonization and how many have no idea how it affected people (maybe this has started changing the last 5 years in the general population). Your channel (like Thinker Themer) makes me really think about not only about the original history, but also a thorough outlook on a game. I feel my diverist taste has come aboutby listening to you. I also deep dive. Thank you for your quality work. I hope other content creators take a page from what you do. Everything is not about a game rating. Maybe game designers will consider the theme more.

  39. Fantastic, NPI continuing to elevate the conversation for those who want to take part in it. For those that don’t, there’s dozens of videos that’ll “just play the notes.”

  40. Thanks NPI- I don't know of another channel that puts as much time and effort into how the art style, design, mechanics and cultural references all interact.
    Hope the walk back from the 14th century was pleasent. 😁

  41. As excellent as the video is, I really, REALLY appreciate the provided links (bibliographies in my entertainment? GROSS /s). Not that I needed an excuse to go link-diving into a topic I know so little about, but there it is. Thank you!

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