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. I saw the video twice and still dont know if its fun …

  2. Can't wait to see review of 7 Wonders: Architects and how accurate Bauza depicted working conditions of builders of those wonders. Or review of Ark Nova and what does living in zoos does to animals. Here is a fun quote "The practice of killing “surplus” animals is kept quiet by zoos, but it happens, especially in Europe." I don't remeber this mechanism in Ark Nova, bu I played it once.

  3. This was amazing. I hope to see more honest, deep looks at popular games and their art like this.

  4. Another very well thought out and balanced video, really loving this new series. This video in particular shed some light on elements that many gamers including myself (to my shame) simply wouldn't spot or consider looking at this game at face value, which in itself seems like a bit of a problem. Thank you for going the extra mile on these videos and for always being so thought-provoking.

  5. Love your reviews. The sense of humor and mix of thoughtfulness and care that you put into your critiques is compelling. That said I can’t get behind impugning the publisher or artist for their art choice here, and that seems to be maybe more than half of this video.

    Cuphead’s art style is better than great, what says it wasn’t the influence behind the decision? I’m all about hearing your feelings on the origin of the art style, the history and all that… but those are things that you bring to your dissection of the game, they aren’t things the game brings to the table itself unless you can point to actual problematic tropes in the box. It seems you try draw that line to common gambling mechanisms, and archetypal good vs evil symbolism begging if it is just a coincidence… that seems wholly unfair. Just my 2 cents here.

  6. This is about the best game review video I've ever seen. Utterly fascinating.

  7. I don’t consume much board game content anymore because I realized that I’ve been buying way too many games. But wow NPI knows how to keep me around. These video essays are the kind of thing I always wanted to see come out of this community.

  8. What on earth is the point of getting me interested in a game if you're going to immediately present it in such a way that would make me feel gross for playing it? I feel like, given the way racism, sexism, homophobia, et all have evolved to their current state that there are far bigger fish to fry than harping on a century old art style.

  9. Oh, please don't go the way of Shut Up and Sit Down where the majority of your review is about why I should feel bad for playing a game. I want to emphasize : I don't disagree with what's being said and I do feel these subjects are important to discuss. But in a board game video, it seems out-of-place. And selective…any game you find can be traced back to something horrible in history. Is it ancient Rome? Lots of slaves. The Space program? Lots of German scientists who came from the you-know-whos. Do you want to build the castle in Caylus? That king kicked all of the Jews out of France. It's important to know all of that but every game can be picked apart that way. It all depends on how deep you want to look – I tend to be in the this-is-just-trading-cubes-for-other-cubes camp. And maybe a game starts you off on learning about the history behind it and that's great – but games should not be a primary source and I feel this style of reviewing is treating them as such. If you needed to learn about 20th Century espionage and chose to watch a James Bond movie, then blamed the movie for being inaccurate, I think that's more on you than on the movie. Theme is going to be an individual choice of the consumer as to whether its to their taste or not and I think if it was "I enjoyed the game, but I didn't care for the theme", that's an opinion. But this type of review, no matter who's doing it, comes off – to me – like "If you only knew the story, you'd feel bad for playing this" and it's a bit condescending. A lot of games have cathedrals in them but I'd find it strange if a review video was advising people whether or not to be Christian – It's an important discussion but it would feel out-of-place here, wouldn't it? I want to re-emphasize, history is important and interesting and please go out and learn as much as possible and I'm not disagreeing with the facts as presented (apart from the phrase "sunny San Francisco") but I don't actually know if the game is any good from this video. And that's what I thought this was for.

  10. talk about the game not history, garbage review

  11. so your real hair color was pink all the time.. I knew it

  12. made me think of Where Water Tastes Like Wine

  13. Your notes list seems to have thrown the Emperor Norton stuff under the game art. But, great video!

  14. I find myself nodding my head every time Elaine asks if it is only a game.

  15. ….I guess this series just isn’t for me.

  16. I'm not sure if I'm missing context here or something but did Wyrd say or do something that led to the "it's only a game comments"? They feel directed at someone and since Wyrd is the producer of the game I'm assuming it's them? Thanks for the video!

  17. Great video. I just watched ken Burns: Country music which touches on similar topics (racism, music, folk tales, economics and their relationships). I highly recommend the first two episodes if you’re interested in some of the history this video covers.

  18. I always hear the opening notes of Minnie the Moocher whenever looking at rubber hose characters.

  19. I just got this game a week ago and I love it! Great video!!!

  20. This is some of the most informed and best scripted video art criticism on the web. Phenomenal job Elaine.

  21. 17:20 I find it crazy how game design has a lot of difficulty conceiving conflict without physical violence.

  22. There’s a lot of interesting history in there that I didn’t know. The art style is something I’m very familiar with though, I’m sure there are innocent examples but pretty much all of it that I’ve seen has been a “product of its time”. It’s a shame because from a purely visual perspective, it’s very fun and and clean, it fits well with our modern streamlined furniture and appliances.

    Maybe we’ll be able to “take it back” but at the moment anything I see in this style is an instant pass.

  23. To Elanie's point I can not see rubber hose art and not consider most of the racism in those old cartoons.

  24. It took me a moment to realize this isn't a review but rather a deep dive into a game's cultural baggage from their choice of art and theme. It really highlights how much of a game's choice seems to be mostly about "cause it looks cool" which is a shame especially on more narrative focused games. Great video as always NPI.

  25. Love this series!! Amazing work, Elaine!!

  26. I love your thought & attention to detail in the analysis. Scratching below the surface often reveals interesting workings.

  27. Thank you for all your videos, you can feel the effort when viewing them. This was very informative and i think this video helps to spread awareness in the board game space to be mindful of design choices and to think about the games you play and what they might tell you about our world and narratives that can be hurtful.

  28. NPI is really doing something different and unique in the games review space and I so appreciate all the work you do. It’s so much more than just an explanation of the rules and a good/bad summary. Recognizing that games don’t exist in a vacuum and that they can be meaningful reflections of culture is miles beyond the usual discourse around games. This was truly excellent work. Bravo.

  29. Fantastic video, really well done. Also Elaine really is a great host for these

  30. Well, time to play Where The Water Tastes Like Wine while listening to some '73 Grateful Dead

  31. I really appreciate your deep research for this review and the copious links you provided. I'm trying to find the discussion of Cuphead by some sort of talking skull, but I can't find it– anyone have a link?

  32. For a great depiction of Emperor Norton, see the Sandman comic book issue #31, "Four Septembers and a January" where he becomes a pawn in a struggle between Dream, Desire and Despair.

    Many forget that "the organization" also attacked Jews and Catholics, since it was a fundamentalist white Protestant organization.

  33. While I do not agree with all the criticism in the video, I really do appreciate the amount of informations and research behind it. Thanks for all your hard work.

    I do not know if being historically accurate was a stated goal for the designers of this game but I feel like they are being branded by their creative choices. I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt before jumping to any conclusions of them doing all of these links by design.

  34. Fantastic video! I played this one last year at Gen Con. I was initially not at all interested in it because of a very lack luster demo. I was also very confused by the choice of using standees when the company is known for making super detailed miniatures. One of my buddies did buy it and we played it that night at the hotel. I fell in love with it. As a game – its great! The standees made more sense due to what it was trying to evoke. I did know some of the history of vagrancy and hobos, but I didn't realize how much they drew upon. Thank you for the history lesson!

    also, when it comes to The wendigo: if one was to be accurately represented, it would likely look like Jeff Bezos.

  35. Nothing short of brilliant analysis – though, it does set a really high bar 🙂 Your videos are just getting better and better – freaking amazing, in fact! WOOHOO!

  36. What a fantastically well researched and presented biography. NPI, you're a treasure.

  37. Wow, really loved this video. Great work. Ironically, I can't tell if this makes me more or less curious to actually try Vagrantsong and get a copy of it for myself!

  38. Great video. The description you cite for the 'conflict' rules, sounds a LOT like the methods used in the slave trade and on slave plantations: gotta beat the savage outta the savage to 'tame' (if not humanize) them. The term "folklore" itself is being revisited as there are arguments being made that it only serves to 'other' the belief systems, cultures and traditions of the more marginalized.

    Looking at the illustration I would guess the makers based the Songster(?) on Woodie Guthrie. I'm waiting for the board game based on the life of Woodie Guthrie. : )

  39. Good god,18 min into video and who cares!!!!! It's a game is it good or bad and how does it play!

  40. Another freakin slam dunk in NPI's basket (I think that metaphor works).

    The issues you highlight here are sadly something Wyrd is currently struggling with (and trying to be better at to be fair) in Malifaux as well, drawing interesting real world stories into itself but not quite understanding their context.

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