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. A very beautiful game with a very boring gameplay

  2. Thanks for this, Elaine. You are the best! 🤩 Maybe we can look forward to an expansion with blues singers or other African American migrants as playable characters. Now I am going to go watch 'Daughters of the Dust' again…

  3. I love NPI, I love that you take the sociological aspect of gaming seriously, and I love these historical deep dives in general. Like other commentors here, I truly appreciate the work that goes into these productions.But I didn't love this one. What I heard was a great history lesson about the racist criminalization of vagrancy, a legitimate critique of the bad choice made in using an appropriated distortion of the wendigo myth…and a pile-on of unfair criticisms interpreting various other game elements as problematic based on tenuous connections or unclear principles.For example, I don't see why it's problematic to base one of the player characters on Emperor Norton. I don't see that there is any rationale behind the "shoulds" Elaine imposes here. Why "should" the characters be either entirely made up or all inspired by real figures? What is the harm in combining the two, particularly when the real-world inspiration is explicitly acknowledged? And why "should" the real-world inspiration be limited to people who were hobos? First of all, I would understand why you might set such a limit in a non-fantasy setting. If you were creating a work of historical fiction designed to accurately tell a story in a certain time and place, then you might want to be able to point to the real-world people who justified your characters' attitudes and actions as historically-appropriate. But this game clearly doesn't represent real historical attitudes and actions for helping ghosts remember they are human. I can't see what the harm is here of the typical fantasy "what if this kind of famous person found themselves in this kind of situation/time/place". Moreover, it's barely even a stretch to include Emperor Norton as a legitimate inspiration. The game is called Vagrantsong, not Hobosong, and Emperor Norton was pretty clearly "vagrant." He was destitute, jobless, and nearly homeless, arrested at one point for involuntary commitment for his mental illness. He was released after a public outcry, being viewed as a beloved persona and harmless eccentric, and continued to survive on fairly haphazard charity until his death. While he predates the time period the game invokes, he exemplifies the kind of folkloric hero-vagrant the game means to represent: figures at the edge of society, living by an eccentric reinvention of social rules and roles, a subcultural force of will. The criticism here feels like pointless nitpicking. Similarly, the implication that the gambling mechanism might be racially insensitive just because it's gambling seems particularly absurd. Gambling is about as culturally universal as music and clothing: every culture has it. Dice specifically are an absolutely ancient invention, with cubic dice being over 4000 years old and used across the entire Eurasian continent for at least a 1000 years. Even within the context of this game, recalling 1930s America, the idea that gambling would have been distinctly linked to criminalized black culture is simply not accurate. Basically all segregated minority communities ran illegal gambling operations, including many ethnic groups now considered white. If gambling in the 1930s brings any ethnic association to mind, the strongest would certainly be the Italian mafia.But let's acknowledge that the rubber hose animation of the 20s and 30s did frequently represented gambling a distinctly black cultural vice. If there is a racial narrative here because of that (and I still think that's a stretch), then it is insufficient to simply point out that racial connections and connotations exist and indicate that alone is problematic. You have to actually examine the context that gives it in the game. Unlike in those cartoons, it's not being represented in the game as a trap or temptation orchestrated by the bad guys in cahoots with demonic forces. Instead, gambling is the main mechanism of agency for the player characters. If we say that gambling here has a racial context, then I would also say that the game structure aligns the players with that black gambling. It is represented as a native and legitimate source of player power for managing their luck in bad circumstances, which are otherwise outside of their control. Sure, it's limited, unpredictable, and dangerous power, and one that could be used ruinously, but, crucially, it is not an evil choice that players are lured into by the "other." This is not, in my opinion, a problematic representation. In fact, I would go so far as to say that's a sympathetic representation of the psychological and social role gambling often held in those marginalized communities.

  4. Good video, but you kept implying meaning with "just a game / only a game" without outright saying why that's ridiculous. This isn't a case of "for those who understand, no explanation is necessary, for those who don't, no explanation will suffice". For the good of all, you MUST explain why statements like that are unacceptable — please don't just leave it to implication. Otherwise people can and WILL take it at face value and assume that your valid criticisms in fact don't matter, and they can and WILL do worse. Help people do better. Lay out your argument.

  5. Checked out when I realized that this was a Wikipedia lookup of hobos and cultures, not a game review…

  6. I've been playing this game for months and have a whole new appreciation for it. Thank you for such interesting research!

  7. I listen 16 minutes of review and still no info on how game felt played.

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