The State of Games, Episode 1 – The One About the Chinese

Welcome to the inaugural podcast of The State of Games! In this episode, Monkey238 and I get racy when we talk about Chinese stereotypes in board games, how Monkey is truly down with the Pandemic sickness, and answer the question “what’s bigger than a tulip but smaller than Holland?”

We also offer up the first Riddle of the Sphinx – a random trivia question about board games that, if answered correctly, could get you a custom shoutout on the next podcast. If you think you have the answer, email us at podcast [at] or comment on this post.

Now, grab some black bean chicken, kick back, hit play and enjoy!

This post contains some supplemental art that will aid in the enjoyment of your listening experience. As you listen through the episode, the following images will make much more sense. At left, the box cover image for Wok Star.

And, for the truly curious, click here to see the gorgeous, framable likeness of Madonna.

Links mentioned in the podcast: The Little Metal Dog Show, Board Game Geek, Board Game Search

Like what you hear? Subscribe to the State of Games podcast RSS feed!

Related posts:

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  2. Dice Hate Me at the Bookstore: The Games Bible
  3. Enter the Rabbit – A Cookie Fu Review
  4. DiXit:The Cure for the Common Party (Game)
  5. Shenanigans on a Sinking Sub
21 Responses to “The State of Games, Episode 1 – The One About the Chinese”
  1. Ben says:

    Awesome! I’ve just subscribed via iTunes and now I know what I’m doing during my lunch break.

  2. Ben says:

    *sigh* and by iTunes, I mean RSS. Jobsian slip.

  3. Lorien says:

    Loved the Little Metal Dog guest intro!

    You had me at Pandemic and “down with the sickness” since I’m a zombie apocalypse fan and you reminded me of Dawn of the Dead with that. It is true what you said about Puerto Rico, we’ve had that discussion multiple times.

    Looking forward to episode 2.

  4. Joel Murphy says:

    So is this actually you on the podcast or is it just Lars doing an impression of you for 30 minutes?

  5. dicehateme says:

    Ben – Thanks to all your help, I will have our podcast on iTunes soon enough! Thanks for listening, and the tips!

    Lorien – Glad you enjoyed the podcast. And, yeah, Monkey is definitely down with the sickness. I am a big zombie apocalypse fan, myself, and I was tempted to go with Disturbed for the closing song but had to go the Captain Trips route and do Blue Oyster Cult. Hope you like what we have in store for episode 2, where we’re going to talk about females in games and the controversy of nudity!

    Joel – Well, well, well, Mr. Murphy. Don’t make me regret approving you for comments. Speaking of Lars, I would love to get you both on the podcast, sometime. I really need some board game stooges virgins to bounce some ideas around with. 🙂

  6. tomg says:

    Sweet maiden voyage! I enjoyed it a lot. The Pandemic and Agricola/NPR stories were great. The Southern version of Agricola (Agrikcoler) indeed has tobacco (pronounced ‘toe-baccer’ or just ‘baccer’), corn, soybeans (beans), cotton, hogs, chickens, and moonshine. TTR = Beatles – yes. On the topic of the podcast – race in games. I really don’t notice it that much. At least in boardgames. RPG’s are different. Lots of stereotypes pop up in them. And is probably a topic for another podcast. Wok Star art is fantastic. Components are very good. I hear game play is very good. I can’t wait for the Z-Man version. Cookie Fu is new to me. The manga style art is not my cup but I appreciate it. You mentioned Fu Manchu. In which game?
    Pandemic – My top 2 game. Truly awesome game with hard decisions. I can see why Monkey likes it so. You can tell because she can set it up quickly. And she’s very good at it too. Thanks you you all we played correctly this past weekend.
    Thanks for the link to Board Game Search.
    Riddle answers pending.
    Mickey Rooney was Mr. Yunioshi.
    Go Forth And Game,

  7. Really nice show! You sounded great, Chris, but Cherilyn is a natural. And the best thing is that right here from the start, you’re starting with an eye more to the hobby and meta-game ideas rather than just being focused on only reviewing games and talking about what you’ve played. That stuff is good and important, but it can also get a little boring without some deeper conversations as well.

    Speaking of your big conversation over race in games, there’s a couple of things I want to touch on. It seems to me that the Asian stereotypes you discussed aren’t really all that pervasive in our modern culture anymore (like they were in the mid-20th century and before). If anything, the Asian stereotype these days has more to do with having extreme intelligence than being nearsighted and cranky. But of course, as yet another white southerner, I could certainly be ignorant of more negative messages still floating around out there.

    In terms of race in games, however, the most scandalous thing I can think of is the cover of the Struggle of Empires box. Basically, it’s a game about the colonial period, and the box shows a mural of different thematically-appropriate scenes, one of which is a chained, black slave.

    And racial stereotypes aside, one of the racial minefields that historical games in particular have to navigate are things like the very real and historical existence of slavery. I mean, how accurate can a game about that period in history be if it doesn’t address the issue? In the actual gameplay of SoE, it’s a pretty minor wrinkle, and the designers of Age of Empires III didn’t include anything about it at all. Of games about this period, Endeavor probably does the best job of dealing with it in providing a separate deck of cards that you can draw from that seem to be a shortcut, but which can be a real liability if slavery is later abolished.

    And beyond the actual inclusion of slavery in game mechanics, including such a glaring illustration of it on the box art is a whole other thing. Is it again simply an attempt at being historically accurate, or is it unnecessarily calling attention to an ugly and offensive reality that is best forgotten? As long as it’s done, I don’t know… respectfully, maybe… I think I tend to fall more into the former way of thinking. But then again, with as uncomfortable as I’ve felt even writing this little reply in not wanting to offend anyone or seem insensitive about the matter, maybe the whole shebang is just too emotionally charged and shouldn’t be included in games at all.

  8. dicehateme says:

    Tom- Glad you enjoyed the podcast! It was a great maiden voyage, indeed. I have to say, if I call it Agrickoler every time, I’m not sure that Monkey will continue to play it with me, hahahah. You are right in that stereotypes pop up in RPGs much more than in boardgames, but I think that’s because most of an RPG occurs in the collective consciousness and creative centers of the players’ minds – these are all places where labels and stereotypes exist to enable the brain to process large bits of information and stimuli. I don’t necessarily think that this phenomena is a negative thing, especially if the players are open-minded and only engaging in those acts to further the story. However, players in both board games and RPGs who push stereotypes beyond certain boundaries with wanton disregard for other players are guilty of borderline racism. Luckily, I have rarely met with such a player. As for Pandemic, yes, Monkey is very good at Pandemic, and I’m glad you two got to play together this weekend. We played just last night, and it took us three times to eek out a victory. Thanks for your input – look forward to your comments on every podcast!

    Chris – You are correct – Cherilyn is an absolute natural at broadcasting! She’s my ringer – I’m depending on her to bring in the crowd. 😉 I’m glad that you like the format – we felt from the very beginning that there was a lack of deep discussions of some of the more sensitive, esoteric or less-scrutinized archetypes in gaming, so it’s good to hear that someone agrees with our decision. We do want to have fun on the podcast, but we also want this to be a place of intelligent discussion where we can explore a myriad of topics in relation to our favorite hobby.

    For the most part I agree that the negative Asian stereotypes aren’t as pervasive in the 21st century, and have, instead, been supplanted with more positive ones such as extreme intelligence, analytical accuity and being extremely adept at math. Some still joke, however, about bad Asian driving and such, so some negative views still pervade. Again, though, I’m a white Southerner so I won’t, nor can’t, speak for Asians at large. Thankfully I have Monkey to do just that.

    Thank you for bringing up Struggle of Empires – that controversy had completely slipped my mind when we set about discussing race on this podcast. That one is a very sensitive matter, so perhaps it was best that we left it out. I think you bring up valid points about historical gaming – there is a very fine line between historical accuracy and offensive material to modern audiences. This is a subject that is debated quite a bit in other media, and, overall, I’m very impressed that board games have managed to retain a modicum of decorum with modern audiences while still retaining their historical basis. I believe that somewhere down the line someone will produce a modern board game for the sole purpose of social commentary, and that will be interesting to see. In some ways, that may propel board gaming into another level of art and expression – a renaissance that comic books and graphic novels experienced in the late 80s and early 90s. Time will tell, but great discussion nonetheless. This is the kind of thought I hoped would come about with bringing up such subjects in a casual way through the podcasts.

  9. Shawn says:

    Great (new) Podcast Chris and Cherilyn! I found this through my friend Chris Norwood’s site. I too can’t wait til you get the feed on iTunes. If you need help getting it there, let me know. I have done that for a couple other Podcasts that I am involved in myself.

    Also, if you guys are in the Burlington area on some Tuesday night, stop by and visit us all at Hypermind. And I would be interested in meeting you guys and playing some games too. I’m in Graham, NC (Not too far from you all).

    Thanks again for another great podcast on my listening rounds.

    Shawn Kirkham
    SKirkham1967A on the Board Game Geek

  10. dicehateme says:

    Shawn – Thanks for listening and for the compliments! I will definitely hit you up if I hit a snag with iTunes. I plan on finishing up that process in the next couple of days. Cherilyn and I definitely plan on heading to Burlington to game with you guys at Hypermind before too long. We’ve been trying to make it for a couple months, but life has been pretty hectic! It’s great to meet another friendly gamer in the area – hopefully we can all get together for some games sometime.

  11. Jonathan says:

    Hi, Chris! I don’t usually listen to a lot of podcasts because I don’t drive anywhere, but I had a rare occasion yesterday, driving 180 miles solo so I took your podcast with me. I was particularly interested in what you guys were going to say about race in games, but really enjoyed the whole thing.
    Great, fun intro by Little Metal Dog, and I loved the discussion about NPR stories leading into board games. I did wonder, though, is there a way to use board games to connect more to current events and/or history, where boardgamers will actually get beyond what color cubes Khartoum has and actually know something about it? Oh, and also: what I often told my friends about Pandemic—if you win the first time you play it, you’ve probably done something wrong. 🙂
    On race: I think there’s a difference between stereotypes (e.g. the grandpa on the Wok Star box) and historical representations of racist behavior (e.g. the slaves in Puerto Rico).
    In response to Monkey’s question, I don’t think Wok Star is necessarily marketed towards younger players; the artwork actually reminds me a lot of the sort of thing I’d see in early character designs for animated movies. It has that style to it (and, yes, the stereotypically “Asian” typeface) but in the game itself you don’t get a lot of people—mostly just food. (There’s one card per character and it uses the same illustrations you see on the cover.) Most of the game is about running a Chinese restaurant, so you might argue that it’s sort of stereotyped but it does match up with what you get in a typical Chinese restaurant: fried rice, Kung Pao chicken, won ton soup, and so on. The one offensive stereotype is the “Free Meat” event card which could turn up once during the game: you get 2 free ingredients, pork or chicken, your choice. The illustration on the card, however, is a cartoon dog and cat looking at the viewer, sort of surprised. While it’s not stated explicitly (you MIGHT argue unconvincingly that the dog and cat just spotted some free meat), the implications are pretty obvious. So that’s pretty bad, but of the entire game that’s really the one thing that I found offensive and the rest of the game is absolutely well-designed, a delight to play, and I highly recommend it. Also, while you’re playing, things are generally going so quickly that eventually you’re just paying to the bottom line effect of the card and not the illustration. But it’s there, and I think it was a bad idea.
    Cookie Fu – I haven’t been able to get other players to really try this out with me yet so I can’t speak to the gameplay as much. I did like the packaging, which I thought was clever, and for a Kung-Fu fighting game I think it was an interesting idea to package it in a takeout box with the Chinese Menu rules. (Though I agree—the rules were a pain to read.) I didn’t really have a problem with that any more than, say, a manga book or anime. Those are valid stylistic choices and I think for a game about martial arts it’s perfectly appropriate to use that style of illustration. And, hey, it’s true that Chinese food comes in takeout boxes with fortune cookies, so if that’s your theme then go with it.
    In Puerto Rico, I hadn’t heard much about the controversy before. I own the game but honestly I haven’t really played much, particularly with people who are really involved in the gaming world. (I’ve been the one introducing my town to games myself.) I think the situation there is similar to what I came across in Settlers of America, which represents the westward expansion. In the game itself you do have a few cards that refer to Native Americans, but not a lot and there’s not really much context—it’s just a card that lets you get a resource card, or something like that. But the reality of the history is that as the colonists expanded westward, they were driving out the Native Americans, and a lot of them responded with hostility. Not everyone was Sacagawea and helpful to the colonists, and certainly there was a lot of injustice done toward the natives. The manual includes a section in the back which explains more of the historical aspects of things referenced in the game, and there it DOES talk about this sort of thing—but in the game you’re simply playing the colonists and the natives are pretty much absent.
    So, how do you address things like this (or Struggle of Empires, which I’m not familiar with) which represent historical events in which people were treated unfairly? I would argue it’s whitewashing history to leave it out—to create a game about a period in history in which slavery was present but pretend that nothing was wrong seems irresponsible. I think an accurate representation does not necessarily need to glorify it. If it is the case that Struggle of Empires allows you to utilize slavery, but there’s a consequence if/when slavery is abolished, I think that is a very valid mechanic that does teach a truthful lesson—that slavery is real, that it did provide this source of labor for the slave owners, but that it breaks down in the face of human rights and abolition.
    I think Puerto Rico (and games that somehow involve slavery) are not automatically offensive if they include slavery, but it depends a lot on how that’s treated in the game. I do think the manufacturers of Puerto Rico could have been more sensitive about the color of the little wooden disks that represent colonists—maybe it was their intention for them to represent Black slaves, maybe it wasn’t—but for those familiar with the history of Cuba that certainly leads to that conclusion. They could just as easily have been lighter wood, white, blue, or purple.
    You also said that you hadn’t seen any games with rednecks. I happen to have a game called The Game of Redneck Life. (And the company later had another game which I don’t own, Trailer Trash Wars.) It was a gift to us from some friends, and frankly we were kind of offended when they got it for us—but then we played a few times and it IS pretty funny—but extremely stereotyped. It’s kind of like if Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy got together and created a board game: where is the line between appropriate humor and offensive humor? Some people will think it’s hilarious, and some people will think they crossed well past that line. The game itself is pretty basic—it’s a roll-and-move board game with very few choices that you actually make, and is inspired by the Game of Life. Except in this one, you’re all rednecks with names like Mary Jane Ann and the goal is to end up the game with the most teeth left. It’s not one that I’d necessarily recommend to most gamers, but if you want to see a game with offensive White stereotypes, there it is.
    Well, that’s about all I’m remembering for now. 🙂 Told you it was too long for Twitter!
    Just one other thing about the podcast itself: I was listening to it while driving, and I found that your voice often dropped down pretty low where I had to turn it up quite a bit to hear you, but then Monkey’s voice was at a more steady level. I didn’t know if she was sitting closer to the mic when you recorded, but you might look into normalizing the audio levels a little more in the future.

    Good stuff! Enjoyed the podcast overall. 🙂

  12. Rob Cannon says:

    Is there an RSS feed for this podcast? I can’t find it.

  13. dicehateme says:

    Rob – No dedicated RSS feed yet, but I’m working on it! I should have it set up by the end of the weekend, and on iTunes in time for the second podcast (fingers crossed).

  14. Welip says:

    Finally i found the time to listen to the first podcast directly from ITunes and its working fine. As this moment the 2nd episode it’s not up yet.

    In my first game of Pandemic i’m pretty sure i skipped a couple of infector’s role because we won without difficult. The 2nd time we played with my family (4 players) we got our asses kicked.

    Sigan con adelante compartiendo su alegría.



  15. dicehateme says:

    Welip – Thanks for listening! I hope the second episode will be up on iTunes soon. Let us know what you think.
    And, yeah, in Pandemic the usual saying is if you win your first game you are playing wrong. 😉 Hopefully you’re having fun!

  16. GD360 says:

    Nice Podcast!! Enjoy it thoroughly. Keep up the good work guys!

    By the way, could you send me a pix of which table you ended up getting from Ikea. My wife and I are looking to get a Dining…. I mean Gaming Table.


  17. dicehateme says:

    GD360 – Thanks for listening and for the kind words! I hope you keep enjoying the podcast. 🙂

    Our table is the Bjursta – – and we love it. The picture on the website doesn’t do it justice; it looks even better in person. It’s fantastic for gaming AND eating!


  18. sdschlager says:

    I just listened to the first episode after hearing you on The Dice Tower podcast. For the most part I enjoyed the podcast. I did take issue with one thing. You talk about Puerto Rico as a game that may or may not be “racist”. If you were to have used the word “offensive”, I would call it a stretch, but to allude to the game as “racist”, borders on irresponsible. I don’t mean to be harsh or overly critical, but if I were the game designer, I would have taken offense. As a former professional broadcaster, I just suggest choosing your words more carefully. I’m not going to bail just yet. I do hope to become a fan of the show, so I’m going to listen to a few more episodes.


  19. Tim Fowers says:

    Hey guys, Tim Fowers here and I created Wok Star. I tried to embrace the unique culture that is Chinese American restaurants, not run away from it and make it generic. I’m not sure what line to walk, so thanks for the feedback. Here is an article about the disappearing asian in products and it cites Wok Star.


  20. dicehateme says:

    Hey Tim! Thanks for dropping by and for listening. We also appreciate the link, and adding to the conversation. Neither of us felt like Wok Star was offensive or pandering, I (Chris) simply wanted to get Cherilyn’s off-the-cuff opinion since she’s Chinese American. We’re both looking forward to checking out the game once it’s out in force.

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