Veganism and Board Games

Lydia, Linda, Lee and Cissy fight for territories in a game of Smallworld

Lydia, Linda, Lee and Cissy fight for territories in a game of Smallworld

Lydia and I are avid boardgames. I’ve been playing them since my early 20s, and introduced Lydia to the boardgaming world after we started dating. A while ago, we decided to host a boardgaming night for our vegan supper club, and it was an absolute success. Nobody else had seen or heard of any of the “newest generation” of board games, and a number of them are now boardgamers themselves.

As an aside, check out this very nice introduction to modern board games, it’s a 6 minute-long video that will give you a good idea of what I’m talking about, but it’s basically this: if your idea of board games involves Monopoly or Candyland, I need to tell you that you’re outdated by over 100 years — Monopoly was created around 1902 and Candyland in 1949. Since then, board games have advanced in leaps and bounds and there are many, many thousands of titles that are very appealing and interesting for adults. You wouldn’t know that by walking into a Target or Toys’R’Us because, funnily enough, the board game market is kind of a Monopoly. But that’s a discussion for another day, and another type of blog.

Bringing it back to topic: there have been some conversations between us and our (now boardgamer) friends about veganism and the themes of several games we’ve played. For example, in a lot of board games, food is represented by tokens or cards with images of meat on them, like a steak or a fish. Some board games even involve raising animals and using them as food, like Agricola, a game where the players are medieval farmers trying to build the best farm.

Allen and Mauro try to explore a newly discovered planet in Alien Frontiers (it was late at night, thus the tired faces)

Allen and Mauro try to explore a newly discovered planet in Alien Frontiers (it was late at night, thus the tired faces)

It’s not surprising that board games in general are not specifically vegan-friendly, after all we live in a world that is mostly not vegan-friendly. That said, the majority of games have “vegan neutral” themes, like building a viniculture, racing cars, exploring space, etc. But when they involve animals we sometimes try to “veganize” them if possible, since some vegans really dislike using the meat/fish food tokens, or others try to play games without using animals, although sometimes that’s inescapable for certain games. Sometimes we come up with alternatives explanations about what we’re doing with the animals in the game, or simply refer to the tokens using their vegan equivalent.

The non-vegan aspect of those games doesn’t bother me or Lydia that much, because first of all, it’s just a game and we’re aware enough to not be influenced by the normalization of consumption of animal resources depicted in a game and second, using animals is something people did and still do, and if a game has a medieval setting, for example, it was a normal and necessary thing at the time. So we just roll with it, since it doesn’t change anything in our real life. But we had people not want to play certain games because of it — to each their own.

I feel that a nicely designed, modern game with a vegan theme of some sort could be a great tool to introduce people to veganism. Not just a straight piece of vegan propaganda dressed as a board game, but something that would introduce people to the ethical and environmental issues related to animal exploitation and make them think about those issues. But I’m no game designer, so I’m not the one tackling this task. Any volunteers? 🙂

I’ve kept my eyes open for board games that have a vegan-friendly theme, but so far I haven’t found any. There are a couple that deal with environmental issues (CO2 is one that comes to mind), but there’s nothing specifically vegan.

So we were pleasantly surprised when a friend gifted us a copy of Agricola: All Creatures Big And Small (A:ACBAS), a two-player game based on the aforementioned Agricola board game. A:ACBAS is a very simplified version of its parent, focusing on the building of a medieval farm with the objective of breeding the most animals. Not vegan at all, but fortunately there’s no need or mechanism in the game to use them as food, so Lydia and I came up with a reimagined theme that makes it a nice vegan game.

In our version, instead of building a breeding operation and acquiring animals, we’re building farm sanctuaries, and rescuing animals. We go to town and get animals from the auctions, bring them back and add them to our sanctuary. In the end, whoever has the better sanctuary and has rescued more animals wins. The game is really good, and the reworked theme fits nicely if you’re turned off by the original breeding farm theme. So if you want to try a really nice board game that can be easily veganized, try this one.

About Mauro


Mauro has been many things: a software developer, a comic book and boardgame store owner, a software developer again, and now he is a farrier by day and web developer by night. He has been a vegetarian since 1993 and a vegan since 2010.

Comments
6 Responses to “Veganism and Board Games”
  1. brian says:

    Just came across this article thinking about my experience playing games as a vegan couple and searching BGG and google for other thoughts. I’m not so much opposed to playing games as they are but do find it interesting to observe food bias (too strong a word?) in games and have considered how these (along with many other messages in society) serve to reinforce the food choices people make in real life. My partner does not find it enjoyable to consume/raise/kill animals in-game so I have taken that into consideration with any new game purchase.

    A good alternative to Agricola (and variants) is At the Gates of Loyang by the same designer. You are growing vegetables and selling them to customers, no need for modification or coming up with vegan explanations! I recently purchased Machi Koro + Millionaires Row expansion as a light game we could play together. There are lots more veggie options than ones that rely on animals! We refer to the ranches (complete with bucolic/false reality “red barn, silo, and cows outside on grass” imagery) as soy or almond farms and the cheese factories as supersized Miyoko cheese factories, haha. Not sure what we will do with the tuna boat, mackerel boat, and sushi restaurant (avocado & cucumber rolls, anyone?) in the Harbor expansion.

    • Hi Brian! Thanks for your great comment. We share the same sentiments you do about the food bias. As you mentioned, there are a variety of other games on the market that are vegan by accident or neutral. Unfortunately the vast majority of games are not. We run a monthly vegan board game night and have a few friends who are more sensitive to playing the not so vegan-friendly games. When we play those types of games, we also try to lighten the mood by renaming things (it always gets laughs out of everyone), focusing on the mechanics of the games and the enjoyable experience of having a fun night in with friends. Our vegan friends have come to enjoy games in general and look forward to our games nights 🙂

      Happy gaming!

  2. Jamie says:

    I have a vegan meetup group where we are about to have a party. Someone suggested playing games and then someone else suggested seeing if there were any vegan games. I did a search and found this page–and learned so much! I like board games and play Scrabble all the time–feel free to date me. I hadn’t been aware of these modern games you talk about and plan to look into it. I also appreciate the suggestion of building farm sanctuaries as part of a game, since I’m a huge fan of farm sanctuaries. Thank you for this perfect post right when I needed it. 🙂

    • Mauro says:

      Hi Jamie, I’m glad you found us 🙂

      If you want some really cool party games, check out Codenames. It plays a large number of people and it’s really cheap, around $15, or Dixit, a game similar to Apples to Apples but (I think) much better, using whimsical, crazy illustrations.

      Some other suggestions, not party games but also good intros into modern games: Splendor, a card game about trading precious stones at a gem market; Carcassonne, a tile-laying game about building and controlling cities, roads and fields in medieval Europe; Pandemic, a cooperative game (everybody plays together against the game) about stopping and eradicating disease epidemics around the world.

      You should be able to find these easily in department stores, for example Target sells all of them. Since I wrote that post they expanded their boardgame section a lot and added a number of newer and better games.

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