Dale Yu: Review of Votes for Women  

Votes for Women

  • Designer: Tory Brown
  • Publisher: Fort Circle Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 12+
  • Time: 60-75 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Fort Circle Games

Votes for Women is a card-driven game covering the American women’s suffrage movement from 1848-1920, culminating with the ratification (or rejection) of the Nineteenth Amendment. The game was launched on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

To win, the Suffragist player must have Congress pass the proposed Amendment and then have three-fourths of the states (36 of the then 48 states) ratify the Amendment. The Opposition player wins by either preventing Congress from passing the proposed Amendment or by having 13 states reject the Amendment.

The board, which is a map of the United States as of 1920, is placed on the table – you will see six colored regions, each of 8 states.  At the time, there were 48 states in the Union, with Arizona being the most recently admitted in 1912.  There is space in the bottom left of the board for cards with ongoing or end-game effectively.  Cheekily, we refer to this space as Alaska as this is often where the inset area for Alaska ends up on modern maps.  The different decks (State cards, strategy cards, event cards) are shuffled and set up.  Each player takes their Start Card from the event deck.  

The game lasts for six turns, each of four phases  – a turn consisting of drawing cards from the players’ own decks, bidding on strategy cards, and then six rounds of card play where a player may play a card for an event or discard a card to campaign, organize or lobby Congress. If Congress has proposed the Amendment but neither 36 states have ratified nor 13 states have rejected, then the game goes to Final Voting.

[The summary below is for the regular 2p game. You can play the game in a number of different ways including solo, 2p competitive as Suffragists, 2p cooperative as Suffragists and 2p competitive as Opposition.  The rules offer sections of rules changes for each of these different modes…]

1] Planning Phase – Draw 6 cards from your Event deck to bring your hand to seven cards

2] Strategy Phase – there are 3 strategy cards face up on the table.   The Suffragist decides how many buttons they will commit to spending.  The Opposition then gets to make a bid.  If the Opposition passes, the Suffragist spends their button bid and then takes any Strategy card and places it in front of them.  If the Opposition ties the bid, both players spend their buttons and NO ONE gets a Strategy card.  If the Opposition wins the bid, both players spend their bid, and then the Opposition gets to take the Strategy card of their choice.  (This phase doesn’t happen in Turn 1 as neither player has buttons)

3] Operations Phase – There are six rounds in this phase, in each one a player must play a card from their hand and may optionally play a single Strategy or State card (the State or Strategy card is discarded after use).  When a card is played – it can be used in four different ways:

  • As an Event – read the event text on the card and apply it. Some events require buttons to be spent or for a die roll to be achieved. Cards may end up in the area denoting their effect lasts until the end of the round, the end of the game or they may be in effect for final voting.
  • As a Campaigning Action – roll a d4 for each Campaigner the player has on the board, spending buttons to re-roll as desired.  Assign one die per Campaigner; and that number of cubes can be put in states in that Campaigner’s region.  Note that only one side can have cubes in a state.  If your opponent has cubes in a state that you are trying to place into, first spend your “cube’ to remove one of the opponents.  Only when the state is empty of opponent cubes do you place your own color.
  • As an Organizing Action – take as many buttons as Campaigners they have in play
  • As a Lobbying Action – roll one d6 per Campaigner in play, for each 6 rolled, you can modify the Congressional track by one point by adding or taking away a marker from the track.  

When the 6th marker is placed on the Congressional track, thus filling it, Congress has passed the 19th Amendment.  At that moment, any states with at least four cubes has those cubes removed and gets a corresponding green checkmark (if in favor of the suffragists) or a red X (if in favor of the opposition).  For the rest of the game, as a state gets 4 cubes for a side, the appropriate marker is placed on that state.  Once a state has a checkmark or an X, it no longer gets cubes placed on it – its vote on the amendment is firm and final.

There will be nine state cards available from setup.  If a side ever has 4 cubes on a state, they immediately get the card and can use it on any future round.  (If claimed by the Oppobot – it immediately uses a State or Strategy card when it gets one).

4] Cleanup Phase – remove any cards from the “in effect to the end of the turn” box.  Each player should have on card left in their hand.  Check to see if anyone has won the game.  

The game is won by the Suffragists when the 36th green checkmark is placed.  The game is won by the Opposition when the 13th red X is placed.  However, if neither side wins before the end of the sixth turn, there is a Final Voting Phase.  Starting with the Suffragists and then alternating, a player nominates a state to be resolved.  Each player rolls a d6 and adds to their roll any cubes they have in that state.  Players may spend buttons to re-roll.  The higher total wins the state; ties broken in favor of the Opposition unless the Suffragists have a special action to break ties in their favor.

My thoughts on the game

Unlike many other games that we review here on the Opinionated Gamers, Votes for Women is a game which definitely does not have a pasted-on theme.  The actual historical events form the backbone of the game strategy and events.  As a history major in college, I really appreciated the chance to learn more about the events around this tumultuous struggle.  Though many would take it for granted now, the struggle to gain the vote for HALF of the country’s population was a hard fought and necessary battle.  

The game’s reliance on historical facts really attracted me to the game; however, it also presents one of the bigger obstacles for me – namely, I really don’t like playing the role of the Opposition.  I fully realize that in many battles, there are two opposing forces – sometimes referred to as “right” and “wrong”, or maybe “good” and “evil”, or “Hatfield” and “McCoy”.  In some conflicts, I’m OK being on either side – I mean I have no issues being the Rebels or the Dark Side.  Here, trying to play the role of the Opposition forces you to play cards and trigger events that I don’t want to be responsible for, even in the sense of playing a boardgame.  I know that I’m not the only person who feels that way after discussing the game with others.  So rather than force anyone to be the Opposition, I have focused on the ways to play where no one takes on that role.

Luckily, the game gives you an out and allows two players to play as competing suffragist players against a bot.  I’ve concentrated my plays either solo or in this 2p competing suffragist version. I don’t even want to make anyone else play the role of the Opposition!  It does somewhat limit the times that I’ll be able to play the game- but so be it.  The game works fine solo, and I was OK with 2 player cooperative Suffragette mode.

The game works well, and follows a historical story arc.  At the start of the game, only a single state (New York) has a Suffragette cube in it while 31 states have a single Opposition cube.  Per the research of the designer, this was the mood of the country in 1848, the year of the Seneca Falls Convention.  The rest of the game has a nice tempo dictated by the three eras of the Event decks.  As the game moves on, the power of the Suffragettes increases, 

There is a good ebb and flow in the fight over particular regions and states, and I like the way the game focuses on the battleground states in the end game – remember that once a state has locked in a vote (when either side gets 4 cubes in a state), that state is essentially inert for the rest of the game.   

While there is a definite story arc here, the random deal of the cards in each era as well as the randomness in the die rolls (when needed) help keep the game from feeling like it is on rails.  There is definitely a clear direction to the narrative of the game, but players still have plenty of latitude to modify the story in their favor.  Even when you get a bad roll, you can use a button to re-roll (if you have one), and deciding how full to keep your button stock is a big part of the strategy of the game.  The Final Voting does maybe rely on a bit more luck than I’d want, though I’ll admit that I’ve never rolled for more than 3 states in the Final Voting, so the bulk of the game was decided through the six rounds of play.

The events on the cards are of varying strength, though it feels like any particular card could have great effect given the right conditions.  I like the way that you have to decide which card to play – even if you are using a card to Campaign or Organize, you must still discard a card – and it can often be a difficult decision to choose between cards in your hand knowing that you’ll never get to take the event action on the discarded choice.

I like the overall look of the game – the map has a nice old-timey feel to it, and the cards all have meaningful pictures/illustrations on them.  I also very much enjoyed the flavor text on the cards which was quite educational as well.  There is even a brochure in the box outlining other historical sources should this game trigger a desire to read up more on the fight for the women’s vote.

The games I have played thus far take about 90 to 120 minutes.  That is a bit longer than the time written on the box, but I will also say that each game I’ve played in has had at least one new player to the game, and with all the text on the cards and whatnot, there is a bit of a learning curve when reading all those cards and considering all your options.  

After a few games, I’ll say that I’ve enjoyed Votes for Women so far, but it may have a limited prospective audience going forward.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m likely to only suggest it to myself in a solo game or to one other player (where we can both be Suffragettes).  Also, after trying to play with a Canadian visitor, the theme was so strongly American that she found herself disinterested in it.  She also had a lot of problems with the state names – as they are abbreviated on the map but spelled out longhand on the cards.  While most of the abbreviations are easy to parse, the states beginning with M can be quite a challenge to a non-American!

For those looking for a challenging game with a strong historical basis, Votes for Women would be a great choice.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! John P
  • I like it.
  • Neutral. Dale Y
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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