News & Politics

A New Women’s-History Board Game Has People Talking

Votes for Women is a hit in a male-focused genre.

Gamers at the recent DC event. Photograph by Bradley Herring.

Why is Washington the perfect place to host a historical-board-game conference? Just ask Kevin Bertram, owner of Fort Circle Games: “You know, DC has the highest concentration of nerds in this country, so . . . . ” Actually, the answer is more prosaic. Bertram is the organizer of the event—held for the first time this year—and Fort Circle is based in the District. Which is the reason why, on a recent Saturday, more than 100 attendees came together in the Naval Lodge on Capitol Hill, rolling dice and turning cards and generally geeking out.

Bertram hatched the gathering—dubbed Circle DC: A Conference on History, Education & Play—as a way to talk shop with fellow enthusiasts and also garner attention for the kind of games he cooks up with Fort Circle, which he launched in 2017. “We’ve picked out a niche: historical games on under-­gamed topics,” he says. So far, the company has released The Shores of Tripoli, based on Thomas Jefferson’s wars against Barbary pirates, and Votes for Women, about the suffrage movement. First Monday, in which players jockey to get justices onto the Supreme Court, is due this fall.

Despite what your Call of Duty–addicted teen might tell you, this is actually a great time for board games, with industry revenue soaring since the pandemic hit. “I think there’s been a tipping point with digital engagement,” says Bertram. “ ‘Am I going to doomscroll on Twitter or am I going to go play a game with my wife?’ ”

These kinds of historical games have long been popular, but they’re traditionally aimed at a male audience. Bertram hopes to change that. Votes for Women—which was created by his friend Tory Brown—lets players campaign across states in hopes of ratifying the 19th Amendment. Bertram says he can easily point to hundreds of games about, say, the Battle of Stalingrad, but he’s not aware of any others on women’s suffrage.

At the Circle DC conference, plenty of those traditional war games were in evidence. Bertram saved Votes for Women until the end, closing out the event with his company’s new offering. The reaction was enthusiastic, and Brown was thrilled to see her efforts pay off: “I don’t think I’ll ever get over watching people play my game.”

This article appears in the May 2023 issue of Washingtonian.