Y Axis of Villains

Posted by Peat
JLAOVFor my birthday a few months ago, my buddy Matt gave me Justice League: Axis of Villains, a superhero board game by DC Comics and game maker Wonderforge. “It say ages 8 and up,” he tells me, “but I read the rules. Cassie’s smart. She can handle it if you play together.”

We’re old, so we don’t really get gifts for each other anymore, but we do buy stuff for the kids. A really thoughtful gift, it was a way to connect with my kid via something we both love, and simultaneously teach her gaming, math, and strategy. Hours of quality time with my kid. Geek dads FTW.

But then I looked at the box. There were plenty of DC heroes and villains depicted, but they were all male.

A decade ago, I might not have noticed. Or noticed, thought it was lame, shrugged, and moved on. But I look for these things now, because I have a little girl and I want her to feel included.

“Are there any girl characters?” I asked.

Matt had a flash of concern cross his face. He has two daughters himself, and understood immediately. He tilted his head to take a closer look at the box.

“They must,” he said at last. “It’s the friggin’ Justice League. They’ve got to have Wonder Woman, at least.”

It was a fair argument, but doubt niggled me. A few days later Cassie saw the game and asked to play it. I showed her the board and the dice, and explained how we pretend to be the Justice League, defending the Watchtower from bad guys.

She was WAY into the idea. She’s seen all the episodes of Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited. She knows the Watchtower and can name almost everyone even in the extended league. She’s especially interested in the women of the league. As those of you who read the blog regularly know, she has made costumes for many of them, including Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, Batgirl (who isn’t in the JL, but Cassie says she should be), and even some of the villains like Catwoman and Harley Quinn.

But sure enough, we opened up the game to find four player heroes to choose from, and at least two dozen villains, and not a female in sight.

“What girl can I be?” Cassie asked, digging through the game pieces.

“I don’t think there are any girls, sweetie,” I said, anger building in me. Cause really, DC & Wonderforge? WTF? You know it’s 2014, right?

Cassie put down the game pieces. “I don’t want to play this, then.” She turned and moved to leave the room, and it broke my heart. In part for her, and in part because I love superheroes, and this should be something we can share.

“How about if we make our own girl pieces to play?” I asked. “It can be an art project.”

She immediately brightened. “That’s a great idea!”

It was a nice save, but I was still pissed. I groused about it on twitter moments later, and a reader came to my rescue, pointing to this gem: http://derivativecrafts.blogspot.com/2013/07/heroine-control-pads_9.html

Someone had already encountered the same problem as me and fixed it.

Some days, I fucking love the internet.

The project fell to the wayside for a while. She had school and camp and playdates and what have you, and it was a low priority. But the last couple weeks have been the gap between camp ending and school starting back up, and I’ve been struggling to fill the days. So the other day we printed out the control pads, cut and pasted them to cardboard backs, and voila! We were ready to play, now with five different options for female players: Hawkgirl, Wonder Woman, Vixen, Zatanna and Huntress.


As game, even apart from the appalling lack of female characters, Axis of Villains isn’t the best. The rules are vague in some places and unnecessarily complicated in others. The powers and options are lame, and the mechanics are tedious. This too is something others online have noted, and I’ve gotten good tips on how to tweak rules to improve gameplay.

But for all that, Cassie loves it and wants play every chance she gets. And this is why I am so pissed about the whole “no girls” thing. In addition to illustrating how they remain creatively stuck in the 60’s, DC is leaving money on the table by continuing to make their merchandise exclusive to boys.

And they are exclusive. I know many would argue that a kid should be able to handle playing a character that’s not their own gender sometimes. I agree! But why should that mean only the girls have to suffer that?

Because sure. Cassie COULD have played the game as Green Lantern, or the Flash, or whatever. But that’s all she would have been doing. Playing a game.


When you’re a kid, playing a game is only part of the experience. The game is a gateway into imagining that YOU are a superhero, fighting off villains as they try to destroy the Watchtower. It is that imagination that makes a crappy board game fun.

Don’t believe me? The first time we played, Cassie picked Hawkgirl. Then, as I was setting up the board, she ran from the room. A few minutes later she returned, in her full Hawkgirl costume. Mask and mace and utility belt. Even the shoes.

She played the entire game in costume. Never took the mask off once, even as we drank and snacked and played for hours. I had to address her as Hawkgirl, and she would only call me Flash. She’s a method actor.

Today we played again. Cass picked Wonder Woman to be, and ran out, returning in her Wonder Woman costume and staying in character the whole time.


I try to understand why games might consider culling female characters. Sure, I could start shouting things like “sexism!” and “misogyny!”, and maybe that’s part of it, but I think businesses tend to make decisions based on more monetary concerns. Maybe statistically it’s more likely to be 4 boys playing, and they want to cater to that. But if so, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you market only to boys, don’t be surprised boys are your only market. And don’t be surprised if the boys with sisters and female friends end up playing something else entirely.

When comics and game designers exclude or otherwise diminish the role of female characters, they are really telling girls they are not welcome. That sure, they CAN play, but they can’t have full immersion. Full immersion is for boys only.

And fuck that.

I fixed this shitty game, but I shouldn’t have HAD to. We have a right to expect (and demand) that comics companies and the game designers they license to do better. Sure, it’s a free country and they have a right to make boys only games if they want, but we don’t need to support it, or stay quiet about it.

Posted on September 10, 2014 at 2:07 pm by PeatB
Filed under Cassie, Life, Musings, My Reviews

22 responses to “Y Axis of Villains”

  1. I must confess that I’ve never seen it like this, perhaps because I am male, but after I’ve read your post I totally agree with it. It is just not fair to ignore the girls. I think that the game companies are absolutely aware of the fact. They’ve got big marketing divisions to tell them where to invest the money. Knowing this it is even worse if they exclude a whole gender. Why shouldn’t boys and girls play together?

    Posted by Jens (Germany), on September 10th, 2014 at 3:02 pm
  2. Its crazy that , as you say, in 2014 we are still dealing with this. Like Jens said, I may not have noticed, but now that I’m (god willing) having a daughter born in a couple of months, I can’t STOO seeing all the imbalances. I love Young Justice because I felt the female characters were up front and in control. Then, cancelled. Great. Hopefully there will be more focus if the up coming movies feature female leads. Also, Black Widow(although Marvel) needs a movie!

    Posted by Glen, on September 10th, 2014 at 5:00 pm
  3. *STOP. So my mobile thinks STOO is what I meant.

    Posted by Glen, on September 10th, 2014 at 5:24 pm
  4. If you want a co-operative Superhero game that has both male and female villains and heroes then I highly recommend Sentinels of the Mulltiverse.

    Each hero and villain have their own deck, so no deck-building mechanics required.

    It’s neither DC nor Marvel, but Superheroes made up from a fictional comic universe.

    Posted by Anestis, on September 16th, 2014 at 9:02 pm
  5. It’s great you managed to turn the game into something positive for your daughter. As much as I love DC comics their merchandising history (old and recent) is appalling, not just in terms of excluding female characters but constantly shunning all but the big name characters.
    It looks like they are slowly starting to realise how much money they are missing out on but unfortunately it’s a slow process.

    BTW Your daughter’s Hawkgirl costume is frigging adorable! I find it funny that a great character like Hawkgirl who is virtually unknown to most parents keeps getting picked up by kids as a favourite character.

    Posted by Shib, on September 17th, 2014 at 3:03 am
  6. I just wanted to say that I found you because of The Mary Sue reposting this piece. And I felt compelled to share that repost but also to come here and specifically thank you for writing it. It warms my heart to see more and more men speak out about these things on behalf of their daughters. I appreciate you making the effort to understand your daughter’s experience and perspective and to let that motivate you to speak out. So many people would not bother, they’d write it off as trivial and silly. “It’s just a game”
    So thank you for seeing the big picture. Your daughter is as lucky to have you in her life as you are to have her in yours.

    Posted by Mutant Supermodel, on September 17th, 2014 at 1:01 pm
  7. Thank you for this! I’m an adult nerd girl who didn’t discover tabletop until I was nearly 20. And the reason is because, after the XMen cartoon went off air in the 90s, I really didn’t see myself represented in any of the comic pop culture, so I didn’t look deeper. Even today, my interest is in White Wolf’s World of Darkness, but I do get excited when the newest comic based movies come out – until I see them. I’m so glad to see that you are not only showing your daughter the awesomeness that is comics, but are doing what the companies SHOULD be doing, and letting her see herself in them. Awesome dad points!

    Also, I wanted to pass on a blog that I thought you and your daughter might enjoy. Not my blog, but one I follow. Little Girls R Better at Designing Superheros Than You – http://bettersupes.tumblr.com/

    Posted by Lea, on September 18th, 2014 at 2:36 pm
  8. […] geeky dad took to the blogosphere (is that a word anymore?) to vent about the lack of female characters in DC’s board game, Justice League: Axis of Villains. As in, the…Zero. Zip. As his friend says, “It’s the friggin’ Justice League. They’ve got to have Wonder […]

    Posted by The DC Daily Planet: December Solicits, on September 19th, 2014 at 11:01 am
  9. Came here from the repost also – is this getting enough attention to garner a response from DC??

    Posted by Emily, on September 20th, 2014 at 5:54 pm
  10. Shared this on my FB page. Thank you so much!

    Posted by Ahunt, on September 20th, 2014 at 8:06 pm
  11. Try Sentenels of the Multiverse (I’m in no way affiliated with the company that makes it) but its a great super hero board game with plenty of female characters. It just doesn’t use any pre-existing superheros. They made up all of their own such as Tachyon, the worlds fastest woman.
    Unity, a Technopath who has ultimate control over technology.
    They even have a character who is almost like a female Bruce Wayne, in that she’s rich and such by day but by night fights crime.

    Posted by Liam Turner, on September 23rd, 2014 at 5:59 am
  12. I work at a store that sells Axis of Villains. When I looked at the game and saw what bits came with it, I thought “Okay, where are Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg?” I understand the need for Superman and Batman in there, and yes, GL and Flash are iconic members of the JL, but no Wonder Woman? And for that matter, no Zatanna, Black Canary, or even Green Arrow??

    Kudos to Derivative Crafts for coming up with that solution, but it shouldn’t have come to that to begin with. The only way Wonderforge can save face on this is to issue for free download (or sell at a very moderate price) booster packs with more heroes and affiliated villains, with a random Ultra Villain in select packs. Even a redesign and including Wonder Woman and Aquaman in a new release would work. Otherwise, they’ll lose a lot of money by not realizing that girls read comics, play games, and enjoy pop culture as rabidly as their male counterparts.

    Posted by Chris Colvard, on September 23rd, 2014 at 3:42 pm
  13. […] couple weeks ago, I posted about the DC Comics-licensed board Game Justice League: Axis of Villains by kids game designer Wonder Forge. I was—justifiably—put off by the fact Wonder Forge had […]

    Posted by Peter V Brett :: Peephole In My Skull, on September 26th, 2014 at 11:23 am
  14. […] Brett was not a happy camper and neither was his daughter: […]

    Posted by This was unexpected | The Shoops Roost, on September 26th, 2014 at 11:12 pm
  15. […] pouco mais de uma semana, Peter V. Brett, pai de uma pequena garota geek chamada Cassie, postou em seu blog sua decepção ao tentar jogar o boardgame “Justice League: Axis of Villains”, da DC […]

  16. […] novelist and dad, got a superhero board game for 6-year-old daughter Cassie. As he wrote on his blog, he was gobsmacked to learn that in a children’s game about DC superheroes and supervillains, […]

    Posted by It’s sexism clobberin’ time! | SorryWatch, on September 30th, 2014 at 4:26 pm
  17. […] of Wonder Woman in Target’s new Justice League line of products, as well as an outcry about a DC board game from Wonderforge not having any playable female heroes), but in their comics as well – like the controversy over the cover for Teen Titans #1 […]

    Posted by Why does DC Comics keep insulting its fans?, on October 2nd, 2014 at 5:40 am
  18. […] of Wonder Woman in Target’s new Justice League line of products, as well as an outcry about a DC board game from Wonderforge not having any playable female heroes), but in their comics as well – like the controversy over the cover for Teen Titans #1 […]

  19. I don’t visit the Wonder Forge Facebook page often, so I learned about your blog post and the reaction to it long after the smoke had cleared. That said, I had made a similar observation about Axis of Villains several weeks beforehand. Because my daughters were likewise disappointed by the lack of diversity in the character offering, I created a fairly sizable set of alternative characters that I posted to the Wonder Forge Facebook page (Cyborg, Wonder Woman, Black Canary, Vixen, etc., etc.–almost 30, if I recall correctly). I also created some suggested rules variations to extend replay value. If your family or any of your followers would find these useful, please reference my posts beginning on 8/26 (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=470066259763390&set=o.159110067453946&type=1&theater). Thanks!

    Posted by Ed Schock, on December 14th, 2014 at 12:34 am
  20. Hmmm. Just noticed in following the link I posted that I shouldn’t have saved more than one card to a page–resulting resolution is way too low. If anyone is interested–or if anyone knows of a more suitable place to post–I have all of the cards individually as well, and at higher resolution.

    Posted by Ed Schock, on December 14th, 2014 at 12:59 am
  21. […] has long been an outspoken advocate for gender equality in the “nerd” community, from fantasy novels to comic books to gaming and […]

  22. You get award for best dad ever! What you did is awesome. I am trying to get my 3 yr old grandson into watching superhero cartoons instead of Micky or George. Those characters are fine and well but I want him to love superhero cartoons as much as I do. And, btw her Hawkgirl costume is adorable. Maybe the game devs will take a clue from you and re-vamp the game.

    Posted by Martha, on August 7th, 2015 at 12:27 pm