The world of tabletop gaming went through a difficult patch recently involving art, intention, and communication. All of it centered around Tournament Fishing: The Deck-Building Game, its creators, publisher, and the community as a whole.
First, the set-up. Tournament Fishing is being developed by a small team with the lead designer being Greg Mahler, and tabletop game publisher The Gaming Goat assisting with production. The game's Kickstarter has gone live and has made about $49,000, surpassing its goal of $15,000. While TGG has only produced one other tabletop game on the platform, this is because it is a smaller branch of the company, which has a large hand in retail distribution of board games and accessories.
This is important for what happens next. In an attempt to promote Tournament Fishing, several pieces of artwork including the rulebook were shown on Twitter. Those tweets have now been deleted, and the reasons why will become obvious. One of the illustrations shows a realistic looking frog with one of its hands curled into the "A-Okay" gesture. These are images and gestures that have been appropriated by modern white supremacists. Not helping this negative association was a caption on the art added later stating, "This is Bob the frog. Bob is A OH KAY. Bob the frog does not have a hateful bone in his body and loves everyone."
The responses to this situation were worryingly unprofessional. In a forum thread on Board Game Geek, user YOON LEE expressed his distaste for this artwork and stated that he would be pulling his support of Tournament Fishing. Mahler responded to comments in this thread. These began with feigning ignorance about the nature of the art, then claiming that the artist was making a joke. Mahler's statements became increasingly defensive as the thread progressed. Exacerbating this were inflamatory comments and responses by TGG's CEO Jeff Bergren on his Facebook page.
This led to several designers and industry peers speaking out. Designer Artem Sakarov officially announced in a tweet thread that he would be leaving a project he was working on with TGG. He stated the reason for this departure was the studio's dismissive attitude towards this incident. In the tweet thread, Sakarov stated that he legitimately believed the frog art was indeed accidental, but the degree to which everyone involved failed to understand and acknowledge the connection to hate groups was not excusable. Sakarov even acknowledged that by ending this partnership it would be to his own personal financial distress as he had to repay an advance, but believed it was the right thing to do.
Others vocalized their opinions shortly thereafter. Eric Lang, the creative mind behind Bloodborne: The Board Game and Ankh: Gods of Egypt, was notably passionate about the affair, stating "The 'entire point' of this symbol in current culture is to be a dog whistle (a symbol for white supremacists to signal each other) while appearing benign to most." Isaac Childres, most well known for Gloomhaven, spoke back against several of Mahler's comments throughout the thread. In addition, several reviewers, including Jason Perez of One Stop Coop Shop, took down videos covering Tournament Fishing.
The biggest condemnation came from Board Game Geek themselves. On page 12 of this extensive forum thread, the moderators posted that both Mahler and Bergren's BGG accounts have been suspended indefinitely.and that all ongoing promotion and advertisement for not just Tournament Fishing but any and all of TGG's projects would be suspended on the site. The reasons stated for these punishments were due to multiple posts made on social media that directly conflicts with the BGG's community values. They have also banned several other vocal supporters of Bergren's statements, including those who expressed them on Kickstarter.