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Hades 2 has mastered tastefully sexy character designs, so why can’t fantasy board games do the same?

That’s some attractive artwork!

Artwork for Hades 2 featuring Nemesis, Moros and Melinoe
Image credit: Supergiant Games

The success of 2020’s indie video game Hades owes a lot to the horniness of its fanbase. Hades’ intense and fast gameplay, which challenges players to complete several levels of monster-packed rooms and dangerous bosses in a single life, certainly played a part in the game’s popularity and critical acclaim. Nevertheless, the reason the title has endured within the cultural landscape for so long is because we can’t get enough of its tastefully sexy characters.

It looks like Hades 2, which focuses on the Princess of the Underworld Melinoe, is following in the footsteps of its predecessor in regards to character design. A recent livestream by developer and publisher Supergiant Games provided players with a first look at some of the characters set to be included in Hades 2. Screenshots of the character portraits - created by illustrator Jen Zee, who also worked on the original Hades - very quickly made their way into Hades forums on Reddit - with the user comments echoing what many fans undoubtedly noticed about the game beyond its newly revealed gameplay elements: these characters look hot.

Horniness in the video game community is nothing new; it is an industry that has a long and disappointing history of cashing in on fan service and babes-in-bikinis-style games to get punters through the doors. Though that aspect of the industry still exists, the move towards becoming more of a mainstream hobby has led to the majority of big-name video games taking a less sleazy approach to sex. It also helps that the recognised player base of video games is now more openly diverse, with straight, white, cis men in their twenties no longer being the only demographic being catered to.

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Though some video games just swerve past including sex or sexiness completely, others take an approach that looks at sexy character design from a more considered perspective. Even when the artists and designers aren’t intentionally designing a character to be sexy, they can still end up having that effect on fans because attraction is very subjective. Everyone has at least one fictional character that the majority of society wouldn’t deem to be conventionally attractive, but then there are characters that have hundreds or even thousands of people getting hot-under-the-collar about them; many of these characters are found in the Hades franchise.

It’s an incredibly boring and hetero-normative belief that characters need to have certain elements to be classed as attractive. A big reason that Hades has become a series so associated with sexiness is that its character designs offer a wide variety of flavours of attractiveness. There aren’t just buff dudes and big-tiddied ladies (though they also feature). There are muscular women like Hecate, slim men like Hypnos, fat men like Hephestus and even whatever Chaos is.

For the most part, the board game industry’s approach to sexy character design is either: non-existent or Conan the Barbarian-esque pulp.

Beyond the physical, the designs in Hades do a fantastic job of conveying aspects of each character for players to endear themselves to: Artemis’ honest smile, Nemesis’ confident glare and Selene’s serene gaze. I’m into Aphrodite not just because she’s got a full figure but also because she radiates a glorious femininity that I’m irresistibly drawn to, and I’m down with Moros because I’m a sucker for a stoic daddy character with long, lustrous hair.

Artwork for Hades 2 featuring Aphrodite
Aphrodite's design in Hades 2 oozes sex appeal in a fashion that accurately reflects her character - as the Goddess of Love - and radiates a feminine aura with an edge. | Image credit: Supergiant Games

This tasteful and measured approach to sexy character design is something that’s severely lacking in the board gaming market. Fantasy has been a popular theme for board games for a while now, ever since the 1970s and ‘80s saw the emergence of the likes of Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer and HeroQuest. Though it’s a popular theme for lighter, adventure-style games - such as Descent: Journeys in the Dark and Mice & Mystics - there are plenty of heavier strategy games that embrace a fantasy aesthetic, such as Gloomhaven and Root. As such a broad genre, fantasy stylings in board games can range from the cute animal vibes of Everdell to the more traditional fantasy of Terra Mystica. However, there is a distinct difference between the board games that are clearly designed for a family-friendly audience and those intended for an adult male audience.

At Dicebreaker, we regularly joke about the sheer number of crowdfunding campaigns for topless women miniatures there are on Kickstarter. If you scroll through the search results for games on Kickstarter, the amount of campaigns there are for miniatures of dead-eyed women with often comically exaggerated body-shapes is mind-boggling. Though the tabletop gaming space is generally a more welcoming space for people who aren’t straight cis men than the video gaming community - especially in the diverse world of indie tabletop RPGs - it still has plenty of examples of games for which the intended audience is clearly no-one but straight cis men. There is a section of fantasy board gaming that feels like this, the section occupied by the likes of 2015’s Sword & Sorcery and Kingdom Death: Monster - whose artwork and miniatures feature the classic bland titty warriors that will undoubtedly put most people who don’t have a gross view of women off.

It feels like the assumption that board games are purely a family-focused hobby still lingers over the industry like a spectre.

For the most part, the board game industry’s approach to sexy character design is either: non-existent for the sake of family-friendly or serious fantasy vibes, or Conan the Barbarian-esque pulp that is incredibly uninviting to everyone except its narrow intended audience. There is no inbetween space where a diverse range of players can be drawn to some genuinely sexy character design, like Hades. The tabletop roleplaying game industry absolutely populates this space, with the likes of Monsterhearts and Thirsty Sword Lesbians putting its themes of sex and romance front-and-centre via its artwork. Even TRPGs that aren’t so focused around romance and sex have artwork featuring attractive characters: I still remember Maddie and I eyeing up artwork for the Borrowers-esque TRPG Household, because it featured men in gorgeous highway gear and women in lustrous finery.

Household RPG artwork
Household's sumptuous aesthetics play a large role in making many of its characters appear tastefully sexy. | Image credit: Two Little Mice

A major difference is that whilst the tabletop RPG industry has its bigger studios - like D&D maker Wizards of the Coast, Pathfinder creator Paizo and Star Trek Adventures publisher Modiphius - it’s, for the most part, a community-first environment that is filled with indie creators, many of whom are not straight, male or cis. The board game industry has diversity in parts, particularly the smaller and up-and-coming studios, but the kind of companies making fantasy board games are either respectable family-friendly publishers like Disney Lorcana and Villainous maker Ravensburger or smaller groups that are relying on a straight cis male audience to crowdfund their fantasy titty games. Where are the girlies and the gays making tastefully sexy character designs for board games? The closest I’ve seen in recent memory is Dance of Muses: a board game inspired by Ancient Greek mythology featuring gorgeous artwork of the Muses that frames their beauty and grace in a manner that radiates a queer feminine gaze.

It feels like the assumption that board games are purely a family-focused hobby still lingers over the industry like a spectre, to the point where anything that tries to provide an alternative either forgoes in the inclusion of sexiness entirely, or has to delve into that foetid swamp of only being for the guys who like to play Dungeons & Dragons with their crowdfunded topless barbarian miniatures.

Some of us would like more board games that feature character designs that have been clearly created by artists who get it - who get that to make a character attractive you just need to include those unforgettable, sumptuous details; those memorable marks that will endear players of all stripes to them. In other words, we need more artists like Hades’ Jen Zee to be given the opportunity and the go-ahead to go wild in the board game space.

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Alex Meehan avatar
Alex Meehan: After writing for Kotaku UK, Waypoint and Official Xbox Magazine, Alex became a member of the Dicebreaker editorial family. Having been producing news, features, previews and opinion pieces for Dicebreaker for the past three years, Alex has had plenty of opportunity to indulge in her love of meaty strategy board games and gothic RPGS. Besides writing, Alex appears in Dicebreaker’s D&D actual play series Storybreakers and haunts the occasional stream on the Dicebreaker YouTube channel.
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