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Pax Pamir and John Company studio’s next board game Molly House explores the joy and betrayal among queer communities in 18th-century London

Jo Kelly’s design picked up by Wehrlegig Games after Zenobia Award nomination.

Image credit: Werhlegig Games

The next game from the makers of Pax Pamir and John Company will explore the efforts of trailblazing LGBTQ+ pioneers to experience joy and celebration while overcoming attempts to suppress the queer community in 1700s London.

Molly House puts up to five players in the role of ‘mollies’ - a term traditionally used for men in relationships with other men, initially considered offensive before being reclaimed by the community - as they throw masquerade parties and cruise back alleys in joyful celebration and support of their community.

However, their joy and identity will come under threat from members of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, the historical organisation that sought to suppress what it considered to be immoral activities.

Some of those members may infiltrate the community by demanding bribes from members of the molly house or turning mollies against each other as secret informers, represented in-game by hidden roles adopted by the players that can shift over the course of each roughly hour-long session and see some players working to undermine the rest of the group.

Image credit: Wehrlegig Games

Molly House’s gameplay sees players drafting cards to their hand that represent the various interactions between members of the LGTBQ+ community, from gestures and desires to encounters. Those cards are played to host celebrations and gatherings of the community, but also risk players being arrested by local police and the molly house facing ruin as the result of their offending the Society for the Reformation of Manners.

The upcoming board game particularly centres on Mother Clap’s Molly House, the coffee house and lodgings run by John and Margaret Clap that became a hub for the LGBTQ+ community during the 1720s - attracting the attention of the police, who raided the venue in 1726 and imprisoned Margaret for two years. Three mollies arrested during the raid - Gabriel Lawrence, William Griffin and Thomas Wright - were sentenced for the crime of sodomy and hanged.

Molly House was originally designed by Jo Kelly and shortlisted for 2021’s Zenobia Award, which aims to spotlight and mentor underrepresented voices in the historical board game community - both in terms of the games themselves and their creators.

Kelly’s design was shortlisted for the 2021 award, before being picked up for a wider release by Wehrlegig Games, the publisher behind the second editions of Root designer Cole Wehrle’s historical titles Pax Pamir and John Company.

The Dicebreaker team play Pax Pamir 2EWatch on YouTube

Wehrle contributed additional design work to Kelly’s foundation, with Molly House being developed over the course of two years and going through various iterations - and a number of game mechanics, from dice-drafting to bag-pulling, according to Wehrle’s design diary - while remaining focused on Kelly’s powerful depiction of the period and its queer pioneers.

“As a rule, the only thing sacred in the design was the core story and a particular kind of feeling that we wanted to convey: Molly House was a game about the found queer communities of the early eighteenth century and how they created joy and kinship in impossible situations,” Wehrle wrote. “It was also a game about how those communities were torn apart. Everything else had to work at the service of that. If a mechanism wasn’t working, it was dropped.”

Molly House will launch a crowdfunding campaign on Backerkit on October 17th.

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