New Cardboard Edison Award winner apologises for gamifying colonialist land grab for American West, promises to retheme game

The winner of this year’s Cardboard Edison Award, which aims to highlight the best in currently unpublished board games, has apologised for theming his game around the rush to colonise the American West.

Myles Wallace said he was “in no way” seeking to glorify America’s westward expansion at the expense of indigenous people with his game Crowded Frontier, which sees players using worker placement, area control and resource management to outdo other pioneers staking claims on “prime real estate”.

Crowded Frontier makes no mention of North America’s native population, or suggests the land being fought over by players is anything but empty space.

Wallace said that due to community feedback and deeper reflection since winning the award two weeks ago, he would be retheming the game.

A statement from Wallace said:

Crowded Frontier designer Myles Wallace

“Thank you for your feedback as I continue to develop Crowded Frontier. I hear you and will change the theme. Diversity and historical sensitivity matter to me, and I apologize to anyone who I hurt by gamifying a troubled period of history. I recognize the displacement of indigenous peoples which resulted from America’s westward expansion and in no way seek to glorify it.

Crowded Frontier was very much a ‘mechanics first’ design that has always struggled to find a fitting theme. The feedback I had received up to this point was that mechanics didn’t match gameplay, and many people who reviewed the game recommended re-theming for game immersion purposes. The only problem was I couldn’t think of anything else and settled on the current problematic theme.

What’s obvious to me now is that there is no way to course correct for the way the game approached what is a fundamentally troubled period of American history. I will be seeking out a new theme for the game.

Suffice to say, I’ve learned a lot from this journey and this feedback to be more inclusive of and sensitive to the many different people within our hobby and wider community. I will post new information about the game as it develops.”

Crowded Frontier fought off competition from more than 330 other entries to win this year’s award in what is an increasingly crowded field, with the number of entries up more than 35% compared to 2023’s competition.

Almost 60 board game industry professionals were part of this year’s judging panel. Board game design website Cardboard Edison, which has run the annual award since 2016, shared the statement from Wallace to social media site Bluesky, adding:

“For our part, this game’s theme was clearly a blind spot for us and a gap in our judging criteria. Thank you to everyone who made us aware of it.

“We’re talking now about how we can be more conscious of it in the future, and we will share those changes as we put them into place.”

Connor Alexander, the Cherokee designer of Diana Jones Award-winning RPG Coyote & Crow and board game Wolves, praised Wallace’s apology and decision to act quickly in retheming the game, but said he was “disheartened” at the “thoughtless reaction” from the wider board games hobby and industry in failing to openly condemn the game’s theme.

Coyote & Crow designer Connor Alexander

He said, “The good news here is that from my perspective, it seems like the pushback on both Mr Wallace and Cardboard Edison was internal and taken seriously. The bad news here is that in my research this morning to craft a response to [BoardGameWire], I saw nothing but praise and congratulations for Mr Wallace and the design of the game across the tabletop industry.

“Not a single complaint or question was raised about the theme in any post I saw on Reddit, Facebook or Twitter. The only mention I could find was on BlueSky where it was called out by Pop Culture Detective.

“In fact, it’s conspicuous that Cardboard Edison chose to post Mr Wallace’ retraction on BlueSky but not on Twitter. I think that speaks directly to the large number of people who are out there in our hobby who would have opposed this announcement from Mr Wallace.

“I applaud both he and Cardboard Edison for taking serious steps to address the issue. But as you mentioned, this is 2024 and while the design doesn’t portray Indigenous Americans in a problematic way, the fact that it fails to take their existence into account at all is both disturbing and still painfully common.

“I think it’s easy for designers who design from a ‘mechanics first’ perspective to forget that their themes can directly carry messages to their players. Games don’t have to be theme heavy, by any means, but if you’re going to put one on your game, you have an obligation to think it through.

“I don’t blame Mr Wallace in any way for his trip up and I appreciate the direct action he’s taking. But I am disheartened to see such a thoughtless reaction from the hobby and industry. We still have a long way to go.”

Quinn Brander, a Cree designer of board games including Rebuilding Seattle, who won a Diana Jones emerging designer award last month, added:

Rebuilding Seattle designer Quinn Brander

“Board game themes matter – how we choose to imagine a simplified world serves to reinforce ideologies, and as creators we are responsible for ensuring that those ideologies aren’t harmful.

“I haven’t played Crowded Frontiers, but the gameplay description implies that the frontier is unoccupied by native peoples and free for settlers to compete over. What actually happened is a wave of European diseases like flus and colds introduced by the first colonists wiped out 75-90% of the native population who had no in-built resistances, and then a brutal campaign of extermination, subjugation and assimilation followed, which in many ways continues to this day. Real history doesn’t make for very fun subject matter.

“However, I personally take no issue with Cardboard Edison selecting the game based on the excellence of its mechanisms, and I appreciate Myles Wallace’s statement regarding his willingness to find a more appropriate theme for the game.

“Design is an iterative process, and I see this interrogation of the theme as an important aspect of that process. As a designer, I know how hard it can be to hear criticism of a design that you’ve poured years of work into.

“The criticism of this theme is warranted, but I hope that the intensity of the criticism is left at an appropriate level where it is useful without being punitive – the internet can often go overboard, after all. I look forward to seeing the new theme!”

Brander added that in the interest of seeing less inappropriate colonial themes published in future, he would be happy to offer a second opinion to designers or publishers wondering if their board game ought to be modified or rethemed.

Anyone interested in contacting Brander to take him up on the offer can do so by emailing him on


  1. It takes a brave man to be able to re-think their approach and accept that they might be going against their morals. If they do or don’t change their mind is secondary, but in this case I’m glad he did.

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