A former Asmodee North America employee who wrote an online opinion piece condemning Monolith’s Conan: The Board Game (distributed in North America by Asmodee NA), has alleged that Asmodee threatened her with legal action if she didn’t take down the post, a charge Asmodee has denied. 

On November 12, the day after she left the company, Cynthia Hornbeck, former Social Marketing Coordinator at Asmodee NA, published a spirited opinion piece on her Tumblr condemning Conan:  The Board Game (see “'Conan' Board Game is $100+”), taking the game’s designers to task for not addressing what she described as original Conan saga author Robert E. Howard’s sexist and racist depictions of women and minority characters.

She updated the piece on Tuesday to say, “Edits have been made to this post for accuracy and regarding the opinions and activities of other Asmodee employees. I have been informed by Asmodee that if I do not remove the post they may choose to pursue legal action.”

Asked whether Hornbeck’s allegation of a threat to pursue legal action was true, an Asmodee NA spokesperson disputed her claim. “Absolutely not,” the spokesperson wrote in an email response.  “Portions of Ms. Hornbeck’s original post divulged conversations that happened while she was employed at Asmodee North America. Those statements were made in violation of her Non-Disclosure Agreement. We asked her to remove those portions, per the terms of her NDA. Ms. Hornbeck complied, and we consider the matter closed. However, we reminded her that we reserve the right to pursue legal action if needed.”

The highly anticipated board game, which holds the #6 spot on ICv2’s Top 10 Tabletop Game Kickstarter chart (see “Top 10 Tabletop Game Kickstarters”) raised over $3.2 million from backers in 2015. It is set to release to trade in Q4.

Hornbeck’s post seems to have received new attention after an article on Kotaku on Monday recapped her criticisms, along with responses from Monolith. 

In her piece, Hornbeck outlines what she sees as misogynistic and racist depictions in the game’s artwork, storylines, and mechanics. “The image above is the cover of the heroes’ rulebook for Conan,” she wrote. “We see the hero triumphant from battle approaching a prone damsel in jeweled panties and in… distress? Well, she’s not conscious.” The only playable female character in the base game, Belit, is of limited use, she notes. “(H)er mechanical function is to make the men better. That’s literally all she does is follow Conan around and boost his abilities.“

She feels the designers only muted Howard’s racist portrayal of Conan’s enemies. “Monolith has decided not to reject Howard’s racism, but to attempt to make that racism more palpable by masking it in fantasy,” she wrote. “This is no different than Howard’s decision to translate the peoples he feared and hated into a pre-historic universe where he could defeat and dehumanize them without having to speak their real-world names. The result is not that the racism disappears, but that it remains in play supported by stereotypes and caricatures that belittle actual human beings.”

Monolith defended the game to Kotaku, disputing some of Hornbeck’s assertions about the artwork and mechanics, and arguing that the game draws from Howard’s books and John Buscema’s Conan comics. 

Hornbeck tied the Conan game to the overwhelmingly male board game demographic, revealing to the site that 81% of Asmodee’s social media followers were male, a percentage that showed a markedly more diverse audience than other game companies for which she knew the gender mix, which she said was never below 90% male.  

We asked Asmodee for any comment on Hornbeck’s assertions on the game.  “We don’t comment on the thoughts and opinions of private individuals,” an Asmodee spokesperson wrote. 

ICv2 also asked Asmodee whether the Asmodee Group had backed development of the Conan game before it was unveiled on Kickstarter. The Asmodee NA spokesperson said, “Asmodee North America is a distributor of Monolith’s Conan game in the US. Beyond that, we have no comment.”

Hornbeck has updated her post since it initially appeared on Tumblr to clarify that her recent departure from Asmodee NA had nothing to do with Conan: The Board Game.