Content Warning: Sexual assault, Sexual situations, Violence
The cafes and game tables of the world have been in turmoil since this past weekend, after the Friday morning release of a Medium post by board game industry professional Victoria Mann. In it, Mann alleges that JR Honeycutt (lead designer on games like Fireball Island, Unmatched: Battle of Legends, and Machi Koro: Legacy and contributor to a multitude of others) of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse during and after their involvement with each other. The response by the industry has been swift, with many designers and publishers who had worked or were currently working with Honeycutt publicly cutting ties with the designer. The entire controversy has led to a discussion about safety in board gaming, for designers and players alike.
In her post, Mann details the extent of her relationship with Honeycutt, which began while he was still married to his now-former wife. Mann paints a picture of a man who was narcissistic, deceitful, and equal parts violent and neglectful towards her. Throughout their time together, which spanned multiple conventions, trips, and the hiring of Mann by Honeycutt’s company Waitress Games, Mann alleges that he would frequently force himself onto her whenever he felt like it, even when Mann was fighting an illness and heavily medicated, and regardless of whether or not she gave consent. She alleges that he also was physically violent, recalling one incident where “he slapped [her] so hard his wedding ring cut [her] cheek.” Many of these incidents were alleged to have occurred while she was under his employ.
Mann’s accusations against Honeycutt extend beyond their relationship, however, as he allegedly continued to harass her even after their final break up. According to Mann, incidents include contacting her mother, bringing her control substances on convention floors, and spreading a rumor that her boyfriend was physically aggressive. She also notes that other women in the industry have had experiences with JR similar to hers, and even those who have not have expressed their general discomfort with him. One source, that wishes to remain anonymous, told a similar story to The Fandomentals in which Honeycutt engaged in what they felt was predatory behavior with another woman who was too intoxicated to make her own consensual decisions, behavior that Mann describes him doing to four other women.
On the r/boardgames thread about Mann’s article, Pandasaurus designer Jonathan Gilmour (Dead of Winter, Dinosaur Island), corroborated some of Mann’s allegations from his own personal experiences with both.
Honeycutt responded to the allegations early the next morning, in a now-deleted post on his Facebook page (you can also find it copied here in the Reddit thread). In it, he confirms some of the details in Mann’s article (their affair, the nature of their travel, the wedding ring incident), but continues to deny any of the allegations of abuse, stating that he did not “perceive or understand” the damage or “mental toll” his actions were having on her.
As of this writing, JR’s Facebook and Twitter have both been deactivated, and the webpage for his company Waitress Games has been set to private. In an email to The Fandomentals, Waitress Games (which also included Phillip Jenne, Cody Lewis, and Brian Neff) made this comment:
“Waitress Games will no longer operate as a business of brand in the tabletop games industry. All current contracts are being closed out, and all future events have been either canceled or handed to other folks to manage. JR Honeycutt will no longer work under the Waitress Games brand/logo either, or represent his previous partners to collaborate with them on work in the tabletop games industry in any way.”
The responses to Mann’s article were swift, with initial responses coming from individuals who had worked with Honeycutt or were currently working with him. These include Eric Lang, who described Honeycutt as a friend, and Gil Hova of Formal Ferret Games, with whom JR was designing the game Rival Networks, who posted a detailed thread on the game and JR’s now-former involvement with it, as well as his personal distancing from him.
Rob Daviau, who worked with Honeycutt on multiple projects including Fireball Island and Machi Koro: Legacy, discussed his professional relationship with Honeycutt and promised to donate his royalty from Machi Koro: Legacy, which he shares with Honeycutt, to charity.
John Brieger, with whom Honeycutt was working on a few projects, also commented.
The companies that had worked with Honeycutt, mostly as a contractor, were quick to also put out releases distancing themselves from the designer. Pandasaurus Games, who published Machi Koro: Legacy, restated their workplace safety policies and committed to making a donation to RAINN.
Restoration Games, one of Honeycutt’s most frequent publishers (Unmatched, Fireball Island, Dinosaur Tea Party), put out a more condensed statement.
The Indie Gaming Alliance, for whom JR had volunteered as a judge on design contests and other events and who had a partnership with Waitress Games, cut ties with both in light of the allegations. He also has been removed from events at this year’s BGG.CON and had his badge revoked by host BoardGameGeek.
While there are still questions surrounding the industry and how it can make itself a safer place for all of its members, Victoria Mann is optimistic about the industry. In a comment to The Fandomentals, she had this to say regarding the response to her article:
“I am extremely grateful for all of the support I have gotten privately and publicly. What I did terrified me and I thought I was done with my career in board gaming. After all of this now I feel safe in my community. From the bottom of my heart, I am just so thankful for everyone who believed me and reached out to me.”
As this is a developing story, some details may change as details come to light and the article will be updated to reflect them.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault or know someone who is, please contact RAINN. Their site has links with info about how to report incidents, how to prevent, and recover, as well as the number for the National Sexual Assault Lifeline.