The award bucks the continuing trend of "people's choice" awards that dominate the hobby today, from the Ennies to the more democratic than ever Origin Awards. The Diana Jones Award isn't about popularity, it is about "excellence." What excellence is as a variable is known only to the secret cabal who votes for the Diana Jones Award, but in past years the winners have come from very different corners of the gaming hobby.
Last year the award was given out to two recipients (there was a tie):
- Grey Ranks -- an independant rpg where players take on the role of youths during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. In this case excellence referred to the way the game used simulation as a powerful presentation of history and for pushing the art of narrative storytelling to a new level.
- Open Design -- Wolfgang Baur's efforts at creating a game design community supported by patrons involved in the creation process was awarded for its contribution to the hobby.
In 2006, the award went not to a game but to a Convention Charity Auction. Excellence can be defined in many ways, but certainly promoting your hobby through good works certainly qualifies.
This year's short list includes one real surprise and others that fit within what many would view as a "standard" view of gaming excellence, which is to say the list includes some very fun games. The other nominee is "Jeepform," a style of role playing that would make the "role playing is an artform" advocates of the early days of the hobby very proud.
This year's list is as follows:
• Dominion, a card game by Donald X. Vaccarino (published by Rio Grande Games)
• Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, a role-playing game by Rob Heinsoo, Mike Mearls, and James Wyatt (published by Wizards of the Coast)
• Jeepform, a game-style from Scandinavia (fostered by the Vi åker jeep collective)
• Mouse Guard, a role-playing game by Luke Crane (published by Archaia Studios Press)
• Sweet Agatha, a mystery game by Kevin Allen Jr (self-published)
The winner of the 2009 Award will be announced on Wednesday 12th August, at the annual Diana Jones Award and Freelancer Party in Indianapolis, the unofficial start of the Gen Con Indy convention.
About the Award
The Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming was founded and first awarded in 2001. It is presented annually to the person, product, company, event or any other thing that has, in the opinion of its mostly anonymous committee of games industry luminaries, best demonstrated the quality of “excellence” in the world of hobby-gaming in the previous year. The winner of the Award receives the Diana Jones trophy.
The short-list and eventual winner are chosen by the Diana Jones Committee, a mostly anonymous group of games-industry alumni and illuminati.
Past winners include Peter Adkison, Jordan Weisman, the role-playing games Nobilis, Sorcerer, and My Life with Master, and the board-game Ticket to Ride. This is the ninth year of the Award.
My personal hope is that 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (4e) will win the day, but I wouldn't place any money on it. I believe that 4e has done something that has become rare in role playing games today. It has attempted to create a rules set that appeals to new gamers, it is an active attempt to bring new people into the hobby with an elegant system that remains exciting throughout long term campaign play. To do this the game incorporated elements from the Burning Wheel system (the skill challenge system is very similar to the resolution system for BW), the Savage Worlds game system (4e was designed to be played with minimal preparation, helping those who have less time to play still have an opportunity for deep play), Feng Shui (the inclusion of minion rules for those pests who should be easily dispatched), and Trading Card Games (the inclusion of a unified tag system which are coherent and consistent). The game is a marvel to play and is very much on the cutting edge of game design and community promotion, don't even get me into how the Organized Play elements of 4e help small store to promote the hobby. 4e is a unified effort to promote role playing as a hobby.
All the others are good games that push gaming innovations in different ways and deserve consideration.