Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some Thoughts on the 2010 Diana Jones Award

Yesterday, the mysterious and secretive committee behind the Diana Jones Award announced this year's nominees for the prestigious annual award.


One of the things that I really like about Diana Jones short lists is the diversity of the nominees. As usual, this year's list of nominees is an impressive one that combines things that are well known in the hobby as well as those that are more obscure. Also as in prior years, the list is a mix of games that incorporate new ways of infusing narrative experiences in a gaming format, services that benefit the hobby as a whole, excellence in game design, and artistic workmanship.

The committee is to be praised for their list this year. The nominees are discussed in the Committee's press release:

The committee of the Diana Jones Award has released the shortlist for its 2010 award. This year the shortlist contains four nominees that in the opinion of the committee exemplify the very best that the world of hobby-gaming has produced in the last twelve months. In alphabetical order, they are:

BOARDGAMEGEEK, a website edited by Scott Alden and Derk Solko; CHAOS IN THE OLD WORLD, a boardgame by Eric Lang, published by Fantasy Flight Games; KAGEMATSU, a role-playing game by Danielle Lewon, published by Cream Alien Games; MONTSEGUR 1244, a role-playing game by Frederik Jensen, published by Thoughtful Games

The winner of the 2010 Diana Jones Award will be announced on the evening of Wednesday 4th August, at the annual Diana Jones Award and Freelancer Party in Indianapolis, the unofficial start of the Gen Con Indygames convention.

ABOUT THE NOMINEES

Boardgamegeek
A website edited by
http://www.boardgamegeek.com

BoardGameGeek is a resource without peer for players of board and card games. Its comprehensive database is a first and best reference for both staunch grognards and casual non-gamers, presenting not only reference data about games but also the reviews, opinions, expansions, photos, and session reports of its membership. The site's internal economy effectively rewards those who continue to make the site broader, deeper, and stronger, and as a result its community is smart, enthusiastic, and steadfast. In 2010, BoardGameGeek celebrates its tenth anniversary, adding longevity to the roll of its merits. In one small corner of human endeavor, BoardGameGeek's exhaustive knowledge base, devoted community, and collaborative bedrock exemplify the absolute best that the Internet has to offer society.

Chaos in the Old World
A board-game by Eric Lang
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/edge_minisite.asp?eidm=84

In Eric Lang's Chaos In The Old World, players take the roles of four cruel and hateful gods, competing—and cooperating—to debase and destroy the human world. Lang takes the heart and flesh of the Warhammer cosmos and stretches it as tight as a drumhead across a boardgame that richly evokes the baroque insanity of its source material while remaining elegant and rational in design. Side elements feed game play rather than distracting from it, and each god fulfills its individual character while reinforcing the game's structure as a whole. The basic mechanics repeat and reveal themselves from new angles, channeling competition and fueling flavor as the game builds to its climax. Simultaneously rewarding planning and immersion, Chaos In The Old World masterfully bridges the board-game design gap between European architecture and American art.

Kagematsu
A role-playing game by Danielle Lewon
Published by Cream Alien Games
http://sites.google.com/site/creamaliengames

With Kagematsu, creator published roleplaying games boldly continue their advance into uncharted territory. Set in Japan, the game flips genders on the players, casting men as village women whose efforts to romance the wandering ronin Kagematsu are judged by the woman playing him. The text is lucid and elegant. The game plays to a natural conclusion in four or five hours—resolving the fates of the women, Kagematsu, and the village—with no need to force things along to finish on schedule. And play is lush, anxious, and partakes of great dramatic energy from its tight mechanics and device of gender-reversal.

Montsegur 1244
A role-playing game by Frederik Jensen
Published by Thoughtful Games
http://thoughtfulgames.com/montsegur1244/index.html

Montsegur 1244, by Frederik Jensen, uses actual history to frame a tightly focused game that explores faith, loyalty, and the bonds of kinship. Using the final, brutal siege in the Catholic crusade against the Cathar heresy as a backdrop, players take the roles of true believers trapped in the fortress of Montsegur. As the inevitable endgame draws closer, each player must decide—will their character abandon their faith and recant, or will they burn for what they believe? This single, simple choice drives the entire game. Montsegur1244 succeeds brilliantly in evoking the horror and pathos of the doomed Cathars, and combines the best of Nordic and North American roleplaying traditions. The game is carefully structured where it needs to be and completely freeform where it doesn’t. Elegant, simple mechanics support play that is often surprisingly emotional. The choices players are presented with are impossible to reconcile. The tangled web of family, love, duty and belief only amplify the difficulty of the decision each must eventually make.

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 alumni, luminaries and illuminati, 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.

Past winners include industry figures Peter Adkison and Jordan Weisman, the role-playing games Nobilis, Sorcerer, and My Life with Master, and the board-game Ticket to Ride. The 2009 winner was the card-game Dominion designed by Donald X. Vaccarino and published by Rio Grande Games.

This is the tenth year of the Award.

CONTACT
For more information, see the website www.dianajonesaward.org or contact
the committee directly: committee@dianajonesaward.orgthe committee directly: committee@dianajonesaward.org

As I wrote above, this is indeed a list filled with games and services worthy of nomination. It is also a list that deserves some commentary.

First, the nomination of Boardgamegeek seems to be a gimme at first glance. The website has been a hub for hobby board gaming enthusiasts for the past decade and is an invaluable resource for players and collectors. I wish the site was more user friendly with regard to helping me find news on upcoming games. When one has limited time, paging through the site can become a tad bit of a chore -- a pleasurable chore filled with new and exciting information, but a chore none the less.

That's just at first glance. At deeper glance one realizes that the committee ought to have nominated GeekDo, the website that is the descendant of Boardgamegeek. It contains all of the BGG pages, but now includes areas for role playing game and video game collectors as well. The site has moved beyond boardgaming and has become the best representation of the gaming hobby as a whole.



Chaos in the Old World is a marvel. The game proved that it was still possible, and desirable, for a company to make a board game based upon a miniature game's setting. Back in the 80s-90s Games Workshop produced scads of wonderful games like Warrior Knights, Blood Royale, Doom of the Eldar, Battle for Armageddon. Some of these were board games with no relation to GW's miniatures lines, but some where and these were quality media tie-in games. When Fantasy Flight Games announced they had an agreement with GW to produce games based on Warhammer, and 40k, intellectual property, the hobby rejoiced knowing that some great games were going to be re-published. What they didn't know was that FFG had creators like Eric Lang and Jeff Tidball who would be designing new and wonderful games to add to the pantheon of the GW boxed board game. Lang's Chaos in the Old World is one of the best games of deities doing battle every designed, it is also one of the best media tie-in games produced.



I had never heard of Kagematsu. After reading the reasoning behind the nomination and visiting the website, I immediately purchased the game. This is a beautiful looking game, the component design alone is art, with an intriguing premise. I don't think my regular gaming group will have any interest in the game, but I will love reading it. I don't know how vital the "gender reversal" elements of play are, I think that the shifting of what constitutes protagonist player roles is in and of itself intriguing. Playing the villagers instead of the adventuring hero is a greatly overlooked focus.



Montsegur 1244 is the Grey Ranks of this year's nomination group. The game takes the final days of the Crusade against the Cathars and puts the players in the role of the besieged heretics. Throughout play, the players explore the emotions and consequences of choosing religious faith over life itself. The game combines tragedy and a powerful historic setting, like Grey Ranks, and I look forward to reading more about this product. I am also a fan of the movement in games that attempts to structure play that is educational and emotionally powerful. These are the games that make claims like "games can change the world" less laughable than people might otherwise think and that return play to the "sacred" sphere it originated from.



There is a company that I would have lobbied for were I a member of the Diana Jones Committee because it meets quite a few of the standards exhibited by past and present Diana Jones nominees. I would have added Victory Point Games to the list. Victory Point Games is a DIY gaming company that is affiliated with a game design program at a Southern California university. The company not only makes a wide array of games covering a wide array of play styles, but they have it as a motto that he who plays should design. A key goal of the company is to turn its customers into game designers. There are only three other companies/institutions that I think can make a strong claim to that goal: Wolfgang Baur, Robin Laws, and the folks at Gameplaywright.

Any company that has as a central goal turning its customers into designers is definitely thinking about the future of the hobby in ways that deserve recognition. Maybe the committee will consider Victory Point Games next year.
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