2014 Diana Jones Award shortlist announced

This year’s nominees for the Diana Jones Award have just been announced, and as always, the selections are thoughtful and varied. Two publishers and three games made the list. The nominees are:

  • Evil Hat Productions, the folks behind FATE, Dresden Files, Don’t Rest Your Head, and more.
  • Hillfolk by Robin Laws (Pelgrane Press), which had a tremendous Kickstarter drive.
  • Paizo Publishing, the Pathfinder folks, long confirmed to be outselling D&D.
  • ROFL! a party word game with illustrations by John Kovalic (Cryptozoic Entertainment).
  • Terra Mystica, a strategy board game of terraforming (Feuerland Spiele/Z-Man Games).

Check out the full press release below for details of why each deserves the nomination, and let us know what you think. Who would you give the lucite pyramid to?

Diana Jones Award press release follows:

Two publishers, a hobby game, a family game, and an RPG vie for hobby-gaming’s most exclusive trophy

From a long and extremely diverse long-list of nominees, the secretive committee of the Diana Jones Award has distilled a shortlist of five items that it believes best exemplified ‘excellence’ in the field of gaming in 2013.

The Diana Jones committee is proud to announce the shortlist for its annual Award for Excellence in Gaming:

Evil Hat Productions, a publishing company run by Robert Donoghue and Fred Hicks

Ever since the release of FATE as a free RPG in 2003, Evil Hat Productions has aimed at two usually difficult goals: skill and elegance in game design, and professionalism and transparency in publishing. Honesty and openness about business realities, and excitement and perfectionism about game possibilities, built the Evil Hat audience from a corner of the Internet to a loyal horde numbering in the tens of thousands. From Don’t Rest Your Head through Happy Birthday Robot, Penny For Your Thoughts, Diaspora, and Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, Evil Hat has combined the key features of a design house and a best-of-breed imprint while nurturing its core FATE system through three major editions without forking its player base. By co-creating Bits and Mortar, Evil Hat pioneered PDF-retailer cooperation; using the Open Game License and Creative Commons, Evil Hat built on a tradition of trusting players and designers to build better games. In 2013 Evil Hat hit both its design goals and its deadlines with FATE Core: five books Kickstarted, printed, and delivered, and over 60,000 copies sold. And FATE Core is still a free RPG.

Hillfolk, a roleplaying game written by Robin D. Laws (Pelgrane Press)

The Hillfolk Kickstarter asked for $3000 and offered a 96-page softcover; it raised $93,000 and delivered two full-colour hardbacks filled by some of the brightest names in story-game design. But it only happened because of the game-engine at the heart of Hillfolk: Robin D. Laws’s DramaSystem, an elegant and clever take on group storytelling that puts gameplay and competition on an equal footing with structured narrative and individual creativity. Hillfolk and its sister-volume Blood on the Snow showcase a leading ludonarrative designer at the height of his powers, and inviting his friends to come and play.

Paizo Publishing, a publishing company run by Lisa Stevens

One of the hardest things in business is to unseat a market-leader, particularly when that market-leader created the entire field, but 2013 was the year when word spread that Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG was outselling Dungeons & Dragons. It’s official: Paizo has used the OGL and a single-minded commitment to talent and quality to create a better D&D than D&D. Its achievement only seems extraordinary to those who don’t know CEO Lisa Stevens’ extraordinary track record in the games industry, from Lion Rampant through White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast. Paizo’s ability to raise $1m to crowd-fund a Pathfinder-based MMO in January 2013 was simply the apple at the top of the industry’s new tallest tree.

ROFL!, a family card game designed by John Kovalic (Cryptozoic Entertainment)

In game design nothing is harder than simplicity, and in no category is that quality more required than in the family/party game space. With the brilliant, elegant and delightful dynamic animating ROFL!, designer John Kovalic provides a masterstroke of the KISS principle. Just as amazingly, he does it by finding an original take on the word game sub-genre. ROFL!’s phrase compression conceit rewards both clue-making and guessing, supplying an essential skill-levelling element many party games lack. And if that weren’t enough, he somehow inveigles tabletop’s most beloved cartoonist to lend it the light, joyous visual look that its play style demands. Though created by someone steeped in the adventure game tradition, it could and should appear on shelves at mass-market retailers wherever they are found. GRTGMJK!

Terra Mystica, a strategy board-game designed by Helge Ostertag and Jens Drögemüller (Feuerland Spiele/Z-Man Games)

In the land of Terra Mystica dwell 14 different races in seven landscapes, each bound to its home environment. Each race must terraform neighboring landscapes into their home environments in competition with the others. It’s a brilliant piece of state-of-the-art design: there are no stunning new mechanics here but the game takes a number of clever, intriguing systems and combines them in a bravura piece of game-creation to build a sublimely engaging experience. The game emphasizes strategy over luck, rewards planning, and provides a huge amount of delightful replay ability.

The winner of this year’s award will be announced and the Diana Jones trophy will be presented at the annual Diana Jones Party, which will be held in Indianapolis at 9pm on August 13th — the night before the Gen Con games convention opens to the public. All games-industry professionals are invited to attend.

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 committee, 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 Diana Jones Committee is a mostly anonymous group of games-industry alumni and illuminati, known to include designers, publishers, cartoonists, consultants, and some content to rest on their laurels.

Past winners include industry figures such as Peter Adkison and Jordan Weisman, the role-playing games Nobilis, Sorcerer, and Fiasco, the board-games Dominion and Ticket to Ride, and the website BoardGameGeek.

Last year’s winner was Wil Wheaton’s webseries Tabletop. This is the fourteenth year of the Award.

Special thanks to the sponsors of this year’s Diana Jones Award ceremony, who will be announced shortly.

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