The very first batch of historical board games nominated for the Zenobia Award have been announced, rounding up eight finalists and two honourable mentions from the dozens of applicants all vying for recognition and a shot and professional mentorship.
The panel of judges revealed their selection on August 15th that had been chosen from among the 37 prototyped titles received. They considered each one’s design and how that translated to play, the originality of the chosen topic and “historical richness and fidelity”, according to Zenobia’s website. All of the chosen finalists will have a month to hone their submission before submitting it for the final selection of three winners.
First through third place will all receive a cash prize ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 and an offer to pitch their prototypes to partnered publishers, which include 16 established names in tabletop such as Werhlegig Games, ION Game Design and Capstone Games. All entries, regardless of placement, were given feedback and mentorship by the judges on approaching the publication process individually.
Zenobia defines historical board games for the purposes of submission as a design that doesn’t rely on a referee or roleplay to resolve the mechanics and that simulates a historical setting anywhere in the world. While the popular conception of historical tabletop likely calls to mind Napoleonic reenactments and a sprawling miniature wargaming, Zenobia entries were encouraged to incorporate political, social and cultural themes or settings in their creations.
Finalists include Sherria Ayuandini’s From Darkness to Light, which simulates Indonesia’s fight for independence at the turn of the 20th century through the lens of women going through the education system and becoming leaders, teachers and fighters of that struggle. Liberation - Haiti, designed by Damon Stone, puts players in the shoes of enslaved Africans in the midst of an uprising against the French colonizers who controlled the island in the late 1700s.
Joseph Kelly’s Molly House depicts the effort to maintain a molly house in 18th-century London as a bastion of queer culture and community during the height of social tyranny carried out by the Society for the Reformation of Manners. Tyranny of Blood, by Akar Bharadvaj, recreates Indian caste conflict during British Imperialism through an asymmetric system of territory and cultural control.
The full list of finalists, along with the two honourable mentions chosen for their outstanding design and historical accuracy, can be viewed on Zenobia’s website, along with a list of judges and board members who will be involved in the final selection.
This marks the first year of the Zenobia Award after the organization announced last year its intention of creating a way to honour and spotlight members of the historical board game community that aren’t, as board member and Leder Games designer Cole Wehrle put it, “white, male, straight, usually academic, often a part-time dabbler in spurious facial hair”.