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Illustrious tabletop prize Diana Jones Award celebrates “Black excellence in gaming”

More than two dozen designers, creators and other members of the industry recognised.
The Diana Jones Award trophy
Image: Eric Lang/Twitter

This year’s Diana Jones Award, an annual prize that recognises “excellence” in the tabletop gaming industry, has been given to Black designers, creators and other members of the tabletop industry in recognition of “Black excellence in gaming”.

While not as widely well-known as Game of the Year awards such as the Spiel des Jahres and As d’Or, the Diana Jones is no less illustrious. Rather than celebrating particular games released over the previous year (although individual games can win), the Diana Jones Award looks to throw a spotlight on trends, people, concepts and anything else that represents “excellence in gaming”.

The 2020 Diana Jones Award - which marks the 20th anniversary of the prize - was announced as celebrating “Black excellence in gaming”, represented by a list of more than two dozen Black professionals from the tabletop industry.

The list includes designers, artists, publishers and other creators currently working in board game and tabletop RPGs, ranging from hugely successful creators such as Blood Rage designer Eric Lang and Cyberpunk 2020 creator Mike Pondsmith to indie creators such as RPG designer Orion D. Black and those who cover games as part of the media and actual play groups, including Dice Tower contributor Mandi Hutchinson and Rivals of Waterdeep founding cast members Tanya DePass and Shareef Jackson.

Update 4/8/20: Tabletop writer, creator and designer Misha B revealed in a blog post that she had retracted her acceptance of being named as one of the honourees for the 2020 Diana Jones Award, raising concern with the handling of the announcement and the selection of honourees.

"I think the choice to highlight Black Excellence in Gaming, especially with the groundswell that is happening right now, is a laudable decision," she wrote. "Had the committee stopped there I probably would not have said anything. But the committee went further than that and a) defined who in the community of Black gaming professionals THEY deemed excellent without input FROM the community, b) did so in secret without any transparency to their decisions [and] c) created a second class status for the Black “honorees"."

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Also included on the list are former members of the industry who have helped shape the modern face of tabletop gaming, including late Wizards of the Coast co-founder and Gen Con organiser Cliff “CJ” Jones.

“We want to recognize the often-overlooked Black professionals throughout tabletop gaming’s history, up to and including the present day. This is overdue, deserving of the spotlight, and is but one small step,” the Diana Jones Award jury said as part of its announcement.

"The committee congratulates them all, and thanks each of them for their contributions to the industry in the face of systemic racism.”

Also announced was the new Diana Jones Emerging Designer Award, a new prize “intended to amplify the voices of up-and-coming designers”, with a particular focus on “seek[ing] out qualified and deserving members of marginalised groups”. The prize will be given out for the first time in 2021.

“We hope this year’s Diana Jones Award and the new Emerging Designer Award will help move our community toward becoming more diverse and inclusive,” the Diana Jones jury said. “At the same time, we know this is just the start.”

The Diana Jones Award is named for its distinctive trophy, a perspex pyramid that contains burned fragments of a copy of the short-lived Adventures of Indiana Jones RPG - giving the award its name.

The award’s jury includes designers, publishers and other members of the tabletop industry, most of whom are anonymous. Among those publicly known to be on the jury are Wizards of the Coast founder Peter Adkinson, Munchkin illustrator John Kovalic and James Wallis, designer of card game Once Upon a Time.

Last year’s Diana Jones Award was given to Star Crossed, a tabletop RPG by Alex Roberts in which two players pull blocks from a Jenga tower to represent their buried emotions - when the tower falls, the unspoken feelings between the characters are finally revealed.

Other former winners have included Eric Lang, board games such as Ticket to Ride and Dominion, Wil Wheaton-starring board game series Tabletop, roleplaying game Fiasco, and the concept of actual play - in which groups play roleplaying games on video for an audience, driven by the success of series such as Critical Role.


Matt Jarvis avatar

Matt Jarvis

Editor-in-chief

After starting his career writing about music, films and video games for various places, Matt spent many years as a technology, PC and video game journalist before writing about tabletop games as the editor of Tabletop Gaming magazine. He joined Dicebreaker as editor-in-chief in 2019, and has been trying to convince the rest of the team to play Diplomacy since.