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Nibcraft, Elizabeth Hargrave, Session Zero among finalists for the 2021 Diana Jones Award

Diana Jones and the Temple of Doing Great Work.

The Diana Jones Award trophy
Image credit: Eric Lang/Twitter

The Diana Jones Award committee have named their finalists for 2021’s annual award for “excellence in gaming” across the tabletop community, all of whom will vie for the slightly burnt trophy and all of the professional accolades that come with it.

The award occupies an interesting place among the yearly industry spotlights, eschewing any arguments for the best title or most ‘insert adjective here’ game of the year in lieu of a more holistic progressive contribution to the space. An FAQ on the award’s website says it was “designed to reward any combination of achievement, innovation, and anything that has benefited or advanced the hobby and industry as a whole; or which has had the greatest positive effect on games and gaming; or which, in the opinion of the judging committee, shows or exemplifies gaming at its best.”

The six 2021 finalists ranged from individual creators to programs and full-on conventions. The Babble on Equity Project and POC Programming held during 2019’s Big Bad Con was nominated for fundraising close to $27,000 (£19,500) to pay for creators and artists of colour’s convention attendance costs. The resulting panels, discussions, collaborations and business opportunities earned the project - created by Orion D. Black - a shot at the trophy.

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The Game Crafter’s print-on-demand services was nominated for providing an often necessary service for small or crowdfunded titles, as well as pushing the quality and efficiency of all game production forward. 2021 marks a decade of work, in which the company has helped create over 220,000 board and card games.

Board game design and publishing company Nibcard was nominated for being the “heart of the nascent Nigerian games industry.” The Diana Jones committee selected it as a finalist for its exemplary work fostering a local scene but also bringing attention to the thriving and growing tabletop communities beyond the Western Anglosphere.

Decorated designer Mike Pondsmith has been nominated for his years of work creating for, and shepherding of, the broader tabletop space. Beyond creating the various editions of the Cyberpunk RPG - including the most recent Cyberpunk Red, Pondsmith founded R. Talsorian Games in 1985 with his wife, which has become one of the more well-regarded publishers without an ampersand in the title.

Elizabeth Hargrave’s avian board game Wingspan received a spot on the finalist list for several reasons: the committee judged the title to be a “gorgeous work of art both aesthetically and mechanically”; its effortless addition of educational material (aka bird facts); the fact that it was Hargrave’s first published game; and her dogged pursuit of advocating for more awareness of the inequity in an industry historically dominated by men.

Digital exhibition Session Zero Online nabbed the final nominee slot for both bringing together a host of Southeast Asian tabletop designers during the height of 2020’s global pandemic lockdown and providing an online experience that the committee found professionally run and excellently produced all around. Fifteen publishers and 55 game designers - including Arc RPG creator momatoes and the folks behind the Our Shores RPG anthology - held individual meets, group presentations, panels and everything else one would expect from an in-person convention.

The winner will receive the award - the melted remains of the last Indiana Jones Role-Playing Game encased in a Perspex pyramid - which they will steward for one year before passing it off to the next recipient. Last year, the committee decided to honour Black creators and artists by giving the award to “Black excellence in gaming”, a move that consternated honoree Misha B for its handling and effect of siloing Black creators as “separate” from the rest of the community.

2021 will also be the first year of the Diana Jones Emerging Designer Program, which will select a rising talent from among the tabletop community to spotlight during the first day of Gen Can. The recipient will receive a convention badge and package, paid travel, lodging and food, and the opportunity to showcase their work to Gen Con attendees.

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