The Zenobia Award


Signal boost for a worthy cause: the Zenobia Award.

Rex Brynen is a better writer, speaker and when it comes down to it thinker than I am so I will quote from his announcement:

“Historical board games are enjoyed by people from all walks of life, but their designers are predominately white men. The Zenobia Award hopes to change this by encouraging game submissions by people from marginalized groups. The Zenobia Award is not an ordinary design award. Promising applicants will receive mentorship on their designs from established industry designers, and the winners will receive help navigating the game publication process in addition to a cash prize.”

Daniel Thurot at Space-Biff! is also far more eloquent than I, at his post at

More details are all here: so go and have a look.

I write a lot about my game designs on this blog, less often on politics, and only occasionally on the state of the hobby. But anyone who’s been in it for long soon susses out that just as there are definitely more “outputs” (published games) on certain topics than others, there are also more “inputs” (designers of published games) of a certain category than others – white, male, and older.

This is an observation, and hardly a profound one at that.

I don’t see anything nefarious about this situation. It was well known, Back In The Day, that this was a hobby that was generally indulged in by white, educated males… the Great Dunnigan remarked on this, particularly the gender imbalance, in the pages of SPI-era Strategy and Tactics many times, and often referred to the whole shootin’ match as “the hobby of the overeducated” – which back then largely also meant white and male.

I also don’t see anything particularly praiseworthy about this situation. It is also well known, Now, that many cylinders of this hobby’s engine have run on nostalgia fumes for a very long time, and many players and designers from Back In The Day are still with us, just older. That’s expected – time does march on – but society has marched on too and the audiences, actual and potential, for tabletop games are far different in gender, ethnicity, nationality and cultural outlook from 40 years ago.

I think it’s pretty simple: if you want to see the hobby continue to function, to encourage new ideas and explore different topics, to invite new people and their experiences into the fold, either help to spread the word yourself or consider contributing, either as a member of an underrepresented group or part of a team that includes such. It’s not about the prize (personally, I don’t see why money has to be be involved at all), it’s about the offer of help, advice and mentorship to people who want to become involved… which is something I have tried to extend to everyone who has approached me, as a designer (and in my day job).

If these things are not important to you, or you think they will happen by themselves, or you think that historical board games are not inherently political objects, then carry on as you have – this initiative doesn’t require anything of you, and I am sure you can find someone who will agree with you elsewhere. But I have never had time for self-appointed gatekeepers.

About brtrain
This blog is mostly devoted to posts, work and resources on "serious" conflict simulation games.

3 Responses to The Zenobia Award

  1. Rick says:

    The “observations” by Rex that serve as the basis of this award could undermine the simple relaxing joy of playing the games and exploring the history by introducing non-game topics to the hobby.

    I don’t care who the designer is (I am not into fanboi cults) or what they look like or background (should not matter here) or what they personally believe (I want to buy your game, not read your mind).

    For me, all game designers are only as good as their last product; past performance does not predict future product. If they design a good game that interests me, then they might get my money, this time.

    When the hobby and it’s supporters seek to introduce non-hobby topics to the community, then the hobby will die because people will leave it. Now that does not mean that moral decency has no place in game topics; it does and it should, up to certain limits. Example: a game of “city bombing” in World War II Germany would be repugnant to many, but a game like AH’s “Luftwaffe” seems an appropriate topic.

    Simply put: Our hobby should be about playing the games and maybe learning some history along the way. Everyone is welcome to pull up a chair and take a tumble with the dice. That’s what will keep this hobby alive.

  2. brtrain says:

    Comment deleted as libellous.

  3. rdeleskie says:

    Brian – this is an excellent post, eloquently stated, and I’m in full agreement. I’m looking forward to what comes from the Zenobia Award and associated mentorship. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.

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