The 2014 Award

The WinnerThe NomineesThe Award Ceremony

Hillfolk, a roleplaying game by Robin D. Laws,
wins tabletop gaming’s most eclectic and exclusive trophy

At a private ceremony on Wednesday 13th August, 2014, the Diana Jones Award committee presented the award at the annual Diana Jones Award and Freelancer Party in Indianapolis, the unofficial start of the Gen Con convention. Chosen from a shortlist of fantastic competitors, this year’s winner is Hillfolk, a roleplaying game created by Robin D. Laws and published by Pelgrane Press.

A narrative medium is not art until it can produce Hamlet. Master designer and experienced critic Robin Laws framed, analyzed, and solved the challenge in that sentence with Hillfolk a game about tribal politics in the Bronze Age. The answer at the core of that conundrum – and of the design conundrum that brought it forth – is the DramaSystem, a roleplaying game engine that places dramatic personal choices and emotional conflict not just alongside, but elevated above, procedural and tactical gameplay. Hillfolk further demonstrates the breadth and robustness of its dramatic core by including thirty other games of personal drives and human relations drawn in dramatic relief against settings ranging from historical espionage to alien contact to … staging Hamlet.

The games in Hillfolk, created by some of the finest designers working today (as well as, it must be admitted, some members of the Diana Jones Award Committee), open up as many new worlds to as many new kinds of stories and gameplay as any book ever has in the history of roleplaying. With its sister volume Blood on the Snowproviding 33 more “series pitches,” Hillfolk showcases a leading ludo-narrative designer at the height of his powers and inviting his friends to come and play.

It is the opinion of the Diana Jones Award Committee, that Hillfolk exemplifies excellence in gaming, and we are proud to award it our trophy for this year.

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 Pathf inder-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 replayability.

The winner of the 2014 Diana Jones Award was announced on the evening of Wednesday, 13th August, at the annual Diana Jones Award and Freelancer Party in Indianapolis, the unofficial start of the Gen Con games convention.

As one of the few publicly known members of the Diana Jones Award committee, Matt Forbeck revealed this year’s winner before the packed house. Robin Laws accepted the award for Hillfolk and made an enthusiastic and heartwarming speech. Afterward, the celebration continued into the night.

Special thanks to the sponsors of this year’s Diana Jones Award ceremony: