The 2017 Award

The WinnerThe NomineesThe Award Ceremony

The winner of the 2016 Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming is Gen Con.

In the estimation of the Diana Jones Award Committee, the most excellent thing in tabletop games last year was Gen Con, which celebrated its 50th annual show this summer. To talk or write about how Gen Con is a crucial pillar of the hobby, the community, and the business of tabletop gaming is to say only what’s obvious to anyone who’s attended it. But even so, things that go without saying must occasionally be said.

Gen Con is a game convention. It was originally organized in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, by Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. Moving to progressively larger venues and cities as the gaming hobby has grown, Gen Con has spent the last fifteen years in Indianapolis where — under the stewardship of CEO Adrian Swartout and because of the amazing enthusiasm of its attendees — it has now pushed another city to its sell-out capacity.

The show has grown by leaps and bounds — and especially over the past several years — to become the largest tabletop gaming event in the entire world. Much of this is due to its astute leadership, which includes Peter Adkison, the winner of the inaugural Diana Jones Award in 2001.

As Peter is often the first to mention, though, the lion’s share of the credit for the show’s recent growth should go to Adrian Swartout, the company’s co-owner and CEO. Adrian retired at the end of this year’s Gen Con, handing over the reins to the company’s new president, David Hoppe.

This year, the show sold out for the first time ever, marking the pinnacle of the event’s popularity, which shows no sign of abating. As the de facto home of the Diana Jones Award, which hosts its award ceremony the Wednesday evening before the show kicks off every year, the committee hopes that Gen Con will continue its upward advancement for generations to come.

In the world of gaming, Gen Con is where the most exciting events happen, the most anticipated releases come out, the most cherished friends and partners are seen all in one place. Publishers’ release calendars revolve around it. Gamers’ vacation schedules orbit around it. For many, to simply mention the month of “August” is — first and foremost — to invoke this annual tradition.
In a time when branding has devolved to self-parody, Gen Con’s assertion that it’s the Best Four Days of Gaming are a refreshing and absolute truth.

The Diana Jones Award Committee is proud to declare that Gen Con exemplifies excellence in gaming, and to award it our trophy as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

From another long and eclectic collection of nominees, the secretive committee of the Diana Jones Award distilled a shortlist of five contenders that it believes best exemplified ‘excellence’ in the field of gaming in 2016. The nominees for its 2017 award for Excellence in Gaming were:

The Beast
A card game by Aleksandra Sontowska and Kamil Węgrzynowicz, published by Naked Female Giant

The Beast is an unsettling, erotic journaling game for one player. Each day for twenty-one days you turn up a card with a prompt on it and write a response in your journal. The game takes you deep into imagining a disturbing, secret sexual relationship you have with a beast. If there’s one thing you don’t see much of in hobby games it’s meaningful interior narratives, but The Beast‘s weird, unique brew of dark transgressions, playing as a fictional version of yourself, and journaling the results somehow surfaces real untold truths in us about how the world works, and how relationships work, and what’s important in life. The Beast is memorable, transgressive, and procedurally and thematically unlike anything else you may have played.

End of the Line
A LARP by Bjarke Pedersen, Juhana Pettersson and Martin Elricsson

End of the Line is the most interesting thing to happen in Vampire for a long while. It combines two decades long traditions of LARP, American Masquerade and Nordic style LARPing. This cross-pollination proved rejuvenating for the twenty-five-year-old system and mythos bringing it back to its roots of personal horror (everyone is prey in the World of Darkness) and simplifying and intensifying the interaction codes (new safety and calibration rules). Together these created visceral play experienced on both sides of the Atlantic, in Helsinki, New Orleans, and Berlin.

Gen Con
A games convention

Gen Con is a fifty-year-old game convention originally organized in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, by Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax. Now accurately billed as ‘The Best Four Days in Gaming’, under the stewardship of Adrian Swartout Gen Con has become the key annual gathering for the entire worldwide tabletop gaming hobby. Not simply long-lived and highly regarded, Gen Con’s greatest impact lies in showcasing, year after year, the amazing diversity of gaming’s events, people, commerce, and camaraderie.

A board game by Isaac Childres, published by Cephalofair Games

In the dark world of Gloomhaven, players take on the roles of adventurers — each with their own unique skill set — to take on a sprawling adventure that sends you all over the expansive world. The game features a legacy-style, persistent adventure that spans nearly one hundred scenarios in which adventurers gain experience to unlock new abilities and eventually retire to be replaced by one of the game’s sixteen other characters. The fresh game mechanism of choosing two character powers per turn makes for tough choices when handling each challenge. Gloomhaven encompasses designer Isaac Childres’s lifelong dream of a ‘monster’ game in a huge box, with crowdfunding having made this game a reality and the success of the first printing drawing in tens of thousands of new supporters who also want to explore this unique and groundbreaking creation.

The Romance Trilogy
Role-playing games by Emily Care Boss, published by Black & Green Games

Though a staple element of the stories we base our narratives on, romantic interaction was neglected in roleplaying practice—until Emily Care Boss trained her sights on this longstanding gap. Starting in 2005, her indie-format games Breaking the Ice, Shooting the Moon and Under the Skin earned acclaim, built a dedicated play community and blazed a trail for other designers. 2016’s publication of the gorgeous, much expanded valedictory collection, The Romance Trilogy, acts as both a mission statement and a platform to further explore the implications of the original three games. Its publication gives the committee the opportunity to recognize Emily’s enormous contribution to tabletop roleplaying.

Terraforming Mars
A board game by Jacob Fryxelius, published by Fryxgames

In Terraforming Mars you play corporations hired by the government in the 25th century to prepare Mars for human habitation. The scope of the setting is mind-boggling, with each turn representing one generation of human life, and progress measured by oxygen content in the atmosphere, average surface temperature, and bodies of water. Every turn each player can acquire up to four new cards representing technologies, events, industrial complexes, and epic projects that facilitate a dramatic expanse of options, like building cities, introducing plant life, hurling asteroids at the surface, or mining the moons of Jupiter. A large stack of cards to draw from guarantees that no two games are the same, and the new draws each turn mean new options throughout the entire game. There are numerous fun little combos, enough that everyone will get a couple of them going, without any of them being game-breaking. And, unlike many development games, Terraforming Mars lasts enough turns that you’ll have time to actually use your combos—which makes the game incredibly fun even when you’re losing.

The winner of the 2016 award was announced to a packed house on the evening of Wednesday 3rd August, at the annual Diana Jones Award and Freelancer Party in Indianapolis, the unofficial start of the Gen Con games convention.

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