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Zenobia Award finalists

The eight finalists for the Zenobia Award have been announced, together with two honourable mentions.

The Zenobia Award is a competition among submitted historical tabletop game prototypes by designers from underrepresented groups (women, persons of color, and LGBTQ+ persons), with mentoring and industry exposure available to selectees and cash prizes and industry access benefits to the winners. 

Finalists have the opportunity to revise prototypes by 15 September for evaluation and selection of three winners 15 October.

Zenobia Award update

The Zenobia Award has posted an update which includes a very impressive visual summary of the 46 game designs still in the competition, broken down by the theme, time period, and geographic focus of the entry (click to enlarge). After reviewing 145 applications and receiving 86 game concept proposals, Zenobia Award volunteers in March 2021 selected 46 games to advance in the competition.

The Zenobia Award is a competition among submitted historical tabletop game prototypes by designers from underrepresented groups, with mentoring and industry exposure available to selectees and cash prizes and industry access benefits to the winners. 

In an email to Zenobia contestants, mentors, judges, sponsors, and board members, Volko Ruhnke notes:

We have just gone public with the attached and linked synopsis of our 46 active Zenobia Award Game Proposals. Please give our contestants and their game ideas as much positive exposure as you can!

Last summer and fall, 13 volunteers assembled into a board and, with your help and that of so many other volunteers, put out a call to women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people to compete in designing a top historical boardgame from whatever perspective they chose. By that January, we were overwhelmed with 145 applications. 

Through a judging process that we have tried to make as expert, diverse, and fair as we could, we have narrowed that amazing field down to these 46 game concepts from 46 diverse designers and teams. Many of us saw some of our favorite entries declined for advancement, in the need of the competition to narrow to an eventual winner. Yet the breadth, depth, and freshness of the remaining field of talent is clear.

We had asked Zenobia contestants to simulate any historical setting that inspired them—political, social, cultural, scientific, economic, military, or any other human affairs in any combination, up to the present day. Look how much history we got back to explore—I hope that you will agree, the results include something for everyone!

Shortly, designers will submit their game material drafts for feedback that will augment what they are already receiving from our dedicated mentors. In just over two months, designers will submit their playable prototypes to our judges panels, to zero in on a handful of finalists whose work will exemplify historicity, originality, and gameplay.

Let’s cheer our Zenobia designers on as they devise and tighten their prototypes. We have some great historical gaming in store for all of us!

The Wargamer: Diversity in wargaming

At The Wargamer, Edward Desalle asks “is 2020 the year the tide turned in the struggle for diversity in wargames?

As with virtually every other hobby and industry, 2020 has been a disruptive year in wargaming, to say the least. Conventions have been cancelled, schedules altered, games delayed, time dilated. Perhaps the most lasting of this year’s legacies, however, will be that it has brought to the surface a conversation that the community has been putting off for decades: why has the hobby struggled so much with diversity and inclusion and how to fix it? 

If 2020 has shown anything, it is that while the hobby still has a lot of ground to cover in terms of making wargaming a truly welcoming place, there have been some very hopeful, concrete steps towards diversity, inclusion, and experimentation this year.

This should be an issue of paramount importance to all wargamers. If you would like to see wargaming become a robust, successful, thriving hobby then you should be deeply invested in ensuring that the community is one that welcomes and encourages diverse voices.

Speaking of the hobby, he notes:

We can also confidently say that the vast majority of designers and creators in the wargaming and historical board gaming space fit into this narrow demographic category as well. This should not come as too much of a surprise considering there have long been undercurrents of racism, eurocentrism, and antisemitism lingering in the dark corners of the hobby. Even today, wargame-oriented message boards, Facebook groups, and other online communities often remain dens of unrepentant reactionary toxicity, homophobia, and misogyny. Many games still traffic in ahistorical tropes or various species of Lost Cause-ism, while others ham-handedly fumble with issues that require nuance. 

However, he goes on to note signs of progress, including two initiatives that PAXsims has been involved in: the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming, and the Zenobia Award:

With that said, there have been a few very promising signs of improvement this year. Things are changing and it appears as though the community is coming to terms with some of the lingering issues around diversity and inclusion. 

Encouragingly, several publishers have signed on to the Derby House Principals. Named after the headquarters of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, a WWII-era team of naval wargamers staffed by women of the WRNS, the Derby House Principals is a statement of values that emphasize a commitment to promoting inclusion in wargaming and opposing bigotry in all forms.

While ostensibly directed at the world of professional gaming, several commercial publishers have signed on in support of the Principles, with some positive results so far. At the same time, following the events of this summer in the United States, other publishers have independently issued statements advocating for inclusion and diversity in the industry and wider community, including GMT GamesMulti-Man Publishing, and Hollandspiele

Others have chosen to stay silent and avoid the ire of complacent fans. Of course, words alone can only go so far, but such widespread acknowledgment of the problem is more progress than has seen in a decade.

Contestants can enter for the chance to receive a cash prize – $4000 for the first-place winner – from a panel of diverse judges from across the gaming community. But, more importantly, the award also offers critiques for contestants and mentorship for finalists, something that can help to break down a significant barrier for underrepresented groups trying to gain a toehold. 

With a bunch of publishing partners already signed on, this could be an excellent stepping stone to broadening the wargaming community, pushing genre boundaries, and telling new kinds of stories.

 You can read the full article at the link above.

Sadly, the reader comments on the piece suggest the hobby still has a way to go before it enters the 21st century: there are the usual suggestions that broadening the community somehow is “mandated control,” feel-good political correctness, or even “communist nonsense.” Sigh.

Zenobia Award: Underrepresented designers, underrepresented topics

The following announcement was written by  Dan Thurot. PAXsims is a proud supporter of the Zenobia Award.


History is big. So big that it belongs to everybody. Every individual, no matter their background or identity, connects to history in unique and important ways.

So why do historical board game designers seem to fit into the same mold? You know the type. White, male, straight, usually academic, often a part-time dabbler in spurious facial hair.

We’ve wondered the same thing. Which is why we’re pleased to announce the Zenobia Award, a board game design contest for underrepresented groups.

That could mean you! Whether you’re a woman, person of color, LGBTQ+, or otherwise underrepresented, the Zenobia Award is all about helping you break into the tabletop game industry. That can mean boards, cards, dice, tiles, miniatures—whatever your game requires, if it’s about a historical setting, we want to help your voice be heard.

How will we do that? Good question. The Zenobia Award is more than a fancy name. It’s a mentorship, intended to pair you with industry veterans who will help develop your game into its best form. It’s an entry point, with partner publishers standing by to discover the most interesting titles and help bring them to print. And it’s a contest, complete with a cash prize, public celebration, and genuine wooden trophy analog—that’s right, a plaque!

Is there a hitch? Nope. There’s no cost of entry, no obligation to list your mentor as a co-designer, and you keep the rights to your game—unless you sign a contract with a publisher, of course. That’s entirely up to you. Being a game designer, you know the importance of the little rules. So, take a look at the fine print over at www.zenobiaaward.org and welcome to the Zenobia Award. 

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