Introducing the Zenobia Award

Wee Aquinas is intimidated.

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 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 it’s a contest, complete with a cash prize, public celebration, and genuine wooden trophy — 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. As a game designer, you know the importance of the little rules. So take a look at the fine print over at, and welcome to the Zenobia Award.

Posted on November 22, 2020, in Board Game and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. “i don’t like systemic racism, so here’s a job opportunity we won’t give to people of a certain skin color”

    • You seem to be under the impression that people of a certain skin color can’t enter the contest.

      • that’s correct. this contest discriminates on the basis of race, gender, and sexual orientation. it does so explicitly. Quote: “Contestants must belong to an underrepresented group, including women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people.”

        In other words, if you do not have the right combination of immutable traits, you are not welcome to apply to this particular job opportunity.

        I am not assuming your motivations in posting this. I don’t think you (or the guy who called me a “troll”) are trying to harm anyone with this post. I can’t claim to know your motivations. I have never met you. I can only say that discrimination based on immutable traits is wrong.

      • You’re free to disagree with the current state of how equal opportunity is handled legally and ethically, especially since the particulars might differ based on our respective geographies. It’s a complex issue, and I appreciate that. I have a degree in bioethics, and one of its sub-fields revolves around the ethics of positive action, affirmative action, and similar efforts, among which this contest would rank. It won’t be possible to resolve that dialogue here. But coming in hot with simplistic statements and misrepresentations isn’t doing your view any favors.

        Take care.

    • Ew. What on earth.

    • This is simply a helping hand for under-represented people in board games.

      (I considered not replying to this because: troll. But this post is in support of Dan rather than refutation (and paying attention to) troll.

      • Thanks for the voice of support! I appreciate it.

      • I understand that you believe this is a “helping hand.” I don’t presume to think you intend to support racism, or to know your motivations at all. But it’s important to consider all the ramifications of your decisions. You are supporting a decision to reduce people to immutable traits (like sexual orientation and skin color) because of your perceptions about their life experiences based on those immutable traits. It is reductionist and discriminatory. It does not lead anywhere good.

  2. What a great idea, that is an unbelievable opportunity for someone with a passion.

  3. This sounds fantastic, and I’m glad you’re involved, Dan! Do you know what your specific role will be? I’d love to hear that you’re involved in the mentoring process.

  4. First, let me say that I am a huge fan of this site and feel that I have learned a lot not only about interesting board games but also about such nebulous concepts as morality, design, and historical realities.

    I also support this scholarship and mentor opportunity, as I share your enthusiasm for more independent voices as spelled out in your article subjective specificity: ‘Let us have schools of thought, and iconoclasts who spurn them, and moderating influences thought of very little by either side but held in high regard by everyone too confused by the speech of the radicals.’ Let a million flowers bloom.

    All that said, I do think we need to be careful with our personal framing of the boardgame community and the problems inherent within it. I think we need to distinguish in some sense between goals for the community and current problems within it. While they interact on some level (better behavior by board gamers would probably result in a more diverse, larger, and dynamic community), the broad goals are not completely within boardgamers control. I propose that goals should focus on our dreams of what our hobby could be, while our criticism of board gaming should focus on what is actually within boardgamers control.

    What does this mean in practice? Well, it means that we be careful to frame the problem of diversity in boardgame design as one of scarcity. While it would be great to have more female designers, the fact that we currently do not have a ton is not necessarily an indictment on the community. My critique is similar to the ones expressed in this slatestarcodex article, ‘Genser Imbalances are mostly not due to offensive attitudes’ about the gender imbalances of the rationalist community and libertarianism, a subset that has a large overlap with our hobby.

    • Thank you for your words of caution, Chandler. I broadly agree. I can’t speak for anybody else involved with the award, but my goal in my limited role is to do precisely as you say — to expand the number of people involved in design through reaching out to them, as opposed to shouting at somebody for not behaving the way I would prefer them to.

  5. Christian van Someren

    Cool initiative, will you be showcasing some of the submissions on the blog?

  6. Jesús Couto Fandiño

    Very interesting and commendable initiative. Hope to see the results of this in the future and have more games covering settings that are routinely ignored, and new perspectives.

    And really really great that the whole thing is just not a prize, but a mentorship programme.

    • Agreed, Jesús. Honestly, “award” is a bit of a misnomer. That’s what drew me to volunteering in the Zenobia — the focus on shepherding a design through development and hopefully putting it in front of a publisher. I’d love to see some games emerge from this that might not have otherwise come into being.

  7. Ibram Kendi, early in his book, “How to be an Antiracist,” notes that discrimination is not inherently a bad thing. He writes, “The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist.” (Kendi, 19). This award appears to discriminate for the purpose of creating equity. I think this is fantastic. (New response rather than reply due to possible troll.)

    I would add that I identify almost completely by the type you described in the post’s opening. I am white, male, straight, and academic. Where you missed me is that my facial hair is full-time spurious.

    Thanks for your great reviews.

    • cory, thanks for that perspective. This conversation often returns to affirmative action, since it most directly connects to actual career opportunities. My favorite concise statement comes from Stanley Fish, whose 1993 article on Reverse Racism is quite good:

      “Reverse Racism is a cogent description of affirmative action only if one considers the cancer of racism to be morally and medically indistinguishable from the therapy we apply to it. A cancer is an invasion of the body’s equilibrium, and so is chemotherapy; but we do not decline to fight the disease because the medicine we employ is also disruptive of normal functioning. Strong illness, strong remedy: the formula is as appropriate to the health of the body politic as it is to that of the body proper.”

  8. I’m very disappointed. I came here all ready to make jokes about how despite being the perfect image of the kind of person this is meant to exclude, I technically qualified for it, but sadly they were clever enough to leave disability off the list.

    I suppose I should probably be concerned that we’re inching ever closer to the wokes just announcing they want to replace us obsessive autistics with more photogenic people, but hell, have you seen someone else try to read a rulebook? There’s no getting rid of us.

    • What would we do without our on-the-spectrum friends who enforce all the rules? Our group has Adam. He’s my oldest friend. And he remembers pretty much every fiddly little rule.

  9. Thomas Romanelli

    I applaud your efforts, Dan. I think the boardgames community would benefit from the diversity this program seeks to instill. I, for one, would like to be able to list designers I admire who are someone other than Eric Lang, Mary Flanagan or Liz Hargrave… 😉

  10. It seems inappropriate to naysay or nitpick something whose stated goal is to help people, but I think the general principle, which this project explicitly embodies, that “from more diverse designers will come more diverse games” has three implications that we should worry about a bit.

    First, that diverse designers /should work on games that reflect their diversity characteristics, specifically/. That places an undue burden on the designer. If a designer wants to work on a game about Market Garden or Second Mannassas, they should, whatever their background!

    Second, it is, or could be, a bit utilitarian: “we want more interesting games to play!” Your post rightly puts the emphasis on the people, as the point should always be, design is fun and anyone who wants to design should do so.

    Third is that innovation will necessarily flow out of demographic diversity. I’m not sure of that. I just think in general a broad pool of creative and smart people will tend to produce innovative and creative work. Spirit Island and Oceans were made by white men. Wingspan was made by a woman, yes, but there have been a number of other bird games and that just happens to be the one to hit big. So it comes back around to the first point: to say that broader demographic diversity is desirable should not be to put pressure on diverse designers. Just make games that interest you, whoever you are and whatever your background!

    • When I was approached about volunteering for the Zenobia Award, the first question I asked was whether there was an expectation of “Own Voices” — that contestants would be limited to settings they had personal experience with. Fortunately, I was assured that anybody could design a game about any historical topic. Had the answer been otherwise, I would have declined to participate. As you’ve pointed out, I believe the emphasis should be on the potential designers, not on the range of acceptable topics.

  11. As a dedicated historical gamer and designer who fits the description in your first paragraph (minus the facial hair), I think this is a terrific initiative. The fact that it has the support of so many people in the hobby who I respect is really encouraging. That mentorship is front-and-centre gives me hope the positive effects will be far reaching and long lasting.

    Engaging with diverse perspectives on history, discovering new topics, finding designers who challenge me with new ways of thinking about things — this is what drew me to hobby in the first place and what keeps me engaged. I’m excited to see what comes from this.

    To help balance out some of the negativity expressed elsewhere in the thread, just let me say that in my circles this news has been enormously well received.

  1. Pingback: The Zenobia Award | brtrain

Leave a Reply to Dan Thurot Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: