Zenobia Award (Topic Discussion) – Tabletop Games Blog

I think something that many of us in the hobby feel very bad about, are the many board games that are set against historic events, but that make no attempt to respectfully represent what happened and often sweep under the carpet the atrocities that were committed during the time that the games are set. So it’s very refreshing to see people come together to create an award that tries to redress the situation and encourages the creation of historical games designed by people from marginalized groups. The hope is that these games will be much more representative, respectful and diverse. That’s the Zenobia Award.

The name of this relatively new award is based on a “third-century queen of Palmyra who made a bid for supreme rule in the Eastern Roman Empire”, as it says on the award’s website. The website describes Zenobia by saying that she “demonstrated remarkable strength and daring, while proving to be a wise and enlightened ruler.” It’s clear that the award was named after a very strong person whose achievements were remarkable for their time. Zenobia is a fitting symbol for an award that tries to create a shift in historical board games away from the traditionally white-male-dominated design space towards games that are just as exciting and engrossing, but at the same time represent a more diverse history that’s recreated by people whose culture and background is currently not much represented in our hobby.

The award’s name is basically also its mission statement and it is very brave indeed to try and fulfil this mission in an industry that’s still very slow to change and still very resistant to diverse voices entering the hobby or games being made that might force you to face tough issues and question who you are as a person.

The board

As you look at the list of the Zenobia Award board members, you do see a lot of white people and the pronoun “he” in the bios is also very prominent. However, there are also women, people of colour and other under-represented groups. Yet, what is most important to me when I read through the bios is that the board and the other people in the Zenobia Award are all working towards the same goal: moving the board game industry forward towards more diversity and inclusivity.

There are names in the list that you will recognize, who have influence in the industry and who are able to actually make a difference. Look at the Who We Are page and you will see that these people want to make this work and want our hobby to become a better place for a wider range of people, because it is clear that the road ahead is still long.

Just look at the games that made it into the finals, it quickly becomes clear that there are still a lot of historic conflicts and struggles that have not had a voice in our hobby. The descriptions of these games, that made it all the way from proposal to final, talk about Indonesia’s struggle for independence, the liberation of Haiti, working together as gender-defying queers in London, the function of Machu Picchu or preparing a Cherokee village for winter. There are settings and themes here that I don’t think anyone in the hobby has ever thought about, let alone played a game about.

Of course, other games do touch on areas that other games have also dealt with, but they come from a different angle: the Orange resistance against the German occupation of the Netherlands, the Indian caste system under British Colonialism or the French intervention in Veracruz.


But the Zenobia Award does more than just look at and judge board games by designers from an underrepresented group, including women, people of colour and LGBTQ+ people. Not only does it promote the award itself, which is something you’d expect to happen naturally, but the winners receive cash prizes to further their career and possibly more importantly, all contestants receive mentorship, including help to pitch their designs to publishers and how to deal with the publication process overall. It’s concrete advice from people who have been through this process themselves, which is invaluable for any board game designer, let alone one from an underrepresented group.

The award also has a number of publishers as partners, who have promised that they are ready for the contestants’ pitches. There are many big names on that list that you will recognize if you’ve ever played or at least heard about war games or other historic games. Of course, we will never know how many contestants pitched to how many publishers on that list, but the will is there and my hope is that it’s only going to be a matter of time before we see a Zenobia Award winner being published by one of the companies on that list.

That’s not where the story ends, though. After all, no publisher will consider publishing a game unless they think it’s commercially viable. That’s the way of this world, unfortunately. Sure, some of the designers who entered their game into the Zenobia Award might go on and run a crowdfunding campaign to make it a reality. That’s quite possible for the cash prize winners. However, that’s not really what this award is about. These games are supposed to make it into the mainstream of our hobby.

It’s up to us

So it’s up to us, as people who buy board games, to show that we’re interested and that we’re happy to pay hard cash for them. This article is my attempt to bring attention to the award and say that I want to play many of the games I’ve seen on the website. They all look very interesting to me and I hope you will also take a look at them, because they’re not all war games. There is a really good range of settings and one of them might appeal to you.

If you see a game on the list and think one of your favourite publishers would be a great candidate to turn it into a commercial product, then contact that publisher and tell them. Maybe even ask the designer to send you some more information that you can pass onto the publisher. If enough of us ask for these games, the more likely they are to come into our hobby, so that we have a wider selection of games to choose from.

The Zenobia Award has laid the foundations, the publishers are lined up, but now it’s up to us to demand that these games are made and put in stores for people to buy. That’s when the award will be able to not only fulfil its mission, but go beyond and make a real change in our industry.

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Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Top Table Award 2022 – the best board games of the year (Saturday Review)

Yes, it’s time for my annual list of the best games of the year. As has become tradition, I also announce which game won the accolade of the Top Table Award, which is now in its fourth year. However, you have to be patient for a little while longer, while I list the best five board games of 2022 in reverse order.

Please don’t forget that my list isn’t restricted to games released last year. My top five were selected from games I played in 2022, irrespective of their release date. There are quite a few games that come out near the end of the year. That means that I won’t have had much of a chance to buy these games or get review copies, let alone get them to the table. So, to be fair to these games, I happily include older games in my list. If you’re after a list of 2022 releases only, then you’re in the wrong place.

Even so, I have played over 60 new-to-me games in 2022, which is an average of just over one new game every week of the year. I have also had over 350 plays in 2022, which is around one play every day. The most-played game for me in 2022 is Town 66. It is so quick to teach and play and has such a wide appeal that it’s really easy to get to the table. The game that represents the biggest divergence from the usual types of games I play is the tabletop skirmish game Gaslands: Refuelled. It is my first foray into tabletop games and I guess it’s about time.

I think 2022 was a really good board game year and it was tough for me to choose my five favourite games. Anyway, here goes…

#5 – Crescent Moon

Release Date: 2022Players: 4-5
Designer: Steven MathersLength: 120-180 minutes
Artist: Navid RahmanAge: 8+
Publisher: Osprey GamesComplexity: 3.5 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: <1% (by weight)Air to Components: 10% (by volume)

Released last year when lockdown was in full swing, Crescent Moon was a game that I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to the table. With a minimum player count of four people, it took a while to get the full complement of my Tuesday night games group together and convince everyone to try this asymmetric game of influence, intrigue, betrayal and battle. Teaching the game to everyone seemed to take even longer, as there are quite a few things to consider and everyone has to learn their faction themselves. The game doesn’t really make itself easy to learn either, with double-side A4 sheets for player aids and a rulebook that could do with a good few tweaks.

Mind you, a game that is set against the harsh background of the Middle East in the 10th century and onward was always going to take a while to appreciate fully. It took me two plays to better understand how the game worked and get a glimpse of what was still on offer and remained unexplored until future game sessions. Crescent Moon packs a lot into what is really a relatively basic ruleset and provides players with opportunities to forge alliances that last just long enough to give victory to the person who is better at negotiation and betrayal.

I know I said that the game has a relatively basic ruleset, which is true, but there is a lot of terminology to learn and lots of things to take in, which can be overwhelming during your first game. If you read my review of Crescent Moon, you will see that I had quite a few issues with the game. However, despite these concerns, it still made it into my top 5 best board games of 2022. That’s simply because the game rewards players who persevere and break through the initial complexity with an exhilarating two to three hours of gameplay with plenty of direct player interaction and a little history on the side.

some of the wooden components representing buildings of different types and some of the cardboard hexagonal tiles making up the terrain
Osprey Games’ Crescent Moon

#4 – Nemesis

Release Date: 2018Players: 1-5
Designer: Adam KwapińskiLength: 180-240 minutes
Artist: Piotr Foksowicz, Patryk Jędraszek, Ewa Labak, Andrzej PółtoranosAge: 10+
Publisher: Awaken RealmsComplexity: 2.0 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: unknownAir to Components: unknown

When it comes to Nemesis, you can’t help but have the word Alien in your head. After all, if Awaken Realms had been able to acquire the licence for this popular 1970s science-fiction, space horror film franchise, that’s the word they would have used. As it stands, you, as the player, have to make the relevant replacement yourself and that’s absolutely fine.

The plastic miniatures that come with the game as well as all of the other components really help you feel as if you were one of the characters from the famous film, even though none of them is actually named in the game. You can be either captain Dallas, warrant office Ripley, ship navigator Lambert, technician Brett, executive officer Kane (yes, you can get infected and die a horrible death in Nemesis), science officer Ash (even though technically, none of the characters in the game is an android) or chief engineer Parker.

Everyone has their own secret mission, some of which may even complement each other. So while you may help each other to start with, you will eventually betray your fellow shipmates in order to fulfil your own goal. It is possible that multiple players win Nemesis, and there are no tie-breakers for that situation, but it’s just as likely that everyone loses – and it’ll not be clear until right at the end. I suggest you read my review of the game to find out more, but let me say that playing Nemesis is an amazing experience. The game really deserves its number four position in my list of best board games of 2022.

Nemesis alien miniatures in front of box
Nemesis alien miniatures in front of box

#3 – Pingyao: First Chinese Banks

Release Date: 2017Players: 1-4
Designer: Wu ShuangLength: 60-90 minutes
Artist: n/aAge: 10+
Publisher: Jing StudioComplexity: 2.5 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: unknownAir to Components: unknown

Once in a while, along comes a game that really hits the spot for me. A game that rekindles something in me that I had long forgotten about. One of these games in 2022 was Pingyao: First Chinese Banks for me. I have not yet reviewed it, simply because I haven’t had the time, but it still deserves to be on my list of top board games of last year.

As a dice worker placement game, it is one of the three or four games that use this mechanism that I added to my collection in the last 12 months. However, the action spots in Pingyao: First Chinese Banks aren’t exclusive. Instead, depending on what dice is already there, you have to pay or gain coins. The dice also decide the order in which players take their actions. It creates a certain amount of randomness, that doesn’t dominate the game. Players have plenty of opportunities to mitigate bad dice results.

What makes Pingyao: First Chinese Banks really interesting to me is that it’s a true economic simulation game. You use your money to make more money. You take loans that give you capital to reinvest for a better return. The game is really exhilarating and creates a very interesting gameplay experience for me. It scratches an itch I hadn’t felt in a while and it scratches it really well.

I hope to review the game very soon, so keep an eye out and check if this game, about the beginnings of Chinese banking in the region of Pingyao, which was created by a Chinese designer and published by a Chinese company, is for you. In the meantime, it takes its rightful place as number three of the top board games of 2022.

the red round tubular counter, a green and yellow six-sided dice and the game board of Pingyao: First Chinese Banks
the red round tubular counter, a green and yellow six-sided dice and the game board of Pingyao: First Chinese Banks

#2 – Brass: Birmingham

Release Date: 2018Players: 2-4
Designer: Gavan Brown, Matt Tolman, Martin WallaceLength: 90-180 minutes
Artist: Lina Cossette, David Forest, Damien MammolitiAge: 14+
Publisher: Roxley GamesComplexity: 4.0 / 5

I think there is a trend for me in 2022: economic simulation board games. They take places 2 and 3 on my top list of board games of last year. I first played Brass: Birmingham in digital format in 2020. I then bought the physical copy in 2022, along with the nice poker chips, which I use in many other games. Setting up the game takes a while, but I think playing it is a much nicer experience. It’s just such a tactile game, for the lovely, heavy poker chips alone.

Brass: Birmingham is a heavier game. The rules aren’t actually that difficult to understand, except maybe understanding the difference between how you consume coal, metal and beer. The complexity of the game mostly comes from the decisions players make. You can’t avoid helping others, but you want to make sure that you get the most benefit out of it and that you help the player who is seemingly in the lead the least. It’s such a lovely tug-of-war between giving and taking. Accordingly, the further you get into each of the two eras in Brass: Birmingham, the harder every decision gets.

While I have never played its sibling Brass: Lancashire, I feel that Birmingham creates an exciting additional level of interactivity through the use of beer, without making it overly complicated. In fact, it feels as if beer is vital to the gameplay and I can’t imagine playing without it. Either way, Brass: Birmingham deserves its number 2 slot in my list of best board games of 2022.

the game board and box from Brass (Photo courtesy of Roxley Games)
(Photo courtesy of Roxley Games)

#1 – Pax Pamir: Second Edition

Release Date: 2019Players: 1-5
Designer: Cole WehrleLength: 45-120 minutes
Artist: Cole WehrleAge: 12+
Publisher: Wehrlegig GamesComplexity: 3.5 / 5
Plastic to Non-Plastic: 30%Air to Components: 10%

Taking the top slot and thereby winning the coveted Top Table Award is a game set in the 19th century in Central Asia, a period that Western historians call “the Great Game”. Of course, what happened in the 19th century in Central Asia was no game, even if the imperial powers tried to portray it otherwise, but Pax Pamir: Second Edition is certainly an amazing game.

As I wrote in my review, the game itself also has its own history. While the first edition’s rulebook contains a long section titled “A Defense of British Colonialism”, which seems to imply that the game portrays a positive period in history, the second edition clearly does all it can to distance itself from its predecessor. Specifically, the second edition’s rulebook explains that some of the notable contemporary people were portrayed as heroes by Victorians, when in fact their involvement was probably more incidental than decisive and that Afghan history makes no mention of them.

Indeed, Pax Pamir: Second Edition puts players in the role of Afghan leaders who try and take advantage of the few opportunities that present themselves to unite the people and the country and create some sort of stability, at least for a short while. At its core, it’s a tableau builder, but in reality, it’s much more than that. It will take a while to really understand the game, not just because you need to learn what the over 140 cards do, but you also need to get a feeling for when you need to change your allegiance and side with whoever seems to be most likely to win. It’s all about tactics.

Ultimately, Pax Pamir: Second Edition is clearly the best game of 2022. It deserves the top slot and the title of Top Table Award 2022. Congratulations to Cole Wehrle and the team for being so brave to take this