Not-So-Crystal Ball: Ennies Predictions and Weirdness

Following last year, when I reviewed the announced Ennies nominees to predict winners and generally snark, I thought it would be fun to make things more challenging for me this year and try and predict the nominees for the year’s most prestigious roleplaying awards show. Seemed like a fun/dumb enough idea for a blog post.

Putting this together led to some kind of weird places.

 

WHAT WILL WIN

Feng Shui 2, Delta Green and the Cypher System Rulebook are surely safe bets for Best Game, Best Rules and Product of the Year nominations. The Dracula Dossier, which could be nominated for either Best Adventure or Best Supplement I guess, seems a likely nominee for Product of the Year too. But simple application of The Wil Wheaton Effect dictates that this year is Green Ronin‘s to lose. I don’t which one of Dragon Age, Fantasy AGE or Titansgrave will be nominated for Product of the Year (surely not more than one?), but whichever gets through can expect to win. As we know, the criteria by which the Ennies determines winners is a simple popularity contest, and it’s difficult to find any property more popular than Tabletop in the analogue gaming community.

No Thank You, Evil! will win Best Family Game. I’ll go out on a limb and predict Lone Wolf gets a Product of the Year nomination. Maybe Cubicle 7 can even repeat their Origins success and get Cthulhu Britannica London nominated as well. Though I’ve not played it, I hear super cool things about Nefertiti Overdrive, so I hope it attracts some recognition.

ENnies_Logo

 

WHAT WON’T WIN

What has absolute no chance of awards recognition is Force and Destiny, last year’s main Star Wars release from Fantasy Flight Games. Because Force and Destiny hasn’t been submitted for Ennies consideration.

The Ennies have a list on their website of every product that every publisher has submitted for the consideration of the judging panel. Fantasy Flight Games aren’t there as one of the listed publishers. Onyx Path Publishing aren’t either. As best as I can tell, Fantasy Flight Games haven’t been submitting games to the Ennies since 2010, when they won a silver award for Favourite Publisher. Onyx Path Publishing don’t seem to have ever competed in the Ennies.

To me this seems a little odd. The Ennies are the most prestigious awards within the roleplaying sector – in principle, you would expect that game publishers would be keen to receive the free promotion of a Ennies nomination or win. In turn, the Ennies derive their authority from passing judgement on the roleplaying industry as a whole, not a mere sub-set of it. After all, being crowned “Best Game of the Year” is a much more coveted accolade than “Best Game of the Year, except for all these other games, which might be better but didn’t bother to enter”.

I actually wrote to the Ennies about this last week, asking if they were aware if FFG or Onyx Path had any Ennies-boycott policies in place. Because I’m a cheeky sod, I also asked if they felt the absence of two of the foremost RPG publishers, in a contest that recognises achievement in RPGs, undermined the Ennies’ legitimacy. Kindly, they responded as follows…

Regarding your inquiries:

1) I believe that Fantasy Flight Games is no longer submitting products to contests or competitions, but I don’t know for what reason.

2) I have not heard of any policy by Onyx Path Publishing, nor have we reached out to ask.

3) The ENnie Awards are for the fans and publishers, and we are always happy when publishers choose to participate. While we do what we can to ensure the awards are run legitimately (including having to make tough decisions and admit mistakes when they are made), it is up to the fans and publishers to decide how legitimate they feel the ENnies are.

The first response struck me as strange – because Fantasy Flight Games HAVE been submitting games for competition. In fact, right now at the Origins Games Fair and awards show, Force and Destiny is a nominee for the Best Roleplaying Game award. When I queried the Ennies about their source for this, I was advised that their Submissions Coordinator informally discussed it a few years ago with a Fantasy Flight representative at GenCon. To be fair, I can’t find any evidence that Fantasy Flight Games competed at the Origins Awards for the past few years before this one. So who knows what’s going on.

Incidentally, I did write to Onyx Path and Fantasy Flight as well, to try and get their input. I’ve had no response from Onyx Path so far; I got a pretty bizarre response back from the press department as Asmodee (FFG’s corporate overlords) advising:

We have no policy against competing within the Ennies, and I cannot say why we haven’t submitted our past RPG releases. This year we have not submitted because we currently have no new RPG lines.

When I pointed out that this couldn’t possibly be true, because Force and Destiny came out last year and is even nominated for an Origins Award, they defaulted to no-commenting and suggested they might well be competing in future Ennies awards shows.

To me, the situation is a bit of a let-down. First, as a fan, I’m disappointed that a game I like won’t get the recognition I think it deserves. Force and Destiny is a heavyweight release – the best new game I’ve played this year – and it seems disrespectful that the design team won’t have that hard work recognised. Secondly, as a spectator, I’m keen to keep the Ennies as competitive as possible. It’s what makes the show fun to watch, for starters, and a spirit of competition is a good motivator for game designers to raise their game, and continue to release the best possible products.

But mostly, as a roleplayer, it’s just a bit of a downer that something this significant within our sub-culture seems to have attracted such indifference. The Ennies should be a celebration of the very best our hobby – if the very best doesn’t bother to compete, then gathering to champion the best-of-the-rest is a pretty sad occasion. I’m disappointed with Fantasy Flight Games for being so dismissive of the competition, and I’m disappointed with the Ennies for not having made an effort to re-engage them for several years. (And I’m disappointed that Onyx Path didn’t get back to me, but that’s just a personal ego thing.)

The best possible spin I can put on FFG’s absence – and this is pure speculation, I should emphasise, 100% uncorroborated by the company itself – is that maybe their absence is a protest of the tedious system by which the Ennies selects its winners. I railed against this last year:

Nominations are selected by a judging panel, but the winners (and the line up of next year’s judging panel) are determined by popular vote. Consequently, being nominated is a huge honour, but WINNING is almost meaningless. Since only a fraction of public voters will have played more than one of the games in each category, let alone all of them, there’s no realistic way for everyone involved to be making an informed choice. The result is that the winning entry is not so much the “best” as it is the game with the biggest fan-base, i.e. the one that sold the most.

If the Oscars worked the same way, last year’s Best Film winner would have been Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Of course, if this is a protest on the part of the absent game publishers, it’s not a very effective one, since there’s been no communication of what it is they’re actually protesting. Perhaps the hope is that their absence will quietly diminish the Ennies’ standing anyway, so that their absence becomes a non-issue. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to celebrate whatever part of the competition is left…

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