2019 Judge – Brian Nowak

Online Nicknames
banantalis

Introduction and Platform
I love games. It was that simple last year when voters honored me with the opportunity to judge the 2018 ENnies, and it remains that simple today.

The ENnies have deepened my appreciation for the heart poured into our collective obsession. Judging revealed to me an industry full of diverse thought, intersectionalism, grognard-ianism, and innovation that deserves a well-curated list of the best, most inclusive, increasingly diverse authors, artists, and topics we can manage. I want to give that to you.

I love games – I said it last year, it remains true this year. From childhood board games to video games to Magic to D&D to the ENnies, my gaming history starts early and goes down some pretty exciting paths. RPGs opened to me infinite worlds of possibility, and I’ve never left; we owe it to our next generation of gamers to keep the industry as welcoming!

Why do you play/run RPGs?
For me, gaming is tribal. Pulling my friends together from across the country (or the internet) is a secret, ceremonial experience that few understand. Each time we play, we’re a cult of dice-rolling fools finding our connection to each other and the world in the words of our GM, the smell of dry erase on a flip-mat, or the joy of a critical hit. RPGs bring us together in a way that only other gamers can understand.

The ENnies requires a major commitment of time and energy. What resources do you have that will help you discharge these responsibilities? Will your gaming group or other individuals be assisting you? Does your family support you?
Resource management is the name of this game, and time is the most valuable resource. I have it in spades – I work on my own schedule from home or an office. I already read a book each week, whether it’s a novel or my newest gaming PDF – it won’t take anything extra for me to make that reading judge-related.

I’ve got a beautiful and loving wife, who’s excited at the prospect of helping me learn and play a bevy of new games again this year. She’s also excited I largely fed and cared for myself this year despite judging – she’s a gamer too, she understands how we prioritize games into our lives.

I’ve got a gregarious group of gaming friends who meet weekly (sometimes semi-weekly) using a virtual tabletop, and who gets together quarterly for gluttonous gaming weekends… not to mention the fall and summer convention circuits.

Finally, my two friendly local gaming stores both have open table nights – where I could pitch and play and test a game on unsuspecting passersby. This is deviously fun.

Judging requires a great deal of critical thinking skills, communication with other judges, deadline management, organization, and storage space for the product received. What interests, experience, and skills do you bring that will make you a more effective judge?

My career is centered around critical thinking and long term strategy. I am the HR leader for a $1bn retail business where I supervise 10 bull-head… err, let’s say independent managers who each supervise their own teams. Each one performs better under a certain communication technique – whether we’re doing it verbally or written. I manage their deadlines in addition to my own – whether it’s an action that needs to be taken or an investigation that needs to be completed; I follow up using a personal and effective organization system.

As for space, my wife and I have a house that has my very own study/gaming room. It’s got stuff in it, but it certainly isn’t full. Yet.

My degree comes in handy too, for critical reading and analysis. Technical writing training changes the way you read and process and I’m happy to find a use for it.

What styles and genres of RPGs do you enjoy most? Are there any styles or genres that you do not enjoy? Which games best exemplify what you like? Do you consider yourself a particular system’s, publisher’s, or genre’s “fanboy/fangirl”?

Historically, I’m a rules junkie with a penchant for high fantasy & heroic games. There is something particularly satisfying about standing tall (or small, if you’re demihuman) in front of a tide of evil and casting it aside despite all of the challenges placed before you.

In the last year, though, I’ve found some great dagger-in-the-night games that have really drawn me towards darker, antihero fare.

I struggle running horror games. I can play in them (and have a great time losing Sanity), but I’m never happy with the mood or impact of the horror sessions I put together.

If I were to call myself a system fanboy, it would be d20 system. The games provide an easy framework that quickly gets me past understanding the rules and into exploring the setting and theme.

What games have you played in the past year? List up to 10 RPGs you have played the most. Which ones, if any, have you loved or hated?

I still play a lot of Pathfinder, but this past year has seen me dip into a lot of different genres.

Faith RPG, Blades in the Dark, Zweihander, Star Trek Adventures, Bluebeard’s Bride, D&D 5e, a few games of D&D 3.5 too, Call of Cthulhu (in various flavors), Delta Green, and Red Markets.
Briefly summarize the criteria you will use for judging products in the different categories. For RPGs, the product needs to do a few things… the theme of your product needs to be clear and tangible. The rules need to support that theme. The game is about playing a role, and it doesn’t matter to me if that role is intended to be ridiculous (see Fiasco) or serious (see VtM) as long as your rules support the intention. The product needs to provide a value to the reader/player/GM that enhances their game.

In all cases, products need to demonstrate professionalism and a dedication to the craft. Layout and editing must be tight and intentional. Visuals (art or miniatures) need to elicit a sense of action or emotion that ties in with the theme of your system or brand. Audio must be clean and concise. Electronic media must take advantage of the format.

Briefly summarize the criteria you will use for judging products in the different categories.

For RPGs, the product needs to do a few things… the theme of your product needs to be clear and tangible. The rules need to support that theme. The game is about playing a role, and it doesn’t matter to me if that role is intended to be ridiculous (see Fiasco) or serious (see VtM) as long as your rules support the intention. The product needs to provide a value to the reader/player/GM that enhances their game.

In all cases, products need to demonstrate professionalism and a dedication to the craft. Layout and editing must be tight and intentional. Visuals (art or miniatures) need to elicit a sense of action or emotion that ties in with the theme of your system or brand. Audio must be clean and concise. Electronic media must take advantage of the format.

How will you judge supplements or adventures for game systems whose core rules you are unfamiliar with or you believe are badly designed?
If I’m unfamiliar, I’m confident I’ll continue to have the time and resources to gain enough familiarity to fairly judge a product based on its individual merits.

That same “individual merits” methodology would apply to systems I feel to be poorly implemented. The product in-hand can still meet my criteria above (clear theme, rules supporting the theme, and value-added benefits) regardless of my feelings about the core rules.

How would you like to see the ENnies change? What should remain inviolate?
My goal still remains to see the ENnies become a RPG-household name.

Board gamers have the Essen Spiel awards, and if you ask a semi-casual board gamer what the Spiel des Jahres is, she’ll probably be able to tell you. But if you were to ask a semi-casual RPG’er what the ENnies are, it’s a 50-50 shot unless their favorite system has won an award.

I think the awards will benefit from a focus on creating more opportunities to recognize individual contributors, to highlight family-friendly products, to push what defines an RPG beyond the traditional sense, and to celebrate inclusion and diverse thought.

BONUS: (optional) If you were an RPG, what would it be and would you play it?
Having had a son this year, I’d need to find a mashup of White Wolf’s MSG: Executive Edition and The Sims. I’m open to suggestions – I’ll need the practice!

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