Online Nickname(s): Andres Zarta

Introduction and Platform

Hi everyone! My name is Andres Zarta and this is my second year applying to be a judge at the Ennie Awards. I’m a 27-year-old Colombian film editor, who’s currently in the process of transitioning to a career in computer science and game design (yay to going back to school!).

For the last few years, I’ve taught an RPG high school elective class for 13–18-year-old kids, I’ve also been a tester for new tabletop games for designers all over the world and I’m also a lead organizer of public board game events in my city.

I enjoying teaching new players how to play RPGS, which represent so much of what I believe about art and creative expression, and strive to welcome at my table anyone who’s looking to become someone else for a few hours, and help them find out if, in the process, they discover something true about themselves.

Why do you play/run RPGs?

I believe that role-playing games open up channels of interaction that society and the pressures of our Western culture seem to want to close. In a day and age where our social circles and communities seem to, perhaps accidentally, drive us more and more into participating within this echo chamber of self-reinforced repeating ideas, RPGs have the potential to transport us into a heightened fantasy where we can both be at different times objective observers and emotionally involved participants. They encourage us to look towards our deepest instincts as storytelling creatures and through narrative expression and exploration, communicate and learn from others what ultimately unites us as human beings.

I think that in the last few generations our storytelling powers have suffered tremendously due to the relatively easy access to a passive, effortless and automatic consumption of entertainment media. Despite their many benefits, media services have had the side effect of slowly atrophying our creative muscles by limiting us to simply being passive content consumers. Role-playing games serve a crucial role in fighting against this loss of expression, as they challenge us to be more active participants of ours and others entertainment, and in this process engage us in reclaiming our creative powers. I believe that helping ordinary people (your friends, your coworkers, your mom and dad) reclaim these storytelling powers creates, ultimately, a better and more inclusive democracy.

 

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?

Role Playing is big part of how I spend my time and energy! I’m very fortunate in that a part of my income derives from the RPG sessions I lead in my job as well as a freelancer GM. Trying these new products and judging them is something that will naturally fall into place alongside my other responsibilities; I’ll make it a part of my job :).

Additionally, during the past year I’ve been able to become highly involved with several online roleplaying communities that have formed as a result of the pandemic around the globe. I believe that reviewing and discussing these games should be a much more democratic process, with a lot more discussion and participation from different agents, and aside from pooling from my local group of players, I want to do my best to involve as many people as possible and ask them to help me try these products and join me in the process of interrogating their design.

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?

As I’ve touched on before, I’ve been working as a high school professor who teaches an elective class that focuses on understanding the elements of narrative structure through RPGs. I meet for my sessions three times a week. I’m also proud to say that I have more than 15 years of experience as a GM, and have done so for both local friends in Colombia, as well as professionally during my college years in New York City.

My background is in filmmaking, and I have experience fulfilling the roles of producer and assistant director; roles that demand huge levels of organization, proper scheduling and good allocation of resources. Currently working as a freelancer podcast producer/editor has also taught me how to best organize a project from start to finish to make sure every single aspect gets the proper amount of attention it requires.

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/fanperson”?

In my 15+ years of experience GMing, I’ve grown and fallen out of love with many styles and genres. It changes every time, which makes it a very rich experience for me. Right now, I mostly enjoy playing and teaching narrative-oriented games such as games from the PbtA family. In the last few months, I’ve come to love running classic modules for OSR systems, such as Electric Bastionland, which has definitely brough back fond memories of my early dungeon crawling days.

I enjoy a little bit of everything; heavy tactical games, exploration sandboxes, deep and emotional narrative character creation, lighthearted party roleplaying. It’s a matter of making sure that both the GM and the players understand the kind of game they’re playing and the creative promises these games are able to fulfill.

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’ve loved all of my recent experiences with these games:

Blades in the Dark
Monsterhearts
Root
Cartel
Electric Bastionland
Mork Borg
Heart
Mountain Witch
Things from the Flood

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

I really enjoy judging games by looking at what their authors claim the games are about and seeing if the rest of the design is indeed working to fulfill that promise. That is my basic criteria to rooting out bad designs. If a game promises you something, but features mechanics or procedures that go against it, it will surely be a weak design. This is partly because I’ve discovered that pitching the game’s promise to the players and having the game deliver on that promise leads to the best gaming experiences; nothing can replace a match of player buy-in, table consent and the creative rewards that the game provides.

The most important element for me, however, is trying to notice if anything in the design is pushing the boundaries of game design in a new and interesting ways. More than noticing what’s innovative, I want to see an author’s effort to challenge something that we might have taken for granted in our hobby and give it a compelling spin.

For categories of physical accessories, I’ll judge them based on how well they support, either through similarity or contrast, the rest of the design. For podcasts and blogs, I’ll judge the quality of their production as well as the level of insight that their content delivers.

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 am honored by being selected as an ENNIES 2021 judge, I would be very excited to try two kinds of products:
1st: Especially good, highly anticipated ones, of course!
2nd: But also, the ones that are especially challenging, and unfamiliar ones.

Those that I have preconceptions about being badly designed, are the ones I want to try the most, because I want to be positively surprised by what they can show me and always remain open to have my mind changed. For these types of products, I also want to learn about, interrogate and investigate the communities that do enjoy them and do my best to immerse myself into their world and their fun so that I have an informed perspective from which to judge.

Finally, not only do I want to GM personally most of these games, I’m very excited to leverage the human resources I have available in my wider gaming community and observe how other GMs deal with these products and the challenges they are facing. Having that impartial third-person view will definitely lead me to deeper understanding of these products.

In a way, the ENnies would help me overcome a challenge that exists in the gaming community in Colombia; which is getting the vast majority of people to try games outside of the traditional big titles.

How would you like to see the ENNIEs change? What should remain inviolate?

It is no secret that the ENnies has received some criticism in the last few years due to a degree of discontent that some people have expressed online in regards the judging procedures. I think that the ENnies ought to listen and react to this discontent and for this upcoming year strive to be more transparent with the process of judging. I think it’s crucial that the public understands the mechanisms behind choosing which games are being nominated and why. I really want to participate in working towards this goal.

If chosen as a judge, I would like to advocate for a more visible process, and make the whole review procedure and discussion somewhat more transparent to the public, even a bit more participatory. I can imagine weekly online video meetings with the panel of judges, maybe through Twitch, or Facebook Live or some other kind open forum where viewers can ask their questions, and where the judges openly discuss their experiences playing these games and engage in discussions of aesthetic value in a very open, conversational, and sincere way. Be very open with the public and show them how these opinions are being formed.

While I can’t guarantee that this is something that can be implemented for 2022, my commitment will always be to remain visible throughout the year and constantly share my insights and experiences with the wider community so as to have an open communication channel between the community’s sentiment and my own feelings and intuitions as a judge. That, I believe, is a perfect recipe to a more community conscious award.

Also, I think we ought to get in touch with those publishers who haven’t submitted their games in previous years and work with them to create bridges that allow us to evaluate their games by encouraging them to submit, while also offering them a degree of visibility that benefits their brand. A friendlier and, perhaps, less adversarial relationship with some publishers can only benefit both parties.

Something that should remain inviolate is for the ENnies to continue to be a great platform that displays and brings visibility to new indie products that are pushing the boundaries of the design space.

BONUS: (optional) If you were an RPG, what would it be and would you play it?

I would be a future edition of D&D, with a more gamified combat system inspired by Guild Wars 2, but with more a narrative setup and exploration/social pillars ala Stonetop. Something like 4E, but with a narrative chasis for when outside combat.