Top 10 RPGs For 2017: What I'll Be Playing

2017 is almost literally around the corner. It's been one hell of a year of gaming. It's been one hell of a year for my involvement in the community and 2017 promises a potential reprieve from celebrity death, ushers in the reign of Trump, and my Kickstarter account promises a tonne of new games. It's probably the second time in my life I've been afraid of the year to come because of politics, but the first time in my life I can feel the breath of much needed air on the other side of the door.

This year, I played 50 different board, card, and RPGs with the majority being RPGs. I playtested a bunch of games, I ran the fuck out of Urban Shadows, got my heart broken as Robin, and experimented playing men. The Breakout team created Breakout. Rob, Rach, and I rocked it at Fan Expo. We journeyed South of the border to Jiffycon and Metatopia. I met amazing people and got amazing hugs. I've been encouraged and supported by so many amazing people.

For the holidays, I've escaped to my mother's home in Sarnia, Ontario, which is a small town. We live on a hundred acres of bushland. You can see deer in the field in the morning, hear the coyotes in the bush at night, and if it snows, you wait for the plow to come by. It's a beautiful place. I got married here. I grew up on the land. And it has no internet.

So instead of spending my time chatting online, I'm reading up on some games that I want to run in the coming year. My table has four books piled on them: Epyllion by Marissa Kelly, Velvet Glove by Sarah Richardson, The Romance Trilogy by Emily Care Boss, and The Clay That Woke by Paul Czege. I've been mad listening to The Gauntlet Podcast, as I'm joining the crew in 2017. I've even already had anxiety dreams about it. So it must be real.

I need to thank all of you for joining me for my adventures in 2016. Thank you for your input, your ideas, your thoughts, your love, your kindness, your disagreements, your discussions. Thank you for your weirdo comments on Facebook and for engaging with me when I was curious about things you've said. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for being here. You're loved. You're fierce. You're badass.

Where this blog will go in 2017, I don't know. I have lots of thoughts and ideas to discuss, and I want to know what you want me to talk about. If you have ideas, comments, or thoughts, you can find me on G+, or you can email me at

So to ring in the New Year, I bring you my Top 10 RPGs for 2017. Here's what I'll be playing. Here's what you should go buy or follow along with if it's not for sale yet. Here's what I'll be running on the Gauntlet or on Google Hangouts. Here's what I'm in love with and why. These aren't reviews. But you can bet reviews will be coming for them in 2017.

1) Bluebeard's Bride
If you're some sort of hermit who lives under an RPG rock, perhaps you haven't heard of Bluebeard's Bride. I'm betting you have. But if you're not familiar, Bluebeard's Bride is a PbtA game by Sarah Richardson, Whitney Strix Beltrane, and Marissa Kelly. It's a stunning, evocative game about the classic fairytale by the same name. The game is about exploring your new house as the new bride of the strange Bluebeard. You wander from horrible room to horrible room until ultimately deciding if you enter the room Bluebeard told you not to, or running away to attempt to get the villagers to rally against your husband.

The game, unlike almost all other games, is about feminine horror. You can take a look at the playtest documents on their Kickstarter if you're a backer, and let me tell you, it's fucking horrifying. I opened the document after backing for about $300 with shipping, and felt that sick joy of finding something that's going to rip you open and eviscerate you while also delighting you on every level. It was exactly the kind of hurt I wanted to feel. But it's scary. It's going to trigger the fuck out of me. I'm a victim of abuse and sexual assault. It's going to be an intense, rough ride and I can't wait to take that journey with my friends.

A game about women by women is hard to come by. The fact that Bluebeard's Bride hit over 100k was monumental in the industry and my hat goes off to the designers. I wanted to see it succeed. I wanted to see it do as well as it did. This game made me cry just for how well it was succeeding. It felt like a moment of change in our industry, a moment when some of the inherent sexism seemed to disappear for a second. I was touched.

Besides the emotional success of the game, the game itself is breathtakingly beautiful and elegantly designed. It hits home fast and hard and captures the feeling of being lost in a house of horrors while it uses mechanics to demonstrate gender normativity and performance. You don't lash out with violence, no no, you dirty yourself with violence. It's a clever, intelligent game that will break your heart, hurt your soul, and haunt your dreams.

2) Monsterhearts 2
Avery Alder delighted everyone when she released a survey about Monsterhearts, her game from a few years ago about the sexy lives of teenage monsters. As a huge fan of Monsterhearts, a game I've played more than any other game, I know I instantly squeed when the rumour of a Monsterhearts 2 began to circulate. It meant more than just getting a new, awesome reskin of the game: it mean Avery was coming back to game design.

While I wished there had been more support tiers for this game, as I would've thrown more money at it, I was excited regardless and managed to sneak in as the sixth backer. I was delighted. Then the playtest documents came out after the Kickstarter launched on Hallowe'en. There are some amazing changes to the playbooks. To my chagrin, the Chosen had been removed, which naturally I am still mourning as it's my favourite playbook.

Avery also released the documentation around Monsterhearts so we could see the survey results. People didn't like the vampire, also a favourite skin of mine, but people loved the ghoul, a skin I disliked. It was fascinating to see how the community felt about the game. We're starting a playtest of it in January with Rach at the helm. I'll be playing the Infernal. I'm so excited. Plus Manipulate an NPC has been removed, which I think is brilliant. I always hated how easy it was

If you're one of the few people who haven't heard of Monsterhearts or Monsterhearts 2, it's a PbtA game that's reminiscent of Buffy, The Vampire Diaries, and Twilight. It's a game about body horror, being a changing teenager, and learning to understand and abuse the power you have over other people. It's dramatic. It's upsetting. It's divine. It's a game that will stab you in the feels while making you wish for more. It perfectly captures that teenage supernatural fiction feel while also supporting intense emotional play. If you haven't played this, you've missed a huge bit of the gaming community, and I suggest you ring in the new year with it.

3) Threadbare
Stitchpunk: A genre that explores the feel of diesel punk but from the perspective of toys. It's an apocalypse alright, and you're the toys who are gonna survive, no matter what. I've never been a huge fan of Toy Story or even 9, but there's a weird romanticism to the idea that you can play these toys who are desperate to escape Entropy and survive in the wasteland.

In this amazing little game, every time you receive damage, you repair yourself. Now that could mean you attach a Barbie arm to you, or a piece of GI Joe, or Teddy Ruxspin's arm. This changes a quality about you, and you update your character sheet accordingly. The game is also PbtA, which is something it's clear I love, and I enjoy watching how each designer takes that and makes it their own.

Stephanie Bryant makes this concept sing in the game. I've only managed to download and look at the preview, as I haven't had time to play it yet, but friends have and everyone has great things to say about it. Additionally, people backed it to the point where the Toy Senate was unlocked, which is a setting where you play mediators in a diplomatic situation in the toy senate. How amazing is that?

Overall, I don't know personally what you're playing to find out in this game. And I don't care. I want to play a weird little Frankenstein monster of fluff and doll and stop my friends from getting hurt and survive this wasteland. This is the toy apocalypse and baby, I'm a survivor. The setting is amazing, the game looks badass, and also has that feeling of playfulness that I miss in a lot of games because, well, I'm always playing really dark games. This is still dark, but has a lot more hope.

4) Epyllion

I feel like that's all I should need to put on this game's write up. Over this break this is the game I've been reading. Aaron ran a game for us with Anna Kreider and Andre Medeiros earlier this month, and maybe it was because we were playing or maybe it was because there's a Darkness in Dragonia, but it was a really dark game. And not actually really dark, just with the possibility of being really dark. You could feel something lurking on the edges and you knew, at some point, you were going to say hello to it.

Epyllion is a game about raw-scaled (baby) dragons. They're in a clutch together, and they go out to stop Darkness from spreading, to retrieve things, to investigate things, and pretty much do whatever an older dragon wants them to do. There's a huge hierarchy to Dragonia, and Marissa Kelly does a great job of driving home that as baby dragons, you pretty much do what other older dragons want you to. Along the way you give friendship gems to each other, manipulate moon magic, and help your clutchmates excel.

The game is another PbtA game (what can I say?) and has really simple, lovely moves. The game text itself reads like I'm listening to Twilight Sparkle patiently explain to me what all the ins and outs of Dragonia are. This makes me think the game would do well for 12 year olds too, who can read the book and run this adorable little game for all their Brony friends. But despite all the feels of My Little Pony, there's a sharpness in there you can cut yourself on.

There's a Darkness. Dragonia is recovering from a war with Darkness still, and it's peace time so no one really wants to acknowledge or talk about the Darkness. Much like in Monsterhearts, you have a Shadowself (selfish self) that is triggered when you can't mark any more shadow spaces, which you do when you fail a roll or get hurt. Like conditions, in Masks. It's brilliant. Also, the experience system, which functions off of a fail, allows you to grow up in play, so eventually you're a long-toothed dragon ready to become a mystic. Go play this game. It's amazing.

5) Laser Kittens
There is a game about playing kittens who get into trouble and have to stay out of trouble and these kittens have lasers. Pew pew pew! That is Laser Kittens. Written by the amazing Cheyenne Wall-Grimes and Stentor Danielson, this little game came around in my life when I really needed something this cute. I remember receiving my PDF before the book and quickly flipping through to see all the amazing cartoon kitties.

Unlike most of the things here, Laser Kittens rolls with playing cards. Now, if you're not aware, I love alternative mechanics. Especially playing cards. The minute a game has a playing cards mechanic I'm there. And Laser Kittens delivers with simplicity and beauty. Each Kitten has a hand of cards, and they bid a card when they want to do a thing. Whoever is the Class Captain (GM) at the time (as this changes throughout the game), draws and plays a card against them. Whoever has the best card wins.

These kittens are part of a special school, The Knoll Street School for Wayward Kittens. There are Professor cats there who are going to teach the important lessons, like hiding from the vaccuum cleaner or sunbathing. But they will also teach the kittens how to use their lasers. Lasers are invisible to people, unique to each cat, and we can only catch glimpses of them when we see our cats eyes glow a little. You all know what I'm referring to.

The game is a sweet little fun game that has heart. The Professor cats are the cats of backers, and I am proud to say Professor Gizmo is right in there. Gizmo is my cat. He's turning 17 in 2017 and his health is steadily declining. This game gave me a chance to immortalize him forever in an RPG. My little gamer heart sings. Besides all the emotional strings I have attached to this game, the stunning little book is well worth your time and is a great game to play to shed off the months of grim-dark playing.

6) Dialect
For those of you who don't know, my earlier years in education were spent at universities studying classical histories, classical writings, english and language theory, semiotics, and of course, linguistics. Basically I really love language. Dialect was a game that was funding towards the end of this year when my mad spending on Kickstarter was catching up to me. Monsterhearts 2 would be the last thing I funded, I said.

Well, here I am. At Metatopia Dialect was a game you could play. It sold out rapidly and sadly wasn't lining up with my schedule, but everyone walked away raving about it. It's a game about the death of language. If you're a word nerd like some of us, you'll know that language is constantly evolving, changing, and often, in parts of the world that especially suffer from colonialism, it's dying. And as people lose their culture, they often lose their language.

Language is unique to culture. You can tell a lot about a culture by what words are in their language. As in, what they have words for. Some cultures have words that mean "Just enough" implying that starvation is a concern. There are words in Japanese describing specific types of friendships, suggesting a value on friendships more than we perhaps have. Language is the breath of culture. And in Dialect, you play out that death, that moment when the language is lost.

You play a language that is confined to a small group of people. As you play, you create words around events, culture, and things that are important to them, so that you are actually becoming fluent in your own language. Then, things deteriorate and you see what it means for a people to lose their language. As a person who works regularly with a First Nations community who's trying to teach their children regular daily use of Ojibwe, this game is so important to help people understand what it means when language is lost. I know this will be a beautiful, touching game. And I can't wait to cry after playing it.

7) Chill 3rd Edition
So my friend Jonathan Lavallee did work on this game he was super excited about called Chill. It's a horror game, he says, with really cool mechanics. And at the time, I wasn't interested in another more trad looking game that did horror. I had seen horror done well and it was never through the application of a trad game. In fact, I was ready to argue that trad games had too much shit that gets in the way of gaming to really drive horror home.

Then a source book came out about a society that focuses on saving the world from these horrors. From what I understand, that was in the core book already, I just hadn't bothered to look. I love society books. My favourite thing from Trail of Cthulhu is the Armitage group. Maybe it's just my brain, but I have a special love for anything where it's a group of semi-organized people staving off the darkness.

So I backed it and got all the things. Then I backed the monster source book. I'm not wrong. Chill is a trad game that I'm not convinced has a fabulous horror mechanic. But it has so many beautiful, inclusive, and thoughtful things in it that I got sucked in. This is a game I'm hoping to run this year so I can play with the way it does horror, and the way that it does societies. The books open up with a trans hero in the comics, and immediately shout inclusivity at its readers. It makes my little feminist heart swell with happy.

And it doesn't stop there. In the writing of monsters and examinations of past editions of Chill, it subtly and blatantly calls out gross things that clearly a team of all men wrote. And it's awesome. Do I want to play a game that isn't just horrifying, but is also inclusive and on equal footing? Absolutely I do. It may be the first horror game that takes steps to tear down it's predecessors and declare itself for everyone. Check it out, pick up a copy, and get ready to show your friends an action-packed terrifying time.

8) Noirlandia
There's something about the Noir genre that I really really dig. Maybe because it's dark and gritty and has high emotional play, or maybe I just can't get enough of the grim-dark rough characters, I dunno. I mean, Noir is generally gross. It's sexist and racist and heavily problematic. But here I am, still watching Sin City, even though Frank Miller is a horrible human being.

Noirlandia is a game that kickstarted earlier this year by Evan Rowland. I was instantly interested as the game is similar in rules to Questlandia, a really great game you should go pick up if you don't have it. In Noirlandia, you create your own mystery and solve it through play. I'm not sure how that goes yet, as games are shipping soon, but I'm excited to see how the mechanics support that kind of play.

Playsets were also designed for the game so you can play in specific styles of Noir. This is probably one of the things that excited me the most. The writers list of these playsets includes names like Quinn Murphy, Sarah Richardson, and Emily Care Boss. People whom I adore. Additionally, the game also promises that the conclusion of your murder mysteries will have horrible endings, and challenge you to not become more corrupt yourself.

Any game that puts a focus on what play does to your character versus externally, has my attention. When you're playing a trad adventure game, I had to always wonder and role-play what this constant trauma was doing to my character. Of course, PTSD was a big theme. Noirlandia promises that you'll be questioning yourself, and losing bits of yourself along the way as you struggle to solve the murder mystery. It's very Noir. And I love it.

9) Hearts Blazing
At Metatopia this year I had the great fun of meeting the ever wonderful Glenn Givens. We played Ten Candles together, and his character killed mine. It was a lovely moment. Regardless, he was also to be our facilitator for Hearts Blazing, a little card game about creating your own science fiction television series and playing through an entire season in one session. This sounded like a challenge more than anything possible, and I don't like science fiction, so it was going to be interesting to play.

Now all that being said, before I bite into the game, I will tell you that I walked away extremely excited to play it again later and thrilled that I had backed it on Kickstarter. The game has cards for everything that work really dynamically when you actually pay attention to them. There are role cards, and I was assigned the Captain role. My goal was to get everyone out alive (save everyone), and I was in charge of a specific part of the world, although I don't remember what. I think it was generally the world whereas other people got science and culture.

You then have cards you're playing to resolve scenes so that they do get resolved and also that your points end up highest. There is a slightly more competitive aspect to it that I basically ignored because I'm not competitive, but I can see people getting into that bit of it. The game has a great number of episode guides, that you select a number of (we did 9) and then shuffle and play out in order. Each episode has a beginning, a climax, and a falling action that shows the aftermath. If you have enough points played, you succeed. If you don't, well, then it's a cliff hanger and you fail.

We played an alien species on the run from the last place we conquered. We collaboratively came up with our peoples, our storyline, and didn't role play so much as discuss what happens in each scene, meaning it cut down on play time. Although with nine episodes we walked away four hours later. It's a delightful story game that absolutely gave me a full season of a show without needing to play for many sessions. I can't wait to play it this year and to poke Glenn and Meghan for other versions of this game. I want a supernatural tv series deck. And a zombie deck. Get on it, folks!

10) Velvet Glove
Last, and by no means least, is Sarah Richardson's Velvet Glove. A PbtA game that was an ashcan at GenCon this year, this game's preview promises all the best things to come. The game is about girl gangs in the 70s. Which honestly I didn't really get at first, but I didn't care. Pussy is a stat and I want any game that's focused about female experiences and has a hard edge to them. Sarah will deliver all of these things, as demonstrated by Bluebeard's Bride.

Then I watched The Get Down on Netflix and instantly my brain went "This is Velvet Glove" and I got it. It made my brain click that this game is about how men manipulate the lives of girls and how girls worked to break out of that or function enough within that. I was so excited when I had the game show up in Canada after begging my GenCon friends to pick it up for me.

The language in the book is amazing. It gets you right into the 70's world and feeling it like there's no tomorrow. I dig it in such a great way. The game hits home the drugs, sex, music, and violence of the age, and especially takes a moment to look at ethnic communities in the 70's and what their world was like. It's a violent, dark, gritty world and you better be able to dig it.

Throughout the playbooks and the basic moves, Velvet Glove doesn't hold back. It talks about using sex appeal and what that means. It talks about selling drugs, and using violence to get your way with other gangs. It brings home what it means to belong to a group of marginalized people who are carving out their own space, and it demonstrates clearly that girls just wanna have fun. I can't wait for this to kickstart, and I'm excited to run the game this year. Who doesn't wanna say Roll+Pussy or mark Angst?

Honourable Mention:

Scion 2nd Edition
I'm not a Whitewolf fan. Everyone knows this. I'm so much not a fan that I've skipped out paying attention to what's going on with anything once attached to it at all. But there was one Whitewolf game that I bought and wanted to play so badly but read it and was disappointed, and that was Scion. I still have the copy my mom bought for me and I read through it and dug so much of it. Later, I hear the mechanics didn't work and it was a broken broken game. I'm glad my reading skills were accurate.

Now, talking to Neall about this game, I'm way more excited. I want to see Scion flourish and rise again. I want to play this game so badly, but I also want it to be inclusive and be aware of it's potentially problematic content, and I was assured that it was. I believe in the team behind this game, and sadly, I didn't get to play it at Metatopia, but hopefully I'll see it again soon somewhere. In case you're unfamiliar, Scion is a game about being the avatars of gods from various pantheons, and saving the world with those powers. It looks incredible and the premise makes my brain so happy.

Masks was the first game I ever backed on Kickstarter because I dug Magpie after Urban Shadows and I wanted to see what else they made. This was the game. And I playtested the shit out of it, and loved every moment I ran it. I don't really like playing it, which happens with some games for me, but I tend to think that's just because I haven't played the game that does what I want it to do yet.

The book is shipping soon and then I'll get to play it again. It's a game about Superhero kids who are coming of age and deciding who they are in a world where heroes are a dime a dozen. It's not the dark gritty game of Netflix Marvel shows. It's Young Justice League or Spiderman. It's fun. It's comical. And has some hard hitting emotional aspects to it as well that I love playing around with. I can't wait to try this out this year, with the physical book in my hand, and make some young heroes heart broken.