I’m back! And once again, I’m doing a non-review of my favorite RPG products of the year.
I don’t review RPG products, but I can certainly tell you what I loved and make recommendations. I love playing games and talking about the games I love is big source of joy to me.
This is simply my impressions and responses to products that have come out throughout the year that I felt were some of the best I had the chance to experience (either through reading, playing or other methods.) There are of course, dozens more games and while these games were the ones that spoke to me, they won’t speak to everyone (nor will all games speak to me!)
Consider these recommendations, but there are so many great RPGs out there. It was hard to choose the “best of” and I certainly can’t play and read everything. There are many more I wish I could mention. And I barely play and read a fraction of the games that came out, so if you have recommendations or your own list, fire it at me!
I also never put my games on this list. (That feels wrong to me.) I will also note, I work with a lot of people on this list and will continue to do so, but that association is derived from myself enjoying their work and efforts, not them bribing me for good placement on this list (I doubt they see enough of a bump from this to bother bribing me, and I buy all my own games anyways. I never get comped for this list.) I have not worked on any games on this list, aside from maybe providing feedback to colleagues and friends (even then, I don’t think I have, but I’m gonna hedge my bets.)
This was a hard year to do, as was last year. I have ended the year (my second full year doing GKG full time), and I have not felt positive about 2022 as a whole (again, just like last year. I could basically copy and past this section). It was a difficult year in a lot of ways, but that’s a bigger conversation, and I don’t want to have it here. Just suffice it to say, this post was a struggle.\
If this year had an RPG theme for Alan, it is solo play, moody ambiance, and fantasy (it’s interesting to see my old posts and see how my tastes have changed, circled back, and changed again.
But there is a lot of fantastic creativity out there, and I owe it to the creatives who make the games I love to talk about them. So lets go.
10. Hard City (Osprey)
Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a fan of hardboiled fiction, noir genre fare, and rules light RPGs.
Well Hard City covers all of that, in spades. It’s well-written, thematically on-point, and beautifully illustrated. I’m a big fan of what this game is and it’s gonna hit the table more often than not at my game nights.
I love tightly focused roleplaying games, and Hard City is 110% focused on doing one thing well: being a noir game. And it names it.
Nathan Russell (the author) did a great job with this book and it shows. You can get the PDF on DTRPG, ebooks on Amazon and the Osprey site, and physical at local game stores as well as online. I’d recommend it thoroughly (I recommend almost every Osprey RPG throughly, if I’m being honest.)
Speaking of tightly focused roleplaying games…meet cy_borg.
A…well, frankly, cy_borg is just a thing. It describes itself as a nano-infested doomsday rpg, and it delivers. It sort of lurks there, in the corner of your head, quick glimpses in your eyes, just…making you want to crack it open, but slightly afraid to.
Rules light mechanics (always my preference), dynamic layout, and disturbing art all combine nicely here.
I’m a big proponent of RPGs as a form of art (among other things), and while I don’t think every RPG needs to slide along the scale to artbook, cy_borg justifiably positions itself far on the end of “art”, as well as having a really solidly designed and themed game within all that art.
Can’t say enough good things about this one.
8. Dark Romanticism
It wouldn’t be my yearly top-ten without me posting a Agate RPG book here.
Part artbook, part setting primer, part design notes, Dark Romanticism defines the very best of the Shadows of Esteren game line, and a delightfully deep look at the lore, themes, and ideas of this game.
The art is of course gorgeous (it’s Esteren after all), and each page is laid out in a nice, readable fashion, while still being a work of art in their own right. It’s the right amount of moody, bright, colorful, and dark, in all the best ways Esteren is normally.
Although a bit light on rules or mechanics, the book corresponds so nicely with the roleplaying game as a tool to showcase the world to players, that it has made me running my regular Esteren games much easier. Outside of the corebooks, Dark Romanticism is the first Esteren book I recommend.
7. Iron Kingdoms: Requiem
Ok. So. My nostalgia for the Warmachine/Iron Kingdoms games and IP runs deep and old. It is some serious old magic, and this 5e relaunched kicked that part of my brain into overdrive.
A major bonus was the really great rules writing, setting building, and art in this book. Some of it is reused, but it is reused choicely, with a really fine eye towards helping you understand what makes this setting so special and fun.
Of all the 5e games I have, this one gets the most use and rereads, because it’s just so….fun. And I’m a sucker for nostalgia, especially when the new version matches up to the one in my head.
Karst is wonderful. Flat out. It’s a campaign setting where lack of contact with the outside world leads individuals to explore a yet fully-unrealized world, where secrets and memory carry as much weight as physical form.
The rules-light system gets out of the way just enough while being robust enough to enable play, and the fact that it is orientated towards duo play is just an added bonus.
The soft watercolor art really helps to sell the setting and the physical edition is just…it’s a real work of art to hold and handle.
I really like Karst. More of this please.
5. Vaults of Vaarn
A bizarre, mad-max meets acid fantasy world, with rules light support, loads of evocative art, and a really gorgeous setting to explore.
I feel like I can’t say too much as delving into the details of the book are a significant portion of its joy.
Leo Hunt really delivers in this book, and even though you can’t get the hardcover anymore, the zines are well worth your time. You will not regret taking a close look at this weird fantasy roleplaying game.
Beowulf: Age of Heroes
A duo hack of 5e, set in the mythical world of Beowulf, this was an early game delivery this year, which tells you how good it is, when I’m still thinking about it 11 months later.
Gorgeously realized (like you could expect different from Jon Hodgson and Handiwork Games), with really robust and clever mechanics to adjust 5e to a duo playstyle, the game just sits there, in the back of my head, begging me to return to the story we told, even if I consider it complete.
Like a good myth, or a good legend, it wants to be revisited, and that, is the mark of a great game.
3. Lost Fellow
I’m a little irritated to have to recommend an out of stock game, but you can get the digital version, so I think I’m ok.
This RPG soundtrack made me buy a cassette player, just to use the included materials.
While there’s no “game” with it, the six-page booklet is a treasure trove of ideas to mine for your RPG, and the soundtrack is the perfect addition as background music for your game.
It’s secret I’m a big fan of L.F.OSR’s work, and this really cemented it. Not only do they have great game and rpg taste, but they also understand what makes RPGs really awesome outside of just the gaming side of things.
So. Highwayman European and folk horror, in a rules light package, with moody black and white art?
Oh, you’re speaking to my soul.
Fallen isn’t just that though. It also comes with a slick magic system, a cool travel system, really easy enemies and monsters, and a robust solo system. Fallen “jams” and a robust and growing third-party ecosystem really sell me on this game and make me really happy to have it in my collection.
Fallen is completely worth your effort to seek out, and shows that author and artist Perplexing Ruins is destined for awesome things beyond just Fallen (though, I selfishly hope they will continue to do more Fallen for my sake…)
Frankly, I might bust it out tonight if I don’t break out….
My top game of the year is Sacrifice by Blackoath Entertainment.
Why you might (reasonably) ask? Well, Sacrifice is what sold me on solo rpgs as a concept, presenting me with a format I liked, helping me to learn how it was supposed to work, and defining a genre I deeply like (incense & iron) but didn’t know how to describe.
As a designer, it is the game that made the most significant impact on me this year, and in recent memory.
It’s not just a solo rpg though, being an excellent group exercise and hexcrawl through a bleak medieval setting.
You can get the PDF and POD on DTRPG, copies on Amazon, or…you can do the right thing and get yourself the amazing (and I mean amazing) deluxe edition from L.F.OSR
I don’t think you’ll regret it and if you all don’t buy those deluxes by end of year, I might be getting myself a spare for the vault…
What were some of your favorite games of the year? What really inspired you or made you sit up and take notice in the gaming space this year?