The Best Role-Playing Games Of 2017

In recent years of this article’s publication, the tabletop role-playing games have been included as a separate category from board, card, and miniature games. That’s a decision that's based around the divergent audiences that are often looking for RPGs, as compared to standalone board games. 

This year, the RPG accolades are once again divided out into their own section, but if you’ve perused our Top Tabletop Games in previous years, you’ll notice some new styles of games are included in this second half of the article. That’s because several of this year’s most compelling role-playing experiences fall outside of the normal rulebook or setting categories, and are effectively hybrid experiences between traditional board games and role-playing ones, and are sometimes even built to be played without a game master. Their inclusion in this RPG section of the list (instead of in the board game section) is largely a judgment call, based on the focus on storytelling and choices over combat or strategy. That’s ultimately a loose distinction, but at the end of the day, it added up to more excellent game recommendations to share with you. 

To accommodate this growing category of games, we’ve expanded the number of highlighted role-playing releases from five to ten entries, listed alphabetically below.   

Conan: Adventures In An Age Undreamed Of
Publisher: Modiphius Entertainment
Who’s it for? Barbarians looking for an authentic pulp fantasy

The role-playing game milieu offers no shortage of rich fantasy settings to uncover and explore, so what makes this new Conan game worth discovering? The answer lies in the incredible attention to detail, setting, and tone that Modiphius has imbued in the new game. This is a deeply faithful homage to the original Conan stories of Robert E. Howard. If you’ve ever gotten lost in those brutal and lush pulp stories, you can be guaranteed to find things that make you smile in this RPG release. 

Using a variation of the flexible 2d20 rules, this new Conan rulebook includes exhaustive rules for character creation that focus on character history, caste, education, and other elements that shape your (potentially barbaric) hero. GMs also have lengthy entries to explore, not only on adventure crafting, but how to maintain the aesthetics and tone of a Hyborian Age narrative. 

Howard’s sword-and-sorcery epics were foundational in early 20th century fantasy storytelling, and the developers at Modiphius consulted with scholars who know that work better than anyone in order to formulate the game. Add in a wealth of gorgeous color art that draws on the talents of numerous iconic Conan artists, and this release is as much a tribute to the Conan tales as it is a game in its own right. 

Fog of Love
Publisher: Hush Hush Project
Who’s it for? Couples who enjoy play-acting and storytelling

While it won’t be for everyone, Fog of Love is certainly one of the most unusual and surprising role-playing experiences of the year. Exclusively a two-player game, Fog of Love is a romantic comedy in which each player controls a character in a relationship with the other player’s character. As such, it’s an ideal game to play with your partner or spouse. 

While the outward appearance of a board and cards make this seem like a straight-up board game at first glance, the meat of gameplay is all about role-playing. Each player has unique traits that they bring to the relationship, as well as goals for their character’s future. Because of the variety in those goals, Fog of Love is sometimes cooperative, sometimes competitive, and sometimes a bit of both. Story scenarios play out just like you might find in a romantic film, but you decide what happens with the two leads of the narrative.

Fog of Love is impressively original, and unlike any game you will have encountered before. Couples who love improvisation, deduction, and light-hearted trickery will be delighted by the strange but immersive structure of the game, which also just happens to say some compelling things about love and relationships. 

Genesys Core Rulebook
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Who’s it for? Role-playing groups who desire narrative depth in a setting of their own devising

One of the most compelling mechanics to emerge into RPGs in recent years came from Fantasy Flight’s narrative dice system, which first rolled out as part of the publisher’s Star Wars role-playing game. In 2017, that narrative dice system was given new life independent of the Star Wars license, and rebuilt for play in any imaginable setting, dubbed the Genesys role-playing game. 

There’s no shortage of excellent “generic” role-playing systems on the market, but Genesys does a lot of smart things in its core book to help it stand out. The custom dice that are used with the game help players become more engrossed in telling the story, as the die results tell you not only whether you succeed or fail, but also provide info on positive and negative side effects that might occur alongside your action. Players are then encouraged to talk through the scenario that unfolds. 

Genesys also excels in its guidance on crafting your own homebrew campaign. Included in the book are several shortform sketches of campaign settings for familiar Fantasy Flight properties, which run the gamut from fantasy to horror. But those snapshots also serve to prepare a game-runner to prep their own original universe, and explain how to integrate the rules into that fledgling setting.  

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