Some of the Best Tabletop Games from Black Game Designers – Ask The Bellhop

With everything that is going on in the world today, I thought now would be a good time to use our platform to help spread the word about some amazing tabletop games created by Black game designers.

Not nearly enough people are asking:

What are some great games by Black game designers?

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Here are some of the best board games and RPGs created by Black game designers:

Harlem Unbound – First I want to highlight Harlem Unbound, a 1920s New York City setting book for Call of Cthulhu and/or Gumshoe. Harlem Unbound comes from the mind of Chris Spivey along with other designers including Bob Geis, Sarah E. Hood, Alex Mayo, Neall Raemonn Price and Ruth Tillman. Chris has also worked on other Call of Cthulhu books, as well as Geist, Chill and City of Mist.

To sell this one I’m just going to read you a section from the back of the book:

Picture This… New York City in the 1920s: Prohibition is in full swing, and bootleggers are living high. African Americans flee the oppressive South for greener pastures, creating a new culture in Harlem. The music of Fats Waller and Duke Ellington pours out of the city’s windows and doorways, and the sidewalks are crowded with women in stylish skirts with silk stockings, and men in white gloves and Chesterfield coats. There’s a feeling of possibility in the air, like never before. But even in this land of promise, Harlem is a powder keg. While classes and cultures collide, Lovecraftian horrors lurk beneath the streets, creeping through dark alleys and hidden doorways into the Dreamlands. What Great Old One shattered our reality? Can you hold it together and keep the Mythos at bay for one more song?

Sounds like a compelling setting, doesn’t it?

Tattoo Stories – I recently reviewed a new light strategy game from Bicycle Cards called The Alpha. The Alpha is part of the second wave of board games released from Bicycle, as part of their efforts to get into the hobby board game market. Tattoo Stories was part of the first wave of these new hobby games, released in early 2019. It’s designed by Eric Slauson who also worked on Nerd Words and the recently published MonsDRAWsity.

Tattoo Stories is a drawing party game that mixes drawing with pitch based storytelling. It feels like a mash-up of Pictionary and But Wait There’s More or Snake Oil. In Tattoo Stories, players get a number of prompt cards from which they need to come up with a tattoo idea. The other players then each draw their version of the tattoo and then pitch their concepts to the original player who votes on the one they like the best. 

Mermaid Adventures – This was the first roleplaying game that I played with my kids back when they were preschoolers. Mermaid Adventures was written and designed by Eloy Lasanta. I first discovered Eloy quite a few years ago on Facebook when he was promoting a Canadian supplement for his game Apocalypse Prevention Inc. Since then, he’s taken the Mermaid Adventures system and turned that into the Pip System with its own Pip System Sourcebook and a number of different settings using the system. He’s also worked on Geist, Changeling, Camp Myth, and is probably best known now for his AMP series of superhero RPGs.

For more of my thoughts on this game check out my Mermaid Adventures review.

Chaos in the Old World – I have been a fan of the Warhammer World created by Games Workshop since the late 80s, I love the old world setting and the whole fight against nearly unbeatable odds in the form of the corruption of Choas. Chaos in the Old World turns that fight around and has you playing the four gods of Chaos. 

Chaos in the Old World is designed by Eric M Lang, one of the most well-known Black designers in the gaming industry. Eric is probably better known for games like Blood Rage, Rising Sun and Marvel United. In addition to being a full-time game designer, he is also the Director of Game Design at CMON Games.

Despite being one of Eric’s earliest published games, Chaos in the Old World remains my personal favourite. A big part of this is the fact that it’s set in a setting I know and love but another part is the fact that it was one of the first games to feature asymmetric winning conditions, where each player is trying to do something completely different from everyone else in order to win the game. Long time readers should know that I love asymmetry in my tabletop games. 

Cyberpunk – Growing up as a gamer, one of my favourite games of all time was Cyberpunk. In particular, I owned and played Cyberpunk 2020 and later the spin-off Cyber Generations as well as many other games using the R. Talsorian Interlock and Fusion systems. What I didn’t realize until many years later is that Mike Pondsmith, the founder of R Talsorian and designer of Cyberpunk, is Black. In addition to Cyberpunk, Mike also worked on Castle Falkenstien, The Buck Rogers 25th century RPG from TSR, Dragon Ball Z, and a many other books that use his Fuzion system, many of them Anime based.

Despite coming out in the late 80s, Cyberpunk is still going strong. There’s a new edition of the Cyberpunk RPG out, Cyberpunk Red, and there’s also a very hyped and hot looking video game coming out soon. Cyberpunk has always been one of my favourite genres and it’s awesome to me to see this RPG still on the streets and still getting played.

BEEEEES! – This dice game was published in 2017 by Action Phase Games. BEEEEES! was designed by Marcus Ross and Cara Ryan, a team that also worked on Discount Salmon which was published back in 2013. BEEEEES! is a real-time dice rolling game for two to five players. Players are rolling their dice and using them to beat out their opponent’s rolls to claim hive tiles and then use those to build their own personal hives. Once time runs out the player with the best hive wins. This is a great gateway game that seems like it would also be great for playing with kids.

Companions’ Tale – This rather unique map-making RPG is by Laura Simpson and Dev Purkayastha, Laura also worked on Dialect: A Game About Learning Language and How it Dies and was featured in the #Feminisms A Nano-game Anthology. Companions’ Tale is a GMless storytelling map-making game where you are playing not the hero but rather the hero’s companions. The hero acts and you and your fellow players are left to tell the tale, but whose version will be the one remembered for all time? After a successful Kickstarter, Companions’ Tale went on to be nominated for Best Game at the 2019 Ennie awards.

Rap Godz – This game was brought to my attention through the Black Lives Matter movement which is currently going strong across the world right now. Rap Godz was created by Omari Akil who is the co-founder and lead designer for Board Game Brothas. In addition to Rap Godz, Omari also worked on Oh My Gourds which was published in 2019.

Rap Godz was successfully funded on Kickstarter and puts the players in the roles of up and coming hip-hop artists just starting down their paths to greatness. Players try to outperform their opponents and collect the most plaques by taking over cities, hitting career milestones, and starting beef with other players.

You may have a hard time finding this game in print, due to a very impressive BLM fundraising effort which caused Board Game Brothas to sell every copy they had in stock.

Ehdrigohr – This is a fantasy RPG inspired by the mythology and lore of indigenous peoples from across the world with a focus on Lakotah folklore. It was designed by Allen Turner. Allen has also worked on a number of other games including Exalted, Vampire: The Masquerade, Mythic D6 and Scion.

Ehdrigohr uses the popular Fate 3.0 system and what really caught my eye about this game is that it’s a fantasy setting that is based mainly on Native American tropes vs. the standard European mythology we normally see. It’s awesome to see something completely different from your usual orcs, dwarves and elves.

Swordsfall – I want to leave off with something that’s coming soon and that is Swordsfall an Afropunk RPG from Brandon Dixon which was kickstarted in 2019. This is Brandon’s first RPG project, though he is also a contributor to Worldbuilding Magazine. Here’s a blurb from Brandon on Swordsfall:

“Swordsfall isn’t just a setting for an Afropunk game, it’s a world. It’s a dive into pre-colonial Africa for rich lore you’ve never heard of before. It’s an exploration into a world where most of the faces are dark yet aren’t constrained to one corner of the globe. It’s a world where women hold power equal to men and the merit of one’s soul is what propels them through life. It’s a world where spirits aren’t to be feared, instead, they are to be embraced. In a time where we know that representation matters, this project is an effort to add to that spirit in the way I know best. Narrative fiction in the nerdiest of flavors.”

At this time this RPG is just getting off the ground. There’s a quick start adventure out there and some novels available on Amazon with the rules due later this year. Now would be a great time to dive in on the ground floor.

Finally, I just want to say that I wish this list was longer. While doing research for this post I saw a statistic from Omari Akil from Board Game Brothers that stated that only 12% of all board games published are from Black designers and I have to say that while I knew that number would be low, it’s way lower than I expected.

I personally would love to see this number grow substantially as the industry improves in the coming months and years. I look forward to a new wave of Black game designers, and awesome new games from new perspectives.

What are some of the best games you’ve played that have been made by a Black game designer? Let us know in the comments below!

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