Our last live show recording just happened to fall on Canada Day. Due to that, we decided to spend some time taking a look at some of the best Canadian designed board games and RPGs.
This list features games that were designed, whole or in part, by Canadians and is a mix of Canadian designed roleplaying games and boardgames.
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Looking at role-playing games and board games from designers born in Canada
This list is based on game designers born in Canada, many of which may not live in Canada anymore. Also, many of these games created by Canadians have been published by non-Canadian game companies. While there are a surprising number of Canadian publishers, for this list I am looking at designers specifically.
Many of the games that follow were designed by not one person but a team, while I did make sure that the team included at least one Canadian, I found it impossible to tell exactly how much or what part of the game each person contributed, so for this article, if a Canadian gamer helped design the game in any way, I’m claiming it as a Canadian game.
Some of the best board games and RPGs created by Canadian game designers:
Quodd Heroes – This very unique game is designed by Ryan Iler of Wonderment games. Quodd Heroes is a board game that re-creates the feel of a platform video game. It’s like a mash-up of Super Mario, Zelda, and Super Smash Brothers. The game is a toolkit offering up a ton of unique scenarios including rally racing, capture the flag, area control, soccer and more, as well as the ability for fans to create their own scenarios.
In Quodd Heroes you play a Quodd, a block-shaped character. Each turn you tumble your character to another side. Which side of your character faces up determines how you move. This is a fascinating system that I find scratches the same mental itch as programmed movement games like Robo Rally or Mechs vs. Minions.
Rising Sun – I just talked about the designer of Rising Sun, Eric M Lang in our Black Games Matter article. In that article, I talked about Chaos in the Old World and I wanted to feature a different game of his for this article.
Rising Sun is a fantasy-themed, feudal Japan, folk on a map game with some really fascinating things going on. These include the ability to summon monsters to bolster your troops, a very cool tea ceremony diplomacy system where most players are going to be allied with one other player each round, and one of the most unique and rewarding combat systems I’ve ever encountered in an area majority game.
Like many games from CMON, in addition to the base game, there are a number of expansions available such as the Dynasty Invasion box that adds two new armies, the Monster Pack with more monsters and Kami Unbound that gives you miniatures and additional rules for the Kami.
Junk Art – This dexterity game is from Canadian duo Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim, better known as The Bamboozle Brothers. This is by far my favourite stacking based dexterity game. This is due to the fact that Junk Art is like getting a bunch of different games in one box.
At the start of each game, you draw three random cards that determine which games you will play with the set of four coloured oddly shaped blocks in front of you. Sometimes you are working on your own creation, other times you are cooperating to build something together. Games can be timed or turn-based. One game you could drafting the pieces you want, then in the next game you are forcing strangely shaped pieces on your opponent. This variety is what keeps me coming back for more. And I love the fact that if some of the players don’t enjoy a certain type of play you can just remove those cards from the game.
Feng Shui – This RPG was written by Robin D. Laws of Toronto, Ontario. I am a huge fan of Eastern Asian Cinema, as well as other cinema inspired by it, such as Kung fu, Wire-fu and Wuxia movies, as well as Gun-fu and Hong Kong mobster, flicks and pretty much anything by John Woo.
Feng Shui takes all of these styles of movies and mashes them up into a single world and timeline. In Feng Shui, you play Secret Warriors battling through time to protect Feng Shui sites the world over. I loved the first edition of Feng Shui and there’s an updated second edition out there, which funded on Kickstarter, that promises to be better streamlined.
Sagrada – This dice drafting game is from Adrian Adamescu and Daryl Andrews. Despite it being a while since I’ve mentioned this game I still really enjoy Sagrada. In Sagrada, players are drafting coloured dice to place onto a stained glass window pattern. At the start of the game, everyone gets a unique window pattern that they are trying to build. The trick is that the pattern needs certain colours or numbers on certain spots and you can’t put a die next to another die with the same colour or number.
In addition to the base game, there are a couple of expansions. The Sagrada 5&6 Player Expansion lets you play with five or six players, while Sagrada: Passion adds a number of new gameplay modules and options that you can mix and match to add to your game.
Lanterns The Harvest Festival – This very unique tile-laying game comes from Canadian game designer Christopher Chung. In Lanterns, players are trying to collect sets of different coloured lanterns by playing four-sided tiles down into a central playing area. Each tile features a number of lanterns, grouped into one of seven colours. The neat bit here is that when you place down your tile you gain one lantern for each side of the tile you colour-match to what is already out on the board, then everyone, yourself and all of your opponents, gets one more lantern based on where they are seated in relation to the tile that was just played. I love the fact this game is all about helping yourself without helping anyone else more.
The Lanterns The Emperors Gifts expansion adds more replayability to the game, with a number of modules that can be added or removed as you wish. In addition to the base game and the expansion, there is now a Lanterns Dice game that has been published, but I haven’t tried this one to be able to recommend it or not.
High Plains Samurai – This post-apocalyptic RPG was by written by Todd Crapper. I first got to try out this rather unique roleplaying game at Breakout Con 2018 and then got to play again with Todd at QCC in buffalo NY in 2019. Both of these games were two of the best Con games I had ever played in and got me hooked on both Todd’s game and world.
In High Plains Samurai, Todd has mashed up kung fu, Mad Max, Fist of the North Star, steampunk and probably twenty other things, in a totally over the top post-apocalyptic storytelling game. Along with a fascinating world, you will also find a very unique, very story-driven roleplaying system that relies on both the game master and the players to continually add to the ongoing narrative.
For people interested in checking out High Plains Samurai there is a lighter, introductory version called High Plains Samurai Legends that is more streamlined and includes set scenarios and pre-generated characters, perfect for a new GM.
Santorini – This is an abstract strategy game based set on the island of the same name. Santorini was designed by Dr. Gordon Hamilton, better known as just Gord! Gord! has designed a number of abstract strategy games over the years but Santorini is his most well known and most popular.
There are two things I love about Santorini, the first is how awesome it looks on the table as you take turns building up the white-walled blue-domed buildings that Santorini is famous for, and the second is how quickly the game plays despite being very tactical. This is a thinky-filler that any abstract gamer should enjoy. Once players have mastered the basic game you can start using the included Greek god cards which give each player a unique ability for that game.
1812 the Invasion of Canada – This wargame is by Jeph Stahl with Beau Becket. I actually had no idea until doing research for this article that this game was, in part at least, designed by a Canadian.
I really enjoy 1812, which is part of the Academy Games Birth of America series. 1812 the Invasion of Canada is a light card-driven cube wargame that is extremely approachable. This is a game I recommend to anyone who is curious about trying out the wargaming side of the board game hobby. This is also one of the best team-based games I’ve ever played, featuring teams of unequal sides.
Diaspora – This hard science roleplaying game comes from Brad Murray and VSCA. The story behind this one is that there was a group of gamers who loved hard sci-fi (think Larry Niven vs. George Lucas) and who were playing Traveller but didn’t really like the d6 based system. That group discovered the FATE system through Spirit of the Century and immediately went to work converting their current Traveller game over to this new storytelling system. Diaspora is the end result of this conversion.
Diaspora is a thick hardcover book that looks and feels a lot like a technical manual. Something that was done intentionally by the publishers so that it wouldn’t look out of place on a shelf full of rocket science textbooks.
Catacombs – This dexterity dungeon crawler was designed by Canadian Aron West. Catacombs is a very unique game. It’s a dungeon crawl game, like say Descent or Gloomhaven, but instead of being dice or card-driven it’s a flicking based dexterity game. One player is doing the flicking for the monsters and bosses and the other players each control their own hero. To move, you flick your character. To attack in melee, you flick your character. To fire a bow, you flick arrow discs. To cast a spell you flick a spell disc. It’s all flicking all the time.
The one thing to watch for with Catacombs is that it has gone through a number of iterations and editions. From what I can tell each new version has improved on the last, so it’s worth making sure you have the latest version. The most recent release at the time this article was written is Catacombs Conquest, a new lighter introductory version of the game.
Quebec – This Eurogame was designed by Philippe Beaudoin and Pierre Poissant-Marquis. Quebec, the game, is an abstract strategy euro game with quite a bit of weight. I personally think that Quebec is a hidden gem, one that people haven’t talked about nearly often enough since it was first published back in 2011 by Ystari and Asmodee.
In Quebec, you are the head of a family working to build the walled city of Quebec one building at the time. Along with city building, there is also a unique cascading area majority system for four zones of influence: religion, politics, commerce and culture. With this mechanic, if you win a majority half of your influence cubes cascade to the next category.
If you are a medium to heavy euro fan and haven’t tried Quebec I strongly suggest checking it out.
Heavy Gear – This is an older RPG from a Canadian publishing company: Dream Pod Nine. They made a number of licenced, anime-inspired, RPGs but the game I like the best, and for which they are most known, is Heavy Gear. This RPG was designed by Philippe Boulle, Jean Carrières, Élie Charest, Gene Marcil, Guy Francis Vella, and Marc A. Vezina.
Heavy Gear was a follow up to Battletech, aiming for a more fast and furious mecha battle system. The first Heavy Gear release was actually the PC game from Activision, a follow up to their Mechwarrior series. The RPG followed soon after.
This game features smaller mechs that are faster and more mobile than the Battlemechs seen in previous games. It also uses a very interesting dice pool system called the Silhouette System, which I remember finding groundbreaking at the time.
New York 1901 – This one was created by Canadian game designer Chénier La Salle. When this game came out a lot of people were claiming it was going to be the next Ticket to Ride. I’m sad to report that it never quite took off that well, though I personally would rather play this game about building skyscrapers in New York over most versions of Ticket to Ride.
The Ticket to Ride comparison comes from a card drafting mechanic that requires you to turn in sets of cards of the same colour, for the same district, in order to place a building. New York 1901 is a solid gateway game, even if it never took off quite as well as some people thought it would.
Hammer of the Scots – I’m not a big wargame fan but there are a few wargames that I have really enjoyed over the years and Hammer of the Scots, by Tom Dalgliesh with Jerry Taylor, is one of them. In this game, it’s the Scots vs. the British in the time of William Wallace.
This award-winning zone-based wargame uses the Columbia Games block mechanic. This system features a fog of war, due to the fact that you can only see the faces of your own blocks as well as a unit health and strength system based on rotating the blocks so that different stats show at the top. It’s a very well designed system used for many games. I personally think Hammer of the Scots is the best two-player Columbia Block Wargame.
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game – One of the main people on the team behind Marvel Heroic was Philippe-Antoine Ménard, a Canadian, who worked alongside many others including Cam Banks, Dave Chalker, Robert Donoghue, Matt Forbeck, John Harper, Will Hindmarch, Jack Norris, Jesse Scoble and Aaron Sullivan to bring you this game. Phillippe’s name appears on each and every book that was published for this awesome RPG (before Margaret Weis Productions lost the Marvel licence due to Marvel was about to start some new movie franchise).
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying’s narrative based dice pool system is the only superhero system I’ve played that actually lets you pair off heroes and villains of totally disparate strengths and have it work well mechanically. It’s the only game I know where Spider-Man can defeat The Hulk by causing him enough emotional stress to make him cry and turn back into Bruce Banner.
More recently Philippe worked on Sentinel Comics The Roleplaying Game a game based on the Sentinels of the Multiverse universe. A system obviously derived from Marvel Heroic.
Canadian Game Designers, Honourable Mentions:
Crokinole is a dexterity game that seems to be sweeping the world lately and showing up at all kinds of tabletop conventions. The earliest known crokinole board was made by craftsman Eckhardt Wettlaufer in 1876 in Perth County, Ontario, Canada.
Kodama 3D was created by Erica Bouyouris, along with Daryl Andrews. I was supposed to try out this great looking game just before the pandemic hit. We had a Kodama 3D themed game night planned at the FLGS and it was the first event we had to cancel because of the virus. I was really looking forward to trying it out.
Speaking of Erica Bouyouris, they also have a very cool looking Miniature game coming out this year, Scott Pilgrim Miniatures The World. This is coming from Renegade Game Studios, who just had a hit with their Power Rangers: Heros of the Grid miniature based game.
But Wait there’s More! is one of my all-time favourite party games and it’s by the Bamboozle brothers, Sen and Jay. I didn’t include it on the list as it’s currently out of print and impossible to find. However, just this week I confirmed that Sen and Jay do have the licence back and are looking for a publisher to bring it back to the market.
Finally, on the RPG front, I just want to call out the maps of Dyson Logos. Dyson, who is from Ottawa, Ontario, is responsible for creating an entire mapping style based on his thick lines and distinct form of hashing. I’ve been a huge fan of his work since the early G+ days and I find it fascinating to see so many maps coming out today being called “Dyson Style”. At this point, Dyson is creating maps for Wizards of the Coast and 5e D&D but he also still releases plenty of free to use and licensed maps through his Dyson’s Dodecahedron website and Patreon.
So now that you know some of the Canadian game designers that I dig, what are some of your favourite games from Canadians?