As 2021 draws to a close it’s hard not to reflect on the year as a whole. And let’s face it, 2021 in general might be classified as a bit of a stinker on the worldwide stage for many reasons. But rather than beat that horse into oblivion, I’d like to focus on the good. More specifically, the good in this hobby I love so much.
After a lot of thinking, I compiled a list of my top ten games of 2021. A few quick caveats: these are not the top 10 games new to me in 2021, but games that were released in 2021 (per Board Game Geek). In addition, there are quite a few games that were released this year that I have not had a chance to try yet so I cannot fairly include them, even though I’m very excited for a chance to play them in the future.
So without further ado, here is my list:
- The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
- Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition
- Sleeping Gods
- Land vs. Sea
This small-box gem arrived late in the year and it did not disappoint. Not only is it full of gorgeous illustrations of wildlife, plants, and weather but it also was produced in a sustainable way. Canopy was produced without plastic, uses wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the chip boards are made of recycled material and the Kickstarter project helped to plant trees via Tree Sisters. Nature games that take these extra steps are truly walking the walk and I cannot wait to see more games produced in a more environmentally-friendly manner. This game is light yet enjoyable and will get a lot of play in our household.
Gorinto has been a pleasure to play. In this abstract strategy game themed around Japanese memorial shrines players must collect elemental tiles from a shared space and use them to build stacks to score points. Although the theme is pretty thin, the game play is smooth and easy to pick up. I have fun playing this with people with a wide range of experience. It’s accessible yet still engaging to experienced gamers. This one has flown a bit under the radar and that is a shame because it is a lot of fun.
The spiritual successor to it’s big sister Calico, Cascadia is another puzzly tile-laying hit from the team at Flatout Games. It has gotten a lot of play from our family in 2021. Unlike the cozy cats on quilts game, Cascadia gives players freedom to build their landscapes however they choose with no restrictive board. This adds a lot of flexibility yet retains the puzzle aspect. Because of this, I think Cascadia is more inviting to new players, including children.
7. The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
This is a game I can introduce to just about anybody and they immediately take to it. From my father-in-law who only plays Pinochle to the friend who tends to prefer deep strategy games, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea has been well-loved. This cooperative trick-taking game has a lot of variety packed into this small box and it’s all due to the very large stack of mission cards. The only reason it does not rank higher on my list is because it’s pretty close to its space-themed predecessor; however, Mission Deep Sea makes enough improvements on the original that it deserves a mention as one of the year’s best.
6. Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition
Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition takes a game that I love quite a bit and tweaks it just enough to develop a slightly new identity. This game retains the spirit of its predecessor and manages to cut down the game length and speed up the setup. The artwork and components are improved and the simultaneous action selection adds much for players to consider. This has allowed us to get our sci-fi themed engine- and combo-building experience in on weeknights at a 2 player count and for that I’m extremely thankful. There is room on our shelf for both implementations of Terraforming Mars.
Genius Games did a very good job blending scientific concepts with fun game mechanics. Although the worker placement is pretty straight-forward, the addition of the dice placement and manipulation really elevates it to another level for me. Add in gorgeous components and artwork and you have a winner in my book. Who knew that breeding pea plants could be so much fun?
4. Sleeping Gods
Sleeping Gods is Ryan Laukat’s magnum opus. This is not quite a game, not quite a story. Jump into the boat and take off in any direction you please. There are no restrictions on where you should go – you are free to enjoy this modern Odyssey in any way you please. The only reason this game does not rank higher for me is that I tend to feel pretty lukewarm towards storytelling games in general. But even I can appreciate the hours upon hours of work that the design team must have put in to create this gorgeous game. The artwork, the writing, the world building and the combat system are all top-notch. Sleeping Gods is worth exploring at least once.
The cover features a block of anthropomorphic cheese wearing lederhosen and that’s just the beginning of the oddities inside this box. Cubitos was one of my biggest surprises of the year. I went into my first game expecting to dislike it. After all, it’s a combination of two mechanics I tend not to enjoy: push your luck and racing. After the first game I immediately wanted to play again. It’s bizarre, it’s colorful, and it’s extremely enjoyable. Cubitos is a game you shouldn’t think too hard about – just roll with it.
Meadow is a treat for the eyes. Each card in the games features a unique, gorgeous watercolor illustration. It is a game that gives each player the chance to build something beautiful. I truly enjoy the experience of collecting creatures and items on my imaginary walks. The theme shines through and it’s extremely pleasant to play. The box has surprise envelopes and a reference guide full of nature facts to add excitement and interest. This is by far the coziest game on the list. I just am completely charmed by this one.
1. Land vs. Sea
Simple mechanics do not always equate to simple choices and this game demonstrates that beautifully. This game positions its players in a tug-of-war tile placement battle that can be delightfully vicious! The cartographic artwork is gorgeous, unique and full of Easter Eggs. It’s a beautiful to look at and play. Land vs. Sea merges simple, pure mechanics with layers of strategy in a truly elegant way. It felt like an instant classic for me, and for that reason it’s my top game of 2021.
2021 wasn’t so bad after all, and I’ve only played a small selection of games that were released this year. There are many others I still want to try. My plan is to work on getting some of them to the table in 2022 and updating this list with the true stars of 2021, according to me.
I wish you all a very Happy New Years, and may 2022 bring you blessings and an abundance of game nights!