2021 was a whirlwind of a year. The year began with a newborn in the household, we in BC were under heavy lockdown (in this case, heavy lockdown means no visitors) which continued until June!! My game group had been playing games via Tabletop Simulator since late March 2020 which gave us access to a ton of games that we wouldn’t have been able to play otherwise. Thankfully, come the summer we were allowed to gather again and we’ve been playing in person ever since, even including a Cabin-Con retreat!
This list will include several games that were not released in 2021, and that’s okay. This list is to showcase the best games that were new to me this year! While I am often a victim of wanting to play the newest games as they release, I do enjoy going back and finding the gems that I initially missed.
In 2021 I managed to get in 257 plays of 110 different games, 45 of which were new to me. Before I get to my top 10 games I want to mention that the ‘honorable mentions’ list is really strong. Q.E., Dinosaur Tea Party, Fantasy Realms, Forgotten Waters, Underwater Cities, The Isle of Cats, Lost Ruins of Arnak, Sheriff of Nottingham, Gods Love Dinosaurs, Under Falling Skies, and Lost Cities: Rivals. Most of these games are ones that I could classify as good, but I need to play more. Also, most of the games on the honorable mentions list were played digitally, which I’m sure influences how much joy I feel when thinking about them again. You’ll likely find some of these games hitting my Top 100 list the next time I put it together!
#10 – Regicide
Regicide by Paul Abrahams, Luke Badger, and Andy Richdale was the biggest surprise to me this summer. I heard that there was an intriguing and challenging cooperative game using a standard deck of 52 cards. If you have a deck of cards, you can play this game right now!
I’ll admit that while it’s billed as a cooperative game, I’ve mostly played it solo. Regicide also has a significant amount of luck involved to win, so it’s not uncommon to get a bad card flip and find yourself just hosed. I’ll also admit that I haven’t been able to beat Regicide yet… I’ve gotten to the final boss, but fell just short due to an aforementioned poor card flip.
While you can play Regicide with any generic deck of 52 cards, Badgers from Mars has released a specific deck with some thematic artwork that looks fantastic.
#9 – Project L
Project L is spatial relation Splendor. I love the polyomino puzzles, the engine building, the colourful acrylic pieces, and the striking minimalistic visual design. I won’t reiterate all of my thoughts and feelings about Project L here as I’ve already written about it in depth, but I will mention that Project L continues to hit my table with groups both new and well versed in the board game hobby.
#8 – The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
I played a lot of trick taking games with my family as a kid, mostly games Phase 10 and our own variation called Sticks, but I really didn’t expect to love 2019’s The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine by designer Thomas Sing as much as I did.
Introduced to me at the end of a very long day during Cabin-con 2021, the whole group fell for this game hard. We played ~20 games back to back to back, just constantly going back for more. I’m kicking myself for not playing The Crew earlier; Otter kept bringing it to game night week after week and it just kept not hitting the table.
#7 – Cascadia
Cascadia by Randy Flynn is the Flatout Games darling child of the year. I’ve heard so many people talk so positively about this nature themed tile laying/ drafting game, and for good reason! Cascadia is a fun, light, attractive puzzle. Players draft ecosystem tiles and animal tokens and try to arrange them in perfect ways to earn the most points.
Cascadia is often compared to Flatout Games previous Kickstarter project Calico. While I prefer the latter, a lot of people report enjoying the easier, less restrictive puzzle of Cascadia.
#6 – Beyond the Sun
Beyond the Sun is a phenomenal game made even more impressive when taking into account that this is Dennis K. Chan’s first design. Beyond the Sun creates an analog experience for everyone’s favourite aspect of Civilization, tech trees. The big main board has several columns indicating the ‘level’ of each technology with lines going from left to right indicating each technology’s prerequisites. What makes this game interesting for repeat plays is that each level of technologies has a whole deck to choose from.
I’ve only played Beyond the Sun once, but I’m very excited to explore this game even more. I’m even looking forward to an expansion that offers some more asynchronous player powers, and am eagerly excited to see what else Dennis K. Chan has in store for us board gamers.
#5 – MicroMacro: Crime City
MicroMacro: Crime City by Johannes Sich is another game that I covered in depth this year. I played the demo and really loved the ‘Where’s Waldo?’ style gameplay mixed with a feeling of time passing. Being able to trace a criminal’s steps backwards through the city, or follow someone fleeing from an event like a bank robbery brought such joy to my wife and me.
I love that as you’re following the threads of one case you can start to notice other things going on in the periphery, things that you can make a mental note of something that you’ll probably need to come back to in a later case, but it’s not too obvious as to whats going on that you feel like you’ve accidently solved another crime just by stumbling upon a vital clue.
In my review I wrote that I didn’t plan on keeping the first game around, as it’s kind of a one and done game. I did recently pick up the follow-up game, MicroMacro: Crime City – Full House but haven’t had a chance to break it out yet. From what I read, we can expect two more MicroMacro: Crime City games in the near future, and some cases that will span all the maps. We’ll see if those work well, and just how fun it will be to try and manage 4 different maps spanning the entirety of my living room floor, especially now that my newborn has leveled up to toddler.
#4 – Calico
Calico by Kevin Russ came to Kickstarter in October 2019, and delivered partway through 2020. I didn’t really learn about it until early 2021. My wife and I were in a game store perusing their selection when Calico caught my eye and wouldn’t let go. I loved the charming, cozy kitten on the cover and I had heard from a friend that it was quite the puzzle. They weren’t wrong, I found my head in my hands for most of the playtime as I compromised and was forced to slowly give up some of the points I was hoping to achieve, unable to fulfill all (or any!) of the scoring objectives!
Most of my plays of Calico were solo when I posted my review in June. Since then I’ve introduced a lot of people to the world of Calico and found nothing but praise. The aesthetic is cute and charming, the puzzle is satisfying, and the replayability is excellent. I love that Flatout Games includes scenarios in the back of the rulebook, allowing experienced players to add on some additional challenges. I absolutely love Calico and look forward to playing it every time.
#3 – My City
I don’t recall much fanfare around Reiner Knizia’s tile laying legacy game My City when it released in 2020. I first experienced My City during Cabin-con 2021, after a brutal, grueling game of Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile by Cole Wehrle, and a very late night of unboxing and playing Anachrony by Dávid Turczi, Richard Amann, and Viktor Peter. My City was exactly the game we needed; light, easy to learn and play, fast, and very little rules overhead. We played 6 games back to back, and then another 6 games the next day. Most of the group at Cabin-con agreed that My City was ‘the game of the con’, meaning it was the overall favourite experience
My City takes only 15 minutes to play, and plays a lot like Rüdiger Dorn’s Karuba (which I talked about breifly here). Each player begins with an identical set of polyomino tiles. Each turn a card is flipped up and all players must place the tile depicted on the card on their board. You can (almost) always choose to pass instead of placing the tile, at the cost of a single point. After all players are ‘out’, the scores are counted and the highest score wins.
We took to this game famously. Since Cabin-con it’s been often requested, more as a game to finish off the night, rather than make it the objective of the evening. We all liked it so much that when Black Friday rolled around and Boardgamebliss.com had it available for $20, we all bought our own copies, eager to introduce our families to this game during the holiday season. While I haven’t finished the legacy campaign yet, and haven’t played the ‘eternal’ game (without the legacy components), I can wholeheartedly recommend My City, especially at the lower price point compared to most other legacy style games.
#2 – Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated
I used to own the original Clank! a long time ago, but traded it during a local math trade as it just wasn’t getting any plays in my group. It was light and easy to play but we found ourselves favouring other deck-builders such as Paperback by Tim Fowers or Super Motherload by Gavan Brown and Matt Tolman. Because my main game group tends to prefer playing a large variety of games, the push-pull tension of Clank! just didn’t resonate with us. No one wanted to be the person to snag the cheapest, easiest artifact and escape the dungeon, even if that was the best choice. We just didn’t want to ‘waste’ a play by getting in and getting out as fast as possible.
So colour me surpised when Otter found a copy of Clank! Legcay: Acquisitions Incorporated for sale, used. It was fully unplayed and in mint condition, so we bought it. I had my misgivings before diving in, but I found my misgivings to be totally unfounded. I had an absolutely blast making my way through Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated. We played 4 games back to back during Cabin-Con 2021, and another game shortly after.
Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated sprinkles narrative and discovery throughout it’s playtime, tasking players to reach certain spaces to access the next part of the story. It tickles my need for discovery just right. While the underlying game is still ‘just’ Clank!, I’m hopelessly excited for each new game. I immediately beeline to the next story section, eager to place stickers all over the board. Sometimes it pays off and I do very well in points, other times not so much! I have a blast every time and cannot wait to complete this adventure
#1 – Bullet❤️
I really didn’t know what to expect from Bullet♥︎ by Joshua Van Laningham and Level 99 games. No one I knew or trusted turned me on to the game. All I knew was that I liked Level 99 Games’ previous projects and that I enjoy the anime aesthetic.
What I found was an engaging action-packed, push-your-luck puzzle game, full of tense decisions. Now, I love real time games and I love puzzles so it’s absolutely no surprise that Bullet♥︎ appeals to me in the way that it did. Most of my time with Bullet♥︎ comes from the solo Boss Battle mode. I wrote about Bullet♥︎ extensively here so I won’t rehash my thoughts too much. All I will say is that I continue to love Bullet♥︎ and I expect that if I can find a group to play this with more often, Bullet♥︎ will quickly climb up my list of top 100 games.
Thanks for reading my list of top games that were new to me in 2021. Let me know in the comments which games were new to you in 2021 and which ones you’re looking forward playing the most!