My Top Ten Games of 2021

In normal, non-Covid times I compile an annual top 50 list of my favourite games of the year. These aren’t necessarily games that were published in that year, but rather just my favourites at any given time.

You can click here to see the lists for 2016 through 2019. This year, much like last year, there just hasn’t been as many opportunities to play a lot of different games. With that in mind, I’d feel a bit reluctant to give a top 50 list. So, then, let’s do a top 10.

This top 10 list is less all-encompassing than the usual list and really focuses on the games that I’ve been able to play this year and why I enjoyed them.

10. Boss Monster

This is a game that I picked up a good few years ago but had never quite made it back onto the table. This year, that changed, and I finally got to play it. It was actually one of the first non-miniature games that made it to the table when our local club, The Northern Knights, returned to in-person gaming a few months ago. It was really handy that we had a couple of folk in the group who had played before.

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The game isn’t difficult, per se. It just really helped, in a game where positioning is absolutely key, to have someone who knew, clearly and unambiguously, exactly how things should be laid out. I liked the idea of setting up my dungeon, building synergies, and setting traps. It worked well. I liked the visual aspects of the dungeon. I feel that it would be very easy and very frustrating to end up basically locked out of the game, making it largely impossible to score any points, but that didn’t happen this time. It’s one that I will be revisiting in the coming year.

9. Quacks of Quedlinburg

Another new game to me. I had kind of written off Quacks as a game that I was not going to enjoy, though I’m not sure why. When I did sit down to play a couple games of it the other week I was quite happy to be proven wrong. The game sees you making potions using a range of different reagents and trying not to ruin it along the way. The game is deceptively simple, but there’s a fair bit going on. I’ve long been a fan of deck-building games and this represents a variation on that theme. This is a bag-builder. You are cultivating a bag of reagents to be randomly drawn from as the game progresses. In my first game, I was just trying things out. In my second, I was able to cultivate a more focused, more useful bag of reagents, and my increase in score between the two games demonstrates the effectiveness of this more careful cultivation.

Visually, the game is fine. It’s nothing amazing, but it’s consistent and that’s a hugely important factor. The theme is loose, but that’s fine. It worked well with the four players that we had, but I imagine that it scales down pretty well to two players as well. I think that the black reagent would be a bit less interesting with fewer players, but the game wouldn’t be otherwise affected. I might well end up buying this game in the coming year. I think it would go down with the family, as well as the gaming group.

8. Warcry

Warcry is a skirmish game set in the Mortal Realms, the setting for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. I like this game. The simplicity of it appeals to me. When Age of Sigmar first came out, it used dedicated miniatures. These were Chaos Cultists with each warband having a really distinctive theme that went beyond the usual Chaos approach of just theming around the four Gods. Games Workshop later added the ability to use the majority of your Age of Sigmar collection in the game. Suddenly you could field a group of Ironjawz, Deepkin or, as in my case, Maggotkin. I played a couple of games this year with my Maggotkin, fielding some Plaguebearers and Beasts of Nurgle.

The scenarios are generally pretty interesting, giving players the chance to win through more than just beating seven shades of crap out of one-another, though this is still a very viable strategy. I enjoyed my games, though I can’t say that my unit choices made for the most interesting game. Plaguebearers are pretty dull, as reflected in their low points cost. The Beasts, though? Oh, my. They were fun. Movement shenanigans coupled with damage? Yes, please! They cost a lot of points, and you definitely needed the Plaguebearers for board control and more of a general presence, but the Beasts rock. More, please!

7. Ticket to Ride

Ticket to ride continues to be a safe bet. It’s the ultimate example of a solid gateway game and continues to make me happy in my heart.  We’ve picked up so much of it!  The original game, Europe, Rails and Sails, Germany, UK and Nordic, along with other map packs.  Nordic is my favourite map, with Europe being my go-to choice for larger groups.

I love that I can break this out with any group and it just works.  I love that this is a game my wife will play, my gamer friends will play and my parents will play.  I love that it’s just so beautifully produced.  This made it back to the table, both with the gaming group when it returned, and the family when they were able to start visiting again. I don’t forsee a year where this game won’t get some play.

6. Scythe

I’m told it’s cool to hate on things that are massively hyped and popular.  The thing is, usually when a game is massively hyped and popular, it’s because it’s good.  Well, either it’s good or there are a lot of Kickstarter backers intent on lying to themselves to justify their Kickstarter pledges and not feel that they blew a lot of money on a crappy game with flashy pieces. Not that I’m cynical. Heh.

Thankfully, in the case of Scythe, it’s a genuinely fantastic game.  Opening the box, you see your plastic character and mech miniatures and you might assume that Scythe is a war game.  It’s not.  it’s really, really not.  It’s very much a resource management game.  It’s also downright beautiful, both in terms of the design of the pieces and the artwork used.  The board, in particular, is a thing of beauty.  This also works really well on Tabletop Simulator, if you’re that way inclined.

This made it to the table not long after our gaming group returned. I was delighted to be playing this again. I don’t like the game with just two players, so it’s not one that I was playing with my wife during lockdown. I won. That was nice. I wouldn’t have cared, though. Just spreading out over that map and working away on upgrading my board was an absolute joy. Let’s play again!

5. Dominion

The big daddy of deck-building games.  I love this game.  It’s just the best of its kind, and it’s a game I can play with lots of different people.  It’s also great that my wife loves it, so it can make it onto the table quite often.  I’ve not gone overboard with expansions, but I kind of wish I had, like I did with Ticket to Ride.

The biggest thing that sets this game apart from many other deck builders is that you actually have to make decisions about what cards to play and what cards to buy.  Games like the DC Comics Deck-Building Game and Star Realms, though both fantastic, give you no reason to not just play all of your cards on every turn.  Dominion only allows you to play one action card and make one purchase as standard.  I’ve written about this before, at length, but it really does come down to the structure.  I like Dominion’s structure and the decisions it forces the player to make.

I mostly played this on holiday this year. We went off down to the Borders in a caravan and found ourselves playing Dominion on rainy afternoons. Given just how much of this game my wife and I have played, our games of Dominion are fast. Once we’ve taken in the particular set of cards chosen for the game, turns become blisteringly fast and a game is often done within 15 to 20 minutes. Some cards, such as Tribute, can slow this down a little. I like the quickfire nature of our games.

4. Vampire: the Masquerade

Don’t mistake my dismay at the state of affairs at the latest incarnation of White Wolf with any sort of distaste for the latest edition of Vampire: the Masquerade. I’m enjoying V5. My first play of it was at Tabletop Scotland in 2019, with a home campaign starting soon thereafter. A little later, a friend started his own campaign in which I played. More on this later…

Vampire is just such a good system. Mechanically, it’s fantastic. There are flaws, and certain aspects definitely lack polish, but it works well overall. The background is where it really shines. White Wolf (of old) developed such a deep, detailed, involved world that gives you a massive sandbox in which to play. Vampire remains one of my favourite games to both play in and to run.

My friend’s campaign was amazing. It was an absolute highlight of my gaming life in 2020 and it continued into 2021. Unfortunately, we went on hiatus quite early this year and never returned to the game. Seriously, Nathan, get back on the horse! The group for this game was fantastic, with a good mix of experiences players and relative newbies. This worked well, with the newest player taking on the role of a neophyte and using his lack of experience as an asset. The Storyteller also did a great job of weaving political intrigue through the game, which is what I love most about Vampire.

3. Century: Golem Edition

An impulse purchase at a game store, this is probably the best value for money I’ve ever had from a board game. I gave Century: Spice Road a miss when it came out, thinking it looked a bit dry and would not really be for me. Mechanically, I was wrong, but I still think the dry visuals would have put me off or would have seen me not play the game quite as often as I’ve played this (more fantastical) edition. The artwork is superb, as I’ve previously written.

I freakin’ love this game. It’s so accessible and simple, but it makes my brain hurt when I try to plan ahead, especially when you play with five players. The goal is to make combinations of coloured gems which can then be used to buy Golems (points cards). Players generate gems, use cards to trade groups of specific colours for other groups of gems, upgrade their gems… There’s a lot of moving around gems towards purchasing your golems. I’m not describing it well, but it just clicked with me.

This saw a lot of play with family this year, along with the gaming group. It’s such an easy game to pick up, and I think that the beautiful components are a big part of this. There are gorgeously-illustrated cards, pretty gems, metal coins… The visual aspects of the game definitely contribute to the easy pickup. Once you’re in, the mechanics of the game are quite simple, and also quite tactile. The complexity comes, I believe, from the trading aspect. Using trade cards (probably not their real name…) you can create really interesting little engines to guide your gem acquisition towards something useful and productive.

2. Dungeons & Dragons

D&D is not my favourite RPG.  It’s good, of course, and this edition is really good, but there’s a shelf of RPGs behind me as I type this that I’d rather play on any given day.  Why, then, is D&D such a fixture in my gaming life, and why is it my most-played game of 2021. And 2020, come to that.

Impact.

This has been a year (or two, really) of D&D for me.  I have played in 6 campaigns this year, with three still ongoing, and I’ve run a D&D group for children as an after-school activity.  D&D has dominated my hobby.

I joined a D&D group at a local hotel in 2018 and this, frankly, was life-changing.  I’ve made new, close friends through this group, played in the longest campaign I’ve taken part in for any RPG, and just had a damn good time. The group has splintered and changed somewhat since then, but I still play with several members of the group on a regular basis.

D&D also continues to be the focus of my after-school tabletop gaming group.  A few years ago, it was dwindling and circling the drain as our older, established members moved on, but by focusing on both younger children and on RPGs specifically, we’ve grown hugely, attracting four to five times our previous numbers on a busy week. 

I’d love to branch out and play or run some other RPGs, but if 2022 sees me mostly playing D&D again, I’ll still be happy with that.

1. Warhammer: Age of Sigmar

My game of the year should come as no surprise to regular readers. I loved the second edition of Age of Sigmar. Fundamentally, I like being proven wrong.  I was one of the many people who were pissed off when Warhammer was shelved by Games Workshop in favour of this new game, Age of Sigmar.  Round bases?  Golden-armoured warriors?  4 pages of rules?  How could this ever work?

It does, though.

I’m not going to rehash all of the old arguments for and against AoS – I’ve already made my peace with it.  It was a botched launch and GW did well to come back from that.  The game now has a number of original armies and is very well-established.  The game is quick and easy and is just a pleasure to play.

Third edition, which is not without flaws, is the best the game has been. I love it. I still haven’t gotten my Necron army for 40K to the table because I just want to play Age of Sigmar. I think the slight fanaticism that I may have developed for the game was demonstrated in my previous post on my 2021 hobby life.

As I type this, I actually played a couple of games of Age of Sigmar last night, using the brand new Maggotkin of Nurgle book which was released last week. This was a lot of fun, and the army has changed hugely since their previous incarnation. This hits one of my favourite aspects of the game. Namely, it’s how different each army is, and distinctly each plays. Playing my Nurgle army is completely different to playing as Ironjaws, which is again different to how I play my Sons of Behemat, and indeed my Gloomspite Gitz.

What I’d like in the new year is to get back into playing bigger games. Our current club setup sees the evening split into two timeslots. We can fit 1,000 games into this, but I really want to play some more 2,000 point games.

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