We’ve made it to the end of 2021. Give yourselves a big pat on the back! 2021 was by far not an easy year for many, but I was thankfully able to play more games this year in person with close friends and family. Here are the top 10 games that I played for the first time in 2021.
Players in Red Cathedral are working to construct portions of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. They claim sections of the wall, and then later deliver goods to complete construction. Players can also decorate theirs and other player’s sections with decorations, in an attempt to gain area control majorities along each column of the cathedral. The mechanism that I adore about this game is the resource wheel where you collect resources based on where the die’s pips on the wheel. It’s a neat puzzly addition to your typical resource collection and delivery. Plus, it comes in a box half the size of your typical euro game.
This darling card drafting game had been on my radar for a while but I never got a chance to play it until this past year. In Villagers, you are refugees who have survived the Great Plague working to start your own village again. You get to decide who can come set up in your village, whether crafts people, tradespeople, etc. The artwork is just so adorable, and it’s a chill low-stakes game of city building and manufacturing VPs. The game plays 1-5 players, which fulfills many game-night player combinations.
Angola! is probably one of the most unique wargames I’ve ever played — it’s played in teams and you pre-program your commands, one of which must be a dummy command. Bonkers! Two factions are backed from the U.S. (FNLA and UNITA), and the other two are backed by the Soviets (FAPLA and MPLA). It’s a neat element I have not encountered. Also, if more wargames were team-based, I can see people being less intimated to jump into these types of games.
Tech tree — the game! It kind of floors me that somehow a game designer managed to make a board game with a space theme that is incredibly dry, and I should know because I’ve played my fair share of crunchy yet incredibly dry eurogames. Most of the space games I’ve played are dripping with thematic epicness, and this game manages to turn that theme into cube-pushing in space. But, Beyond the Sun is oh, it’s so much fun! There’s something really satisfying about moving up the research tracks and managing your resources as you unlock portions of your player board. And sure, you’re “exploring” and “colonizing” in space over on this side of the board, it all just comes down to how many more ships do you have than the other player to collect these resources. Full disclosure though, I’ve only played this game on Board Game Arena.
Nope, this will never replace my beloved No. 1 game of all time Battlestar Galactica, but this reskin is worthy enough to hit my top 10 this year. Unfathomable is now set in the horror mythos world of Cthulhu and H.P. Lovecraft, with characters sailing across the Atlantic on the SS Atlantica. The game is immediately out to get you, and you don’t know which of your fellow boatmates have been turned into Deep One hybrids. While this game does not streamline the original BSG game (as some gamers had hoped for before Unfathomable was released), it’s still an immersive and haunting experience worth playing.
Lisboa is one of my absolute favorite games, but sometimes you just do not have the bandwidth to play such a long and complex game. Enter Mercado de Lisboa, a short puzzly brain-burner that clocks in at about 30-45 minutes, co-designed by Vital Lacerda himself. Players are building stalls and restaurants in order to bring in customers looking to pay for those goods. And like the storefront building portion of the original game, you’re trying to open in a location that will score up to three times.
This game was a surprise hit for me this year. Cascadia is just absolutely gorgeous, a tapestry of the Pacific Northwest. Players are building out their habitats and placing animals on hexagonal tiles in order to score objectives, either for the animal and/or largest continuous habitat. The dual drafting of the tiles and animals (players one of the four sets) adds strategy and depth to an otherwise basic tile-laying game. And its artwork is sure to lure nature lovers in for a game.
I had been anticipating this sequel to the original GMT game and it did not disappoint. Dominant Species: Marine is a more streamlined game than the original, and while gameplay is also similar, a big difference is that your special abilities are not tied to your species (there are only four in this game), and they can be replaced as cards come into play. I also like the special action pawn spots that players can accumulate when they’re dominating in a habitat. Calculating domination is easier to do in this game, making the game less fiddly than the original, and the striking artwork makes this game a draw to the table.
Quite absolutely my favorite 2-player game of this year, The Field of the Cloth of Gold is simple to learn and quick to play, yet completely agonizing and just plain maddening! Every time you take a turn, you present a gift to your opponent, the random tile that’s placed on that action spot. This very thing creates an unbelievably high tension between you two, a strategic dance to avoid giving your opponent the tile they need, which often sits on the action you truly want to take. It’s an absurd gift-giving mechanism that forces you to hand over a gift while you smile through gritted teeth. It’s so unbelievably good.
Here we are at the top of the list! Praga Caput Regni was an instant love from the first play at Consimworld back in September. Not enough euros incorporate a timing element to game play (Tzolk’in is one of the few that come to mind), and this game does not disappoint. Various actions that players take on their turn cost more money or hand out victory points, depending on their point in time on the Action Crane, which rotates every turn. It’s very clever! In Praga, players are working to improve New Prague City by building city walls, bridges, the cathedral or other civic projects.
And just like that, we’ve reached the end of 2021. Where exactly did 2020 and 2021 go? It simultaneously feels like a blur and an eternity all at the same time. I feel fortunate for having been able to play a lot of new games this year, enough to craft a top 10 list. And for those who aren’t on social media, I also celebrated a personal milestone this past fall and married this wonderful gent.
Here’s to a wonderful 2022! May we all be safe and healthy, and play a bunch more games! What are some of your favorites of the past year?