Alright, let’s do this. This year felt like the expansion year to 2020. The publisher realized that there were some serious rules lacking in 2020 and so they decided that an expansion could fix everything that went wrong. On the whole, it’s a decent attempt, but here at the end of 2021, the Board Game Quest bunker holdouts are still seeing enough reasons to hold on to those 2020 game acquisitions. Last year wasn’t a horrible year for gaming, but it’s far from some of the banner years of near gaming perfection. As you’ll see in the list below, 2021 felt like an attempt to get a groove back and find new experiences that are similar to ones we’ve had success with in the past. Maybe you’ll feel different, and, if so, let us know in the comments.
Best Board Games from 2021
Chosen by Tahsin:
If you read the description and theme on the box for this heavy economic strategy game, you might inadvertently think you picked up an 18xx game. However, after a cursory glance of the rules, you’ll find that this is indeed a hardcore game set in the heart of Europe during the burgeoning industrial age. Hold back your yawn, because this game dares to threaten Brass for the complex Eurogame crown. The play is steeped in managing resources, making deliveries to factories, and managing your money with the acumen of a Harry Potter goblin. It’s a tough game without Lacerda complexity. This is exactly the kind of design that draws me in, forcing players to figure out just the right timing of actions to build routes and construct factories. And, just like Brass, getting those connections matters because it’s also a race to build a path to a final destination city. The player who does that first won’t necessarily win, but it does guarantee payment of points from other players in the final scoring. Imperial Steam is pure Euro goodness and easily surpasses other great games from 2021 (review coming soon).
Breakaway Football (review)
Chosen by Tony:
My favorite game of the year was already covered in Andrew and mine’s Top 10 Board Games from 2021 list which you can read here. Spoiler alert, it was Chronicles of Drunagor. So rather than repeat the same thoughts here, I’ll let you know about my favorite “new to me” game from last year. And for that, I’m going with Breakaway Football. Even though it was released in 2017, I only heard about this hidden gem last year. Breakaway Football simulates a game of American football between two coaches. We’ve been addicted to this game since we first gave it a spin and I’d heartily recommend it to any football fans out there. The teams are inspired from real NFL teams throughout the years, and the gameplay has a fantastic back and forth flow that really does feel like you are calling plays for an NFL team. If you are a football fan, don’t sleep on this one.
Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile (review)
Chosen by Brandon, Dylan, and Spencer:
Our eighth-era chronicle book reads: “The people’s cries reached us in the depths of the Mine. They reverberated throughout, shaking scaffolding and crumbling walls. Change was necessary. So we made a vow to the Empire, one of obedience. But truly we knew it was for the will of the people. We rose up on their generosity, all factions united as one. An exile’s true home is not in the deepest dark. No! It is in the heart of these denizens.” Oath is a special game for the right group and thankfully I was able to find one this year. Emergent narrative, intrigue and scandal, and a constantly shifting landscape that evolves generation after generation. Many will not find the time to overcome the barrier to entry and plumb the tactical depths, but those who do know exactly why it will be a mainstay on many future game nights.
Chosen by Jason:
I don’t know if calling Cryo the best of 2021 is accurate, but I’ll tell ya, it was the most satisfying for me and one I sought out to purchase shortly thereafter. It gave me sci-fi window dressings with colorful and unique art styling, engine building that I could actually enjoy faster and longer in the game. It likely contributed a little to me saying goodbye to my first loved space game, Terraforming Mars, and me picking up this one.
Dollars to Donuts (review)
Chosen by Michelle:
Listen, I’m going to be real with you. 2021 was a pretty boring year for me in terms of my interest in new releases so I’m not saying that Dollars to Donuts is the best game out there. It was fun though, and in these times I’m honestly just looking for a game that will make me feel something. This game gives me an opportunity to exercise big brain energy with its tile-laying mechanics, satisfies my need to accomplish anything through serving customers delicious donuts, and is just wildly exciting when tiles match up to create expensive but confusing combinations. Every other “heavy” game that came out this year was just not enticing to me so here we are with donuts.
Roll Player Adventures
Chosen by James:
I almost boringly went with Solomon Kane again (which is still great and still unpainted) but Roll Player Adventures has grabbed my short attention span since it arrived a few weeks ago. Sure it might be the shiny new box on the shelf (I blame the spot UV) but Roll Player Adventures, at least through the first four stories, is one of the best narrative-heavy adventure games I’ve ever played as it weaves story, choices, and an actual game together into an adventure through a deep and complex world. Through clever use of cards and keywords, the game remembers your past actions and points you to different chapters where you can celebrate or lament your previous choices. With many of those choices being gray it’s hard to know if you’re making the right call (no spoilers but I somehow got involved with an underworld Illuminati type group; go figure). And the mechanics are solid as you use stamina cubes to guarantee specific dice colors and play cards to manipulate the dice to meet your objectives. It may, like many narrative games, have a shorter shelf life than other games but the experience so far has been top notch and I can’t wait to get it back to the table.
Bloodborne: The Board Game
Chosen by Brian B:
In July 2021, we listed our Favorite New Game published in 2021… So Far. My pick was Bloodborne. I am here to report that, as of December 30, 2021, Bloodborne was not dethroned and is officially my favorite game published in 2021. Since July, I have more deeply explored the significant amount of content beyond the base game. While some expansions are great and others… not, overall the addition of more hunters, more monsters, and more “stuff” only increased replay value. I also am able to explore more of my favorite video game setting. But most importantly, the additional content didn’t dilute the core gameplay I love a quick playing game with tactical combat and a great press your luck leveling up system.
Warhammer Quest: Cursed City (review)
Chosen by George:
While it may feel a little like a grind sometimes, Cursed City really captured the old school Gothic aesthetic that has been missing from the Age of Sigmar universe. A group of intrepid adventurers go on a quest to thwart the vampiric overlord of a major city in the realm of death. Some of the great highlights for this boxed set include beautiful unique miniatures, a great action economy and initiative system, and the day/night timer in each game. The miniatures can also be used in Age of Sigmar, which was a major benefit. With reprints and future expansions being announced the future for Cursed City is now much brighter. If you love dark gothic narrative dungeon crawls you won’t want to miss out on this.
G.I. Joe Deck-Building Game (review)
Chosen by Brian W:
Now, I’m not the biggest fan of deck-building, but I love cooperative games and this one won me over from the start. I grew up in the 80s with G.I. Joe so this was a game I wanted to try for nostalgic reasons, but it was shockingly good. As I mentioned above, the G.I. Joe Deck-Building Game is not only fully cooperative, but it also has a well-supported theme with high player interaction and includes a great balance of risk and reward. If you’re a fan of G.I. Joe and cooperative games, I would definitely check this one out.
Chosen by Alex:
Yes, I know technically it was released in 2017, but the Capstone version came out in 2021 and that’s the version I have so that’s what I’m rolling with. I’ve been trying to get cube rail games to our table for a while now, and I finally was able to get it done with Iberian Gauge, and what a revelation it has been for me and my gaming group. Straightforward rules, deep strategy, quick gameplay, and a theme we can all get aboard with. Iberian Gauge was truly a gateway game for us into the wider world of cube rails, and we’ve jumped into it wholeheartedly.
Chosen by Jacob:
I’m not much of a 2-player game advocate. I mean, there’s a time and place for 2-player games (whoops, we just showed up and you all started a 2-hour-long 4-player game), but I never thought a 2-player game would be “appointment gaming.” That changed when I played Illumination, by Alf Seegert. Eagle-Gryphon Games recently reissued this sacrilicious game of good vs. evil (or maybe more aptly a game of pious vs. impish) along with another of Seegert’s games poking fun at religion and religious grifters, The Road to Canterbury. One player takes the role of the reverent monk, while the other is the irreverent monk, both of whom have been tasked with illuminating the new religious text with pious illustrations. The reverent monk draws pictures of angels and knights, while the irreverent monk adds pictures of demons and dragons, all leading to delightful area control tug-of-war, coupled with a set collection element meant to appease the watchful abbott. The artwork is absolutely enrapturing and the gameplay is enchanting, a surefire gift from God (or Satan).
On the Rocks
Chosen by Anna Maria:
The Bartenders Guide as a tabletop experience… with marbles! In On the Rocks, you’ll mix drinks for prospective customers, hopefully earning tips and avoiding spills. I’m generally a fan of set collection as a start, but On the Rocks adds a fun, tactile twist with a mancala-style ingredient acquisition phase that forces you to count your marbles oh-so-carefully. The aesthetic and game design are both married well with clever but accessible gameplay enhanced by great graphic design and beautiful, colorful art. Additionally, the inset board ensures you’ll actually be playing the game and not ‘where have my components shifted to’ from round to round. Whether you’re a professional mixologist, social cocktail drinker, or just like paper umbrellas, On the Rocks is a winner.
Khora: Rise of an Empire
Chosen by Chris:
There’s a simplicity in the design of Khora: Rise of an Empire that makes me wonder how it is that this game hasn’t been designed before. It’s not quite innovative, really, but it’s a game with no rough edges or convoluted rules. Players use their dice to select an action—occasionally pay a cost for the more powerful ones—and do things to move up a series of tracks. Oh those tracks! Resource tracks and military tracks and multiplier tracks and monetary tracks. They’re all wonderful. Every last one. The theme is also really strong in this one. It’s… 7 Wonders-themed maybe? I don’t know. But regardless of how impactful its theme is, the game has outstanding variability and flows smoothly while still giving players the feeling that they’ve actually built something along the way. It’s rare that a game worms its way into my mind and demands another play, but that was the case with Khora: Rise of an Empire.