This week we get to bring 2021 to a close, and much like last year, it was full of its ups and downs. However, we did at least get the return of gaming conventions this year, so we got that going for us, which is nice. Will 2022 bring a greater sense of normality or will we spiral further down the rabbit hole? Time will tell on that one.
And now, as is our tradition here at Board Game Quest, me and my fellow reviewer Andrew are going to take one last look back at the year with our Top 10 Board Games of 2021. For the past few years, I’ve tapped Andrew to co-write this list with me, because his tastes diverge significantly with me in board games, and it helps to provide a different perspective for this list. So, without further ado, let’s get to the board games.
Top 10 Board Games of 2021
10. 7 Wonders Architects
Tony: 7 Wonders is probably in my top 10 all-time games, but it’s also a game I just don’t play as much as I’d like. My gaming group usually has other things to play and it’s probably just a tad too complex to play with my family. This is where 7 Wonders Architects can fill the void. While it’s not the same gameplay as the original, it still manages to capture the spirit of using resources to build your wonder and earn victory points. This much simpler, streamlined game can be played in as little as 15 minutes with rules that just about anyone can pick up quickly.
10. The Hunger
Andrew: From famed game designer Richard Garfield, The Hunger seems very similar to Clank! A deck builder with a board where you’ll use your deck to move around and gather things for points. Now in The Hunger, you aren’t collecting treasure but are instead vampires consuming humans. You’ll have to eat as much as you can, which obviously slows you down a bit, and still make it back to the castle before sunrise if you want a chance to win.
9. Bullet♥︎ (review)
Tony: A surprise for me from Level 99 Games comes the pattern matching game Bullet♥︎. This game seeks to recreate the feel of the old Shoot ‘em Up video games as players have to deal with a rain of bullets falling down their board. Each player controls a unique hero that has her own way to remove bullets from their site by creating patterns and using powers. I also appreciated how the game has both cooperative and competitive play and each mode was excellent in its own right.
9. Maglev Metro
Andrew: Engine-building and creating routes are among my favorite mechanisms in board games. And that’s basically the entirety of Maglev Metro. You’ll move passengers around and when they reach their destination you’ll place them on your personal board, powering up your future moves. You can also use them to increase your scoring opportunities which allows for some interesting decisions about when to keep getting more efficient and when to try to increase your score.
8. Dollars to Donuts (review)
Tony: I remember playing the Tabletopia version of Dollars to Donuts in the summer of 2020 and loving it. Fast forward to this year when it was released, I was curious if it would hold up. Turns out it did and Dollars to Donuts is a great little set collection game. Players are drafting donut tiles and placing them on their board trying to make matches of donuts. Doing so will earn them money and victory tokens to serve their customers. The easy-to-learn rules and streamlined gameplay make it easy to get this yummy title to the table. I’ve played this one a lot since getting it and it definitely lived up to its initial impressions.
Andrew: Cryo feels a bit like a lighter version of last year’s Dwellings of Eldervale. You’ll place workers to collect resources but can use those resource tiles to power up the affects you get when your workers are recalled (see, more engine building!). All in the name of gathering your cryo pods and getting to the caverns before the sun goes down on this mysterious alien planet and everyone freezes to death.
7. GI Joe Deck-Building Game (review)
Tony: Games based on 80s cartoons are always going to be a hit-or-miss prospect. But the G.I. Joe Deck-Building Game definitely delivers on a cooperative, nostalgia-filled experience. Players control one of the iconic Joe leaders and will recruit other joes, equipment, and tools to help them thwart the plans of Cobra. While a deck builder is never going to be the most thematic of games, the designer did a great job with this one in making sure that the Joes and even their vehicles call back to their animated counterparts. Yo Joe!
Andrew: Getting a two-player dueling game to impress me is pretty difficult. I’ve been a Magic: The Gathering player off and on for decades and really love the depth of strategy that it provides. Games like Radlands where players just draw from a shared deck are easier to get into but lack the depth that you get from a more extensive card pool. And obviously, that’s still true here. But Radlands cards each have multiple uses, which really ramps up the number of options you have over the course of the game. I also really appreciate the variety of camps that allow each game to feel quite different.
6. Dinosaur Island: Rawr N Write (review)
Tony: While tabletop gaming has definitely reached a point of saturation with roll and writes, there appears to still be some room in the genre for up and comers. This is where the Dinosaur Island: Rawr N Write comes in. Players will be managing their own dinosaur-themed park as they breed dinosaurs, construct buildings, and go on dino tours. The designers did an excellent job of distilling the Dinosaur World/Island experience down to a light game that plays in about 30 minutes. However, don’t let the roll and write name fool you, this is so much more than your dice chucking filler game. Dinosaur Island: Rawr N Write offers a meaty experience for anyone seeking to run a park with some teeth.
Andrew: I’m holding Bitoku back a little bit on the ranking here mostly because I’ve only played one full game at this point. I got it pretty late in the year and it’s fairly rules heavy. But I loved my first play and immediately wanted to get it back to the table. It reminds me of Vital Lacerda designs in the best ways—lots of different ways to score points, interaction between players with light amounts of blocking placement, and multiple strategies that seem to be viable. Obviously more plays will be required to see how it holds up, but I’m thinking this will go up over time.
5. Bloodborne: The Board Game
Tony: While I was never a fan of the Bloodborne video game series, I thought that the board game adaption was great. Designed by Eric M. Lang and Michael Shinall, Bloodborne: The Board Game has players taking on the role of familiar hunters seeking to uncover the mysteries hidden within the city of Yharnam. The card-driven combat system felt really unique and minimizes the role of luck in the game. And much like its video game counterpart, games of Bloodborne: The Board Game are anything but easy to win, so you need to work together with your fellow teammates if you hope to survive.
5. Kabuto Sumo
Andrew: Sometimes you want to sit down and learn games like Bitoku. Sometimes you just want to push wooden pieces around and see what happens. Kabuto Sumo is, basically, a coin pusher the board game. You take round wooden discs and push them onto a platform trying to knock off your opponent. That’s pretty much the game. There are unique powers for each player, and they get uniquely shaped pieces as well. It’s wonderfully produced and a blast to play.
4. Descent: Legends of the Dark (review)
Tony: I’ve long been a fan of the Descent line of games and Descent: Legends of the Dark is easily my favorite. This app integrated game has players controlling one of six thematic heroes on a quest to save Terrinoth. This version is not only completely cooperative but has all new mechanics, including a great fatigue system that helps ensure that there are very few turns where you have nothing to do. The digital app also tracks all your loot and supplies, which takes a lot of the bookkeeping off players’ plates. This also allows the game to have a great crafting system where weapons can be upgraded with powers that randomly fire off.
4. Khôra: Rise of an Empire
Andrew: This year I’ve really been playing more Civilization-themed games (foreshadowing). Khora takes the civ-game trappings and condenses them into an hour-long game. Impressively is that you still feel like you have at least three different branches that can lead to big points. Go full military and get your reward through the spoils of war. Advance your culture and cash in points that way. Or play the political game, gaining lots of special powers and scoring cards and seeing what you can piece together. Each city-state also has unique abilities to help give you some direction from the get-go.
3. Batman: The Animated Series Adventures – Shadow of the Bat
Tony: I was a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles board game and when I heard that they were porting the system over to the Batman universe, I was all in. This campaignesque game has players taking control of one of over a dozen iconic Batman heroes as they face off against a variety of villains from Batman’s rogue gallery. The dice as actions mechanic is not only interesting but having you share rolls with other players helps keep the interaction in this game pretty high. Shadow of the Bat can be played either fully cooperative or 1 vs Many, letting you have a different experience depending on your preferred style of play.
1-5 Players • Ages 12+ • 60-90 minutes
3. Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile (review)
Andrew: Oath is… hard to describe. A game set in a persistent world—but not a legacy game per se. A game of negotiation, in some respects. Alliances, mostly temporary. For my euro-loving heart it doesn’t really sound like the type of game I’d be into. But it worked for me. Shifting and varied victory conditions meant that no one ever felt entirely safe. Strangely winning sometimes felt secondary to just seeing what would happen. Watching the chancellor expel his citizens and try to rule with an iron fist. Or see the exiles band together to take the lands back only to turn on each other with their nasty rumor-spreading. I only wish I’d been able to play it more this year but when we have, it’s been a blast.
2. Assassins Creed: Brotherhood of Venice
Tony: Based on their V-Commandos line of games comes Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood of Venice, a stealth action game that will have you embarking on a series of missions over the course of a lengthy campaign. Up to 4 assassins will work together to thwart the plans of the templar order through stealth, exploration, and good old-fashioned sword stabbing. Yet Assassins Creed: Brotherhood of Venice is more than a simple dice chucker as you’ll need to plan your actions carefully to avoid the ever-increasing group of guards threatening to get in your way.
2. The Initiative (review)
Andrew: The Initiative is basically a cooperative game of puzzle solving. The more board gamer-y elements serve to help you collect clues and then you and your friends can have to decide when you have enough clues to solve the puzzle and progress the story. The story itself was pretty light but was just enough to keep us moving in the right direction and the game unlocks some surprises along the way. I’m very impressed that they keep releasing content for the game via an online website so once you’re done with the content that comes in the box there are even more free puzzles online you can enjoy.
1. Chronicles of Drunagor: Age of Darkness
Tony: Despite my love of dungeon crawler board games, I actually don’t own very many. It’s just been hard to find one that I really love (and I’ve played a lot of them). Descent, above, is one such that made the cut. However, Chronicles of Drunagor has become my absolute favorite. Not only did it release with a wealth of unique characters to try, but it has a compelling story, elevated terrain, and unique mechanics. You can even multiclass your character when you level up. There is a ton to explore in Chronicles of Drunagor (pun intended) with a thematic campaign that will have you embarking on a large variety of missions. The monsters are handled via a simple AI card system that helps keep games moving and the action fierce. And for those players concerned about replay value, the door system has been opened (again, intended) to allow any players to create their own room contents by scanning a QR code. For fans of the dungeon-crawling genre, this one is not to be missed.
1. Clash of Cultures: Monumental Edition
Andrew: Yeah, it’s kind of a reprint. But Clash of Cultures was mythically hard to acquire prior to 2021, especially with all the expansion content. And now Wizkids has packed it all up in a single box with beautifully produced components. This is the closest I’ve felt any board game has got to actually playing the Civilization board game. And, similarly to Khora, it feels very balanced in the ways you can win. Much of the game is centered around essentially a huge tech tree with nearly 50 different technologies you can research to develop your plans. Take by military force, spread culture through temples and religion, or build wonders of the world to leave everyone else in awe—the choice is yours.