As 2021 comes to a close, we look back on our favorite games of the year. There were a lot to choose from–we played so many great games between the two of us and with our family. There are also a lot of what we’ll deem honorable mentions that made the 10-20 list but didn’t quite cut the list for our top 9. We’ll mention a few of them by name at the end.
Alright lets get to talking about our top 9. We’ll be discussing a few things with each game. Our rating system will consist of a mechanics score, component score, experience score, “bonus” scores (we highlight really extraordinary art, a theme that we really love, or something exemplary in gameplay that needed an extra point). Finally we’ll have an overall score. Each category (except for bonuses) will be out of 10, with the overall score being the average.
Number 9: Quacks of Quedlinburg
- Mechanics: 7/10. The gameplay in Quacks is simple. Build your potion bag, get the most points, don’t ‘splode. This combination of strategy and push your luck is insanely fun and addictive. I’ve only played this at 2 players due to the pandemic and even at that count each game was close and that fun kind of stressful you get when you reach into a bag and wonder if it will be your doom. We generally avoid push your luck games (other than small box or filler games), but I’m so glad we made an exception for this.
- Components: 6/10. The components of this game have wonderfully fun and whimsical art, but the chips require frequent use and will begin to fray with age. We encased our chips in plastic coin cases to help preserve them which would bring this game up to an 8/10 in score. But since they weren’t standard they aren’t included. There are a lot of ways to upgrade your tokens, we like the coin cases as they are cheap, and feel great in the bag.
- Experience: 9/10. This is a game I’d almost always be willing to play if someone wanted to. Its great for a night in front of the tv, or for a serious game night. It checks a lot of boxes, and is always a great time. Sometimes you do really well based on luck, and other times really really poorly, but you get to shape your own luck in a way so its strategic too.
- Bonus Points: 0
- Overall Rating: 7.33/10
Number 8: Aeon’s End
- Mechanics: 8/10. This is a great deck builder with a twist–no shuffling. Its really quite interesting to see how you can stack your deck to your advantage when fighting the big bad using your breach mage. This is a fully coop experience so there’s a lot of great strategy to work together and build combinations between each player’s decks as well. While it doesn’t reeinvent the wheel on deck building, there are two reasons we give this mechanic score such a high value. 1: The no shuffling mechanic is novel and really interesting to strategize around and 2: There is one set market to buy from so you’re not constantly waiting for that special card to come into play.
- Components: 7/10. While nothing is “spectacular” about the components of this game, the cards are good quality and the punchboard is thick. The art is very dark fantasy and fits the game theme well.
- Experience: 8/10. This game is a challenge of a coop. We had been looking for an additional coop game that wasn’t a campaign or legacy game (we have enough of those started and unfinished). This game scratches that coop fantasy itch with a great set of mechanics and truly challenging ‘big bads’. We highly recommend this coop for those who prefer coop games (and even those who don’t).
- Bonus: 0. No additional points given for this game, but we did want to highlight that there are a lot of expansions and other versions of this game if it becomes one of your favorites.
- Overall Rating: 7.67/10 This game is a worthy addition to anyone’s collection who enjoys coops, fantasy, or deck building.
Number 7: Terraforming Mars (Big Box with Expansions)
- Mechanics 8/10. What can I say about this game that hasn’t already been said. It plays well at 2 players, and the mechanics are really tight. There’s a reason why this game is always in the top 5 of BGG. its truly a masterpiece of gaming. The reason it is not a 9 or 10 is that there are definitely some OP
- Components 10/10*. I say this with an asterisk because we’re reviewing the big box from the 2020 kickstarter with deluxe components. The original components were very poorly reviewed and we held off on this game because of that. The original components I would put around 4/10.
- Experience 7/10. We play more coops in our house, so its always harder to get a competitive game to the table. That being said, I think we differ from many who say this game shines at higher player counts. Two players is a sweet spot where its competitive, but its hard to block the board from each other so it doesn’t get too mean-spirited.
- Bonus: 0
- Overall Rating: 8.33/10
Number 6: Scythe (Big Box with Expansions)
- Mechanics: 8/10. This is another sweet spot of a competitive game. At 2 players it isn’t super aggressive, and combat is costly. We haven’t tried this game at higher player counts, but we’ve enjoyed it at 2. The gameplay is really fun, and its a unique puzzle of worker placement, resource management, and acquiring victory points. This is our favorite of stonemeier games.
- Components: 9/10. This game has a great board, great miniatures, and great tokens. It is even more enhanced with deluxe components, but the base game sets a high bar for component quality.
- Experience: 8/10. We love this game even at 2 players, and its one of the few competive games we’ve played a few times this year. Despite losing the several times we’ve played, we’ve always finished within 5 points of each other so its never a blow out situation.
- Bonus: 0
- Overall Rating: 8.33/10
Number 5: Lost Ruins of Arnak
- Mechanics: 9/10. This has been one of the most talked about games of 2021. Its a really unique worker placement/deck building game that feels very minimal in both departments. You only get 2 workers, and while your deck grows, it feels secondary to everything else that is going on. There’s a large focus on defeating treasures, gathering resources, and moving your research track up. It’s quite a fun puzzle, and while there are things I’d always do while playing, there is not a singular path to victory.
- Components: 6/10. Rant time. The components of this game are fine, but I hate-hate-hate getting large games and having not even a flimsy paper or cardboard organizer. All you get are bags for everything. This is my biggest peeve when opening a new box. I don’t expect every game to have a gametrayz, or perfectly designed insert, but something would have been nice.
- Experience: 10/10. This was definitely my favorite competitive game of the year. (We haven’t had a chance to play Dune Imperium, Dinosaur World, or some others yet, so this may change upon posting). It was very fun, and involved almost no “take that” (other than taking a space someone wanted).
- Bonus: 0
- Overall Rating: 8.33/10
Number 4: Gloomhaven.
- Mechanics: 10/10. This is a perfect mix of puzzley-card solver and dungeon crawler campaign. I would argue its a puzzle set in a fantasy/dungeon crawler setting and just as many would agree as disagree. This game is always fun. There’s always a surprise, the characters are substantially different, and 2 players can work really well with this game. While we’re only 1/3 through the campaign we really enjoy playing this whenever we get the chance.
- Components: 7/10. Similar rant to above–NO ORGANIZATION. There is no standard way to organize this game and the entire mountain of cardboard it contains. We use a combination of a wooden insert and player bins. We’ve been playing for so long I forget these aren’t standard. That being said, the components of this game, and the sheer volume of them are impressive.
- Experience: 9/10. This game is an experience. This would have been our top experiential game if a few hadn’t edged it out this year. Its immersive, its campaign is fun, and it allows for a lot of fun in the choices. Its very close to being, as its often described, D&D in a box.
- Bonus: 0
- Overall Score: 8.67/10
Number 3: Descent Legends of the Dark
- Mechanics 9/10. This game utilizes a unique system for combat, exhaustion, monster movement and really everything else. The combination of fatique and dice rolls has mastered what Fantasy Flight Games has been working with on its app-required games like Journey’s in Middle Earth and Mansions of Madness. I always feel that the mechanics are insanely smooth.
- Components: 10/10. Fantastic Miniatures, box organization, even room for the amazing cardboard builds included with the set. Fantasy Flight really stepped it up for this production.
- Experience: 9/10. This story feels more immersive than Gloomhaven. But with that comes less choice. I think both games have amazing experiences and add to many collections. The use of the app is smart, and we’ve never felt that its detracted from the game in any way. The one draw back of this game is that each “level” is a very long play and has to be divided up over two nights for us.
- Bonus: 0
- Overall Rating: 9.33
Number 2: Mansions of Madness (with Expansions)
- Mechanics: 10/10. Strategy, Luck, Planning, Time Management combine in this game. Do you explore that last book on the shelf or do you move on to where you *know* there’s a monster or a cultist waiting for you? Do you stick together and move slow, or do you spread out and find out what you need to find out and get outta there. This game has amazing mechanics, meaningful choices, and plenty of surprises.
- Components 7/10. Map tiles and cards are great. The miniatures and lack of box organization are disappointing. There’s a lot to add with expansions, but these are probably FFG’s lowest quality miniatures.
- Experience 10/10. This is an amazing game for those who like an immersive experience. The theme is good, the choices matter, and there’s stress and anxiety in every decision. It plays amazing at 2, 3, and 4 players.
- Bonus: 1. This game gets a +1 bonus for being our most played (by far) game of the last 2 years.
- Overall rating: 9.33/10.
Number 1: Nemesis
- Mechanics: 10/10. This game has a lot of flexibility–want to be fully cooperative? Done. Want to play semi-cooperative? Done. Want to possibly betray your shipmates? Done. Each invader brings more threat more doom to your objective. Oh by the way, your ship is also malfunctioning, your engines aren’t working, your navigation computer is messed up, and like 3 rooms are on fire because why not? Its challenging, and the gameplay is very tight, very controlled, and each move is costly. Each action is heavily weighted, and you have to be smart.
- Components: 10/10. Great minis? Yes. Box Organizer? Yes. How’s the art? Great. Are there expansions? Yes.
- Experience: 10/10. This game is the best experience we’ve had gaming this year. We’ve played it at 2 & 3 players and its always fun–we prefer fully coop as this game is hard enough as it is, but it shines at semi coop as well.
- Bonus: 0
- Overall Score: 10/10.
There’s our top 9 list of 2021. We did want to highlight some honorable mentions that didn’t make the list this year, but we still love!
- Tiny Towns
- Spirit Island
- The Crew Quest for Planet 9
Thanks for reading. Share your top games of 2021 in the comments below?