Tabletop Games · December 21, 2021 0

The Best Board Games of 2021 (that I played)

I roughly keep track of all the board and card games I play throughout the year. Some of these are new this year, some are simply new to me, and others are simply old favorites that were pulled off the shelves. Some I played only once, while others at least a dozen times. Either way, these 10 games are the best board game experiences I’ve had this year.

I use to track my plays, and while I may have missed a couple here and there this is a pretty complete time capsule of the past year of my friends and I playing board and card games.

First, some overall statistics. I played over 80 unique games, and over 190 individual plays. Based on BGG averages, I played roughly 160 hours over the course of the year.

1. The King’s Dilemma (2019) – 14 plays

The King's Dilemma Cover Artwork

The King’s Dilemma is a legacy style campaign game, where you add stickers to cards and physically change your board throughout the game. Each player plays a council person and must vote on various issues that the kingdom faces. Players spend money and power to win votes and press various issues towards hidden objectives given at the start of each game. After each game players tally their scores and gain prestige and crave points based on their actions throughout the game.

My group hasn’t finished the entire campaign yet, but we have completed a couple of various storylines. We have a blast getting into our characters and discussing the issues that plague our fantasy political world. It’s exactly the type of competitive yet cooperative experience that works well with my particular gaming group. You’re not specifically picking on any one player, though any two players may often be in more direct competition with each other than some players.

I expect this to be a highlight of 2022 as well, as my group finishes the last few games of our campaign.

2. Nidavellir (2020) – 3 plays

Nidavellir Cover Artwork

My game group learned about Nidavellir from Geekway to the West 2021’s Play and Win collection. They played it a bunch at Geekway 2021, and I joined them to play it at Geekway Mini 2021. In Nidavellir, you play as dwarves trying to convince heroes from the local taverns to join the fight against a vicious dragon! Though, you never really fight the dragon, which is honestly fine by me. The fun is in trying to bid for your pick of the heroes in a tavern, and amassing your small army. Each faction of hero scores differently, and you try to collect as many of various factions as you can. At the end of the game the player with the most points wins! I’m not really sure how they do against the dragon, because, again, there apparently is no dragon.

3. Heckin Hounds (2022) – 10 plays

Heckin Hounds Cover Artwork

Full disclosure, this is my own design and was successfully Kickstarted over the summer, raising nearly $18,000 from nearly 700 backers. The game is coming out next year and I couldn’t be more excited. 

Heckin Hounds is a trick taking game where you can’t see the cards in your hand, and you’re trying to win as few tricks as possible. As the best dog walkers alive, your job is to walk Hades’ hounds in the underworld! The person who does the best job becomes Hades’ permanent employee, and no one wants that, but if you do too poorly of a job you’re fired. Players take turns being the shift leader, giving clues as to what cards are in other players’ hands, and then players bid on how many tricks they think they’re going to take. 

Nothing is more fun in the game to me, then someone being so sure they know exactly what card they think they are going to play, and how the trick is going to turn out, only to be horribly wrong when they made a hilarious miscalculation. I continue to have an absolute blast play testing this, and the feedback from the Kickstarter was invaluable. Heckin Hounds easily fits into my top 5 games this year, and once again probably will in future years.

4. The Rise of Queensdale (2018) – 5 plays

The Rise of Queensdale Cover Artwork

Another legacy style campaign game, The Rise of Queensdale is everything I wanted Charterstone (2017) to be. The King demands a castle, and players are vying to be the best architects of the castle and surrounding city. Players work together to build a city full of actions that players can take, by collecting resources, rolling customizable dice, and over the course of the game changes and grows with the players.

We’re not quite half way through the campaign, so I expect this will also be a big hit in the next year.

5. Genotype: A Mendelian Genetics Game (2021) – 2 plays

Genotype: A Mendelian Genetics Game Cover Artwork

The only game on this list that has actually come out this year, Genotype is a game that does what it says on the tin. Players play as assistants to Gregor Mendel breeding pea plants and learning how punnett squares work. A game of worker placement and dice drafting, players try to score the most points primarily by breeding the best plants.

I’ve always been a fan of Genius Games’ science based games, but Genotype takes the cake. Not only is it one of their most fun to play games, but it does an excellent job of really showing you how dominant and recessive genes work. If you’re a teacher, definitely pick up this game. If you’re a student, definitely pick up this game. If you just like good games, yeah, still pick up this game.

6. Irish Gauge (2014) – 1 play

Irish Gauge Cover Artwork

Irish Gauge is an oldy but a goody that I finally got to play this year. I picked up the second edition Capstone Games version of this game this year, after having wanted to play it for a long time. Designed by Amabel Holland, a good friend of mine, Irish Gauge is a “cube rail” game. Essentially this means it’s a stock market train themed game where players place “cubes” as railways between cities. As a rail network develops, individual train companies become worth more and more money, and players bid on shares of those companies, which hopefully pay out dividends in future turns.

7. Steam Up: A Feast of Dim Sum (2023) – 1 play

Steam Up: A Feast of Dim Sum Cover Artwork

I was tasked with demoing this game at GenCon 2021 for the Indie Game Alliance, and had such a wonderful time playing it and showing it off in the vendor hall. While I only got to play a full game of it once, that one play and the experience of GenCon 2021 were enough to put it on this list.

Steam Up is a wonderful game about having the best Dim Sum meal possible. The game uses an amazing “lazy susan” mechanic to rotate steam trays full of delicious delicacies. Players take actions trying to position the food they want to eat within their reach, and points are scored based on individual characters, such as my favorite, The Food Blogger, who wants to eat just a little bit of everything. The player who scores the most points wins.

8. Anachrony (2017) – 2 plays

Anachrony Cover Artwork

Arriving in December of 2020, the Fractures of Time expansion got this pulled off my shelf, and is hilariously still sitting by my board game table, ready to play again. Probably the heaviest and hardest to play game on this list, Anachrony is a worker placement game where players use time travel to pull resources from the future, but must pay back those resources in future turns or risk catastrophic consequences.

9. Spirit Island (2017) – 1 play

Spirit Island Cover Artwork

The only game on this list I don’t personally own or have Kickstarted, Spirit Island’s Jagged Earth expansion also came out at the end of 2020, and my friends brought it out to play this year. Spirit Island is a game about colonists attempting to invade an island inhabited by natives and their gods. However, instead of playing as the colonists, players take unique gods and use their powers to drive the colonists away, preventing them from building their cities and towns. Spirit Island is cooperative, and players win as a team if they successfully manage to keep the colonists from overrunning their island.

10. The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine (2019) – 15 plays

The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine Cover Artwork

One of my top three trick taking games of all time, The Crew is cooperative, and players work together to go on “missions” where players have specific cards they have to win in tricks. If they fail to collect their card in a trick, the mission fails and players have to retry it. If you’re a fan of Euchre and Spades and the like, as most Midwesterners are, this is a must have. It really makes players think through how trick taking games work and provides an experience unlike any other.

The game itself is a campaign game, where players keep track of their progress and what missions they’ve completed. Missions get progressively harder and have a small amount of story that is revealed as each new mission opens up.