This year was another great year for game releases. I can tell because it was so difficult to narrow down this list as we approached the end of the year. In this list you’ll find games that I loved playing and continue to excite me every time I bring them to the table. All of these games were released here in the US during the 2021 calendar year. So, without further ado, let’s check out my Top 10 games of 2021!
#10. Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition
I’ve owned Terraforming Mars for about 4 years. It’s a game that I always want to get on the table but rarely do. It can be intimidating to learn the game, and teaching someone new is a 3 hour commitment. Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition takes the engine building of the original and gives you an hour long experience that is more accessible.
Each round players play one of 5 action cards in secret. Once these are reveled, players take each action simultaneously as they build, gather resources, and terraform the surface of Mars. I love how quickly the game moves and that I can approach scoring points a different way each time. Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition is the condensed experience that I wanted. It’s a game that my wife Erin will easily jump in to, which means we’ve already played this game more than I played Terraforming Mars in the 4 years I’ve owned it.
This game originally funded through Kickstarter but has been available at retail since this Summer. If you don’t already own this game, pick up the Collectors Edition which comes with recessed player boards. This is almost a necessity in my opinion.
#9. Mouse Cheese Cat Cucumber
This tiny box game is such a unique experience. Mouse Cheese Cat Cucumber was one of my biggest surprises of Origins 2021. Each game starts with the same 4 cards on the table. Both the mouse and cheese cards are on the table from the start of the game. Each player is given a hidden identity, each with a unique ability and asymmetric win conditions.
Players take turns adding new pieces to the ever growing maze on the table. Halfway through the deck, the cat will be revealed and enter the maze. Because everyone has a hidden identity, you’re never fully sure what is guiding your opponents decisions. When a player reveals their identity to the table, they get a unique ability that could change the course of the game.
Mouse Cheese Cat Cucumber is an incredibly smart game that I hope gets a ton of attention. This is one release that you don’t want to pass over.
#8. Overboss: A Boss Monster Adventure
Missing out on the Overboss Kickstarter was my mistake. I wasn’t a huge fan of the box art and I let that cloud my decision. Thankfully I grabbed a copy of Overboss when it hit retail in the Spring. This tile laying, 8-bit inspired game is one of the best games Brotherwise has published.
In each round, players draft a tile and monster token that are randomly placed in the center of the table. Each tile type scores differently and points are given by creating bands of monsters on their player board. Overboss can grow and change based on the experience of the players at the table. You can introduce asymmetric boss character cards, advanced scoring tiles, and Command Cards, which add another layer to the competition.
This game can be simple enough to play with kids around 7 years old or advanced enough to teach your weekly gaming group. Overboss was definitely one of our favorite additions to our game shelf in 2021.
#7. Cape May
Our last game purchase of 2021 was an easy addition to this list. Cape May was a game that I immediately fell in love with when I saw the artwork and read the game description. Players are building the ocean front town of Cape May, New Jersey. You build shops and cottages and develop them into businesses and landmarks.
The gameboard for Cape May is gorgeous and the road restrictions make movement through the town a challenge. As you build more buildings, you’ll gain income that is paid out at the end of each season. Newspaper cards are revealed each round with actual events that took place in the real Cape May, New Jersey. End game scoring includes the collection of bird tokens, upgraded homes, and points for controlling the four different areas of town.
Cape May does an excellent job of giving you plenty of options with activity cards and three actions available each round. This game feels like a classic and has components that will hold up for years.
Furnace is an engine-builder that released during Origins this year. This game stands out because of the unique bidding mechanic that takes place during the 4 rounds of the game. Top bidders will earn a new company to add to their portfolio while losing bids will be compensated with a resource(s) that appears at the top of that card. This compensation works really well and means that players aren’t shut out when they lose a bid.
I love how accessible Furnace is with new players and even new gamers. Each round builds on the last as players collect the different resource types, ultimately working to convert them to money in the production phase of the round. Once players get a couple games under their belt, give the asymmetric character abilities a try. It’s not unheard of to play back-to-back games of Furnace as you work on creating the most efficient tableau of companies.
#5. Zombicide Second Edition
Zombicide has been a game that I never played but always had an interest in. When the second edition came to Kickstarter, I had to jump in with both feet. I’m so glad I did!
Zombicide is the silly, over the top, cooperative game that I’ve always wanted. Working with a group of friends and family as we plow through zombie hoards has been a highlight of 2021. I’m glad that I waited for the second edition of the game, which has been refined, and the components are the best they’ve been.
For me, Zombicide was more than “a game.” The memorable experiences I had around the table were so important as people started to gather again at our house. I also found that I absolutely love painting the miniatures in the game. It became a source of relaxation and even a way for me to process the loss of a family member this year. Zombicide isn’t for everyone but I think the second edition is the best entry point into this ridiculous series.
I’m not cheating here because Nidavellir didn’t hit the US retail until 2021. This Dwarven card drafting game is so much fun and it’s the only game in this list that I don’t own a physical copy of. In Nidavellir, players bid using coins to draft dwarves from the 3 different taverns in the game. Players can upgrade their coin values each round and earn heroes for each complete set of dwarves they recruit.
Nidavellir is such an balanced and fun game. Each class of dwarves have different scoring criteria which really adds to the replay-ability. When players are competing for the same class of dwarves, bidding wars are bound to happen. Upgrading your coin at just the right time may mean getting an additional value bump if a coin has already been taken from the display.
If you want a little taste of Nidavellir, head over to Board Game Arena to play the game digitally. Chances are you’ll find one of us playing the game before bed.
#3. Juicy Fruits
Juicy Fruits is one of my biggest surprises of 2021. Going into my first play, I knew nothing about this game. Essentially players are producing fruit on their island player board. On each of the 4 shores of the island are boats that that are looking to ship various fruit combinations for victory points. As you ship the fruit, the boats leave the shore and open up more space on your island.
Juicy Fruits uses a slide mechanic to produce the 5 different fruit types. Players can produce points through building businesses and buildings on their island, which also take up valuable space. I have been enamored by this game for months. Juicy Fruits is a game that more people need to experience and it would easily fit into any family game shelf. If you need to be convinced further, we’ve got a full review for the game and a video on some of our favorite parts of this colorful game.
THIS GAME! Destinies is one of the most immersive board games that has ever hit our table. Destinies was a 2019 Kickstarter project that I regret not backing. Lucky Duck Games has produced a board game, role-playing game hybrid that we loved this year.
Up to 3 players jump into a story-driven scenario that is guided by an app. As players explore the terrain, map tiles flip revealing new places of interest on the map. Each player has 2 possible destinies to accomplish. Players are competing to be the first to finish one of their destinies. Throughout the game players are collecting weapons and upgrading their 3 abilities. Players will encounter moral choices that will drive you toward your destiny in a world that feels very much alive.
Destinies uses a similar scanning technology to Chronicles of Crime, another phenomenal game from the team at Lucky Duck. The app fills the game table with a fantastic soundtrack and top-notch sound effects. The production on this game from the miniatures to the player boards are a thing of beauty. Do yourself a favor and experience all that Destinies has to offer.
My number 1 game of 2021 is a game that I’ve loved for more than 2 years. We first played Kōhaku as a prototype in 2019 before it launched on Kickstarter. This tile-laying koi game is one of the most chill games in our collection. Players draft 2 tiles from a central board and add them to their personal koi pond. Each players pond grows and shifts as new koi and pond elements are added.
Each new element that’s added to your pond is another opportunity to score points. Flowers score points for like colored adjacent koi while frogs score points based on how many dragonflies are adjacent. Every players pond will look different as you work toward gaining the most points. Kōhaku is a game that can be taught in under 5 minutes and is a smooth game experience.
Our copy of Kōhaku is the deluxe first edition printing which is now only available on the second-hand market. The second edition printing is cardboard based but doesn’t change the absolutely wonderful gameplay. Kōhaku is a modern classic that will always be part of our collection.
What games stood out for you in 2021? Post your favorites below and help visitors find a new favorite game for their collection.