Best New (to me!) Games of 2021

For the last decade or so, I’ve intermittently published my Best New (to me!) Games list each year… and, when I missed a year or two, added the missing lists to the most recent post.

However, before we get properly started with my list for 2021, we need to cover a few games that were excluded from the list for various reasons but still warrant attention being paid to them.

Expansions of Note

Sometimes, I’ve put expansions under #10 on a list as a group… this year, I decided to break them out. Expansions specific to a game on the list (see:) will be dealt with under their entry.

Marvel Champions: A Whole Bunch of Stuff

I know this was on the list last year… and I’m just going to say the exact same thing again.

“I’m not even going to try and list all of the Marvel Champions packs that were released this year… the expanded list of heroes and the greater variety of villains made the game even more playable. I’ve been using some of the deck builds from the online community of Marvel Champions fans… since my enjoyment of the game is not in the tweaking of decks but in the play of the game.”

Tobago: The Volcano

Not that anyone had to sell me on expanding a game I love… but the combination of the cool-looking volcano plus the ability via lava to mess with certain “easy lay-up” plays for those who’ve played a good bit of the original game makes for a winner.

Terraforming Mars: Big Box

Because, let’s face it – playing with cool 3D pieces is kinda awesome.

Wildlands: The Ancients

A big box expansion for one of the best skirmish game system designs of the last few years… complete with new maps, a new “super-powered” faction (the titular Ancients), and a great solo/cooperative mode.

Honorable Mentions

A few games that deserves a mention – but that didn’t quite make the top ten cut. They are in alphabetical order.

Carnival of Monsters

My younger son refers to this as “Magic: The Gathering crossed with 7 Wonders”… and, well he’s not wrong. More successful than Lost Legends (which tried to do similar things)… and, based on my son’s description, not a surprise that it was designed by Richard Garfield.

Hallertau

I didn’t think I needed another Uwe Rosenberg “let’s farm and manipulate resources” game – but Hallertau actually works like a charm as a solo game and feels like someone helped Uwe develop this to a clean game system without a lot of oddball rules patches and fixes.

Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North

The original Imperial Settlers was – for the most part – a family-friendly re-theme of 51st State (which I enjoy but is very much a part of Portal Games’ Neuroshima Hex post-apocalyptic universe and not particularly family-friendly.) Empires of the North takes the same basic system and re-develops it in some really interesting ways – we’ve had the best luck with it as a two-player or solo game.

Other Games That Could Have Been on This List (But Weren’t)

  • Bad Company
  • Exceed Fighting System
  • Fleet: The Dice Game
  • Great Western Trail
  • Hadara
  • Hadrian’s Wall
  • Lost Cities Roll’n’Write
  • Mille Fiori
  • Reavers of Midgard
  • War Chest

Best New (to me!) Games of 2021

#10: Riverside

An excellent roll’n’write from the same folks who published Trails to Tucana (see below)… I like how much variety there is based on the modular board and the speed with which the cruise ship moves around the fjords. (There is, sadly, no actual pining for the fjords.)

#9: CloudAge

Pfister designs are beginning to intrigue me more and more… and CloudAge is pitched really nicely at 75-90 minutes with a number of interesting decisions. Added bonus: it doesn’t use the “run the track” system of Great Western Trail or Maracaibo, which means it feels different. (I also enjoy the campaign system of 7 games – I’ve played through it twice this years solo.) You can read Tery Noseworthy’s review of CloudAge (with comments from me) here on the OG.

#8: Minigolf Designer

Take the drafting element from Kingdomino and add it to a tile-laying game where each player is trying to build a minigolf course to satisfy the owners… and you’ve got the excellent Minigolf Designer. I reviewed it for the OG earlier this year… and was excited to get the Putt of No Return mini-expansion in the mail right before the end of the year.

#7: Undaunted: Normandy, North Africa, and Reinforcements

While it’s not Memoir ’44 (I miss the plastic toys), this brilliantly designed WW2 combat game combines smart tactical play as well thoughtful deck-building skills. Each box has its own “flavor” based on the kind of battles it tries to simulate – and the Reinforcements box offers solo & 4 player play as well as more scenarios and a storage solution for all three boxes worth of stuff.

#6: My City

Knizia is doing some interesting stuff (there are a couple of his games in my “also considered” list above) after a few years of not doing anything particularly interesting… and My City is a high-quality Tetris-y game with a really solid legacy element.

#5: Trails to Tucana

A splendid flip-n-write game that comes with two different maps and works well as a multi-player and as a solo game. Thanks to Daniel Brown for helping me find a copy! (Next step: try & find a copy of the difficult-to-access Ferry expansion set.)

#4: Unpublished Prototype By Our Own Joe Huber

I’m not sure what I can share – but the game is signed with a company so I’ll eventually get to play it with “real” components… and, more importantly, own my own copy.

#3: Dune: Imperium

For those who know the Dune universe, this does a really nice job of referencing the big picture theme and various elements – but even if you could care less about spice and Fremen and all that stuff, there’s a really solid worker placement game here, fueled by a deck-building system. I’m looking forward to the Rise of Ix expansion, due to arrive soon.

#2: Imperium Classics/Legends

A civilization card game with tableau and deck-building elements that uses very creatively designed individualized civ decks for each player – and requires that you play the deck you have rather than locking into one particular style of play. I wrote an extensive review of Imperium Classics/Legends for the OG… and I can’t say enough nice things about it.

#1: Xia: Legends of a Drift System

Somehow I missed out on this sprawling and somewhat ridiculous (but gorgeous) game of space exploration, trade, piracy, and whatever else you want to try… but managed to scare up a complete copy from the BGG Marketplace. It reminds me of FFG’s Star Wars: Outer Rim… but with fewer guardrails and a lot more room to explore & try new things.

Looking Ahead

Last year, I noted that I was looking forward to Return to Dark Tower and Dice Realms – both of which were delayed into 2022. With that, I’d also expect The Dark Knight Returns and It’s a Wonderful Kingdom to end up somewhere on this list next year.

Note: I received a review copy of Hadrian’s Wall.

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 44 as he did at age 14
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