Today we continue our end-of-year retrospective week at the OG with a write-up of our favorite new-to-us games played in 2021. These are all games that were released before 2021, but which we tried for the first time in 2021 and really enjoyed. It’s always a joy to discover games from years past that you didn’t have an opportunity to play before and that make the year a little brighter. These are the pre-2021 games that hit our radar in the past year and that we recommend going back to check out. Check it out and then share your favorite new-to-you games learned in 2021.
Talia: In 2021, I really enjoyed getting to learn Lost Ruins of Arnak (2020), Doodle Quest (2014), Rosetta: The Lost Language (2020), and Barenpark (2017). Doodle Quest is a wonderful children’s game that involves drawing with dry erase markers on transparent sheets that then get placed on a “puzzle” image to score based on satisfying various criteria (such as drawing inside bubbles, avoiding traps, collecting coins, or catching fish). I highly recommend checking out Doodle Quest with any children in your life. Rosetta: The Lost Language is a clever party game that has Dixit-style artwork paired with more open-ended gameplay in which one silent player (like in Mysterium) tries to get the rest of the players to determine the answer to a mystery through symbology. Barenpark is an adorable Tetris-like game by Phil Walker-Harding that is supremely satisfying when you manage to pull off a clever sequence of moves to fill in your board with animal tiles.
Mark Jackson: My biggest find this year was/is the sprawling nutty wonderful Xia: Legends of a Drift System (designed by Cody Miller)… I managed to track down a complete copy (including all the expansions) thanks to the BGG Marketplace and it was one of my highlights of the last four months of 2021. Honestly, it occupies a similar niche to FFG’s Star Wars: Outer Rim, but with a MUCH more open world and a lot more variety.
I also enjoyed Great Western Trail (I’m becoming a Pfister fan) and Fleet: The Dice Game for the first time this year… not sure how I missed these previously!
Tery Noseworthy: I played lots of games in 2020 that were new to me, since it was a goal for the year to play unplayed games in my collection. This goal hit a bit of a roadblock for me when I discovered many of those were unplayable with 2, but progress was made. I also go to try a few new-to-me games at some conventions. Here are my favorites:
- Rising Sun – this, along with its expansion has been sitting on our shelf taking up a lot of space since 2018, when it was released. I don’t know why we didn’t play it then, and it was discovered to be an aforementioned 3+ player game, so I made sure we took it to the Gathering, and I am glad we did – I really like it. I don’t love negotiation games, but it works well here and isn’t drawn out or overwhelming. I don’t always love combat games either, but again here it is very well done and clear. In fact, I liked everything about this game and look forward to getting it to the table more often once we return to regular game groups.
- Islands in the Mist – I had never heard of this game until I received it as a gift. It turns out to be a hidden gem. You are a balloonist, placing tiles over the landscape to build cities, using the wind to control your direction and speed. I really enjoy it.
- 20th Century Limited – This is everything I wanted TransAmerica to be. You are still building rail routes, but now you have more regulations about how to do that as well as more options for strategy and scoring. If only the print on the board was a wee but bigger. . . . even with that I still like it a lot.
James Nathan: This year I discovered Kumiko & Katsuhisa (2015), a two-player trick-taking game about a father and daughter running a publicly traded furniture store chain and the proxy fights they get into trying to win over certain blocks of shareholders – and based on a true story! It uses the modular rules of something like On the Cards or Steichmeister, but those rules are in each players’ hand, and there is something of a game of chicken as they choose which rules to put into play, knowing their opponent can issue a counter proposal.
Also on the two-player front, I’ve enjoyed a few games of The Field of the Cloth of Gold (2020) from Amabel Holland. It’s a game where you will win by having the most points, but the actions you take will generally increase your opponent’s chances to score points. It has a “classic” and elegant feel, like something that could have been released 20 years ago, but with a subversion that takes a designer like Amabel.
Master of Rules (2007), essentially a 5-player only trick-taking game of sorts, is a fascinating design. Players have a hand made up of both the expected type of card, with a rank and suit, and rules cards which specify how they will “win” a trick. Each player will play one of both to each trick, and tricks can have multiple winners. This game uses the “can’t follow” of Potato Man (2013) for the rule cards, and that’s where it shines. The rule cards are in a precarious stand-off that makes them deliciously difficult to achieve.
Joe Huber: I’ve had more luck in finding new-to-me games in 2021 than in finding 2021 releases. In addition to the previously mentioned Luz – the best everyone-else-sees-your-cards game I’ve played – I’m particularly fond of Sheep & Garden, a fascinating take on tile laying which owes much to Carcassonne – but manages to feel very different, nonetheless. I also enjoyed getting to try Perfumery and 5×5 Zoo, though neither proved to be a keeper for me.
Brandon Kempf: Not sure that many qualify here either, but Nidavellir (2020) stands out as one of my favorites from this year that was released prior to 2021. Forgotten Waters (2020) is also another standout, mostly because of the app integration, made for some fun game sessions. Too Many Bones (2017) also made an appearance and I really enjoyed it, but one play really doesn’t help it qualify for a best-of list, so I need to play it again, and I am aching to get Cloudspire to the table in 2022.
Liga: 2020 was for me one of the best years with a lot of releases, most arriving in Italy in the 2021. But the two games I played and appreciated most are Gugong and Everdell. The first was definitely a surprise: one of those titles purchased and that I had not yet had the opportunity to try and which has quickly become the most played by me and Serena (my wife) in the last two months. The second, on the other hand, was an announced success: a title that I was waiting for in Italian with trepidation and that absolutely did not disappoint my expectations. Choosing the third title is really difficult for me and probably the choice falls on Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, a two-player title that marked the year of play with Francesco (my son) throughout the first campaign and the one against the Spaniards. For us who grew up playing together with Memoir 44 a game that knew how to vibrate the right strings.
Rand L: I was able to play two releases from 2020 that, had I managed to play more games in 2020, I probably would have rated highly then! Those are Field of the Cloth of Gold and Rise of the Metro, the latter of which has supplanted TransAmerica as my go to light train/networking game. Naming 2020 releases as new-to-me in 2021 feels a bit like cheating, especially since both titles were released late in the year. Games that feel more truly new-to-me are Kohle & Kolonie (2013), probably the best of the coal trilogy from Thomas Spitzer, and Québec (2011), a remarkably entangled area majority game.
- What’s My Word
- 四畳半ペーパー賽系 (Yojōhan Pēpā Saikei)
- Patchwork Doodle
- Bremen aka The Torite
- Yin Yang
Jonathan: Hallertau (will try to play The Field of the Cloth of Gold before 2024)
Mitchell Thomashow: These games were new to me in 2021 or perhaps 2020 (time is increasingly surreal) and I gained sufficient appreciation for them that they qualify for the list, favorites from top to bottom, but all worthy:
- The Magnificent
- My City
- Zen Garden
I’d also like to give a shout out to the following games that provided outstanding entertainment for their two player excellence and that we played at least ten times this year:
- Lorenzo Il Magnifico
- Grand Austria Hotel
- Five Tribes
- Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
- Marco Polo II
- 7 Wonders Duel