by David W.
| published Thursday, December 30, 2021
Tuesday I looked at the five stories that, to me anyway, were the most significant in terms of their effect on the Tabletop industry. Yesterday I pined for the five games I’m most looking forward to playing next year (if all goes well, which means “who knows”).
And finally, today is the day I gush about the five games that I loved and enjoyed the most this year. I most certainly am not asserting they were the “best” games of 2021; what I am saying is that each one set out to do something truly different and they each did it damned well.
All that being said, here are my five faves in alphabetical order.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (designer: Michael Menzel, publisher, KOSMOS). Menzel’s career has thus far been based in his Andor series of excellent co-operative fantasy games which require much more puzzling than hacking-and-slashing. With Robin Hood he’s moved from generic Tolkienesque lore to much-beloved legend and crafted an entirely new game engine that is part choose-your-own-adventure, part tactical miniatures, part advent calendar, part bag-building, and completely unique (although with faint whiffs of Andor). He’s also masterfully build a tutorial right into the game, so you’re playing practically out of the box. This is a game that can appeal to adult as well as kid gamers, and has at least two complete plays-worth of gameplay.
The Dead Eye (designer: Simon McGregor, publisher Pleasant Company Games). McGregor has a few games under his belt (most notably Ancient Terrible Things) but Dead Eye is much more than the 3D-glasses-required novelty that it appears to be. It’s a solo card game set on a Borderlands-ish planet in the middle of nowhere. You play a lone scavenger trying to make it off-planet using a combination of deckbuilding and push-your-luck gameplay. It’s simple yet effective and every playthrough yield a narrative compelling enough to make you play “just one more turn”. And thankfully the 3D glasses are only needed to read the enclosed comic book, not to play the actual game (though they do make the cards look funkier). Solo players should definitely check it out.
Imperium Classics/Legends (designer: Nigel Buckle (David Turczi for solo mode), publisher: Osprey Games). Oh my jeebus a deckbuilder/4X game? With sixteen playable civs? And a solo mode? Is such a thing even possible? Turns out it is, and my goodness Nigel Buckle deserves so much credit for that. My first impression was that it was a little clunky with all the card types and action counters and such, and Turczi’s solo mode (as usual) was fiddlier than necessary–Turczi has yet to design a truly elegant solo mode for a game–but as I played the different civs off against each other I began to appreciate the huge amount of thought that went into the game and its systems. Naturally, because COVID, I have yet to play a game of it f2f (although there is a Tabletop Simulator mod available). But there is enough here to keep a solo player busy for eons, and if you’re lucky enough to bubble with someone who’s keen to play you will never EVER get bored.
The Initiative (designer: Corey Konieczka, publisher: Unexpected Games). Possibly the most original design of the year; certainly, I can’t think of another game built from the ground up as an immersive narrative experience and yet with such simple (but not simplistic) gameplay that is robust enough to expand in so many different and unpredictable directions. You definitely need to be the kind of person who enjoys tinkering with codes and ciphers to play, but for me The Initiative stands at the pinnacle of game design art. (For my expanded take read my article from last May.)
That Time You Killed Me (designer: Peter Heyward, publisher: Pandasaurus Games). Its appearance on this list will not surprise anyone who read my recent writeup. But once more with feeling: if you like abstracts and are looking for a two-player game with almost unlimited potential, that’s also just plain funny, That Time You Killed Me is that game. Period.
The Class of ‘21 had to overcome many unprecedented obstacles–but even so there were many high achievers, and as a group it will be hard to beat. Who knows what 2022 will bring–fire and brimstone, perhaps, or plagues of frogs. In the meantime, we hope you-all have been having a great holiday season, and look forward to sharing more tabletop joy with you in MMXXII.