Another year has flown by and I have ratcheted up a cracking 32 “new to me” games for the year. Using Pub Meeple I dropped in the titles and ranked all the new games I’ve played this year.
It’s worth noting that I only played 10 games from 2021, so this is not the best of 2021, but the best of the games I played that were new to me. That said the majority of the list comes from the last 4 years, with the outlier being Robinson Crusoe which is now a whopping 10 years old, and er… ooops, spoiler I guess.
10. Space Base (2018)
The bottom line on this one is I want to buy a copy and play it more. Space Base could easily rise up this list, but I played it once, via TTS which is never the optimal way to play anything and yet I still enjoyed it enough for it to make its way here.
In Space Base players are building a base, in space. They begin the game with a board populated with action spaces numbered 2 through 12, dice are rolled and spaces are activated, much like in Machi Koro or Settlers of Catan. As the game goes on you upgrade your action spaces, which pushes your old cards out, flipping them over to become action spaces that are activated on another player's turn.
There’s a lot of joy to be had in the escalation this game offers. Each turn you become more and more powerful and while there’s plenty of luck with the dice rolling there are also lots of strategies and paths to victory, definitely one I want to play again soon.
9. Bullet♥︎ (2021)
Another game with just a single TTS play, Bullet♥︎ was incredibly intriguing. This game is an arcade style puzzle game, think games like bejewelled where different coloured chits are moving down your board and you are trying to destroy them by playing special move cards and you’re doing it in real time!
Each round your bag is filled with a certain number of chits from central pool and you need to place all of them on your board. You can draw and place chits, or play pattern cards and activate special powers to clear your board. But all the players are doing so at the same time and the first to finish gets the first pick of a special bonus.
The game is a game of survival as your board does not clear at the end of the round, instead your bag refills and you keep going, the last player standing is the winner.
This game looks gorgeous and plays fairly smoothly. It might be a little complex for a speed game but it is satisfying to set up combos and clear your board. And for those that don’t like competitive play there is also a co-op or solo boss battler version of the game which i believe is included in the box but that I have not yet tried out.
Zombicide: 2nd Edition (2021)
CMON’s perennial fruit bearing tree, Zombicide, got a face lift this year with a gorgeous new edition. And while I’ve played original Zombicide I’ve never owned it so this one does count as new to me.
This edition is fully revamped with new minis and new artwork, both of which are improvements over the original, the art is phenomenal in particular.
In Zombicide you take on the role of survivors in the zombie apocalypse trying to survive. Each mission has a few objectives you must achieve while scavenging weapons and killing zombies. Every kill gives adrenaline points, which in turn allow you to upgrade your abilities. Fight, survive, escape, win, it’s that simple.
2nd Edition has a lot of quality of life improvements that help speed up set up, along with easier rules to teach. Beyond that the game plays out roughly the same, although the difficulty feels tuned down, but there are always ways to tamper with that. Afterall Zombicide is the ultimate sandbox game, with literally hundreds of scenarios, characters and abominations to explore.
7. Batman: Shadow of the Bat (2021)
Shadow of the Bat has been my go to solo game recently, blasting through the entire base game in Dark Knight mode over the last few weeks.
In Batman Shadow of the Bat upto 4 players take on the roles of iconic characters from the animated Batman series and complete missions based on classic episodes.
Batman can be played co-op against a fairly simple AI engine or as a more tactical skirmish game against a player who takes on the role of the villains.
Myself, I prefer the 1 Vs All mode but I appreciate the solo/co-op right now because I can't play with others as easily. The solo mode allows you to just play as Batman, with a beefed up statline. This mode presents a tactical puzzle as you fight through the scenarios using gadgets and smoke bombs to defeat the enemies or vanish into the night.
Batman is also combinable with TMNT Change is Constant or City Fall if you want to homebrew more scenarios or play out a classic comics crossover.
6. Thunderstone Quest (2018)
A BIG box of Thunderstone Quest just showed up at my door this week so it's probably fitting that it made this list. I ignored Thunderstone Quest upon first release as we'd rather wained on Thunderstone as a system with games taking far too long.
Quest however does a really good job of revitalising the system. Turns are fast, you'll burn through your deck at a rapid pace and turns feel powerful. Unlike in previous editions where you could go to the village, the dungeon, heal a would or prepare, you can now do multiple of these actions in a single turn. No more giving up your turn to do something boring, a visit to the village will allow you to buy items, level up characters, heal wounds and take a special bonus action, all in a single turn.
Thunderstone Quest is a deck building adventure card game of dungeon delving. Players use cards to recruit and equip powerful heroes, then venture into a dungeon and fight big beasties to earn victory points.
However players can also play Quest in a fully cooperative Barricades mode. Barricades mode features simultaneous play to help speed the game up, along with big bads that actually attack the village and make life hard for the heroes.
And hard it is! Barricades mode can be brutally difficult, but it's a lot of fun to as you combo cards together to try and take down the dungeon boss. Barricades mode also introduces Prestige Classes which gives players their own upgrades path to create fantastically fun new play styles.
Thunderstone Quest is a behemoth of a box, but it's packed full of fun!
5. Funfair (2021)
Funfair is a really pleasant game of building your own theme park. In fact it may even be too pleasant. Funfair is a reimplementation of Unfair and it goes out of its way to be nice to you with events at the start of every round that give you stuff and bonuses and fun things.
But beneath that surface level of parity and pleasantness, beats the heart of a crunchy theme park construction game. Played over 6 rounds, players take actions to draw or build cards, collect income or gather blueprints. Blueprints are the heart of the game, acting like Tickets in Ticket to Ride, they set you objectives worth a boat load of points. The harder the objective the more points it’s worth.
As well blueprints players also score for their constructed rides, each ride generates points based on the number of stars it has. The star rating can be increased by adding guest services, upgrades, quality bonuses, themes and even flag poles. Whether you concentrate on building mega attractions or completing Blueprints is up to you, but the player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.
With art from Mr Cuddington, this game looks stunning and plays smoothly. The theme is delightful and the game play is light, my only complaint really is how long it takes to score!
4. Terraforming Mars (2016)
I played Terraforming Mars for the first time this year and I’m not one to jump on the hype train but… man… this is a good game.
Caveat time, I have only played this as the digital version and I’ve only played it twice, but I think it’s fascinating. I always enjoy a good engine builder and Terraforming Mars is probably one of the best. In Terraforming Mars players are cooperatively terraforming the red planet for human life. They need to raise the temperature, create oceans and increase the oxygen level. But they aren’t doing it for the good of humanity, no, each player is in it for themselves. The more they help terraform the planet the more points they score.
Each round you build cards with mega credits, these in turn generate resources that allow you activate other cards, or build cities and forests, or reduce the cost of new cards. There’s a lot to manage in the game and it can be an overwhelming amount of stuff to keep track of for new players, but the experience is incredibly rich and rewarding.
While I’m really looking forward to playing Terraforming Mars again, it is one I feel I don’t actually need to own and would actually prefer playing the digital version which looks prettier and does a lot of the fiddly management steps for you automatically.
3. Super Skill Pinball 4-Cade
In Super Skill Pinball players have their own pinball board on which they are trying to check off boxes to score points. Each round their pinball must drop to a new zone, simulating the effect of gravity, however you may, if you wish, have it drop multiple zones.
Once the ball reaches the flipper zone players can shoot their ball back up to the top of the table just like in real pinball. And just like in real Pinball the game also simulates targets, specials, nudges, ramps and bumpers. And it does all this with players just rolling two dice.
Eventually players will run out of boxes to cross off on their flippers and they’ll lose their ball. The player with the highest score after 3 balls is the winner, although you could play 2 balls for a shorter game.
Each version of Super Skill Pinball comes with 4 different tables, each with their own mini games and thematic variants.
2. Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island (2012)
This was one I had avoided in the past, I had no connection to the theme particularly, which, coupled with the infamous rules complexity and high degree of difficulty, just left me not really interested in giving the game a whirl.
However, as the pandemic dragged on and solo gaming became a more viable option for me, I began to research deeper into the best solo experiences and Robinson Crusoe kept cropping up time and time again. And then of course they announced the deluxe reprint and… well… I figured I’d give this one a shot.
And I loved it. It’s a hard teach, but you can teach and play for the most part and many of the rules can be taught using the games' own thematics. It’s also not an easy win, and we certainly died our first time on the cursed isle. But everything else about it was a win for me. The sense of exploration, the amount of decision space, the cooperation, the push your luck and the variety of characters and scenario design really made me fall hard for this one.
Admittedly I’ve only played it twice though, but only because I didn't want to spoil the game for myself by playing all the scenarios online before my physical copy comes in!
1. Forgotten Waters (2020)
And the game I most want to play again? Forgotten Waters. While Robinson Crusoe may provide more game, Forgotten Waters gave me a wonderful experience through the integration of the technology. Forgotten Waters uses a web based app that guides you through the story, with full narration from a talented voice cast. But on top of that it manages to be funny and occasionally moving. If you like point and click adventure games like Monkey Island then Forgotten Waters will definitely float your boat.
In Forgotten Waters you’ll create a pirate crew and set sail on a "choose your adventure" style quest. The app will provide random encounters to change up the experience, while key story moments will anchor the experience to create a thematic whole.
Each round of the game players will be faced with a series of choices based on what is happening in the story. For example if you’re out at sea you can scout for new lands to visit or plunder, you could go fishing, go for a swim, you could visit the captain in his quarters or work on getting the ship seaworthy. While in port you can explore a nearby area of natural beauty, drink in the tavern or recruit new pirates to your cause.
While Forgotten Waters can be a more passive experience, as you listen to the stories being told, there is still just enough game there to keep players engaged and the whole package, with the beautiful visuals, bewitching story and fantastic audio make this an experience that I just keep wanting to come back to time and again.
Honourable Mention - Gloomhaven Digital
With 20+ plays of Gloomhaven under our belts it would be remiss of me to leave it off this list. However we aren’t playing “Gloomhaven” we are playing Gloomhaven Digital, a faithful adaptation of the tabletop game to the screen.
In Gloomhaven you take on the role of a mercenary, or rather a guild of mercenaries as you adventure across the land taking on jobs and quests and uncovering the personal stories of your heroes.
Each round of the game players play two cards and activate the effects on the top of one card and the bottom of the other. The order in which cards are played determines the initiative order of the players and monsters.
Each mercenary in Gloomhaven presents a new way to play, with different skill cards dictating their playstyle. Some characters focus on hand to hand combat while others forcus on healing or summoning allies. As players cycle through their deck they are forced to burn cards, reducing their effectiveness and when you run out of cards you become exhausted. If all players exhaust themselves then the scenario ends in defeat.
Gloomhaven offers a complex puzzle of just how best to accomplish your goals, while being as efficient as possible. Your best skills will likely also require you to burn your cards, so when do you use them? Burn too many cards too early and you’ll flame out before the scenario ends. But if you hold back your enemies might just overwhelm you instead.
And unlike in a traditional dungeon crawler, when you feel like you want to change things up, in Gloomhaven you can just swap to another guild member for a totally different experience. Gloomhaven is not without its flaws, fiddly rules, huge price point, high complexity etc, but as Dungeon Crawlers go this one does make the most of bringing highly asymmetrical characters to tabletop and offering you unique ways to play.
All the New Games I played!
All New Games Ranked
1 Forgotten Waters (2020)
2 Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island (2012)
3 Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade (2020)
4 Terraforming Mars (2016)
5 Funfair (2021)
6 Thunderstone Quest (2018)
7 Batman: Shadow of the Bat (2021)
8 Zombicide: 2nd Edition (2021)
9 Bullet♥︎ (2021)
10 Space Base (2018)
11 PARKS (2019)
12 Kingdomino (2016)
13 5-Minute Mystery (2020)
14 Under Falling Skies (2020)
15 5-Minute Marvel (2018)
16 Dice Hospital (2018)
17 Almanac: The Dragon Road (2020)
18 The Pursuit of Happiness (2015)
19 Horrified: American Monsters (2021)
20 Kameloot (2021)
21 Disney Villainous (2018)
22 Silver & Gold (2019)
23 The Mind (2018)
24 Last Message (2021)
25 Distilled (2021)
26 Kingdomino Duel (2019)
27 Dune: Imperium (2020)
28 ALIEN: Fate of the Nostromo (2021)
29 Via Magica (2020)
30 Karak (2017)
31 Splendor (2014)
32. Mandala Stones (2021)
Which games did you play for the first time in 2021? And what was your favourite? Let us know down in the comments.