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Barnes Best 2021
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You want “meaningful decisions” and “multiple paths to victory”? That is all this game is,
top to bottombottom to top.
This may sound hokey, but thematically, this game being named Can’t Stop and its graphic exposition of a Stop Sign in its classic edition is just one more place where six pounds of magic were pushed into a two pound bag. Something this small shouldn’t be this big.
And yes, my group often plays this on BGA while we wait for people to show up. One of our guys has a thousand plays in.
Some fav new and new-to-me games from 2021…
- Mystery Rummy games: Take your pick which one, I’ve enjoyed them all. I think Jack the Ripper gets the nod for me. I love games that iterate on familiar mechanics, because they are way easier to play with the broad populace. These are some of the best in that weight class that I’ve played in years.
- The Crew: Just got this on Black Friday and it’s already an all-timer for me.
- Nu-Dune: Someone on these forums mentioned that this sort of Nexus Ops-izes the 1979 original, and that’s about right. It doesn’t replace the original in the hobby, but it’s the one I want to play. It distilled my favorite parts of the original into a much shorter window, and maintained a whole lot of the flavor of the Duniverse.
Disney Villainous: What a cool game. I love how it found a way to nail all those different characters thematically, and make them largely distinct. It’s a surprisingly deep game, and even though we’ve played a bunch it feels like there’s so much left to discover.
Marvel Champions: One of the best solo games I’ve ever played, and just about the perfect commitment level for me in terms of deck-building. I’m most impressed by its scenario design. They do a good job of varying the rhythm of the game, and capturing all the different villains. Not cheap to get into but I’ve had a blast with it.
Best New and New to Me games of 2021:
Ankh: This is one of Eric Lang's best, which is saying quite a lot. There's so much to explore here that it borders on the absurd. We're just getting into regularly playing with Pharaoh and I agree with him that it shouldn't be played without it, if you're not teaching newbs.
The Crew: Yeah, the hype was deserved. This one is really smart and really easy to sell to the normz, simultaneously.
Dune: Imperium: I still think it suffers a bit on the deck building angle from the inability to remove starter cards, but the mechanics are sound, the tension for board places is great, and the Dune flavor is visible. Very solid.
Cosmic Frog: Completely off-kilter and yet endlessly fascinating. This is Jim's best work yet and we're getting a ton of plays out of it.
Oath: Just another example of why Cole may be the best designer in the industry at the moment. The story potential from this one is of another order of magnitude. It demands a group willing to embrace it (as he says: "We're making someone's favorite game, not everyone's."), but if you have that group, the possibilities are almost endless.
Nothing else saw enough plays to comment on here. I do expect Mini Rogue to become more popular.
My 'go to' these days for innovation and freshness comes from designers in Poland and a few other European countries - first found it when I discovered Lords of Hellas from Awaken Realms a couple of years ago and since then I have bought (and am playing) Tainted Grail with Etherfields and ISS Vanguard lined up, and other companies like Into the Unknown and Go on Board joining in.
My best new game played this year is Tainted Grail, a simply amazing experience with a brilliant rich story and an as good game system layered on top of it.
I will also give support to the innovation and depth in Disney Villainous, another first time for me this year ... a few years after Mr Barnes announced it .
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Tom it’s no secret that where I am with board games in terms of what I like and what I want is pretty much marginalized in favor of…well, the games you like LOL. So when something significant comes out, it’s more significant.
Villainous has really held up, we still play pretty regularly. So stoked about the Pixar expansion coming.
Michael Barnes wrote: Were you listening in?
There was already a dune dice game called this, if y'all didn't know
For me GOTY had got to be Marvel Champions, I played it like 90 times and I still find it just as enjoyable.
Beyond that I'll give shouts to:
both versions of The Crew (like 70 combined plays there. These are all time greats)
Faiyum (my favorite new euro I played)
Lost Ruins of Arnak (another solid and fun new euro)
Bullet (a delightful spatial puzzle, but very polarizing among my groups due to the real time aspect of it)
Bloodborne (a fun and different feeling Kickstarter dungeon crawler)
Best new to me game of 2021 - Food Chain Magnate: I played this for the first time this year and absolutely fell in love with it. I've been primarily playing it async and it occupies my thoughts between turns where I will literally get up from the computer and pace around considering my options. I won't be doing that in my live plays as I think it may come across as vaguely threatening but it's one of the small pleasures async play affords me. After I commit my moves and wait for opponents to respond I feel like I need a cigarette. I don't love the scripted opening and I'm looking forward to getting more games in with more than 3 players to really see a dynamic market in action but there is so much depth to this game that it immediately shot Splotter up to the top of my publishers to watch list. Horseless Carriage is coming out in 2022 and I'm very excited to see what it's about.
Best comfort food of 2021 - Arkham Horror LCG: This has been my solo game of choice since 2020 but in 2021 it has reinvented itself by introducing me to the multiplayer version. I love the puzzle of the solo game but that same puzzle run in coordination with a friend makes the game shine in a very different way. Instead of being a puzzle you solve alone you get to muddle through with even less information making the game harder but much more rewarding as well.
Best flash in the pan of 2021 - Regicide: There were two weeks or so where everyone was talking about this game and then it kind of disappeared from the conversation. It deserved its time in the sun; I loved seeing what could be done with a standard pack of 52.
Best game that my partner is willing to play with me in 2021 - PARKS (& TRAILS): My partner is not much of a gamer but she's willing to indulge me which I really appreciate. PARKS is pleasant and smooth; not something most on this site would spend a lot of time on but it hits at just the right middle ground between her and my preferences. I really thought the NIGHTFALL expansion brought a lot to the game without adding much overhead but she vehemently disagreed. TRAILS is the lighter version that we brought along on vacation. It's also a pretty fine game that we enjoy playing together.
Best game of 2020 that's on everyone's 2021 list - Oath: I've spoken at length about this in other threads, it's great and everyone should play it at least once (or ideally a few times) just to see how storytelling can be done in a game through purely mechanical means. Even if you know you'll hate the game it's worth a play just to admire its design. Cole is an absolute genius and Leder Games’s willingness to swing for the fences and take risks means they're sitting at the top of my publishers to watch list alongside Splotter. I just wish I was playing this more regularly; it bounced off my regular group and the online group we had going has found it harder to coordinate schedules these days and when our schedules do align...
Best game of 2021 that should be on some people's 2022 list - John Company Second Edition: ... we play John Company. It bears repeating, Cole is a genius. As a game this is leaps and bounds better than the first edition. I personally believe that in making a better game, some of the biting criticism that was evident in the first edition has been smoothed off making for a less interesting critique but the game itself remains interesting while being much more playable. I generally dislike negotiation games mostly because I'm bad at them but while valuing things and identifying leverage remains a core skill required to succeed, the smooth procedural structure winnows the scope of your negotiations to one that's manageable for me. Keep your eyes out for this one and give the TTS mod a go if you can. Hop on the TWBG Discord and arrange a game if you don't think you can find enough folks locally. I've only played this a few times but the prospect of getting it played again is always on my mind.
Honourable mention for the category above should go to Magnate: The First City. I think this was a really solid game and also had some very well done criticism delivered through a mid-weight economic game. Not enough people in the general public have played this due to it being a Kickstarter/currently going through indie distribution. It's hitting wider distribution via retail now and is definitely worth a look once you can get it easily.
Best game of every year - Modern Art: The new edition of RA looks sweet but it won't supplant my favourite auction game.
Can't Stop is pretty good too but I simply don't play it enough to make as strong of a claim as Michael. I'm tempted to snap up a copy with the plastic pylons and stop sign before it disappears. While I do appreciate the smaller box size, I don't think the neoprene version coming out looks very good at all and I'm not a huge fan of the mountain climbing theme that's widely available here in Europe.
The only game I can think of that really warrants mention is Mind MGMT. I have barely scratched the surface, having not even been able to play with the full rules yet since again... no game nights. But what I have played points to this probably being the greatest hidden movement game ever created.