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My favorite new-to-me's of 2021

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Hey! How's it going? You want yet another 2021 games writeup? Sure ya do.

This was a heck of a year. Where I was broadly not impressed with the crop from 2020 (though a 2020 game does make the list) 2021 came out swinging hard enough for both of 'em. I'm not especially interested in ranking them (ranking a set list of things is fun, arbitrarily ordering a selection of things not so much) but I'll give you some games to check out, cool?

But first, some games that I think could have made it. Not a ton to say on any of these just yet. I like them, that much is for sure, but I just haven't played them enough to give them any kind of verdict. Not even gonna tag 'em in the post so I don't bother people who care about 'em! That's how short this section will be.

Need to play more but positive first impressions:

Mechanica - I don't necessarily think this has the longest legs (or...any? do the roombas have secret legs?) but I've enjoyed my plays of it so much that I have trouble caring. Thing is, it also hasn't hit the table more than a couple times and even in those there are some tiles that seem notably dominant. We'll see!

Mind MGMT - I've played this like twice and it's probably excellent, but a game like this demands far more time than I've put in.

That Time You Killed Me - We've broken out 2/4 boxes and I like it a whole lot. Cindy isn't so hot on it but other folks I've introduced it to have found it fascinating, so I'm probably going to see the rest eventually.

G.I. JOE Deck-Building Game - I have no affection for G.I. Joe beyond the PSA dubs but I've never not enjoyed a T.C. design and this doesn't break his streak. You wouldn't know it trying to learn the game from the rulebook, but this thing plays really smoothly and offers some quality decision-making alongside some primo ameritrash flavor. Just need to see if it keeps being interesting, as well as try the harder scenario.

And hey, we still aren't starting! I also have an honorable mention, and it makes me sad.

Honorable Mention: Summoner Wars 2nd Ed.

There's an alternate timeline in which Summoner Wars 2nd Ed is my GOTY. I wouldn't go so far as to say I yearn for that timeline, but I wish I could visit sometimes. The world, or at least my current situation, just isn't conducive to giving this gem the dedication it deserves. I believe the game is worth that time, but playing it digitally just doesn't hit the same for me and without a dedicated scene to really dig deep I can't in good conscience put it on the list. Frankly it's ridiculous that it isn't, but 2021 was extremely strong. Game's good, that much I know, but it demands play I just can't seem to give it.


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This is one of those games where I'd say you just have to try it to get why it's here, and to its credit the BGA implementation is really good for that purpose. Most new "filler" games tend to be dull set collection affairs with a single interesting mechanism that doesn't make it worth the 20ish minutes it demands. Happy City is better than that. I think it's the fact that you have agency at every step, filling the supply with cards of your choosing and selecting from your (often meager) options. That combined with extremely simple scoring (happy x people) helps players never lose track of what matters to the benefit of anyone else, or split down weird strategic paths and reduce the meaningful interaction. This is the kind of "filler" that can easily become a main as it's played again and again, and that's a sweet spot for me.

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Lovely dexterity game that does something notably different, focusing on careful pushing of pieces over application of force or gentle placement. This has won friends everywhere I've taken it, in large part thanks to its gorgeous presentation and the moment where I hand everyone their bug's special bits. Also a fantastic spectator sport. One of the few games where "optional" asymmetry does not feel quite so optional. Reviewed here:

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This was a great year for trick takers and this was my favorite at 2p, a niche that's extremely hard to pull off. Asymmetric scoring conditions are all this needs to offer meaningful differentiation as well as a surprisingly well integrated theme. It's a strange one-sided tug of war, easy to learn and hard to master, and always interesting no matter what's dealt. Far more than a novelty, this 2p TT has legs.

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What a lovely 2p game. A little bidding, a lot of hand management, and heaps of conflict in its own reserved way. The notable gears here are twofold: not being able to play duplicate colors to areas, and your scoring conditions being determined by your choices during the game. It demands both players put some time in to really suss out how to advance their own board state without setting up their opponent, or at least how not to give them too much. Very much my kind of thing, and if you have a 2p partner who likes a good conflict I'd bet it could be your thing too.

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This is the first boxed narrative game I've truly liked. Not classic ameritrash "story generators", where the tale you remember is that of the actions you took and the dice you rolled, but the more modern category of games with stories to tell in a more "choose your own adventure" kinda way. Most of them are limp and their writing doesn't help. Forgotten Waters may mostly consist of quick worker placement and skill checks, but it uses that lean framework (and a well voice-acted app that doesn't make you read at everyone for two hours) to push its narrative forward, constantly giving everyone something to care about for its entire runtime. Relentlessly charming, never completely removes its tongue from its cheek, good stuff.

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If you haven't played Bullet then you haven't played anything like Bullet. That's some of the highest praise I could possibly give, but not only does it innovate, it also fully delivers on its concepts. I've played this game more than almost every other game listed here combined, in large part because it's nigh impossible to just play one game of it in a sitting. Brilliant design, I look forward to seeing where it goes with the new sets. Reviewed here:

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I finally got my fighting-game-card-game. I've been playing these for well over a decade, searching for the one that captures everything I love about the genre without all the hand pain. Yomi was almost there but is very much its own thing, BattleCON got a lot right but Exceed kinda limply flopped, and none of the others have ever come close. PP, using fewer components than any of its competitors, delivered an authentic adaptation like no other before it. Previewed (all of which holds as a review) here:

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I don't think I've ever had a more painful experience with games writing than when I finally, laboriously, locked out Sheepy Time so I could finally finish my GOTY writeup for PixelDie. I cannot emphasize enough how much I love this game. It deserves the limelight, and lots of it. This game has been an endless source of joy at every table we've put it on, and there have been many. I say more in the review, but seriously, Sheepy Time is one of the better board games I've had the pleasure of playing in years. Reviewed here:

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And then there was one. A trick taker, but only kind of. A social deduction game, but where you have no true friends. A great game? Absolutely. This one keeps mutating for our group with every play and I'm not sure it'll ever stop presenting new angles to attack from. Not much else to say here beyond that this one feels truly otherworldly, and that's worth the time. Written about here:

As a last note, if you're interested in some weird video games we also covered a bunch of those over at PixelDie:

Thanks for reading! I'll be around.
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