Board game Top 10: The best ‘new to me’ games 2021

2021 was nothing like a return to ‘normal’. But Essen did at least give me a chance to get hold of my normal pile of new games. And I managed to have some other great gaming weekends. So this annual post at least feels like it’s back on track.

Last year I had to do a 50-50 list between online and offline ‘new to me’ games. But on this 2021 list I’ve played all of them in person (except Tuscany, which I played on Tabletopia last year but have since played ‘for real’ in 2022).

That said, I did enjoy some new games online. I’m glad to have learnt Butterfly, Caravan, Railroad Ink, City of the Big Shoulders, Blue Skies, Carnegie and Luxor – mostly on Board Game Arena. But none of them hinted at the lasting appeal needed join my collection long term (although I’d happily play them again).

I have put the top 10 in order below, although it will probably change by tomorrow! They’re all games I’d happily recommend. Seven of them are already in my collection. While it wouldn’t surprise me if the other three joined them. Links go to my reviews elsewhere on the site where I’ve done them. And if any take your fancy, please help the blog by first clicking through to comparison site Board Game Prices to start your search.

My best ‘new to me’ games 2021

  1. Remember Our Trip (2-4 players, 1 hour, 2019): Saashi has certainly been my design find of the year, with this plus Wind the Film and Let’s Make a Bus Route all being top notch light games. I recommend them all, but this is my favourite.
  2. Castles of Tuscany (2-4 players, 1 hour, 2020): I also enjoyed a couple of Stefan Feld’s more recent designs, including Carpe Diem. But Tuscany was the winner, taking elements of Castles of Burgundy and streamlining them into a shorter experience.
  3. Bad Company (1-6 players, 1 hour, 2021): This is just a fun, light and easy to teach game. A perfect opener or loser for game night, late evening giggles at conventions, or a family game night.
  4. Nusfjord (1-5 players, 1 hour, 2017): It’s nice to find a Uwe Rosenberg game that delivers his usual worker placement goodness but in a fraction of the time.
  5. Lift Off (2-4 players, 1 hour, 2018): This card drafting euro took me by surprise. It mixes in light engine building/set collection and clever scoring, while looking great on the table.
  6. Almadi (2-4 players, 1 hour, 2021): A fast playing puzzley tile-layer that feels both classic and original. Loads of strategies to try for a game so low on components.
  7. IKI (2-4 players, 1 hour, 2015): An excellent set collection game where you’re moving around a large rondel taking actions, while keeping a close eye on your rivals.
  8. Sobek 2 Players (2 players, 30 mins, 2021): A real improvement on the original. It keeps the set collection mechanic, but adds an interesting to-and-fro tile grid element.
  9. Journey to the Center of the Earth (1-4 players, 1 hour, 2021): A fun and swingy flip-and-write. It always leaves us laughing – normally at our own misfortunes.
  10. Trek 12 (1-10 players, 1 hour, 2020): My final best ‘new to me’ games 2021 is this simple, slightly mathsy roll-and-write that is definitely more than the sum of its parts.

honourable mentions

I really enjoyed Caesar’s Palace, a nice family game coming out in 2022. But I want to play it more before making a decision.

Review games Kompromat (two-player pontoon for gamers) and Maeshowe (solo game with an Onirim feel) were also just off the list. Kingdomino Origins was great, but barely different enough from the original to count as ‘new to me’. While Ark Nova probably would’ve topped the list had I played it in 2021 when it arrived (review coming soon!).

looking back on last year’s list

both Bruxelles 1893 and Kanban are now in my collection after making a big impression on me online in my 2020 ‘new to me’ post. Nippon is on my wishlist, while I’d definitely still like to play Mandala and Marco Polo II more.

And it’s a similar story from my 2020 ‘real life’ plays list, with four of the five games (Arnak, Foothills, Nemo’s War and Pharaon) still in my collection. And while I won’t be piking up Brass: Birmingham, it’s only because the original Brass is on my shelves and I can’t justify owning both. Well, we’ll see. Who knows what 2022 will bring…

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