Gaming Year 2021

Covid-19. The pandemic got better, and I got the vaccine shots. I returned to the board game cafe meetings in June. Things have become much better. The number of games I played dropped significantly from 2020: from 753 to 481. In hours, I went from 339 to 266.

The main reason for this is Nooa, who has been more busy playing video games with friends (it’s healthy for his friendships, but not good for my board game plays).

The average player count is back at 2.6 it was in 2019.

Quitting Instagram. I decided to leave Instagram for now. I haven’t removed my account, but I stopped following most board game accounts. I stopped using Facebook in 2020, and I started to feel bad about staying on Instagram. It wasn’t a big problem for me, but it does feed unwanted addictive behaviour. I’m staying out for now.

I’ll miss the connection to people I got from there, but in the end, that was small enough that I could just leave it. I’ve been posting more here on this blog to a smaller audience, but at least the posts here remain available and easy to find with search engines for years to come.

Focusing on games I know. Previously, the smallest number of new games I’ve played in a year was 40. That was in 2009, the year we had a baby and a toddler. Not a hot year for gaming! This year, I played 14 new games. It was very satisfying! Last year I was happy when I cut down the number of new games played from 72 to 61.

I also really reduced the number of purchases. I first tried doing that in 2017, with moderate success. In 2020, I spent 1,200 € on games, buying about 20 titles. I spent about 160 € on two games this year, some sleeves and some individual components. I sold slightly over twenty games.

After years of what nows seems like failed moderation, going to almost zero purchases was surprisingly easy. It has made me feel slightly alienated from the gaming mainstream and some of my friends, who are very much into shopping for new games, but it’s clearly the right thing for me. Right now, I want to play the games I know and enjoy, and I somewhat dislike learning new games.

Underwater Cities
Underwater Cities

Game of the Year 2021

Hallertau was already featured last year, as it arrived in December. It made a bigger splash this year, as we played it every week, often multiple times, from the first days of January until June. It seemed that Hallertau would reach 50 plays, but new games took over the hot spot, and Hallertau was put a bit on the back burner. Still, that was a fantastic run and quite unlike any other game before.

What keeps Hallertau fresh for all these plays is the use of cards. You go through many cards in this game, and combining them makes a good score. You can’t get stuck in a rut regarding strategies, as you need to work with the cards you get. Compared to something like Fields of Arle with no random elements after the initial setup, the game sure feels different.

Hallertau has provided me with hours and hours of enjoyment in 2021 and is my Game of the Year 2021.

Hallertau cards in hand
I’ve been looking at Hallertau cards a lot this year!

Good new games (2020–2021)

Anno 1800 didn’t seem thrilling, to be honest. The video game background doesn’t mean much to me, and Martin Wallace isn’t such a big name for me. However, Anno 1800 seemed like a game that might be interesting. I bought it, and it turned out to be a big hit for Nooa and me. I was somewhat worried it might be a long game, but well – our first game took about 70 minutes, clueless as we were, but since then, our two-player games have been about 30 minutes. This is a short filler! I like this game’s resource and hand management, and the pace and timing control is also essential. The game is not without flaws in mechanics and components, but it’s solid enough.

Beyond the Sun was another purchase for me, in a year when I bought very few games. This tech tree game connects to Anno 1800 and Hallertau: cards are an exciting source of controlled randomness in all games. The way the tech tree folds out different each time is excellent, and once again, the players control the pace and the timing of the end game – and often, the end comes too soon. This is a delightful game that works well with any number of players.

Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile worried me a lot. When it arrived, I lent it to friends so they could try it, and their reports of very long games (six hours for the first game!) scared me. Fortunately, I didn’t give up before trying the game, as Oath turned out great. It’s very much a game of kingmaking and shuffling for the position, and sometimes things just fall flat. However, the world the game evokes is fascinating.

I’m looking forward to exploring the world closer. The game’s length isn’t a problem, either: at about 30 minutes per player, it’s well within the weekday-night limits.

Pictures was a review copy from, the Finnish publisher of the game. This party game was the Spiel des Jahres winner in 2020 and has been something of a hit within our family; i.e. we’ve played it a couple of times with the whole family. That’s something! Trying to describe bland stock photos using various random tools that aren’t particularly suited for the task is fun. The game isn’t great, but it’s a keeper since the family likes it.

Maglev Metro is a train game from Ted Alspach. He knows train games, and this game looked great, with the subway map style and the see-through tiles that stack so that two players can run parallel lines in hexes. The game does look great, and the mechanism where you move passengers on the board and then use them to unlock better capabilities is interesting. I’ve played this twice: the Berlin map was good, and that game was a tight challenge, but the Manhattan map was awful, and that game was a lopsided disaster. I’d play again on the Berlin map.

Westphalia was a crazy purchase in the early Covid era because the game requires precisely six players. That’s insane, but hey, it’s an Amabel Holland game from Hollandspiele, and their business model lets them release crazy games like this. This was very high on my list of games to play after the Covid restrictions were lifted, and a game happened soon. This is an odd game, and I’m very much not sure about this, but I want to play more before I pass the final judgement on this.

The Crew: Mission Deep Sea offers a similar experience as The Crew did: cooperative trick-taking where players must fulfil specific tasks. The task mechanism is different now; instead of set tasks in the logbook, there’s now a deck of task cards and a random set is drawn each time (within certain boundaries). The random cards adjust the difficulty depending on the player count, which is nice. This is a good version of The Crew, but I’m not buying because I don’t want to play the two-player campaign again.

So Clover! is a cooperative word game, where players try to figure out which cards go where on a board based on hints another player has written down. I’ve written a first impressions post that describes the game.

Blue Skies is an old-school euro game from Joe Huber. The board looks like an Excel sheet. The game is probably best played on Board Game Arena, where the area majority values are constantly calculated and displayed without any effort from the players. Still, this has turned out to be well-liked in our game group because the game plays really well with 3–5 players and is quick even with full five players.

Lands of Galzyr is an upcoming 2022 title, a fascinating narrative-driven adventure game. Sami Laakso loaned me a test copy, and I gave it a go and wrote a preview. In the end, I decided not to back it because I would’ve needed to play it alone, and I just don’t see that working out, but it’s an exciting game that is really well done.

Lost Ruins of Arnak received much praise in 2021, including the Deutscher Spiele Preis award. I wanted to buy Nooa a game for Christmas, and I chose Arnak, as I thought it might be a good match. My initial impression is good; the game seems intriguing and challenging. I’m sure we’ll dig much deeper into this in 2022, but we have already played the game over ten times. I wrote a first impressions post on Arnak as well.

Anno 1800 player board
Anno 1800

Good older games I hadn’t played before

Hansa Teutonica was one of the big highlights of 2021. I’ve been aware of the game since it came out – Andreas Steding was already a familiar name for me from Kogge in 2003 – but I hadn’t played it before. Now a friend got the new Big Box edition, and I’ve played the game three times now.

After my first play, I was afraid Hansa Teutonica might be a tad too interactive for my tastes, but it turns out it’s okay. The interaction is heavy but also very interesting and not just mean for the sake of being mean. The paths to success are also delightfully diverse. Every time I’ve played the game so far, the winner has had a different strategy.

All in all, this is a delightful game. How you play the game is simple, and what you need to do in the game is simple, but getting from A to B is surprisingly complicated. That’s fun, and as the game also plays pretty fast and works well with five, a standard player count in our group, it’s a real winner.

Smartphone Inc. is a business game about the mobile phone market. It’s a straightforward game, where the trick is the action selection. It’s done by layering two action selection boards and additional smaller action tiles. Whatever remains visible on the boards is the actions you take. This is nice. The rest of the game is very procedural. Smartphone Inc. isn’t a great game, but for something that plays swiftly with five players, it’s good. I’m not sure I’d bother with less than five players.

Similo is a simple “guess what I’m thinking” kind of game. One player tries to clue other players to guess which character card they’re thinking of in a 12-card set by playing more character cards. The new cards are similar or dissimilar to the goal card, but it’s not always clear why the clue-giver thinks that way. The game is more fun when you mix multiple sets and, for example, use animals to give clues on historical characters – or vice versa. A simple game, good for something that takes five minutes to play.

Hansa Teutonica
Hansa Teutonica on the East Prussia board

Children’s games

Here’s a list of games that we played at least five times.

Twin It! is on top of the list because it’s so fast. When we play it, it’s easily half a dozen plays each time. My daughter Anni loves this, and I think this is perfectly fine, making it a fun pastime for the two of us. As is usual for the fastest speed games, Nooa tends to be a bystander.

L.L.A.M.A. became a family favourite after I gave it another go with Anni. The last time we tried it, she wasn’t ready for it, but now she took to it, and we played this a lot. That’s great because I really do like this game. My father played this with us, too, which was very unusual. L.L.A.M.A. is a top-notch family filler! My personal winning record is, by the way, abysmal.

Machi Koro was rebooted a year ago and has remained a favourite with the kids (and my mother). We didn’t play it quite as much as last year, but it remained popular. I’ve been thinking about Machi Koro 2 as it seems to promise exciting upgrades to the game, but so far, it’s not available, so I haven’t made any decisions. I guess I’d most like to see the updated cards, so I could update my D.I.Y. game with the new features, as they do sound intriguing.

Coconuts still gets pulled out a couple of times per year and is fast enough so that when we play it, it ends up on this list. It’s still a great dexterity game.

The Mind was played a couple of times, and like Coconuts, each session is always multiple plays, so it ended up on this list. Anni likes to play this with her friends.

Second Chance made a comeback because the kids played it (a lot). I ended up also playing it, and why not – it’s a simple game, but it plays fast and does what it’s set to do well.

Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza is one of Anni’s favourites. We haven’t played many games together this year, just the two of us, and thus we haven’t played this a lot. She has played this more with her friends, though, and I’m mostly glad that she has other people with whom she can play this game.

Love Letter had its heyday in 2015 (half of my plays were in 2015 and 2016). It has been declining but seems to have settled a bit now. It gets steadily played every year because we all know it so well.

Mahjong was one of the highlights of the year. I’ve been playing this with Nooa occasionally, but the game has been too complicated for Anni. Now we gave it a new go, and she loved it. I should teach her to play better as I can see she is somewhat annoyed or frustrated because she shoots for too big hands and doesn’t win often enough, but hey, live and learn. As long as we’re playing mahjong, I don’t complain.

Decrypto gets occasionally played as a filler game with my friends. Mostly, I play with the kids and my mother when we visit her. In that context, Decrypto has been a lot of fun.

Just One got enough plays to make it to the list. This is also a game Anni likes to play with her friends.

Nusfjord with Shad Deck buildings
Testing the new Shad Deck for Nusfjord

Games I’ve kept on enjoying

Magic: The Gathering is my everyday staple game. I play it almost every day online, and according to the numbers Wizards of the Coast occasionally reports, I play it more than 95% of the people on Arena. I managed to make it to the Mythic level in the constructed play a couple of times in 2021, which was nice. Playing Magic online is a perfect fit for me – I’m not interested in meddling with physical cards or the people who play Magic; I’d rather just play the game.

Innovation had the best year ever. I’ve generally played about 5–10 games of Innovation per year, but in 2021, I played the game over 40 times. I played some of the games online in Board Game Arena, but mostly it has been Nooa and me. Nooa really got into the game, naming it one of his all-time favourite games. No surprises there: even after 100+ plays, I still find the game fascinating and full of exciting twists and turns – and this without any of the expansions! What a brilliant game.

Res Arcana has been on some decline but still racked up more than ten plays. It’s an excellent filler that Nooa and I like. We still haven’t gotten into the Perlae Imperii expansion, and I’m unsure if we will. That remains to be seen once the expansion becomes available.

Nusfjord also had a great year, with more plays than ever. Part of this is because of Tony Boydell, whose Shad Deck we have been testing. It’s been quite refreshing, and we have enjoyed our games a lot. Nusfjord is definitely one of Uwe Rosenberg’s finest games.

Everdell has been an easy choice when choosing a game to play. The challenge of building your little card engine is exciting, and the random elements in the game keep things fresh. It’s funny how different the matches can be: sometimes it’s a struggle to fill your city of fifteen cards, sometimes you run out of things to do by the end of the game.

Underwater Cities was heavily played in January, but I haven’t played it much since after I returned the game to Ville, who owns it. It’s an excellent game, though, and I wouldn’t say no to it, especially with just two players. The four-player game is interesting, but I’d have to be really careful about the players to make sure the game doesn’t drag too much.

Fields of Arle also had the best year ever. Nooa really likes the game, and so do I. It is incredible how many different strategies and approaches this game, which has no random elements in it after the setup, supports. I would think it’s easy to get stuck repeating the same strategy over and over again, but I find myself playing this game differently every time. Making a small change modifies how the rest of the match folds out. It sure is a masterpiece.

A Feast for Odin has played second fiddle to Fields of Arle this year, mainly because Nooa has preferred Arle. However, every time we play A Feast for Odin, he says how great the game is and how we should play it more often. It’s a slightly longer game and more tedious to set up; that’s one of the reasons. But I’d still list A Feast for Odin as my favourite game if asked for a single title.

The City was a big deal in 2013–2015 but made something of a comeback in November. I just played it with Nooa and then ended up carrying it with me to the game group – one of the cards in my DIY set features the previous workplace of Ville from our game group – and we played it a couple of times. It’s not a game without flaws, but since it only takes 10 minutes or less to play, it’s just fine.

Altiplano is a steady B-list game for us. Our experiences with Orléans in 2020 made it clear that we prefer Altiplano. I also had a great game night where instead of splitting the group 3–3, we did a 4–2 split, and I played three two-player games of Altiplano in a row. That was splendid.

Krass Kariert is still a solid filler card game, one of my favourites in the genre at the moment.

Spirit Island takes more work to play; it’s a more extensive afternoon experience. That’s why it didn’t get much play, but I’m happy at four plays, especially as we scored three wins out of those four games, even with a slightly higher level of difficulty. We’ve learned to play the game better.

Monikers was something I missed a lot during the isolation, and I was glad that we could play it four times. Each session was a lot of fun; this game is simply highly reliable. I feel the card set could be slightly better, though, at the moment is very heavily dominated by American men. I’d like to see more women and random memes and other weird stuff instead of minor U.S. celebrities. Coming up with new cards is hard work, though, and even though I’ve been thinking about it a lot, I haven’t even started yet.

De Vulgari Eloquentia gets played occasionally, but it’s always a pleasure. I even managed a three-player game this year!

The Great Zimbabwe skipped 2020; now, we played it twice with Nooa, and I managed to get a four-player game in our group. The response was good, so I hope to play more of this in 2022.

Fields of Arle board
Fields of Arle

The not-so-good, the disappointing and the plain bad

Maglev Metro wasn’t a bad game by any means but perhaps didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Other than that, I was generally quite pleased with the games I played in 2021.

Where are they now

Fort got mere three plays after an enthusiastic start in 2020. I still like the art and many ideas in the game, but maybe overall, it’s just a bit clunky? Also, it just doesn’t shine as a two-player game and isn’t as good as Innovation or Res Arcana.

Merchant of Venus didn’t get any plays. I did lend it to a friend for a while, but we just didn’t play it even when I got it back. It’s on the upstairs bookshelf, and I guess when we look at games to play, we rarely look beyond the downstairs shelf with all the Rosenberg goodies. This was recently mentioned on a GCL Amoeba discussion list, making me want to play the game.

Abandon All Artichokes also got zero plays after being the second most played game with the kids in 2020; I played fewer games with the kids overall, and this was one of the victims there. We mostly played L.L.A.M.A. instead.

Europa Tour also is going out of fashion. The new version caused a small spike in 2020, but we only played this once in 2021.

UNO is something I won’t miss; fortunately, Anni didn’t ask once for this in 2021.

Pax Pamir got very little play. The two-player game just isn’t what I want from Pax Pamir, and it seems the game isn’t as popular in my game group as it used to be.

Attika featured heavily last year as I collected plays for the 50 by 50 challenge. In 2021, it was back to normal, with just one play.

2021 was an off-year for escape room games. No new Unlock! boxes were released, and I didn’t play any other escape room games, either.

18xx games were also absent from my plays. The opportunities to play games requiring that kind of commitment just weren’t there.

Oath board close up
Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile

Fives and dimes

  1. Innovation (43)
  2. Hallertau (32)
  3. Twin It! (31)
  4. Anno 1800 (22)
  5. Magic: The Gathering (18)
  6. Beyond the Sun (17)
  7. L.L.A.M.A. (15)
  8. Res Arcana (14)
  9. Nusfjord (12)
  10. Machi Koro (12)
  11. Lost Ruins of Arnak (11)
  12. Fields of Arle (10)
  13. Coconut (9)
  14. Underwater Cities (9)
  15. The Mind (8)
  16. Second Chance (8)
  17. The Crew: Search for Planet Nine (8)
  18. So Clover! (8)
  19. Mahjong (7)
  20. A Feast for Odin (7)
  21. Great Western Trail (7)
  22. Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza (7)
  23. The City (6)
  24. Love Letter (6)
  25. Decrypto (6)
  26. Altiplano (6)
  27. The Crew: Mission Deep Sea (6)
  28. Oregon (5)
  29. Blue Skies (5)
  30. Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile (5)

Year metric

  1. Battle Line (20/21)
  2. San Juan (17/18)*
  3. Attika (16/19)
  4. Carcassonne (16/21)*
  5. Ta Yü (15/19)*
  6. Tarock (13/15)
  7. Innovation (12/12)
  8. Samarkand: Routes to Riches (12/12)
  9. Age of Steam (14/19)*
  10. Oregon (11/11)
  11. Ingenious (13/18)*
  12. Love Letter (10/10)
  13. Dominion (11/14)*
  14. Agricola (11/15)*
  15. Memory (10/13)*
  16. Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (12/20)*
  17. Mahjong (12/20)
  18. Villa Paletti (12/20)*
  19. Mysteries of Old Peking (12/20)
  20. Afrikan tähti (12/20)

Games marked with an * didn’t get played this year.

Staying Power

  1. Magic: The Gathering (3.55)
  2. Love Letter (2.91)
  3. Innovation (2.65)
  4. Fields of Arle (2.59)
  5. A Feast for Odin (2.56)
  6. Ora et Labora (2.22)
  7. Tarock (2.18)
  8. Great Western Trail (2.14)
  9. Nusfjord (2.04)
  10. Altiplano (1.95)
  11. Mahjong (1.90)
  12. Machi Koro (1.75)
  13. Conflict of Heroes (1.60)
  14. Dale of Merchants (1.35)
  15. Spirit Island (1.32)
  16. Unlock! (1.27)
  17. Res Arcana (1.26)
  18. Mysteries of Old Peking (1.21)
  19. Oregon (1.15)
  20. Hallertau (1.15)
  21. Agricola (1.12)
  22. Suburbia (1.08)
  23. On the Underground (1.04)
  24. Merkator (1.01)
  25. Battle-Line (0.959)

This is a metric devised by Eric Brosius, and the scores for the games are calculated this way:

For each game and each year, calculate SQRT(number of plays in a year) * (5/6^(current year – year)). Sum these, divide with the sum of year weights, raise to the second power and multiply by the game length in hours.


My H-index for this year is 11 (11 last year). My total H-index is 50 like it was last year and where it’s likely to stay for now.

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