We always save the best for last, and just like every year, the nominees for Game of the Year are the best. They have beautiful artwork, clever and compelling gameplay, and satisfying choices, and each of them deserves the chance to win, and to be on your shelf.
The Diamond Climber Awards are in their 4th year, and with each year we’ve grown and changed, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. Because our team has such a wide and diverse taste in games it was tough this year to come to a consensus on a single game that really fit the category. So this year we’re presenting multiple picks for Game of the Year, written in the words of each author who loved this category. We feel this will better represent the breadth and diversity of the games on the market, and offer a more genuine selection for our readers.
But there can be only one. Let me introduce you to our picks for 2021 Game of the Year.
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
I’ll say this: I don’t think I’ve played enough new games, or at least not enough great ones, to feel like I have a qualified answer for this question. I haven’t played Bitoku yet, nor have I played Imperium Classics or Legends against another person. My Furnace? Unlit. My Cryo? Still thawing. Cascadia? Unvisited. Brian Boru? It’s in the mail. My Sumo? It remains tragically un-Kabuto’d. I’ve played Oath, but I haven’t played it enough to have an opinion. That was my anticipated game of the year, but since that wearing first play, I haven’t really been eager to get back to it. Similarly, I haven’t played The Crew: Mission Deep Sea nearly as much as I’d like, but I have been excited to get back to it for months, and can’t wait to play it hundreds and hundreds of times. What elegant fun. What a great way to take an already great game and turn up the heat. You won’t be disappointed with The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, unless you are, in which case I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have told you to run out and buy it. What’s that? I haven’t? Oh. Run out and buy it. There.
Khôra: Rise of an Empire
I put Khôra: Rise of an Empire in front of about 15 people over the last 4 months. It has received nearly universal praise from everyone who’s played it. Personally, the game shines because it’s a slick, sturdy Euro for the current state of my life: I’m busy, I have two kids, and I need a game that has interesting decisions that will wrap up within an hour. Khôra: Rise of an Empire is that game. There are a whopping 7 tracks to advance upon, a military/conquest area for those gamers who want a taste of a civ game, and game-breaking cards that all players have access to thanks to a draft that precedes gameplay. You’ve got dice, the thickest player boards I handled last year, and a well-written rulebook; the production of this game knocks it out of the park. Simultaneous action selection speeds up gameplay and games are always close. Khôra: Rise of an Empire misses in only one key area: there aren’t enough cards, so I expect IELLO to release expansion content very soon!
Hadrian’s Wall is by far the game that I have played the most this year. Out of all the great titles that came out in 2021, this is the one that gets requested the most and that makes sense. It’s just a really great game.
Sleeping Gods is a masterpiece of a game, truly Ryan Laukat’s magnum opus. The massive world is excellently created, narrated, and illustrated. Sleeping Gods gives players the freedom to travel, explore, and discover Laukat’s wide, wonderful, and whimsical world. The writing is superb, the choices are endless, the world is massive, and the innovative combat is clever and challenging. If you’re a fan of open-world, sandbox video games like Skyrim, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or The Witcher, this is the ultimate tabletop experience for you.
Bob Pazehoski, Jr.
Genotype is a stunning worker placement game in which you are growing pea plants at a 19th century monastery alongside Gregor Mendel. From top to bottom, this game is beautiful. The board is marvelously illustrated (even the back of the board features a painting of the monastery that will gather a few “oohs” and “ahhs”). The components are substantial, and if you get a hold of the deluxe coins and stones you won’t regret it. The cards, which feature pea plants, tools, and assistants, are all illustrated in the same style. I’ve yet to bring this to the table without several comments about the artwork.
What can I say, I’ve got a type, and that type is tile laying games, especially ones from the crew at Flatout Games. I first saw Cascadia in prototype form at PAX Unplugged in 2019 and even then I knew it was destined for greatness. Cascadia asks players to build up a cardboard countryside by placing landscape tiles and animal tokens in carefully contrived arrangements. That herd of elk here, those pairs of bears here, foxes right in the middle, and never allowing the hawk to be near other animals. Cascadia is a multi-player optimization puzzle that requires players to think along multiple axis as they push for points. And even if you don’t win, you’ve built something unique, a gorgeous and beautifully illustrated vista like no other.
Perhaps I should say Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile or Ark Nova or any of the very good games from 2021 (Meadow was lovely, have you played that?) but the game that most inspired me, felt most innovative and interesting was Bullet ♥︎ from Level 99 Games. Interesting and unique player powers, real time game play and a compelling puzzle combine to produce something that feels genuinely different and unique. A sugar rush of sass and silliness.
When I reviewed Public Market almost 2 years ago, I thought it was an early candidate for game of the year despite not getting much hype. I stand by that sentiment: Public Market is an incredible game! While I usually prefer lighter fare, I’m absolutely hooked on this heavyweight’s blend of elegance and complexity, its nuanced bidding, its mind-melting polyomino placement puzzles, its economic engine undertones…I could go on, but you get the picture. And speaking of pictures, it’s got fantastic art that perfectly complements the gameplay. Public Market is a game I’m always happy to put on my table, and one that I can’t see ever letting go.
Punishing and opaque, but when you do well at this challenging euro, you’ll feel like a million dollars.