It’s that time of year, when the world’s aglow with the list articles covering the top 10 games of 2021. It has been a while since I’ve written one of these, so I apologize for my lack of consistency, but let’s get down to business. What were the top 10 games of 2021?
10 – Tie – The Day Was Ours: First Bull Run & Thunder at Dawn: The Battle of Wilson’s Creek
This was a tie…I cheated…there are 11 games sand I’m off to a bad start for a top 10 list aren’t I?
This year was a sad year in general, but in the wargaming world, one of the great artists of the hobby passed away: Rick Barber. Rick’s maps have been a staple of many publishers and his participation in the American Civil War side of the hobby has been exceptional. These two games, and the upcoming Gettysburg game, will be his final three completed projects I believe.
Paired with the incredible Blind Swords series of games, we get to go back to the first year of the American Civil War in two pivotal battles that, once again, are truly well represented by Hermann Luttmann’s series. Published by Revolution Games, if you’re looking to get into this series, then these games represent a great entry point!
9 – Captain’s Sea
After a LENGTHY wait (does anything at Legion ever come out quickly?) Legion wargames got Captain’s Sea out. This game started life on GMT’s P500 and was dropped in 2018 or 2019. Since then, it’s been building steam over at Legion. Mike Nagel’s other age of sail game Flying Colors has been a staple of fleet action in the era for over a decade so it was great to see a ship-to-ship tactical game that brings together fresh ideas and walks players through the history of the American’s initial six frigates!
8 – Panzer’s Last Stand
The Battalion Combat Series rolls onward. This time stopping outside of Budapest in 1945 for more late-war action. The combination of Carl Fung’s impeccable research and game design savvy alongside the fantastic series that provides a novel way of planning and managing large formations has been popular owing in large part to making players feel the sense of planning but not perfect control. As a result, BCS Panzer’s Last Stand proves to be yet another hit for MMP and The Gamers. This game probably doesn’t serve as a great entry point to the series, but it’s definitely got a lot in the box to keep you occupied!
7 – Empire at Sunrise
Hollandspiele’s look at the Great War in the Pacific with its variable telescoping scales. John Gorkowski brings this little-covered corner of World War I to light and allows players to explore a nuanced and asymmetrical game that relies as much on cunning strategy as it does on timing. Like all of Hollandspiele’s games, the game within the game is discovering the design-intent. Here, it seems to be on understand the relationships of time and position within the pacific theater. It is perhaps a timely reminder about the current state of emerging global ambitions in the Pacific as an echo from history when Japan first sought to establish its legitimacy as a blue-water navy on the world stage. Empire at Sunrise is WELL worth your time to play and demands multiple replays to uncover the nuance that sets this game apart. I’m looking forward to getting it back on the table!
6 – Storm Above the Reich
Living in an interesting stand-alone, but expansion for Skies Above the Reich, this game provides players with a staffel of Fw109s to try and combat the daylight raids over Germany from 1942 through 1945. If you played and liked it’s predecessor, then you’ll love this trip back to the lead-filled skies over Germany. This is a PUNISHING game that demands a surprising level of attention to detail. Make no mistake, you’ll fail far more often than you’ll succeed. Rules are included to combine your staffel of Fw109s with your Bf109s from Skies Above the Reich. Pretty cool bang for the buck on this one if you own both!
5 – Car Wars 6th Edition
It’s been a long wait for this one, but Steve Jackson Games delivered on a truly epic package that included a fantastic evolution of the core rules that makes the game more approachable. The old 2nd edition rules that I grew up with are long gone. The days of meticulously designing cars and running down pedestrians for points are over. In some ways, I’ll miss the car tweaking, but the core car arena concept remains strong. Car Wars 6th edition is a needed entry and retains the campy Uncle Al’s fun of the game I fell in love with 35 years ago!
4 – Commands & Colors Samurai Battles
Will anything stop the Commands & Colors series? GMT gives the block treatment to a C&C game that originally had miniatures. The time period here is what interests me and after games like Ghosts of Tsushima on the PS4/5 a game that Samurai battles does a great job of attaching real history with fantasy. Now, the game does take some serious liberties with the Japanese theme including traditional Chinese imagery (dragons) within the game. These tropes are lazily applied to an otherwise excellent entry into the C&C series and don’t diminish the overall excellence of this design.
3 – Horse & Muskets IV: Tides of Revolution
It was a great year for series games and Horse & Musket was no exception. The fourth entry brought with it a counter redesign and the entry to the revolutionary age of enlightenment period. Scenarios in this game are well designed, and quite frankly, if you’re going to invest in one expansion for the Horse & Musket series…this would be my personal pick. In addition to well worn topics like Germantown and Guilford come scenarios on Caldiero, Jemappes, and Bemis Heights. It’s a great next iteration of the series and the Horse & Musket series has overtaken my love for C&C so this was very well received at my house!
2 – Undaunted Reinforcements
Just making the cut with a November release, Osprey Games’ Undaunted Reinforcements wins on so many levels. Official solitaire play, a single box with room for the other two prior releases, and more scenarios to expand your play for both prior titles. It’s almost impossible to go wrong with this introductory wargame series. There’s enough there for new players and veterans alike to enjoy themselves at the table and a “lunchtime” play length is VERY welcome amidst a sea of 3+ hour games. 10 years ago, I would have dismissed a game like this, but as my tastes have evolved and my availability to game has shrunk it’s EXACTLY these kinds of games that appeal most to me (and clearly to a lot of other folks).
1 – The Grass Crown
This is Hollandspiele’s 3rd entry on the list for 2021 and it’s no surprise why. I was delighted when the Shields and Swords Ancients Series was adapted for ancient warfare in With It Or On It. However, The Grass Crown takes this to a whole new level showcasing a sweep of Roman military history and conflict in one delightful package. Hollandspiele’s first “big box” game is truly worthy of the game of the year from me because it captures something that other heavier games do (unit and formation cohesion) without requiring dozens of pages of rules to do so.
If SPQR from the Great Battles of History is the pinnacle of ancient warfare (as it has been for me) then The Grass Crown is its worthy and equal successor. This is clearly a passion project. The designer notes, and nuance that each era of the Roman army brings to the scenarios in which they’re featured in is exceptional. This is a MUST BUY if you’ve not done so already.