Of course 2021 was a rather unusual year, COVID-19 has ensured that in most endeavours, reviews included. There was simply less time at the gaming table as a group, and zero trips to gaming events where we always add a few new things to the collection to explore. The ultimate result it would be unfair to suggest this is a ‘best-of’ list given the somewhat restricted list as this year this space included looks at vintage games, interviews with designers and game champions.
Instead, this is a list of a few games played for the first time in 2021 which are deemed interesting enough to be considered for purchase by fellow gamers. In some cases, the games here were not actually reviewed in 2021, only played, but you can expect those games may well find a review included here as we progress through 2022.
Several years ago I happened upon a copy of Quixo released by Gigamic in 1995 from designer Thierry Chapeau.
At the time it wasn’t a game I knew much about but the box top showed it was a game using chunky wooden pieces, which always piques my interest.
There is something about wooden games that for me hearkens back to an early time, a time before even I was born, when artisans would have crafted games, not some plastic injection machine, and that effort of old intrigues me, and it turned out to be a great find, in particular a game my wife likes.
Then more recently – yes in 2021 -- I found Pylos at a local thrift store for $10 -- a tad pricey in terms of thrift games as there is a risk of missing pieces to factor in – but for the missing wooden offering from Gigamic I took the chance.
Thankfully the game was pristine.
So Pylos is from designer David G. Royffe and was released in 1993, and as the name hints is based on piling pieces – in this case wooden marbles on a wooden base. You want to be the person capping the pyramid created to win.
Now if there is a downside here it is that the track the marbles sit in awaiting placement isn’t quite deep enough, so pieces can be dislodged a bit more easily than you might like. Once off the board wooden marbles roll, often into hard to get places, like under the easy chair you are seated at – personal experience has attested to that already.
Again this is a quick to play, beautiful game, that makes the top-5.
So too does Quantik, a Yule gift from my son.
Designed by Nouri Khalifa and released in 2019, again from Gigamic, and part of a fine wooden games collection now numbering six, of which our little guild now has four.
Quantik is a devilishly delightful little game where the goal is simple, get four different shapes in a row, or a quadrant.
The twist is, while each player places their own colour, the four different shapes for a win can be a combination of colours, you only need to be the player placing the last piece, to secure a win.
There are some restrictions of where pieces can be placed too, just to add some thinking to the procedures of the game.
This game feels a bit like Quarto, which is the best of the Gigamic Games played to-date, but this one is easy to learn, quick to-play, and looks gorgeous – a definite coffee table game you will want to play.
Thrift store finds are always interesting. The purchase of Pylos noted above was a great one.
With Domination, it was a tad less so. The game includes 112 dominoes, of which two were missing.
The good news black dominoes abound in a gamer’s house so replacement wasn’t too difficult. Or course when pulling from a bag, as you do to replenish tiles in this game, it is rather easy to differentiate the two rogue pieces, but as it’s only a fun game it’s not a huge issue.
As in most domino games, Domination, released back in 2005, is rather straight forward, you place pieces on a board trying to control territories, the one with the most at the end wins.
I sort of think of Mexican Trains with this one, simple -- limited decisions, but yet relaxing fun. The game plays two well so is fine for couples, and also three or four, so a relaxing offering for company too. You can certainly chitchat and play this one too.
Kluster is about placing as many of your pieces – which are magnets – as you can within a defined area before they snap together with other pieces – that are then collected to your hand. You want to be the first play with no pieces left to place.
The game is fiendishly simple.
It takes a steady hand, and even then it can be a wonderfully frustrating experience.
The game is compact, great for some fun at the coffee shop, or when on the road.
Pentago is another thrift store find, a game which had been on the radar for ages, never quite rising to the top of the list whenever mad money allowed for a game order, but still a game of interest.
Seeing it for $4.99 made it a quick purchase.
Pentago is an abstract strategy game for two players with four 3×3 grids arranged into a larger 6×6 grid.
The goal is to place marbles in turn on the board until someone manages five-in-a-row.
The marbles were the missing element in the thrift store buy, three black and a white. Fortunately, those are easy to borrow from other games in the collection, so it was not a huge issue.
The game has earned a bunch of accolades since it was first released in 2005 including 2006 Mensa Select Winner.
The awards might seem unusual for a five-in-a-row game – Pente being one of the best of the genre – but Pentago adds a rather interesting mechanic. After placing a marble, with a few early game exceptions, you must turn one of the four 3X3 sections 90 degrees. So the board is always changing requiring an understanding of what can happen with each twist as you work to create five-in-a-row.
The game, which has been published by a number of different companies with various editions, has sold more than one million copies worldwide. That speaks to Pentago’s popularity.
The thrift find was a very nice wooden board version, with great black and white marbles, so aesthetically it is very pleasing.
With simple to learn rules, and lots of depth to discover, this is a great find indeed.