Announcing the 2021 Game of the Year Finalists

Featured Gaming GeekDad Approved Tabletop Games

It’s hard to believe, but 2021 is almost over, and that means that it’s time to look back on our top picks in the tabletop world! We’ve narrowed down titles from our GeekDad Approved selections for 2021 and soon we’ll choose the one that will receive our Game of the Year award. In the meantime, please have a look at our list of nominees and learn more about our process for selection.

Our 10 Favorite Games of 2021

Our finalists for Game of the Year (in alphabetical order) are Cascadia, Dune: Imperium, Dwellings of Eldervale, Fantasy Realms, Gorinto, Horrified: American Monsters, Overboss, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, Tiny Epic Pirates, and Whistle Mountain. Each description below includes a link to our original review.

Cascadia cover image
Cascadia. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Cascadia

Designed by Randy Flynn, published by Flatout Games and AEG, with illustrations by Beth Sobel.

Cascadia is a tile-laying game that beautifully combines easy-to-learn rules, puzzle-solving elements, and different scoring options that make every game unique. Read our full review here.

Dune: Imperium. Photo: Paul Benson

Dune: Imperium

Designed by Paul Dennen, published by Dire Wolf, with illustrations by Clay Brooks, Nate Storm, Brett Nienburg, Atilla Guzey, Derek Herring, Kenan Jackson, and Paul Ramos.

Dune: Imperium, an official tie-in to the hit Denis Villeneuve movie (although, thanks to the pandemic, the game came out almost a year before the movie) and the first official Dune boardgame in decades is a hybrid deck-building and worker-placement game, and that combination of two mechanics that a lot of us here at GeekDad love is a big part of why this game is one of our finalists. Read our full review here.

Dwellings of Elderdale. Photo: Paul Benson

Dwellings of Elderdale

Designed by Luke Laurie, published by Breaking Games, with illustrations by Sergio Chaves, Anton Fadeev, Leesha Hannigan, Irina Kuzmina, Merilliza Chan, Nathanael Mortensen, Sasha Radivojevic, Sam Turner, Brian Valeza, and Frank Wade.

Dwellings of Elderdale is the most expensive game on this list, but with hundreds of components, including custom meeples and miniatures, you definitely get what you pay for, and gameplay to match as well, with easy-to-learn basic rules, a quick combat system, and levels of complexity that ensures replayability. Read our full review here.

Fantasy Realms. Photo: Michael Knight

Fantasy Realms

Designed by Bruce Glassco, published by Wizkids, with illustrations by Octographics.net.

Fantasy Realms is a hand-building card game. This new version of the 2017 game has already picked up other accolades, including being a finalist for the Kennerspiel des Jahres. It features fast setup and is easy to learn, and yet relies on changing strategies to be successful. Read our full review here.

Gorinto. Image by Rob Huddleston.

Gorinto

Designed by Richard Yaner, published by Grand Gamers Guild, with graphic design by Josh Cappel.

Gorinto is a beautifully designed abstract strategy game that, like many other titles on this list, is easy to learn and hard to master. Each game is relatively short, and yet, like all great abstract games, there are dozens of possible choices with each move. And best of all, the game is wonderfully balanced, ensuring that almost every game will be close and exciting right up to the end. Read our full review here.

Horrified: American Monsters. Photo: Rob Huddleston

Horrified: American Monsters

Designed by Mike Mulvihill, published by Ravensburger, with illustrations by George Doutsiopoulos, Studio Hive, Kory Hubbel Lynn, Victor Maristane, Tom Moore, and Josh Newton.

Every Hollywood producer knows that sequels are hard, but every now and then, they get it right. Horrified: American Monsters includes everything that’s great about the original Horrified: easy rules and great cooperative play with enough strategic depth to keep people wanting to come back. And yet this game is more than just a fresh coat of paint: the new monsters require all new ways to defeat, while the new investigators bring a new set of special abilities to bear. Read our full review here.

Overboss box cover
Overboss. Photo: Jonathan Liu

Overboss

Designed by Aaron Mesburne and Kevin Russ, published by Brotherwise Games, with illustrations by Darren Calvert.

A tile-placement game that puts a twist on the classic boss monster trope, Overboss has players creating worlds, assembling terrain, and adding monsters to fight off those pesky adventurers. Another of the lighter entries on our list, Overboss can be played quickly, and features rules kids can pick up easily. Read our full review here.

The Crew: Mission Deep Sea. Photo: Rob Huddleston

The Crew: Mission Deep Sea

Designed by Thomas Sing and published by Thames & Kosmos, with illustrations by Marco Armbruster.

You know that thing I said up above about sequels being hard? Well, it turns out we have two entries on the list this year that seem to prove otherwise. For the second year in a row, Thomas Sing has produced an incredible twist on trick-taking, but he’s shaken up the goals to make a game that in many ways exceeds the original. Read our full review here.

Tiny Epic Pirates cover
Tiny Epic Pirates. Photo: Jonathan Liu

Tiny Epic Pirates

Designed by Scott Almes, published by Gamelyn Games, illustrations by Felix Wermke, Nikoletta Vaszi, Ian Rosenthaler, and Chip Cole.

While some games get bigger and bigger, the folks at Gamelyn Games continue to pull off the seemingly magic feat of packing rich, fun games full of great components into tiny boxes. This year’s entry is all about sailing the seven seas, fending off the navy and other pirates while filling your treasure chest full of loot. Read our full review here.

Whistle Mountain. Photo: Paul Benson

Whistle Mountain

Designed by Scott Caputo and Luke Laurie, published by Bezier Games, with illustrations by Mila Harbar and Taylor Bogle.

The final (alphabetical) game on the list is one of the heaviest, but of course in a good way. The worker-placement and engine-building game has dozens of strategic decisions to be made, many right from the start, that will impact the gameplay throughout. Read our full review here.

How We Picked Our Finalists

The GeekDad Game of the Year is an award given annually to the game we have enjoyed the most in the previous year. Qualification is dependent on a number of factors: First (and probably the biggest filter), the game must have been reviewed on our site in the previous 12 months. Additionally, we must have recognized the quality of the game in the review and noted the game as a “GeekDad Approved” game, worthy of our big, shiny metal thumbs-up.

Second, the game must be accessible to most families—a bit of a nebulous identification to be sure, but roughly a game should be one that most families would be likely to play on a weekend afternoon. This would typically rule out very heavy strategy games and very light fare. That’s not to say we’re not heavily enamored with some of those games, we just have to be more selective as we narrow games down. While we do have a couple of longer, heavier games and much lighter fare on this year’s list, we still try to adhere to that criteria.

Third, we also keep an eye on content, and games that have themes, language, or art that we deem inappropriate aren’t going to make the cut. The family game category, as you traditionally think about it, is a good place to start, but it’s not absolute. We recognize that families might consist of adult children or older teenagers, as well as very young children. As a resultant, our sweet spot covers a very large area.

Fourth, in the past, a game we select as a finalist must have come out in those previous 12 months and be currently available in wide release. There’s no sense in us celebrating a game that not many (or no one) can get their hands on. This year, that posed an extra challenge, as several of the games we wanted to consider are currently unavailable due to the international shipping crisis. In the end, we did select one game that, to the best of our knowledge, isn’t widely available right now (Dwellings of Everdale), but that we have on good authority should be back on shelves early next year. 

It’s worth noting that occasionally we put a GeekDad Approved seal on a game we enjoyed even though it wasn’t published in the 12-month window—these do not have the year designation on them, and are not eligible for Game of the Year.

Fifth, when we originally started the Game of the Year award, our plan was for a select few GeekDads to travel to one location and play all ten of the finalists together. Last year, of course, we had to change course and play the games online. While we had all hoped that this year would see us returning to in-person gaming, we have to be realistic and acknowledge that the pandemic is still with us, and so once again we are playing the games online. And so that has forced us to add an additional criteria once again this year: the game has to be playable online.

Sixth and finally, we love games that have fresh takes on old mechanics, offer great components, or otherwise have a special something that will get everyone to the table. As we narrow down our list of GeekDad Approved games to just 10 finalists, we try to include a mix of genres, game weight, game length, and themes, though it’s always hard to fit everything!

Our Timeline

Our selection process gathers steam in mid-November. It is then that we begin our judging, winnowing down our list of Approved games to just ten finalists, which is, honestly, the hardest part of this process. Everyone who writes for GeekDad has the opportunity to vote in this process; our only prerequisite is that they have played the games they provide input on.

Sometime over the next few weeks, we will be getting together (virtually) to play through these ten games, and then collectively decide on a winner, which will be announced in a follow-up post in the first week of December.

The timetable might seem a bit odd–a 12-month calendar keyed off November, but there is reasoning behind it. By considering games released between last November of the previous year and the first ten months of the current year, we feel as though we capture most games released during the year. Further, by narrowing our field and making a selection by mid-December, it allows our readers to consider and make a purchasing decision on a game they can have for the holidays and enjoy all of the next year.

Our Approved Games for 2021

Chances are that one of your favorites isn’t on that list. Tell us which one and why! And make sure to check back in sometime in December to find out which one we’ve chosen as our 2021 Game of the Year!

5-Minute Mystery
Almanac: The Dragon Road
Cascadia
Cryo
Dale of Merchants 3
Dune: Imperium
Dwellings of Eldervale
ESPN Trivia Night
Fantasy Realms
Gorinto
Gravwell 2nd Edition
Horrifed: American Monsters
Infinity Gauntlet: A Love Letter Game
Overboss
Paleo
Six Second Scribbles
Summoner Wars 2nd edition
Taco Bell Party Pack Card Game
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
Tiny Epic Pirates
Whistle Mountain
World of Warcraft Pandemic
Zombie Teenz Evolution

The Fine Print

We realize that we can’t get to every game that is released each year. For that, we apologize. There are only a handful of us and we have day jobs. But we are trying hard to review as many games as we can.

To be completely transparent, when we identify a game as Approved, the publisher is notified and we provide a logo noting the Approved designation that they are free to use without any obligation. However, for any game that we select as a Finalist or as the winner of our Game of the Year, we request a small fee for use of that logo and designation; again, there is no obligation to participate, nor do we consider the likelihood of a publisher paying when we narrow down our list.

We ask for this fee since we believe the award provides a benefit to the publishers who decide to use it, but also to offset administrative costs of running a big website and travel costs involved with a number of us getting together to play the Finalists games and make a decision on the overall winner. We’re bloggers. Financially, it’s a losing proposition—in a big way. We’re just trying to offset that a little.

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