Sometimes I play video games. Sometimes. My delicate balancing act between freelance writing, running a Patreon-funded YouTube channel, and being a stay at home dad with the youngest entering the terrible toddler years has given me less and less time to devote to gaming.

We also got new puppies this past year, which I definitely don’t recommend alongside a new baby.

Lots of cute, and lots of poop.

So much poop.


And there’s the whole ongoing COVID pandemic, which is gradually receding into the background radiation of our lives as we collectively (and worryingly) become numb to the news and the death toll.

But I still managed to play a few games this past year. At least ten of them!

Before we begin my Game of the Year countdown, let’s take a look at my Most Anticipated Games list from January 2021. Here’s a reminder:

  1. Baldur’s Gate 3
  2. Monster Hunter Rise
  3. Horizon Forbidden West
  4. Back 4 Blood
  5. State of Decay 3
  6. Endless Dungeon
  7. Griftlands
  8. Bravely Default 2
  9. Humankind
  10. Songs of Conquest

Five of those games didn’t release this year. I did play the other five, though only the trial/demo for Back 4 Blood. That’s a better rate than last year!

Did any of my Most Anticipated Games make my final top ten? Let’s find out!

My Top Ten Games of 2021

10) Slipways

Played on: Steam

Slipways is a brilliant little indie puzzle game about creating trade routes between planets. The controls couldn’t be simpler: hold down the mouse to reveal new planets or asteroids, click on planets and choose their supply and demands, and drag routes between them.

The simply strategy is instantly compelling thanks to the complex supply chain between planets. Almost no two planets can supply each other; often I’ll need to create complex, interweaving chains of four or more planets. Add in faction side quests, space stations, and limited time, and you have one of my favorite indie games of the year.

9) Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin

Played on: Switch

The first Monster Hunter Stories on 3DS was a fun spin-off that combined the monster-battling genre dominated by Pokémon, with the hugely cool monsters of the MH series.

The Switch sequel expands the story and graphics, while only slightly refining the solid tactical combat and monster-fusing gameplay. Its hampered by awful pacing in the early game, however, taking forever to unlock the more interesting elements of the gameplay. Still, the series maintains a much-needed halfway point between the light simplicity of Pokémon and the hardcore complexity of the SMT/Persona series.

8) Solasta: Crown of the Magister

Played on: Steam

D&D has never been more popular than right now, yet officially licensed video games remain rare and mostly underwhelming in recent years.

Though it does some neat stuff with bringing custom player characters to life, I wish Solasta: Crown of the Magister had better production, voice acting, and writing. Despite its flaws, it’s easily the best D&D 5e game we’ve had yet, expertly replicating 5e turn-based combat far more accurately than upcoming D&D game, Baldur’s Gate 3 (which I’m still very much looking forward to when it finally hits 1.0).

7) Bravely Default 2

Played on: Switch

I have a mixed relationship with the Bravely Default series. On the one hand, I love how they feel like old-school, 90s era JRPGs with modern conveniences, such as speeding up combat animations and seeing enemies directly on the map. The job system of combining and synergizing all the classes is rewarding and enjoyable, and I really dig the simple, Chibi-like art style.

But on the other hand Bravely Default 2 is absolutely a gigantic grind to unlock all the cool jobs and abilities, and like most JRPGs, my patience begins wearing out around hour 50. Not my favorite RPG series, but the sequel still deserves a spot on the top ten list.

6) Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

Played on: Steam

Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous more than scratched my itch for an epic, party-based tactical RPG. In fact, it’s way too much for me, as I may very well retire after 50 hours of live streamed gameplay, only having finished the second act of five!

This stand-alone sequel is way better than the first game (Kingmaker), and features excellent writing and story-telling, memorable characters, and the amazing ability to seamlessly swap between real-time and turn-based tactical combat, giving me the best of both worlds.

5) Gloomhaven

Played on: Steam

Would you believe the official digital adaptation of one of the best board game RPGs ever made had been in Steam Early Access for two years? Gloomhaven finally hit 1.0 in 2021, and holy crap am I impressed.

Between my completed physical copy and our run on Tabletop Simulator, I have played hundreds of hours of Gloomhaven, and this version is still absolutely worth the time. The monster AI and the 3D graphics and animation are a huge plus, not to mention including the entire 90+ scenario campaign, as well as an additional 100+ scenario Guildmaster mode, with its own interesting system of unlocks and progression. And all of it features online four player co-op.

This is a game I’ll be playing a lot more of in the months to come — check out our new run through!

4) It Takes Two

Played on: PlayStation 5

I was late to the party with this co-op 3D platformer that recently won Game of the Year at The Game Awards 2021. This is not a genre I usually enjoy, but It Takes Two is perfectly designed from the ground up for two players working in tandem through a variety of clever puzzles and interesting locations, whether we’re operating magnets underwater, racing down ski slopes, or battling through a toy castle.

It’s a bit like Honey I Shrunk the Kids meets Portal, wrapped up in a satisfyingly heart-warming story. If you have a gaming partner, you have to play It Takes Two.

3) Monster Hunter Rise

Played on: Switch

I’m prepared to admit I’ll never love a Monster Hunter game as much as my first, 2018’s Monster Hunter World (and my #1 game that year).

But the Switch follow-up is a worthy successor. What it lacks in graphics Monster Hunter Rise makes up for with fun new additions: the Palamute (a cute doggie mount!) and the wirebug (new attacks + mounting monsters!). The gameplay loop of attacking big boss monsters with impressive AI to get more powerful gear is just as fun in World, and I still dumped over 70 hours into Rise. I’m looking forward to the big expansion coming in 2022!

2) Pokémon Unite

Played on: Switch

Pokémon + MOBA is a winning formula, yet I never thought I’d be seduced by a free-to-play Pokémon game. I’m glad to be wrong.

Pokémon Unite is a refreshing, fast-paced MOBA of 10-minute matches, simple controls, and a sports-like scoring system. New Pokémon have been added at an impressive pace, and though Aeos Coins come slowly, I haven’t quite felt the need to drop any hard cash. Yet.

But the real treat is being able to play a competitive multiplayer game with my wife and oldest child together — in fact we literally got my wife her own Switch mainly to play Unite with us!

1) Humankind

Played on: Steam

Despite my love of strategy games, an actual 4X strategy game rarely dominates my end of year top ten list. But 2021 was a strange, stressful year, and Humankind provided a refreshing refuge.

Humankind changes just enough from the Civ formula to make it fresh and exciting, starting with changing cultures upon entering each new era, as well as satisfying tactical combat and intriguing district management. It’s not without some flaws, mostly when it comes to balance, but of all the games on this list, this is the one I’m most likely to return to and play for just one more turn.

End of Year Awards

Most Played: Monster Hunter Rise (70+ hours)

Best Multiplayer: Pokémon Unite

Best Cooperative Game: It Takes Two

Biggest Surprise: Humankind

Most Disappointing: Back 4 Blood

Best Early Access/Beta Game: N/A

Best Original Music: Humankind

Best Art Design: Spiritfarer

Best World Building/Atmosphere: Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

Best Writing: Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

Best Game Nobody Else Played: Slipways

Most Improved Sequel: Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

Favorite New Game Mechanic: Seamlessly swapping between real-time and turn-based combat (Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous).

Most Innovative: It Takes Two

Best New Character: Ember (Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous)

Favorite Moment: Playing Pokémon Unite with my wife and daughter.

Best Industry Trend: D&D (or D&D-adjacent) RPGs!

Worst Industry Trend: COVID delaying many games into next year

Didn’t Have Time to Play: Jurassic World Evolution 2

Too Long; Didn’t Finish: Bravely Default 2, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

Favorite 2020 Game of 2021: Marvel’s Miles Morales

Total Games Finished in 2021

  1. Immortals Fenyx Rising
  2. Children of Morta
  3. Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth
  4. Smelter
  5. Monster Hunter Rise
  6. Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition
  7. New Pokémon Snap
  8. Legend of Keepers
  9. Cyberpunk 2077
  10. Persona 5
  11. Heroes Chronicles: Conquest of the Underworld
  12. Solasta: Crown of the Magister
  13. Roguebook
  14. For the King (first scenario)
  15. Marvel’s Avengers (+1st Hawkeye DLC)
  16. Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
  17. Marvel’s Spider-Man (+City that Never Sleeps DLC)
  18. Marvel’s Miles Morales

Thanks for reading, and let’s all have a good, or at least a better, 2022!