2021 Video Games and 2021 Game of the Year

Cities: Skylines screenshot for 2021 Video Games Featured Image

This year I played a LOT less; partly because I wasn’t home as much as I was in 2020 due to the COVID mitigations. Also, it was partly because I focused on programming with older Advent of Code challenges. Last year I wanted to make a list of games and go in order, but that fell apart when I got stuck on The Witcher 2 and stopped following the list. First up, a video of the games I played this year. Second, the text version of what I said in the video. Right before my Game of the Year selection, a graph of this year’s gameplay.

My 2021 Video Games Video
  1. Spelunky 2 (1 day, 4:19:14):  Lots of time playing with both Dan and Dave. Oh man, so much fun! And brought me back to my childhood playing with them. Also so much multiplayer with the kids; mostly arena mode. (Last year 35 hours 15 minutes
  2. Civilization VI (1 day, 3:34:37):  Started off getting back to the multiplayer games with Dan and Dave. Then that was supercharged while I was figuring out my webhook app that I made, first in Flask and then in FastAPI. Eventually that got me interested in resuming my single-player game as Gilgamesh – last played on Extra Life day. That game quickly went bust as I kept getting attacked for focusing on science to the detriment of my military. So I did a second game and tried to focus early on scouts to get the free city-state bonuses. That led to a stunted empire and I fell behind to Ghandi and eventually lost. Finally, I tried for a third time, using all my lessons learned to finally get the Gilgamesh win. 
    In multiplayer games, in the one where I was India and embroiled in a war with Dan, my turns finally ended with my defeat.The other multiplayer games continue. (Last year 23 hours 28 minutes)
  3. Dicey Dungeons (19:56:11): Midway through the year Dan told me about card-based rogue-alike games like Monster Train and Slay the Spire. I didn’t remember the titles he’d told me about so when this one was on sale on GOG, I bought it thinking this was one of the ones he’d told me about. It turned out to be a fortunate mistake since I really enjoyed the heck out of Dicey Dungeons. The sense of humor and gameplay were right up my alley. I could not get enough of this game for a few weeks. (Did not play in 2020)
  4. Cities Skylines (11:53:14): I spent the first half of 2021 obsessed with this game, starting new cities where I could use all of my DLC from the beginning rather than trying to bolt it onto my older city that I started without the DLC. Like the Civilization series, these city builders seem to be perennial favorites of mine, so I expect I’ll play some more in 2022. Right now I’m on the fence about whether I’ll get the Airport DLC. It’s going to depend on what it adds to the gameplay. (Last Year: 14 hours 19 minutes
  5. Slay the Spire (11:46:38): Given how late in the year I got this game, the fact that it appears in such a high position on the list is indicative of how addictive I found it. Runs usually took me way longer than Dicey Dungeon runs (whether I was winning or losing) so that also contributed to the time. But once I got started I just wanted to play all the time, even breaking my rule of not getting up to play once I’ve gone to bed. I still have to beat it with The Watcher, so I intend to play some more in 2022. (Did not play in 2020)
  6. Darkest Dungeon (7:03:47):  I started off the year with the kids requesting to watch me play, just like the year before. Their requests petered off as they got old enough to play more games on their own. I’d still like to beat at least one run through the final dungeon before getting Darkest Dungeon 2, but that may be years out at my current pace. (Last year: 36 hours 20 minutes)
  7. Super Mario 3D World (6:07:28):  Started off 2021 playing SM3DW with the kids and trying to get enough stars for the star world Bowser level. Eventually we finished all the levels. The twins continued to improve and be less of a hindrance most of the time. It was a lot of fun to finish the last “impossible without white tanuki” bosses. My assessment from last year stands – this game is the perfect synthesis of modern 2D and 3D Mario games. In fact, mid-year we got the Switch version (which comes with Bowser’s Fury) and I am not a fan at all of the Bowser’s Fury part. And, as is always the case in the 3D Mario games, the kids find it hard to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing because it’s so open ended. (Last year: 15 hours 58 minutes)
  8. Stardew Valley (5:44:57): I finally finished the Community Center and got to see the final cut-scene. I’m not sure at this point if I’m going to keep playing to beautify the farm, start a new farm, or just let Stardew Valley go. I’ve certainly gotten tons of hours from its initial $15 price tag. (Last year: 28 hours 12 minutes)
  9. Moving Out (4:33:23): Another game by the same studio that created Overcooked. Sometimes I find it easier than Overcooked (you’re not trying to assemble a specific food item) and other times I find it harder (trying to fit everything onto the truck) Just like Overcooked it is a game that often left everyone yelling at everyone else when things were going wrong. On the other side, when we finally got a truck packed it felt SO awesome. (Did not play in 2020)
  10. Chrono Trigger (3:54:58): Now that Scarlett’s got the idea of RPGs from Pokemon, I wanted to share my favorite jRPG with her. She enjoyed it, but we didn’t keep up with it. She did ask me about it recently, so perhaps we’ll continue in 2022. (Did not play in 2020)
  11. Hades (2:30:56): Lots of folks had been saying lots of positive things about this game, but the game’s nomination for the 2021 Hugos got me to check it out this year. It’s definitely one of the most innovative rogue-lites I’ve played and one of the few that actually has a story to it. I’ve added it into the rotation for 2022, so expect to see it again.  (Did not play in 2020)
  12. Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed (2:29:06):  The kids had tons of fun playing the original Sonic and All-Stars game, so I decided to try this one. The twins find the flying aspect to be a little too hard. I think the game adds some good innovations, but I think it’s a little lacking with the reduction in the percentage of all-star power-ups compared to the previous game. (Did not play in 2020)
  13. Contraption Maker (2:09:29):  The twins saw a video of Scarlett playing and wanted to play. Early on in 2021 they were a little uneven in the puzzle solving aspect, but they had fun with the game. When I showed them the maker part, they enjoyed that (they’ve been enjoying the heck out of Mario Maker), but so far they only created silly scenarios. (Did not play in 2020)
  14. Puyo Puyo Tetris (2:05:53): Tetris is one of the oldest games I’ve played, starting with the Gameboy version when I was a kid. This one was on sale and I figured I could play with the family. Boy was I right! I played about double this amount with the kids on the big screen TV and the family played about 24 or more hours on their own without me. (Did not play in 2020)
  15. Worms: Reloaded (1:52:42): I played some more with the kids. (Last year: 14 hours 45 minutes)
  16. Outer Wilds (1:50:03):  Dan really enjoyed playing Outer Wilds and he gave it to me as a present. I had no idea what the story was going to entail as I started it, but it unfolded in such a wonderful way. The world slowly revealed itself and I found myself intrigued by it. The biggest obstacle to my continuation of the game was the fact that I got stuck and, like a point and click adventure game, I wasn’t sure what to do without consulting an FAQ. (Did not play in 2020)
  17. Rocket League (1:49:39):  This was the first game we played in 2021. The kids wanted to play after they saw my 2020 wrapup. They are slowly getting better at understanding where the ball is and what they have to do, strategically, to win. After an initial bout of sessions, we didn’t play again until the kids caught a past video of us playing Rocket League on YouTube. (Last year: 2 hours 17 minutes)
  18. Vertical Drop Heroes HD (1:49:18): I played a bit more with the kids and we got pretty far. (Last year: 5 hours 38 minutes)
  19. Planet Coaster (1:18:45): I got this game on sale, thinking Scarlett would like it since she really enjoys decorating and organizing her farm in Stardew Valley. Unfortunately, it turned out to be just a tad too hard. Perhaps we can revisit it in a year or two. (Did not play in 2020)
  20. Scribblenauts Unlimited (1:00:19):  This was another game that we started playing because the kids saw an old video of us playing and asked to do some more levels. We came very close to finishing the game and I think we can easily finish it if we play a bit more this year. (Last year: 3 hours 45 minutes)
  21. Worms: Clan Wars (0:49:48): Sam requested playing this game a little more and so we did. (Last year: 1 hour 40 minutes)
  22. Beckett (0:49:12):  Finished the game. The ending was somewhat underwhelming, but that’s not surprising considering how I was feeling about the game from about halfway through. (Last year: 1 hour 50 minutes)
  23. Road Not Taken (0:37:30):  Done with this game (Last year: 1 hour 30 minutes)
  24. Among Us (0:33:49): Near the end of 2021 the kids became obsessed with Among Us videos. When Steam had their winter sale, it was very cheap, so we got copies for everyone. The kids needed me to play so that we could have a quorum to play together. I found the game to be OK, but would need some more time with it to see if I’d enjoy playing it again. (Did not play in 2020)
  25. Sonic and Sega All-Star Racing (0:33:10): Before we started playing Transformed, one of the kids had asked me if we could play a few rounds of this one. (Last year: 17 hours 14 minutes)
  26. Team Fortress 2 (0:32:34): As is my current habit, I launched the game on Halloween to play the Halloween maps and content. Each time I do I think I should play more TF2, but there are just too many games to play! (Last year: 2 hours 13 minutes)
  27. FTL (0:29:33): Early on in 2021 I made a play for some achievements in my one FTL session. Needless to say, thing did not go well for Eric, Daniel, and Dave on The Torus. (Last year: 1 hour 45 minutes)
  28. Spiritfarer (0:28:12): I got this game for Scarlett because (like many games that people were talking about during the pandemic) it was described as Stardew Valley plus something; on a boat in this case. The kids have put a lot of hours into their various Spiritfarer games. I played a half hour to evaluate it for the Hugos. It’s another game in the category of games that would probably be very interesting to me if I didn’t have so many others to play. (Did not play in 2020)
  29. The Witcher 2 (0:26:19): I tried to make a little more forward progress in this game. Ended up watching a couple cutscenes and then being sent on a fetch quest. This is what derailed me from my organized progression through my video game list. The next game to play is The Witcher 2 and I just don’t want to. (Last Year: 8 hours 33 minutes)
  30. All You Can Eat (0:25:36): This was an interesting comic strip interface over a point and click adventure. The dialogue was interesting and it seemed as though the developers came up with an unusual story. But it just wasn’t enough to hook me when I got stuck and couldn’t figure out what to do next. (Did not play in 2020)
  31. Gwent (0:23:59): I returned to Gwent in 2021, but was almost immediately turned off from casual play. It seems the developers have gone all-in on the campaign-style play where you have a few months to get to the end of the campaign – earning the keys, barrels, and cosmetic items. Perfectly fine if this is your main game and you’re playing somewhere between once a day and once every couple days. If, like me, you might hit the game once a month, it serves as a bit of a discouragement. Additionally, it makes me less likely to pay for the campaign since I won’t get my money’s worth. (Last year: 73 hours 24 minutes)

Total Time for 2021: 6 days, 8:00:19 aka 152 hours. (Last year: 370 hours 50 minutes)

It’s nice to see a power law curve here as should be the case. A few games that I played a ton (even in a year in which I played half as much as the year before) then a bunch of games that have nearly the same time, much lower.

2021 Game of the Year

This year was full of a LOT of fun games. I really, really enjoyed playing a lot of them. Unsurprisingly, my 2021 game of the year is in the rogue family. That genre has rapidly become one of my favorites. It’s a good mix of challenge, reward, and (usually) the gameplay sessions aren’t too long. After thinking about it a lot and going back and forth in my head, Slay the Spire is my 2021 Game of the Year. As I said before, even though I got it almost at the end of the year, it ended up being my fifth most-played game.

Runner Up

The runners up were Dicey Dungeons, Hades, and (somewhat out of left field) Puyo Puyo Tetris. Dicey Dungeons had humor and challenge just right. Hades combined a Zelda-like experience with a rogue-lite. And Puyo Puyo just brought me tons of joy with all of my family. Slightly further behind is Cities: Skylines which I am often finding myself itching to play, especially after visiting its subreddit.

Surprise Loss

Based on what I’d read about the game, the beautiful artwork, and how much time my kids have spent playing it, I’m somewhat surprised I didn’t like Spiritfarer more. I may just need to give it more time, but it didn’t hook me like I thought it would. I will say that one thing in its favor is that it really seems to give off peaceful vibes. It could be a nice game to throw on after a rough day.