Happily wrong: the Zulu’s Crew’s favorite games of 2021

Happily wrong: the Zulu’s Crew’s favorite games of 2021

Welcome 2022! For many of us in the local business gaming community 2021 was a rough year, filled with tension and risk and frustration. Only by sticking together and supporting each other did we make it! So many shipments were delayed (I’m looking at you, Kickstarter) and when we wondered how it could possibly get worse than a shortage of TP… a container ship got stuck in the Suez canal. A whole lot of gaming moved online and people stopped wearing pants. Binging Netflix became the norm and social drinking became solo drinking. But times of stress are also very good reason to lean into gaming! Today I’m going to surprise and delight you when I talk about Zulu’s employees and their favorite games of 2021.

Pokémon celebrates 25 years

Pokémon celebrates 25 years!

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I polled my team for the games that they enjoyed most in 2021, but I was happily wrong. Ask the discoverers of aspartame, penicillin or Viagra how important it was for them to be open to the unexpected! Just to give everyone space to express themselves I also asked for their least favorite game of the year. I was blown away by the responses and wish I’d asked sooner.

Before I unpack the data, try to answer this for yourself: which games were your favorites last year, and why? Then, guess which games you think our staff liked best. The answers might not be what you think.

For starters, I make no secret about the games I like to play and the games I play at Zulu’s. I tend to play MTG, FAB and crunchy strategy games. Hopefully you’ve seen my blogs about these games. Oh, and my wife loves Wingspan, so I play a lot of that, too. I expected to see lots of MTG, D&D and Digimon votes, and while I wasn’t disappointed, I was greatly surprised!

Little known fact: Zulu’s actually grew in 2021 – we added a huge expansion and enough employees to support it. So we had over 20 employees respond to my simple questionnaire, totaling over 100 votes. From them, here are our top 5 games:

  • 4 votes: Pokémon – not a big surprise considering we have a spirited store league
  • 3 votes: D&D – our weekend, after-work, team favorite
  • 3 votes: Russ’ Game - imagine Mario Kart and Scott Pilgrim vs the World as a boardgame (This game is unpublished but awesome! Photos requested!)
  • 3 votes: Digimon – gets 50 players a week ‘slinging cardboard’ at the store
  • 3 votes: Kill Team – a small but dedicated crew

One of the things I like best about this top 5 is that, while I consider myself a very engaged gamer, none of these games made my list. As a gaming fan, I love how big our tent needs to be to fit all the types of gamers on our team, much less to fill all types that call Zulu’s their home LGS. On any given day we have a couple hundred people passing through our café in Bothell. Imagine what kind of survey responses we’d get from all of them…

D&D meets Strixhaven at the Masquerade Ball

D&D meets Strixhaven at the Magister’s Masquerade

So let’s unpack the next 5:

Yup – they all got the same # of votes! 4 of these titles are new or got new releases in 2021 and all but Canvas are available in our Demo game library. The titles are not surprising (I’ve played them all and they’re super fun). It’s the number of votes that got me. Two each! Some of these games are on all-time-best lists and some showcase hugely innovative play and design. If you haven’t played them, please give them a try.

Idyllic Oasis from Camel Up

So, tied for 11th place … are 73 other games. That’s right. The vast majority of favorite games are exclusive to one person. I didn’t bother ordering these because they are all equally awesome according to my staff:

·        Pulsar: Lost Colony

·        Devil May Cry 5

·        Star Wars: KotOR

·        Final Fantasy TCG

·        7 Wonders Architects

·        Cthulhu Death May Die

·        Dice Miner

·        Super Smash Bros Melee

·        Skull King

·        Twilight Imperium 4e

·        Halo

·        Gloomhaven

·        Colt Express

·        Terra Mystica

·        Unfathomable

·        Red Dragon Inn

·        Mechwarrior 5

·        Parks

·        X-Wing

·        The Grizzled

·        Marvel Champions

·        Pathfinder

·        Descent Legends of the Dark

·        Beat Saber

·        Exit

·        Pokémon BP

·        Annapurna

·        Final Fantasy XIV

·        Super Auto Pets

·        Digimon Cyber Sleuth

·        MTG: Chaos draft

·        Here to Slay

·        Through the Ages

·        Stardew Valley

·        Xia

·        Dead by Daylight

·        Scythe

·        Mysterium

·        Total War: Warhammer

·        Jackbox Games

·        Star Wars: Outer Rim

·        MTG Commander

·        Just One

·        Back 4 Blood

·        Klask

·        Psychonauts

·        Love Letter

·        Pokémon Snap

·        Card Kingdoms of Valeria

·        Alien Isolation

·        MTG: Commander Draft

·        Phantasmophobia

·        Dune: Imperium

·        Tea Dragon Society

·        Kingdom Death Monster

·        Grenshin Impact

·        Black Rose Wars

·        Tales of Arise

·        Wingspan

·        Hearthstone

·        Lost Ruins of Arnak

·        Ten

·        The Game

·        Nemesis

·        Drunk Quest

·        Dungeon Drop

·        Secret Hitler

·        Digimon: Rumble Arena

·        Ankh

·        Gundam: Battle Assault 2

·        Age of Empires 4

·        Diablo 2: resurrected

·        Animal Crossing: New Horizon

 

 

We’re like the United Nations of Gaming: we don’t all agree on much other than that gaming is awesome and that everyone is welcome to give it a try. Wait a second. There might be something important there worth acknowledging.

Gaming is both deeply personal and highly social. We all have preferences, but the gaming space is so big our gamer code teaches us to be INCLUSIVE and suspend judgment on other’s preferences. Even if the rest of society is tearing itself apart with division and strife, we can and must lead by example. I think that’s actually one of Zulu’s most fundamental keys to success, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s surprisingly simple and easy. Regardless of income, preference, race, religion, stature, station, glamor or education we choose to welcome others with the phrase “do you want to play a game?” And just like that, the world has become a better place.

Lady Planeswalkers Logo

As an example that I’m proud of, Rachel, one of our employees, tried something in 2021 that I think reflects this mindset specifically within the MTG community. She started a Lady Planeswalkers Society chapter at Zulu’s. In case you’re not familiar, here’s their mission statement:

Lady Planeswalkers Society aims to create welcoming, friendly environments for all genders to learn Magic: The Gathering

A typical night of Lady Planeswalkers (LPS) includes men as well as women playing Magic using Jumpstart packs. This community is to MTG what our boardgame meetups are to boardgames: a great place to meet people who are more interested in teaching/learning and playing games than they are in simply winning games. No surprise, Rachel also ran the Tuesday boardgame meetup. Rachel’s LPS group met on Saturdays and she and her friends introduced multiple people to MTG. One of them is a bright young girl who now plays regularly at Youth FNM. Sharing our love of gaming and providing a safe place for folks to meet is what we do at Zulu’s. Every day.

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There are other ways to look at this data that are equally insightful. 27% of our favorite games are digital. I thought it would be a lot more. About the same percentage, 23%, was made up of Collectible Card Games (specifically: Pokémon, Final Fantasy, Digimon and MTG). That’s also crazy giving all the twists and turns of covid restrictions, like covid-cuts and months of online-only play. I pray that I never need to play via camera again! That leaves us with the heavy hitter: 39% of our favorite games are boardgames. Clearly there’s such a huge range of games reflected that you could say there’s something there for everyone. 

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Flipping the table in frustration

I hear and acknowledge the barbarians at the gates: the kvetchers! Enough sunshine and unicorns! We wouldn’t be gamers if we didn’t also have stories that we love to tell our friends about the games and types of game play that make us crazy. On to a quick review of the most hated games and game experiences of 2021:

Winner by a landslide: Covid. “Sadly, this is a party game where everyone in the world is playing and absolutely no one is winning.” AKA: “Is that a mild cough or do you have the plague?”

Runners up for “First of the Worst”:

  • MTG Commander format: “so salty! would you care for some bad feels with your salt?”*
  • Quacks of Quedlinburg: “explodes in your face just like the pandemic
  • Frosthaven: “made of unobtanium”
  • Xia: “turns take too long & no catch-up mechanic, you luck-sack!”
  • Merlin’s Beast Hunt: “poorly designed – not balanced”
  • Overwatch: “mostly forgotten. Needs a good group to have fun
  • Dune: Imperium: “doing too many things and none well”*
  • Five Nights at Freddys: Help Wanted: “that’s some scary shit”

* these games also appeared on other employees favorite games list. LOL!

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Did our favorites surprise you? I’m happy to have guessed wrong about how this survey would turn out. It added a dozen games to my list of things to try. I also relearned an important lesson by asking a simple question. Zulu’s employees, like our gamer community, do not fit nicely into a simple box. Our personal preferences are HUGELY different, but our love of gaming brings us together. By listening to each other we discover a world of fun and friendship. Have a great 2022 and may the odds always be in your favor.

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