Top 5 Greatest Turn-Based Games of the Year 2021, according to armies and castles

Written by armies and castles

Best Games of 2021


It seems I’ve wandered too long in the dungeons this time! Cursed be that water trap that ruined my last scroll of recall. I was certain that it was in the year 2021, when I’ve entered the deadly labyrinth. Yet the merchant at the tavern has informed me that it’s 2022 now and that I’ve missed the holiday too!

To make matters worse, the entire town is talking about some minstrel who’s managed to upset, just in the introduction, both his colleagues and his audience; and even our noble Tilean ruler in the conclusion. I’ve looked at the infamous text. It appears to be a list of some sort, a collection of the best turn-based games of 2021. According to his opinion, of course.

Though there may be some good works on that list, I now feel that it’s my duty to disagree with it. Instead of arguing, though, I’ll present my own selection of the games that left the strongest impression on me during the past year. So, let’s forget for the moment the red carpets and loud horns of that other bard and join at the simple wooden table, where a rough mercenary sips at his drink, ready to tell us his tale.

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What’s the mercenary’s life like, you ask? Well, truth be told – we don’t think of life too much in this honorable trade. It’s to death that our daily thoughts and prayers go! As for the life – good living it is, with the war and all. Plenty of work for an adventurous soul. Not all of it as clean as some here would like to – but it is what it is. A gold coin shines no brighter in a lord’s hand than in a bandit’s clutch. We choose our sides, of course – yet we’ve got no master. Not like those poor folks from the farms. They had their noble rulers – ain’t much good it did them. Refugees, all. Well, more money for us.

Wartales tells a story of a band of mercenaries, roaming the land in search of glory, adventure and profit. It takes place in medieval France – or some fantasy variant of it. The game’s truly able to capture the feeling of a civilized land struggling through the dark and uncertain times. There are plenty of choices to make – and not all of them as clear or straightforward as one would expect.

The gameplay is deep and tactical. It really looks like a very complex board game, where careful planning and positioning make all the difference during a battle. In addition to the battlefields there’s a vast and rich overworld, with a great variety of interesting areas, in the medieval style. The game reminds a lot of Mount and Blade as you travel its lands – yet the focus is different here. Wartales is a true role-playing game, with well-thought-out lore, setting and characters. Each place on the map has its story, in which you with your band of rogues may yet play a crucial part.

Rift Wizard

Rift Wizard

The ruins of the universe stretch before you. A hundred broken pieces of a once grand design. You’ve slumbered too long, it seems. You don’t recognize the place you’ve returned to. Creatures of Chaos feast in the shadows of the shattered worlds. You don’t have the power anymore to banish them back to the depths out of which they’ve crawled. Your memories are faded, pale echoes of the old might. Yet, you were a great sorcerer once. You can still become one. This time, though, no desire for knowledge, but revenge will guide you.

The game offers a classical roguelike gameplay, complete with chaotic procedurally generated mazes and hordes of blood-thirsty foes. The emphasis, however, is not on melee combat, but on magic. Spells of doom and summoning incantations are the sword and shield of the main hero. A mighty wizard of the past, who must regain the forgotten repertoire, to avenge the destruction of the world.

Each area is its own puzzle – a seemingly disordered array of twists and turns. Yet with some tactical planning the pieces fall neatly into places. The numerous enemies become powerless before your sorcerous knowledge and your loyal allies. The graphic style deserves its own mention. For some, the game’s classical roguelike tiles are perfect, but they may not work for everyone. Yet, the UI is clean and logical enough to quickly figure it out. Not the easiest task for a designer, considering the sheer magnitude and complexity of the game’s colossal library of spells.

Jupiter Hell

Jupiter Hell

Weird neon lights glow across the long shadowed hallways of the abandoned space base. Strange inhuman voices echo in the darkness. From behind your cover, you hear the shuffling footsteps of the former soldiers, searching for you. Hell knows what they are now. You reload the shotgun. Ammo’s running low. Well, there’s plenty more where it came from.

Jupiter Hell managed to combine the eldritch atmosphere of the forgotten dungeons with Doom style setting and gameplay. It feels complex and tactical, with plenty of skills and character progression mechanics. Yet, when the action starts, it’s hard to believe that it’s still a turn-based grid-based game.

The game’s a true roguelike. Its main mechanics go back to the very roots of the genre. It mixes a 90s heavy metal shooter with a grim 80s dungeon crawler, without diluting its traditional unforgiving gameplay. Combined with its unique glowing CRT style interface, the game certainly leaves a strong impression.

Ultimate ADOM – Caverns of Chaos


The winding stair is long. It starts where the sorcerous winds howl among the frozen, snow-covered mountaintops. It goes to the very depths of this world. To the dark corridors of ancient stone, covered with glowing signs of eldritch incantations. Down to where strange creatures, that turned away from light, hide amidst the shadows. They hear whispers in their twisted minds, coming from the deeps. Chaos calls to them.

Ultimate ADOM may only have a single dungeon – yet the original roguelikes didn’t need anything more to make them great. The game offers a classical gameplay style, but with modern UI and a very unique graphical look. There are many skills and character customization options. While the main dungeon has plenty of interesting areas to explore. It’s clear that a lot of work went into its grand design. The game, as a whole, feels complex, in the best traditions of the genre.

It’s difficult, though, to look at Ultimate ADOM without comparing it to the original. The name suggest a much grander design than the first ADOM. Yet, there’s no overworld, no towns, no other dungeons, except the main one. However, it took decades for the original game to achieve its incredible level of detail and complexity. Ultimate ADOM seems to follow the same road, so far. It’s a good game – but it’s more than that. It’s an engine. A strong foundation, upon which entire worlds can be built.

Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2

War in the East

The shadow of war falls upon the East. Across its swamps and steppes it spreads. Over the snow-covered battlefields where steel giants rest in frozen graves. Wasteland follows it – ruin and desolation. Yet, the mighty citadels of Leningrad, Stalingrad, Moscow and many others stand grim and resolute under the rain of fire. The factories hum the hymns of war. The great nation rises to answer the call to arms.

The latest work from Gary Grisby is monumental, just as his previous masterpieces were. The level of detail is astonishing. The greatest war in the endless history of conflicts of this world takes place in front of you. Simulated down to each unit, each railroad, each ruined village and town.

This developer is long known in the strategy genre for taking no shortcuts, forging some of the most complex wargames ever made. They do not disappoint here, either. War in the East 2 outshines even their previous works with an incredibly intuitive user interface, more numerous and detailed tiles, vastly improved AI, and an even greater level of overall realism.


Well, I might’ve missed the holiday, but, to me, a bottle of strong Temjanika and a good company is celebration enough. Thank you for joining me at the table and listening to these stories of war and adventure. Many worlds call their heroes. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the next to join their honorable ranks. For me, though, it’s time to return to the dark halls deep beneath the earth – and this time I’ll make sure not to forget the waterproof blanket.


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armies and castles

A programmer, making turn-based strategies - guided by the traditional board games' aesthetics, and the grim atmosphere of the classic roguelikes. You can see examples of my work on my Twitter: @armies_castles.

2 thoughts on “Top 5 Greatest Turn-Based Games of the Year 2021, according to armies and castles”

  1. Hoping to play Jupiter Hell later this year. WitE ofc is an epic wargame. Another sequel I will probably only get to play far into the future. Probably when the 3rd incarnation is out! Nice list.


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