It’s been a good year for simulation and strategy games, especially compared to 2020. From creepy card games to trying your hand at world domination as a supervillain, there’s been plenty to sink your teeth into.
We’ve put together a list of what we think are some of 2021’s best simulation and strategy games, including some honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut but are still worth playing.
5. Evil Genius 2: World Domination
Being bad never felt so good. We’ve all (probably) had a time in our lives when we’ve wondered what it’d feel like to be a supervillain, trying our hand at world domination. Evil Genius 2 lets you live out that dream without facing any consequences. However, you cannot take over the world alone, you’ll need to hire loyal minions to carry out these dastardly deeds. You can even shoot some minions as an example to “inspire” loyalty in the others. Pure evil, but that’s the point of the game!
Also, every successful supervillain needs a headquarters and you get to build your own! It can be as randomly chaotic or organised as you like. You can create an endless corridor system that ends up looking like a maze, or you can build a functional experimental laboratory. As long as you have the basics, the choice is always yours.
If you want to know more, then take a minute to read our review.
4. Animal Crossing: New Horizons Happy Home Paradise DLC
Happy Home Paradise is the first (and last) paid DLC for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. In it, you work at the Paradise Planning Office to build dream vacation spots for various clients. bringing all of your design visions to life without paying Tom Nook’s ridiculous prices. And you get paid for your work! Granted, it’s in the Island currency of Poki, but that can be put to good use too. There’s an Island shop where you can buy rare furniture items and souvenir chocolates to bribe your own villagers to visit. All the hard work you put in at the office won’t go to waste as you will learn skills that can be taken back to your own Island.
Your efforts are frequently rewarded until you reach 30 Clients (and slightly beyond). Often, this means leaving the game or island feeling satisfied with yourself and the time you’ve spent there. There is so much to do in this expansion but you can do it at your leisure, it’s truly a paradise.
3. Microsoft Flight Simulator
Microsoft Flight Simulator came out for PC in 2020, but it launched for Xbox Series X/S in 2021. In the game, you can control numerous planes and cruise the skies over multiple different cities, including Paris, London and Rio. Once you get past some large updates, the game is actually pretty good.
You’re taught about the highly realistic flight controls in the tutorial and your co-pilot is there to assist you throughout each flight. However, just like a real pilot, keep your wits about you or risk crashing your plane. The environmental design in the game is undeniably stunning too. It lets you feel that you are truly exploring the world up high while you have your feet firmly on the ground.
2. Age of Empires IV
The winner of best Sim/Strategy Game at The Game Awards 2021, Age of Empires IV, is a history lesson disguised as a great game. It’s no secret that humans tend to battle each other and have done so for hundreds of years. This game takes you back through some of the fiercest battles in history and puts you in charge of strategic planning. Not only does this put you in charge of battle plans but you have to sustain your armies too including providing enough crops to feed them.
The game forces you to think about your every move from soldier positioning to their weaponry to keeping them fed. It's interesting to have to think about all of the aspects of life during the battles that leaders would have at that time and being able to watch how villagers can affect the battles through seemingly unimportant tasks. Every decision you make can have a consequence and, if you’re not careful, you could end up watching your empire crumble.
Inscryption is the creepy card game that we didn’t know we needed. The old-school design is reminiscent of 8bit games, but this only enhances how spooky the whole game feels. You need to ( literally) play your cards right to get out of several situations alive. Sarcastic playing cards keep you company as you solve puzzles to survive against all odds. As if playing against eerie apparitions and creatures wasn’t scary enough, the entire experience is enhanced through a bone-chilling soundtrack. The music accompanies you but never overtakes the scene, making each situation really unsettling.
Amongst these horror elements, it’s the card matches that stand out. You know that survival depends on how you approach the game, so the stakes feel so much higher than they normally would. From the very beginning, it’s ingrained in your mind that every click of that high-pitched bell could be your last.
We’ve picked two games that we think deserve an honourable mention in our list. Even though they didn’t quite make the cut for the final five, they are still great experiences that we think are worth playing.
Stardew Valley is the simulation role-playing game that puts you in charge of restoring your grandfather’s old farm. Along the way, you’ll make friends with the local villagers and help return Pelican Town to its former glory. You can contend with dungeons, spirits, the seasons and escaped animals while trying to start a new life. We’ve given this game an honourable mention as it had several large quality of life updates this year. Also, it recently joined Xbox Game Pass. Whether it’s chasing down that chicken that wandered off or romancing a villager with a bouquet of flowers, life is never dull in Stardew Valley.
It’s time for you to clean up this town. No, you’re not a Sheriff, you’re a PowerWasher! You can make a successful business in career mode, or mess around with friends in the online co-op to free your hometown of grime and slime. The simplicity of the game is what makes it so much fun. You can clean what seems to be years of grime off of objects, leaving them looking pristine while being cosy and dry in your own home.
That’s our list for the best simulation and strategy games of 2021. If you’re already itching to see what next year has in store then you can take a look at our guide on video game release dates 2022.