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2021's Best Board Games

2021 was a pretty good year for board games. We got a couple great adaptations of some of the best video games of the 2010s, especially suited for PlayStation fans. There were also some long awaited successors to some of the best designer board games of all time that released this year, and hey, a lot of them turned out alright. Some straight up sequels to recent hits were impressive as well, taking original ideas to soaring new heights.

These games showed creativity, innovation, and polish. Oh, and some phenomenal box and card art, not to even mention a ton of awesome mini figures included in some of these titles. Most of these concepts are ideas you've seen before, but taking a familiar idea and expanding it to make it something special is the key to making an enduring, accessible tabletop game. From Fantasy Flight games years in the making to Kickstarter backed projects, these board games are the highlights of 2021.

Ankh: Gods of Egypt

An iteration on "Blood Rage" and "Rising Sun," "Ankh: Gods of Egypt" — from board game designer Eric Lang — pits two to five players against each other in a race to gain enough Devotion points to become the supreme God of Egypt. Each playable character is an ancient Egyptian God with different innate abilities. 

"Ankh" contains a hex-based board that is split into several regions players compete to control. Despite the game having a an action-taking phase and a combat phase, as well as event tracker, the mechanics are fairly simple to learn compared to other games in the genre. "Ankh" also has some impressive and towering mini figures. The tallest God is over 5 inches tall. Every one is incredibly well detailed and fits the art style of the other components of the game. The base game of "Gods of Egypt" will run you about $80, but the price is more than worth it if you are into strategy games with mini figs.

Bloodborne: The Board Game

Based on FromSoftware's critical darling "Bloodborne" on the PS4, this board game does a surprisingly good job of translating the world of Yarnham to the physical realm. Team up with your friends and take on the role of Hunters trying to push back the dark. 

"Bloodborne: The Board Game" focuses on combat and exploration. It takes concepts from the video game, like each player getting a trick weapon from the get go, and turns them into a fast paced board game with card game and mini figurine elements. You will die a lot but, like in FromSoftware's games, that is a part of the experience. The game is comprised of four campaigns, each containing three chapters. Each chapter is about one 90 minute play session that contains a main Hunt mission to complete alongside several Insight missions (Insight being translation of a notable "Bloodborne" mechanic).

Like the game it is inspired by, "Bloodborne: The Board Game" has a steep learning curve, but you will be having a blast once you grasp its fundamentals. There are also multiple expansion packs available with more campaign missions to complete.


"Canvas" is one of 2021's most gorgeous games. This competitive card game about creating masterful paintings is elegant and lush. Mostly importantly, "Canvas" is an easy to pick up entry in an upcoming genre of tabletop games: The card crafting game. Popularized by games like "Mystic Vale," card crafters use a mix of transparent base cards and a mix-and-match systems to allow players to create their own unique cards for each play session. 

"Canvas" takes this concept and applies it to beautiful paintings. Up to five players will assemble three paintings comprising three elements apiece throughout the course of a session. A scoring system that involves drawing random cards will judge everyone's creations based on criteria including Variety, Style, or Proportion. At the end of the day, the art is a superfluous layer on top of the game mechanics of "Canvas," but it makes it all the more pleasant to play.


Like "Carcassonne", Randy Flynn's latest game is a tile laying game where players build the board as they go. "Cascadia" is appropriately set in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and is all about wildlife and nature ... and hexagonal tiles. 

Up to four players will each build their own habit using a mix of tiles (representing land) and wooden disks (representing animals). Strategy comes into play as you decide where to place your tokens to earn the most points. Each player is given 20 tiles at random, making for a fairly reliable 20 turn game that will usually run 45 minutes. The scoring is also randomized, with five scoring decks being shuffled and a card is drawn from each stack to determine the rubric. "Cascadia" features a few other mechanics that make it a good fit for players experienced in this genre of tile placement games. There are a lot of rules to take into consideration on every turn and you must be careful in your placement if you really want to win. 

The Crew: Mission Deep Sea

Kosmos, publisher of the popular "Exit: The Game" series, brought a sequel to the 2019 card game "The Crew: Quest for Planet Nine" in 2021. "Mission Deep Sea" is the next entry in this emerging series of co-operative card games. This endeavor takes players to the bottom of the ocean, where they have to work together to discover the lost continent of Mu.  

In terms of gameplay, "The Crew" is a take on the trick-taking card game genre, an evolution on classics like "Hearts" and "Bridge." It adds more layers of objectives and narrative flavor to the concept, but it should be fairly easy to learn for anyone with a background in the aforementioned card games. The game also has a linear quest structure, containing a list of missions that you can undertake in order, each with different levels of difficulty. "The Crew: Mission Deep Sea" is the most affordable game on this list — you can usually find it for under $20. 


"Cubitos" is an adorable, fun, game that is very appropriate for younger players and families. If you want something more casual for the holidays, you can usually pick up this dice game for under $50. 

The goal of the game is simple: Players are racing in the Cube Cup to win the title of Cubitos Champion. "Cubitos" gameplay takes place over two phases. The first is the Roll Phase, where players draw dice like cards and roll them, choosing which to use for the Run Phase. This is where rolls are resolved and players get to move their pieces along the race track, as well as buy more dice for the next turn. The game helpfully lists all the phases and rules on cardboard pieces with big font and easy-to-follow instructions. 

The game also includes a variety of tracks and special ability cards that can modify the dice's effects, which makes for numerous combinations. All in all, "Cubitos" is colorful, easy to pick up, and offers a ton of replay value. 

Descent: Legends of the Dark

This game is not for the faint of heart. In fact, "Descent: Legends of the Dark" is meant for tabletop diehards and fantasy RPG fans. This $175 box is a massive investment. It is also one of the most anticipated board games of the year, being Fantasy Flight's pseudo-sequel to their popular 2005 release "Descent: Journeys in the Dark." 

"Legends of the Dark" boasts a lengthy, nearly 40 hour campaign that you will need both a free companion app and a group of dedicated buddies to complete. The dungeon crawler opts out of having a player DM and instead lets the app handle that, making the experience entirely co-operative. Navigate this detailed, 3D dungeon using a variety of character and ability cards and some pretty rad mini figs. The companion app allows for impressive branching paths and character decisions that make it an immersive fantasy story to play alongside a friend. 

"Descent: Legends of the Dark" is the most high tech version of "Dungeons and Dragons" that money can buy. If that sounds up your alley, cough up the cash. 

Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game

Another successful adaptation of a popular PS4 exclusive, "Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game" is brought to you by Steamforged, the studio behind "Dark Souls: The Board Game." Like the best adaptations, "Horizon" takes the most evocative elements of the world the game created and turns them into interesting mechanics and mini figs that will make fans of the video game go gaga. It will usually run you about $100, but can be found on sale for a bit cheaper.

At the start of a session with "Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game," up to four players will pick a hunter and two weapons, one ranged and one melee. The gameplay replicates the hunting and tracking of giant robotic beasts featured in the video game. Each mission, or Hunt in the game's parlance, will run players anywhere from one hour to 90 minutes in a (mostly) co-op session.

The best part of this board game is character progression, which shouldn't surprise anyone who played the PS4 action RPG. Each character has a detailed, divergent skill tree that forces players to make interesting decisions and allows for a ton of replayability across builds. 

Horrified: American Monsters

The small town of Cross Creek is being invaded by cryptids! That is the set up for one of 2021's best designed board games, "Horrified: American Monsters." In it, up to five players take on the role of investigators in order to prevent the monsters running rampant to raise the terror in town to its maximum. If they do, it's game over. 

Similar to games like "Arkham Horror," 2019's "Horrified" was a co-op investigation game that pitted players against Universal's classic line-up of monsters, including Frankenstein and the Wolfman. "American Monsters" is the sequel, inspired by American mythology like Bigfoot and the Chupacabra. There's a real retro Americana vibe to the art, all of which is visually stunning. Each monster has its own specific challenges to overcome and tasks to accomplish before you can take down the monster. Players have a healthy selection of playable character cards to choose from too, so there is a great deal of replayability here. You can find "Horrified: American Monsters" for as low as $35, making it a lot more affordable than most comparable investigation board games.   

The Initiative

In 2019, famed board game designer Corey Konieczka left Fantasy Flight Games after decades as a creator and years as VP there. Leaving behind the company that created "Arkham Horror" and Konieczka's own "Star Wars: Rebellion," he went on to form Unexpected Games. This year, the new studio's debut "The Initiative" released to great acclaim. 

This strategic co-op game is set in the '90s and places you in the shoes of a group of 1-4 stylish teen investigators. As you play through a linear series of 14 missions that require cooperation to navigate tense escape room scenarios. As you play you realize there is a larger meta story going on, a rarity in board games that makes this one pretty singular. "The Initiative" costs up to $60, which might seem steep since once you complete all the missions the game is over. However, compare that to a brand new single-player $60 video game that runs about 15-20 hours and you'll find "The Initiative" is a similar value.

MicroMacro Crime City - Full House

"MicroMacro Crime City — Full House" is a sequel to last year's inventive family-friendly detective game designed by Johannes Sich. The 1-4 player game contains a large detailed map of a city, evocative of a "Where's Waldo" game and includes 16 cases to solve.

One player will take the mantle of Lead Investigator and guide the rest of the party through each case. Each one contains multiple cards and will lead players around the map, trying to guess which part of the picture is the answer to the clue. The Lead Investigator is like a Dungeon Master, so it is on them to determine the pace of the game, how long to let everyone else get stumped, and when to reveal the answers if no one can guess the right one. There is no real failure state in "MicroMacro — Crime City" so its a great pick for children, or if you simply don't want anyone to feel bad or excluded. It's not the most challenging board game of the year, but the upside is that this game has very few component parts so it will only run you up to $30.


If you have been at all following designer board games in the last decade, you probably have come into contact with "Arkham Horror" or one of its various sequels and spin-offs. The Lovecraft-inspired co-operative games have you and a team of friends pitting yourselves against an uncanny beast in a race to save the world. These games are long and full of rules and parts, but they can be extremely rewarding. 

"Unfathomable" is the latest game in the Arkham Horror Files universe. It is set on the SS Atlantica steamboat in 1913 and features ten playable characters to choose from, each brand new to the Arkham universe. The game is for three to six players and is not entirely co-operative. Each player has a hidden role and while most are passengers on the ship, one or two take on the role of a traitor attempting to sink the ship to the depths. 

The design of the game might sound familiar if you played "Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game." "Unfathomable" is more-or-less a revamped re-skin of the 2008 Fantasy Flight Games classic. Now, folks who missed out on "BSG" can give this one a spin if they are in for the nautical setting. "Unfathomable" will run you $80.