Top 10 Board Games of 2021
As 2021 comes to a close (finally), it's the perfect time to take a look back on the year that was in board games. Despite release dates going completely out the window, cancellations due to supply constraints, and the general 'when will this year be over' feeling that perpetually lingered, there were some fantastic games released this year. Here are our picks for the 10 best board games that came out in 2021:
10. Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition
|Number of Players||1-4|
|Designer(s)||Sydney Engelstein, Jacob Fryxelius, Nick Little (I)|
An addition to an already expanded lineup may be uneventful in most instances, especially considering the number of expansions that have already been released for Terraforming Mars. But, in the case of Ares Expedition, a standalone game in the Terraforming Mars universe, nothing could be further from the truth.
Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition is an engine-builder where players control interplanetary corporations with the end goal of making Mars both habitable and profitable (I'm sure you can guess which one is more important). This game is faster than the original Terraforming Mars and is a great way to introduce new players to the universe, as it is easier to learn and features simpler mechanics, but still has meaningful, interesting decisions to make throughout the game.
|Number of Players||1-5|
|Designer(s)||Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, Shawn Stankewich|
This game was on very few gamer's radars before it was released earlier this year. A perfect family card game, TEN is a push your luck and auction game. In it players draw cards one at a time, trying to add as many to their hand as they can without exceeding a total sum value of ten, or they bust!
Players are trying to draw more cards and use currency to buy additional cards as they work to build the longest number sequence in each colour. As wild cards appear players compete in auctions to try to fill gaps in their colour sequences.
It may sound simple, but that's because it is, in the most beautiful way. The excitement of risking it all by drawing more cards, combined with the dash of auctioning off the wild cards, is just too much to resist. The first time you get this one to the table definitely won't be the last.
|Number of Players||3-6|
|Designer(s)||Tony Fanchi, Corey Konieczka|
|Publisher||Fantasy Flight Games|
Fans of the classic board game Battlestar Galactica can rejoice, the great hidden traitor game has been reimplemented in the epic Lovercraftian masterpiece that is Unfathomable. Terror and Traitors, what more could you ask for? Players immerse themselves among passengers and crew of the SS Atlantica, taking on one of two roles.
If they are human, players need to fend off the Deep Ones, preventing the ship from taking too much damage, and carefully managing the ship's resources. All the while they need to figure out which of their fellow players are friends or foes. If a players is one of these Hybrid Deep Ones, they must secretly sabotage the humans, ensuring the ship doesn't make it to its destination.
Our favourite mechanic of this game is the shared resource pool. The human players try to preserve and strategically manage the resources to ensure survival, while the hybrid players try to subtly deplete resources to increase the odds of death and failure. This subterfuge really helps the game shine above other hidden role games.
7. The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
|Number of Players||2-5|
Expectations were set very, very high for the follow up to the 2019 smash hit The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine. Rightfully so, the original is one of the great card games released over the past 10 years. With all those expectations we are so pleased to say that KOSMOS really outdid themselves and made a great game even greater!
Much like its predecessor, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea is a cooperative trick-taking game. But, the new release contains some exciting new surprises. With this mission taking place underwater, the communication limits placed on players is that much more severe. Add to this the concept of having to win tricks in specific orders, and you've got a whole host of interesting, thematically-driven mechanics to sink your teeth into.
6. 7 Wonders: Architects
|Number of Players||2-7|
Reimplementations of existing great games seem to be a running theme in our list, but some of these are just too good to pass up on. A scaled down, simplified version of 7 Wonders, we were pleasantly surprised with the release of 7 Wonders: Architects just before the holiday season.
Another great gateway game, 7 Wonders: Architects focuses on the Wonder building aspect of the classic drafting game. In this game, players race against one another to assemble their wonder. Players do this by collecting resources to build their society and manage them across military, science and diplomatic pursuits. A simplified drafting mechanism with players to your left and right still offers those tough decisions that make us coming back for more with this one.
There is also a great feeling of immense satisfaction as you visually see your wonder slowly being constructed before your eyes. The production value on this game is top notch!
5. Land vs. Sea
|Number of Players||2-4|
|Publisher||Good Games Publishing|
Another game that hit the shelves with little to no fanfare, Land vs. Sea is definitely in the running for unexpected hit of the year. Part puzzle and part game, this two-player masterpiece (technically four can play but we wouldn't recommend it) challenges players to lay tiles that help both them and their opponent.
Each player has 2 double-sided hex tiles, which they must select one from and place it on their turn. One player is Land and the other is Sea. The goal of the game is to build up the largest continuous sections of land (or sea) to score the most points. Each tile contains both land and sea elements, meaning that you may be helping your opponent score points as you are trying to do the same.
Filled with tough, puzzly decisions, this one is a great example of a game with simple rules yet deep gameplay that keeps you coming back for more.
4. Sleeping Gods
|Number of Players||1-4|
|Publisher||Red Raven Games|
Possibly the most anticipated release of the entire year, Sleeping Gods finally arrived just before Christmas. We are happy to say that the long wait was worth it! Sleeping Gods is the closest thing board gaming has come to replicating the open world, epic adventure experience you'd find in a classic Zelda video game.
In the game, players work together as the captain and crew of the Manticore, a ship that has been lost on the Wandering Sea. Together you must work to survive, exploring exotic islands, meeting new colourful characters, and seeking out the totems so you can awake the gods and return home.
Set over a sprawling campaign, players can play as long as they want each time, with the ability to easily 'save' their game and return to it later. The amount of content this game has is just INSANE, with 75 totems littered throughout the world, and the goal being to collect 14, the replayability of this one is seemingly endless. The art is beautiful, the storytelling top notch, we could go on and on about this one. It's simply worth a try if you have the opportunity to get this one to the table.
|Number of Players||1-4|
Cascadia may have a familiar look to it and for good reason. Beth Sobel, the artist behind the gorgeous artwork of Wingspan and Arboretum, lent her amazing talent to creating the beautiful images of Pacific Northwest wildlife. This game isn't on the list solely for the great artwork (although it could be), but the gameplay is solid; a great mix of strategic thinking but not being such a brain-burner that it causes analysis paralysis.
Cascadia is a puzzly tile-laying game with token-drafting featuring the habitats and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. Players try to create the most harmonious ecosystem as they piece together wildlife and habitats.
During the game, players take turns building their terrain and populating them with wildlife tokens. On their turn a player selects one of the available habitat tiles that are each paired with a wildlife token. Once selected, the habitat tile is placed so it connects to the existing ones and the wildlife token is placed on an eligible habitat space. There are four tile/habitat combinations to choose from so players must choose wisely, based on what they need and what they want to prevent their opponents from being able to take.
To win, players score points based on the configuration of their habitats and wildlife tiles and the scoring conditions displayed on the six wildlife cards.
|Number of Players||2-4|
Furnace is an engine-building Eurogame featuring auction, bidding, and card drafting elements. Players take on the roles of 19th-century capitalists; focused on building their corporate industrial empires and making the most money by purchasing companies, extracting resources, and then processing them in different combinations.
Played over four rounds, the game rounds consist of two phases: Auction and Production. 6-8 companies are laid out during the auction, with players bidding on which company they want to add to their corporate empire. However, both the winning and losing bidders gain something at the end of the auction. The high bidder claims the company while the lowest bidder receives compensation.
During the production phase players can use the company cards obtained during the auction rounds to produce or process valuable resources. By carefully managing when to produce, when to process, and what companies to bid on, players strive to end up with the most money after four round.
1. Genotype: A Mendelian Genetics Game
|Number of Players||1-5|
|Designer(s)||John Coveyou, Paul Salomon, Ian Zang|
The game that most people hadn't heard of, both before it was released and afterwards, is also our pick for the best game of the year. It's always great to stumble across a surprisingly great game, and Genotype is just that. To top it off, there are legitimate educational elements to this game that feel organic and a logical part of the game, making this title even more unique.
Grab a trowel and start breeding pea plants as you try to become a master geneticist. Genotype is a worker placement and dice drafting game that has players managing pea plant cards, managing traits, upgrades, breeding and more. The player who manages to build their dice pool to improve their chances of getting the right traits to combine into new plants will score the most points and become the best geneticist!
A unique game of strategic worker placement, dice drafting and interesting scientific educational elements that don't feel forced, Genotype is our pick for best board game of the year!