Top 12 Board Games of 2021

Updated: Jan 31


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So here it is! The 2021 games of the year. I was going to do a top 10, but I simply could not decide between all these great games, and so you are blessed with 12 beauties this year instead. One for every month!

Best Card Game - TEN

Best Surprise of the Year - Riverside

Best Mid-Weight Game - Furnace

Best Solo Game - Rolling Realms

Best Party Game - Night of the Ninja

Best Roll & Write - Hadrian's Wall

Best Heavy Game - Golem

Best Adventure Game - The Adventures of Robin Hood

Best APP based Game - Destinies

Best Family Game - Juicy Fruits

Best Euro Game - Tinners' Trail

Best Dungeon Crawler - Resident Evil 3


Best Card Game - TEN


TEN is a fantastic game. You can read the full review here but if you are looking for a new card game to play with you family then I cannot recommend TEN enough. It is so much fun, plays fast, and can be taught and played with anyone.

Best Surprise of the Year - Riverside


Riverside was recommended to me by Marie from Burtons Boards when we visited the Essen Spiel this year. I had not heard of it before, and I certainly was not in the market for another roll and write game. But after playing the game at the show with designer Eilif Svensson, I was hooked! The game has a beautiful look, the art on the box is one of my all time favorites! The game itself plays incredibly smoothly and offers some highly satisfying cascading turns, something essential for me in a good roll and write.


What makes this game special over other games is the way the game feels like an event. So many roll and writes feel like a mathematical equation to me. Either with a pasted on theme, or no theme at all. In Riverside, I don't feel like I am Captain a ship of tourists, but I do feel immersed in this beautiful snow landscape and fully engrossed in my mission.


Best Mid-Weight Game - Furnace


Furnace is a stunning game. I love engine builders so that must be said right from the start. But even without my mechanical bias, this is a truly great game. You can read my thoughts here, but I would recommend this game to anyone for any group.

Best Solo Game - Rolling Realms


Rolling Realms holds a special place in my heart for what designer Jamey Stegmaier did with it during lock down, but even with the sentimentality removed, this game holds up as one of the best solo experiences I have ever had. I enjoy solo games when they are somewhat removed from a big immersive theme. This goes against everything I say about games in a group. But playing solitaire I don't want to have a game do that as it just makes me miss my friends who I would usually share this epic experience with. Alone, I would rather get into the math, strategy and game choices. Rolling Realms does this better than most with a simply stunning solo experience which you can read more about here from the brilliant Mostly Solo, who explains solo games better than most!

Best Party Game - Night of the Ninja


Night of the Ninja has hit the table for me so many times. As soon as I have a big group I play this game. I don't care if they are gamers or not, this games works with everyone! You can play at home, on the couch, round a table, or in the pub. This game is so versatile and is always brilliant. It looks stunning and just writing about it makes me want to play again. Who is coming round for a game? You can read more about it here in my Brotherwise Games feature.


Best Roll & Write - Hadrian's Wall


Ok, this is the third roll & write on this list, but they are all just too good to not include, and they all tick slightly different boxes. Hadrian's Wall works well for a solo game just like Rolling Realms, but due to the epic nature of this game, it just feels better to me with others. Where Rolling Realms suits both group or solo play, Hadrian's Wall to me is more about trying to beat other peoples scores, and there are some parts of the game that are affected by other players unlike most roll and writes. As such, Rolling Realms takes the spot for best solo game, and Hadrian's Wall takes the overall top spot for best Roll & Write. But really, they are all fantastic and this was just my way to fit them all onto the top 12. Which lets face it, was supposed to be a top 10 anyway. You can read a little more about this game here at Erlijne's great website.


Best Heavy Game - Golem


Golem's inclusion in this list may be a little premature as I have only played it a few times, hence it not having a full review here yet. But I just love the game so much from my early plays I feel confident it will stand the test of time and repeat plays. The theme intrigues me. You can watch more about this here. I love the way the board looks. The idea behind some of the mechanics is really interesting, such as the marbles acting as a randomly determined option each turn. The choice of which of the three tracks to work on, and how to best deploy your Golem and Students is a delicately balanced and intriging strategic decision.


There are not many turns in this game, but they all feel very important. The game has received some minor criticism for the way it has handled the theme, but personally I think they have done an okay job. They called in a cultural expert and personally I find it intriguing and interesting more than anything else. Maybe my opinion will change on this over time or with more thought. But for now, I am simply left wanting to play again.


Best Adventure Game - The Adventures of Robin Hood


The story in this game is a lot of fun. The art is simply stunning. The game teaches you how to play it better than any game I have ever experienced before. But what stands out the most is the joy from opening parts of the board up like an advent calendar. There are no two ways about it. That is just a lot of fun! For my full review, head here.

Best APP based Game - Destinies


I have not reviewed this game yet as I hope to run a feature soon on the use of Apps with games. When that is done I will link that here.


I have loved the experience of playing Destinies. It feels so unique in its mechanisms. I have played with my son and solo. Both experiences work very well. This would be my second choice for best solo game and also best adventure game. It feels epic and engaging, but works in a solo for me as the App keeps you focused on the game, not the empty seats around you.


The App integration is flawless. It works so well and is integral to the game. You could make this game without it but it would be cumbersome and a lot less exciting. This game shows what can be done with Apps and I think will lead to some very exiting advances in the years to come.


Best Family Game - Juicy Fruits


Juicy Fruits looks great. It plays great. It is great! I am surprised this game hasn't received more hype. It ticks so many boxes and has some wonderful ways to make it work for different age groups or abilities. It feels incredibly satisfying to play well, and understanding how to do this is a relativity straight forward process. You can read my full review on the game here.

Best Euro Game - Tinners' Trail


I only backed this on kickstarter because Movin Meeples was so pumped for it! I knew next to nothing about the original or this re-print. But I am so glad I got this. The game scales brilliantly to all player counts, and like any good Euro, makes you heavily invested in moving bits of different coloured wood around and turning them from one type of thing into another.


There are a nice amount of mini expansions included with the Kickstarter version to keep the game interesting and I really enjoyed the scoring mechanism. The art on the cards and board is stunning but it did get a little busy near the end of the game. A larger board may have helped here. But overall, this is a brilliant game that I look forward to playing many more times.


Best Dungeon Crawler - Resident Evil 3


Resident Evil 3 is a stunning conversion from a video game to a board game. This seems to be happening more and more now-a-days and I for one am delighted about that! This game brings the nostalgic joy of the original PlayStation game to life on the table with such precision and detail. There are so many touches in this game that would make any fan of the original computer game giddy! Whether or not this would work as well for those not familiar with the source material I am not sure. But my son who has never played the PS games loved this! You can read my full thoughts here.

Honorable Mentions


A game about WEE WHIMSICAL CREATURES and trying to identify them after someone makes noises - This is a fantastic game and has seen so many plays this year! Every person I have played this with has been in hysterics within minutes!


Terraforming Mars Ares Expedition - I have only played this game once so I don't feel I can include on my list but I think with more plays it would have made it. A brilliant version of Terraforming Mars that asks the players to make some very interesting decisions.


The Crew: Mission Deep Sea - I love this game like I love the original, but as my family doesn't and I have not found any friends interested in playing repeated games of this yet, it just hasn't had enough plays to get to my top 12. You can watch my short video on the game here.


Excavation Earth - I only played this once at Essen, hence it not making the list. But I loved it and would like to get a copy for myself. The art is stunning and the complexity of the options available are so brilliant dealt with in the game incredibly smooth game play.


Maglev Metro - Another one with only one play, this time at UKGE; but with more plays I think this could have made the top 12. The game looks great, the components are fantastic, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to change your upgrades as you progress through the game and your requirements change.


Uprising: Curse of the Last Emperor - This game should arrive today! I have it refresh on the tracking email so many times already! I have played online and at Essen in 2019 and am certain this will make next years list despite technically being a 2021 game!


Happy City - Such a simple game, but it offers a short, sharp, fun experience that suits all my family. It narrowly misses out by just being a little too simple. But for a quick filler, its great. You can read my full review here.


Hit The Silk! - I love this game and it pains me to not have it on my top 12 but with only space for one party game I have to be ruthless. Hit The Silk! would be my second choice for party game this year though and offers more of a full-game feeling that Night of the Ninja which is more just playing round after round. I have certainly laughed more playing this game this year than any other! You can read my full review here.


Loading - A crazy real-time card laying game played in large groups. It only misses out as it is not available in the UK yet. nd I don't have a copy yet. And I only played it once. But other that that, its great!!


What Next? A beautifully made game that narrowly misses out on my number one family game of the year. We have enjoyed this one so much and I look forward to seeing more expansions for this. You can read my full review here.

Games I have not played yet that may have made the list.


Sleeping Gods - This game looks amazing and I cannot wait to play it. I did not back the kickstarter and have not got a retail copy yet. But I am so exited to play this soon.


Ark Nova - I missed this at Essen as it sold out so fast! I am keen to get this soon and am certain this will win a lot of people's game of the year this year! Those that have it anyway!

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