2021 has trucked along and while we haven’t quite gotten back to normal yet, things are still worlds better than they were at this time last year. While we still haven’t really fired up very many conventions yet, that doesn’t mean the board game releases have stopped. So to that effect, the BGQ team has gathered to talk about our favorite board game releases of the year to this date. While we are expecting our final 2021 favorite board game list to look much different, after about 6 months, we’ve still found quite a few gems to enjoy.
Best Board Games of 2021… So Far
Chosen by Jason
I’m a huge fan of engine building and worker placement. So when I heard these were combined into a really slick game, I wanted to see if it was true. Spoiler alert: it is. Not only did I actually get to enjoy the engine I was building for more than the last few turns of the game, but the worker placement directly fed back into the engine, giving me resources to do things. I admittedly got a bit too focused on the engine and forgot to save more people. But ya know, life goals for next time. Oh and I almost forgot Cryo has multi-use cards! There are very few games outside of party games that I want to immediately play again, especially if the enjoyment factor and the time commitment are a good match. They are in this case, so this is definitely one to check out.
Chosen by Dylan
Oath has lots of things to love about it. On the production side, it’s one of the highest-quality games I’ve ever seen, sporting a large neoprene mat, card and component organizers, and screen-printed meeples. The art from Kyle Ferrin covers a wide assortment of fantastical beings portraying different emotions to convey their suit. But most importantly, Oath’s gameplay provides highs and lows. It’s full of long-term ideas and split-second choices. The variability isn’t just present, but ever-changing due to player performance. It’s one I hope to explore for many years, seeing how my individual boxed kingdom morphs in ways different from everyone else’s.
Chronicles of Drunagar: Age of Darkness
Chosen by Tony
There were a couple of games I was debating for this list as I’ve played a few really enjoyable ones so far this year. Oath (as Dylan just talked about), The Initiative (scroll down), and Bullet❤️ were all candidates. In the end, though, it had to be Chronicles of Drunagor: Age of Darkness. I’ve been searching for a dungeon crawler for a while now that really fit what I was looking for. This one not only has some amazing components with multi-level terrain to boot, but tons of character classes, a simple, streamlined AI system that allows for coop play, and a wealth of character classes for players to try out. The story is also fairly interesting (so far at least), as you are tasked with saving the world from the encroaching darkness. We’ve progressed fairly far in the campaign so far, and there have been a lot of both tense and enjoyable moments.
Sleeping Gods (review)
Chosen by Brandon
The best games are the ones we get lost in for hours at a time. So, when I emerged from my third full campaign—after nearly thirty hours of play—only to realize that I needed to write a review for the experience, I began to wonder if Red Raven Games had something special on their hands. While it’s not a perfect narrative adventure, Sleeping Gods ups the storytelling ante by giving players the freedom to explore an open world with many secrets hidden within its layers. Each campaign tells an exciting and wholly original story, complete with humor, suspense, wonder, and an ever-ticking clock. And there is plenty of content to discover within the pages of its beautifully illustrated atlas map. Top this off with innovative combat, branching questlines, character upgrades, and the threatening fury of the gods, and there’s enough here to satisfy anyone looking for immersion into a unique game world. Designer Ryan Laukat and team have been building to this pinnacle for years. The tale of the lost ship Manticore upon the Wandering Sea is awaiting your direction. Which path will you take?
Chosen by Chris
Even though the year is half-gone (or half-here, if you’re an optimist), I still haven’t gotten to play many of the heavy hitters that have been released so far. Cryo, Maglev Metro, The Initiative, and Whale Riders are all still sitting unplayed on my shelf and my frenemies here at Board Game Quest have refused to invite me to any of their Oath game nights. I considered selecting Fairy Tale Inn for this list, which is a delightful two-player “tile-dropping” game, but instead, I’m going with a game I reviewed called Cubitos. It’s a bag-building racing game from John D. Clair that is straightforward and a lot of fun. In fact, since writing my review I’ve decided I was probably a little too hard on it initially and have grown to appreciate both its simplicity and variability in the ensuing months. I don’t know if it’ll have the legs to make any of our year-end lists but I’m enjoying it quite a bit and am excited to see what sort of expansions and add-ons they develop in the future.
Solomon Kane (review)
Chosen by James
Mythic Games’ Solomon Kane was one of my most anticipated games as well as the one I was most anxious about. Final verdict: Super late but worth the wait as the game delivered a vastly different experience than most dudes/dudettes-on-a-map games I’ve played. Where Solomon Kane stands is that most of the miniatures aren’t just walking sheaths for you to stick your sword into and you may even go a full story without fighting anyone. Instead, playing as the virtues that guide Solomon Kane you’ll be taking tests for talking and exploring locations to learn more about the story you’re slowly unraveling. The narrative, some of it lifted directly from Robert E. Howard’s stories, is excellent and the branching paths means you can have different experiences depending on your choices and the luck of your dice rolls/card draws. While a fight can slow the game down to Matrix-like slow-motion action as each fight action may activate multiple cards the flavor text is thematic and the back and forth dance with enemies is reminiscent of Howard’s electric writing style.
Warhammer Quest: Cursed City (review)
Chosen by George
As a massive Age of Sigmar player, Cursed City seemed like the Blackstone Fortress for Age of Sigmar. The dark dungeon crawler has you taking on the roles of a band of heroes that are each entering the dangerous city of Ufenkarn to overthrow the vampire lord Radakar and his lieutenants. The gameplay has a great dice-rolling mechanic that helps determine which actions you can perform and each hero feels unique and brings different strengths to the adventuring party. While some missions can feel a bit like a grind, the scenarios where you hunt and fight the main villains feel rewarding and make the game feel like the build-up was worth it. As expected, the miniatures are top-notch from Games Workshop and can be used in your Age of Sigmar games as an added bonus. If you can get your hands on a copy I would highly suggest adding it to your collection.
Chosen by Michelle
I used to draw and paint a lot as a kid, and after heading off to college and starting a career far from art I lost a lot of the skills I gained from all that practice. Canvas is a neat way to return to that level of creativity in board game form without having to invest in art supplies. Players collect art cards that have both a piece of artwork and a word representing the feeling of the art. Once you layer three of those cards together, you’ll have a complete painting as well as a title for the piece. Scoring is modular in nature and works off of the qualities of your painting determined by the symbols on each art card. Layering to maximize your points will change what gets the focus on the painting and sometimes the title of the piece. I love how simple the turns are and what joy you can experience together at the table. Some paintings can surprisingly hit deep feelings or themes, and others can be lighthearted, complete nonsense. The best part of the gameplay style is that you could theoretically just play in whatever way brings you the most satisfaction: create an incredible painting, just focus on points, or maybe both if you can manage it! It’s fun, no matter the outcome. I’m looking forward to the upcoming expansions for this game and admiring the box art in between plays.
The Initiative (review)
Chosen by Andrew
For me, it’s a toss up between Oath and The Initiative right now. Since Dylan’s got Oath covered, I’ll take this spot to highlight the first title from Unexpected Games. The Initiative uses various code breaking puzzles—tightly integrated to the ongoing cooperative game—to tell a story. This story plays out over 14 different missions, each that feels unique in its own right and can be played individually in about half an hour. It is really one of the first board games to bridge the gap between escape room-like puzzles and more traditional board gaming mechanisms and was so much fun we blasted through the campaign in just a couple of sessions. There is still more content post-campaign though and promises of more to be released.
Chosen by Brian B
Between Marvel United and Bloodborne, my faith in CMON as one of the best publishers of beer and pretzel games has been restored. Bloodborne is a tabletop version of the smash hit video game of the same name. One to four players explore the city of Yharnam, attempting to solve one of four quests, each made up of 3 chapters. The game plays quickly, lasting between 60 and 90 minutes. While I like how quickly it plays, I love the replay value the game provides. Every hunter is unique, every monster has two different AI patterns, quest choices can impact the chapter and each map is random. Even when replaying a previously played quest, the combination of these factors creates a new experience each session. The combat is simple, yet strategic, as it is determined by cards and not dice. In addition, the leveling up system of buying an upgraded card to replace one card, maintains the simplicity (your deck never exceeds 12 cards) while allowing you flexibility in planning your hero’s path. Finally, the minis are outstanding. Bloodborne is easily my favorite game of 2021… so far.