The best board games 2021: family, strategy, coop, party board games, and more

Across all genres and styles, these are the best board games that you should pick up and play right now

An illustration of a jolly medieval Indian merchant showing his wares from the cover of best board game Jaipur

There’s no shortage of board games to play. Whether you’re taking your first steps into the world of tabletop gaming, or have a first printing of HeroQuest sitting up in the loft, the massive raft of options can be overwhelming. You don’t want to be wasting your time on B-list games, but rather cut straight to the finest, most acclaimed, and outright best board games around.

And we’re here to help. This list collects those board games that we think you simply must play. They’re all in print, all reasonably affordable, and all thoroughly enjoyable. To make selection a little easier, we’ve divided our picks into categories, covering all the major genres: social deduction games, shrewd strategy titles, or fun-packed party classics. You’ll find it all, and are sure to find something that takes your fancy.

And don’t forget to pop back for an update every now and then. With new board games releasing faster than even we can play them, we’ll be regularly updating this list with new entries that you should check out.

So, let’s explore…

The best board games 2021

  • Gloomhaven
  • The Crew: Quest for Planet Nine
  • The Quacks of Quedlinburg
  • Root
  • Monikers
  • One Night Ultimate Werewolf
  • Codenames
  • Undaunted: Normandy
  • Jaipur
  • Men at Work
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Gloomhaven – best dungeon-crawler

Few board games manage to capture the same level of undisputed reverence that Gloomhaven did when it released 2017. And even fewer manage to acquire such a surrounding mythos so quickly, or maintain audience captivation and critical respect for so long after their release. But Gloomhaven’s heady mix of tabletop roleplaying and tactical dungeon-crawling does so well to create a riveting adventure, that no other game has come close to stealing its mantle.

You’ll take on the role of an ambitious adventurer, journeying across the titular city of Gloomhaven and its surrounding fantastical land, with a party of fellow players. Cleave your way through dank dungeons, dense with bandits, monsters, and other horrors, while you journey through the game’s branching narrative campaign. The world is flavoursome and persistent, allowing you and your buddies to lose yourselves in its adventure.

Every scenario, action, and class feels purposefully designed

While Gloomhaven boasts brilliant world-building and opportunities for roleplay if you would have them, its focus is on combat. Which, fortunately, is brilliant. Players use class-specific decks of combat cards to manage attacks and movement across modular hex boards, leveling up their characters to unlock new abilities, and leveraging unique powers to cooperatively end whatever foe stands before them. In a nice twist, you’ll change characters several times throughout a complete campaign, retiring one adventurer once their personal quest is done, and immediately unlocking a new class with which to continue your quest, armed with a totally new set of abilities and specialities.

But the game truly shines in its impressive level of refinement. Every scenario, every action, every class feels purposefully designed and complete. The game can be hard, but not unfairly punishing; rewarding but never anticlimactic. There’s a reason people haven’t stopped talking about it for the last four years.

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$97.27
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THE CREW: QUEST FOR PLANET NINE – BEST CO-OP GAME

What would the search for a mysterious ninth planet sitting at the edge of our solar system look like? It might be filled with daring escapades, technological marvels, and intrepid explorers. But if it’s anything like the cooperative, trick-taking card game The Crew: Quest for Planet Nine, it would be exciting enough.

In The Crew, every player is dealt an assortment of numbered cards spanning five suits. Each round, players take turns placing cards in the centre of the table. Whoever plays the highest card of the appropriate suit, wins that round (or trick, if we’re using the correct lingo). But, as this is a cooperative game, you can’t just go claiming any trick you want. Each player will be given specific tasks to complete, demanding they win tricks that contain particular cards. You might have to win a trick containing blue 5, while another player must win green 8. The game is all about the right players, winning the right tricks, at the right time.

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Simple, so far, but the game’s real buzz comes from its restrictions: you can’t communicate with your fellow players. At all. Only once per game can you use a communications token to indicate the value and specificity of a single card in your hand. The rest of the time, you’ll be relying on cardplay to send hints to your compatriots, hoping their minds are sufficiently attuned to pick up your psychic signals.

And it’s this silence that makes The Crew so tensely enjoyable. Try to get into the head of your friends, and guess what they’re trying to tell you. Keep counting cards to assess whether you should grab your objective card now or later. Restricted information games always make for hilarious mishaps, but the Crew’s amazingly simple core concept and rapid-fire rounds make them all the sweeter.

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$14.99
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THE QUACKS OF QUEDLINBURG – BEST FAMILY GAME

Let’s clear one thing up straight away: this isn’t a game about ducks, but fraudulent doctors. Players compete to brew the most valuable potion through fraught, push-your-luck bag-building mechanics. Randomly draw chips from a bag to add to your swirling cauldron, hoping for the most valuable picks that will increase the score of your brew. But fill your pot too quickly, and it might explode, leaving you with nothing to peddle at market.

A perfect family game to push your tabletop experience

While the game plays out across nine rounds, ‘fortune teller’ cards impose special rules that disrupt play, and certain chips give you additional actions. Choose carefully when to add chips to your potion, and when to put them back in your bag – always trying to bolster your chances of drawing a high-scoring option, and to remove pernicious ‘cherry bombs’ that might explode your concoction. Keep track of what chips you’re drawing, and pay attention to the bursting seems of your pot.

The Quacks of Quedlinburg excels because of its near-perfect player information. Each player creates a set bag of chips, allowing you to keep track of your odds, and plan accordingly. With limited available actions on any one turn, and no overly-demanding strategic depth, it makes for a perfect family game when you’re looking for something that will push your tabletop experience – but not drown you in mechanical detail.

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$119.99
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Root – best strategy board game

The best demonstration that deep strategy board games don’t need to rely upon historical realism, Root captures all the complexities and excitement of authentic wargames in a charming woodland theme. You’ll take command of a faction of cute critters in a bloodthirsty fight for forest domination.

The game has one standout feature: balanced asymmetrical gameplay. Its four factions are totally distinct, not only possessing different playstyles, but bespoke mechanics, turn operations, point-scoring, and win conditions. Marquise de Cat has you amass resources to fuel your growing army, and manage area expansion; the Eyrie focuses on sporadic territory capture, demanding you refine its action economy; the Woodland Alliance fight through guerilla strikes, forcing you to plan and prepare critical moments of attack; while the Vagabond isn’t a faction at all, but a lone racoon ruffian that must backstab their way to victory.

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Four disparate factions may appear overwhelming (and that’s before we’ve even mentioned the expansions), but it also means that you only have to learn one faction to play a competitive game of unexpected turns, and surprising machinations. Rather than heaping tons of esoteric rules upon every player to foster open-ended decision making, Root splits the load four ways. Your understanding of your chosen faction’s qualities will improve on each new match, and, just when you think you’ve exhausted its strategic depth, there’s three, practically brand new factions, open for exploration.

Root excels at taking the complexities of wargames, and making them accessible to more casual tabletop-goers. Actions are intuitively presented, systems visually understandable, and its charming woodland aesthetic is more inviting than the upteenth World War Two game. For the best strategy experience, choose Root.

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$104.98
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MONIKERS – BEST PARTY GAME

You might know Monikers by its other, license-free, parlour game name, Celebrity. Players take turns describing and imitating famous people of history, cultural importance, or other noteworthy acclaim, while trying to get their teammates to guess the name of whichever star they’re emulating.

Silly mishaps and hilarious physical antics

Essentially charades with a defined format, the game plays out in three, progressively harder rounds. In the first, you can use words to describe your designated person; in the second, you can provide only a one-word clue; and in the third, you can say nothing at all, instead resorting to rabid gesticulation. It means games of Monikers descend into silly mishaps and hilarious physical antics, while keeping things fresh.

But why bother with Monikers when you could just as easily write some names on scraps of paper and toss them in a hat? Because this marvellous boxed game streamlines and formalises the whole process for optimal fun. Aside from handing you hundreds of ready-made cards with applicable figures, each comes with a handy description of the person, so no one’s forced to imitate a person they’ve never heard of. Also, at the start of each game, players will individually select which cards are used in the match, letting the group tailor the game to their preference. Like the best party games, it’s inclusive of everyone, and removes all moments of downtime.

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$29.99
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One Night Ultimate Werewolf – best social deduction game

One Night Ultimate Werewolf takes the core social deduction formula – a group of players must collectively figure out which among them are traitors – and condenses it into a bitesize, fifteen minute, nail-biting match. Players are randomly assigned hidden roles, but a couple of them won’t be the harmless villagers others take them to be. Rather, they’re werewolves that must be rooted out of town.

The game is split into two phases. During the Night, players take turns performing the actions of their specific role. The werewolves reveal themselves to each other, the seer can peek at another’s role card, the troublemaker swap two players’ cards without them realising, the robber steals another’s role, and the drunk takes on a brand new identity.

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But it’s in the daytime that things heat up, as players convince each other they are not the werewolf. Navigate all the hidden card-switching of the night to identify the real threat, or the werewolves will win by morning’s end. Discussions are tense, and persuasion not guaranteed. You might struggle to convince your fellow players that you’re not the hairy menace they think you are, only to later find someone switched your card, and you were the werewolf without even realising it.

With no player elimination, and just one round of gameplay, no players are left sitting on the sidelines. Speed of play, mixed with shifting hidden information. makes it a great party game, for those times when you want to angrily accuse your friends of being bloodthirsty lycanthropes.

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$23.99
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Codenames – best word game

A word association game that encourages buckets of creative play, Codenames casts you as a secret agent, attempting to communicate to your partner the location of compromised field agents through that historic staple of spycraft: single-word clues. Split into two teams, the designated Spymasters from each side take turns providing clues to their teammates, trying to indicate which of the cards laid out on the table in front of them represent the locations of their compatriots.

Daring plays might result in catastrophe or brilliance

Cards are arranged in a grid, and each labelled with a single codeword. Spymasters know under which cards lie their field agents, which are neutral civilians, and which covers the deadly assassin, that, if revealed, would cause an instant loss. But the race is on. You’ll need to hint at multiple cards with a single clue, linking them together through whatever tenuous secret connections you can muster, if you’re to uncover all your agents before the opposing team. Provide too specific a clue, and the enemy team will beat you to the punch. Stay too vague in your hinting, and you risk being misinterpreted.

Codenames is easy to pick up, and its fundamental concept of word association intuitive to new players. But its scope for silliness quickly spirals, as you overreach your clue-making in daring plays that might result in catastrophe – or sheer brilliance. Test how nebulous you can be, and just what ingenious linkages you might be able to draw.

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$19.95
$14.49
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UNDAUNTED: NORMANDY – BEST DECK-BUILDING GAME

With all the tactical depth of a wargame, served in the fast-flowing mechanics of a deck-builder, Undaunted is a cut above the raft of World War Two-themed board games available. One player takes the role of the Germans, and the other the Americans, as both lead squads of infantrymen across a modular board, attacking enemy forces and securing objectives to fulfil the specific win conditions of each scenario.

Rather than using miniatures and dice-rolling, Undaunted hands you an action deck to operate your squads of riflemen, machine gunners, commanders, and more. Each round, you’ll draw four cards with which to command your forces. But as you take new territory, obsolete ‘fog of war cards’ will fill up your deck, impinging your chances of a good draw. And as you engage the enemy, casualties will mount, encouraging you to reinforce your troops with new cards from your supply, and pick off enemies to dwindle their forces.

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Simultaneous deck optimisation and tactical squad manoeuvrings make for tense skirmishes, where the balance of battle can quickly be upset, and the merits of forward-planning versus immediate assaults are always shifting. Mix in well-constructed scenarios that foster specific strategies, but encourage creative plays, and you have a game that’s not only barrels of fun to play, but one that’s eminently replayable, too.

Undaunted might have the look of a dumbed-down wargame, but don’t be deceived by its colourful illustrations. While combat systems, such as range, cover, and weapon specialisations are simplified, their fundamental tactical relevance is retained. This is a wargame that’s brilliant because of its streamlined design, not in spite of it.

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$40.00
$33.33
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Jaipur – best two-player game

Simple to set up and easy to play, don’t let Jaipur’s jolly artwork lure you into a false sense of security. Behind its colourful cards lies a competitive two-player gateway game of push-your-luck trading, as you buy, exchange, and sell goods to raise your investment portfolio, and earn the praise of the Maharaja.

The push-pull duality of buying or selling creates a perpetual rhythm

Like the stockbrokers of today, players only have two options available to them on any turn: buy or sell. Pick up and exchange cards to increase the assets of your hand, or take all of the point-scoring camels, if you fancy them as a more profitable avenue. But be sure to sell all your stock on later turns, transferring your winnings into dosh. The player with more money by the game’s end is declared victorious.

But, like all financial institutions, the market isn’t stable. The value of goods decreases as the game progresses, prompting you to unload your hand as quickly as possible. But, since you get bonus rewards for selling multiple goods of the same type at once, you’re also encouraged to wait, stack goods, and try to fetch a higher total price. The push-pull duality of buying or selling, waiting or acting, creates a perpetual rhythm to the game. A paucity of turn operations makes it decidedly straightforward, but its contradictory incentivisation of greed and miserliness makes for fraught decision making.

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$24.99
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Men at Work – best dexterity game

Not all board games are about mental calculations, gaming probabilities, or demanding cognition. Many ditch the mind in favour of the hands, requiring you to touch the game pieces, and physically manipulate them to win. Such dexterity games are often targeted towards children, but that doesn’t mean tabletoppers of all ages can’t join in on the physical fun.

And the very best of these games is Men at Work. Aping Jenga’s tower-building premise, players take turns placing girders and affixing supports to a central structure, careful their precarious placements aren’t so unsound as to bring the tower toppling down. If you can increase the total height of the structure, you’ll be rewarded a shiny ‘Employee of the Month’ token, and be well on your way to declaring yourself Architect Supreme.

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Men at Work’s variety of game pieces make it a blast. Beginner girders are stable, but often unwieldy, and worker meeples that must be placed on top of them don’t make for easy geometric arrangement. Add in some tiny bricks and beams to be balanced on their shoulders, and it soon becomes clear why your tower appears more like a rushed development than a premium property.

It’s anxiety-provoking and tense, but also heaps of visually-gratifying fun. After all, as anyone who’s ever built a sandcastle too close to the sea will tell you, there’s few better simple pleasures than painstakingly constructing something, only to destroy it moments later.

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$49.99
$42.50
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