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Best board games 2021: What to buy and play right now

From massive social deduction games to rich narrative-driven experiences, these are the very best board games money can buy.

It’s 2020 and there is a bevy of fantastic board games out there for you to get stuck into. From the best beginner board games to pick up as your next steps after the likes of Catan and Carcassonne to the best co-op board games that won’t make you hate your friends (well, it depends how competitive you are), there’s a ton of board games to suit your needs regardless of tabletop experience, preference of theme or gameplay tastes.

Perhaps you want to get your mates together for a night of frivolity and play some of the best party games? Or maybe gather your partner or bestie across the table for the best two-player board games to spend an afternoon or two with? What about a workday lunchtime ticking off one or two quick board games? There are any number of situations where tabletop gaming can make things infinitely better, but how can you decide which board games to pick up this year?

Best board games 2020

  • Gloomhaven: Explore dungeons to pursue character goals and find your fortune.
  • Wingspan: Attract as many rare birds as you can in this set collection game.
  • Deception: Murder in Hong Kong: Ferret out the murderer in a semi co-op game inspired by police dramas.
  • Pandemic Legacy: Season 1: Start a co-op campaign that crosses in the entire globe.
  • Mice and Mystics: Sneak through a castle as tiny rodents in a D&D inspired adventure game.
  • Codenames: This party game splits its players into two teams of spies seeking spies.
  • Mansions of Madness: Second Edition: A terrifying building filled with grotesque monsters awaits players.
  • Flick 'em Up: Dead of Winter: Dexterity combines with survival horror in this strange but brilliant mix-up.
  • Scythe: Attempt to build the greatest nation in this steampunk inspired strategy title.
  • Root: A woodland war has sprung up between the clans of the forest and players must decide where they stand.

With so much choice on offer it can seem a wee bit overwhelming to find what you really want. More importantly, how do you know what you want? What is an engine-building game, how do the modern classics compare to old favourites and how can you shift through the multitudes of terrible social deduction games to find the good stuff?

No need to fear as Dicebreaker are here to direct you to the very best that tabletop gaming has to offer. The team has banded together to create this selection of the 10 best board games of 2020, which you can buy and play right now - secure in the knowledge that they’ve received our stamp of approval.

1. Gloomhaven

Take various missions and gain renown in this adventure game

Gloomhaven strategy board game gameplay layout
Dungeons will contain all manner of dangerous enemies.

The epic fantasy roleplaying of RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons and the tactical, complex gameplay of dungeon-crawling board games collide in Gloomhaven.

Players explore the vast fantasy world during a campaign that can span dozens of connected scenarios and many, many hours, building up their character’s deck of moves and abilities to unleash during the game’s intense and challenging card-driven battles. The players’ decisions both in and out of fights will shape the world of Gloomhaven, with the game borrowing some of the innovative aspects of legacy board games like Pandemic Legacy: Season 1; players apply stickers to the board and remove cards from the game to permanently change the state of the fantasy universe and their characters’ story.

An RPG-in-a-box for players interested in having a memorable journey and exploring a wide world without learning how to play Dungeons & Dragons while taking on the tough, satisfying puzzle of a strategy board game, Gloomhaven has become the new gold standard for epic adventure on the tabletop. The upcoming Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion should make it even easier to jump into the world of Gloomhaven for the first time, too, with simplified rules and a prequel story that leads into the original game.

Buy Gloomhaven on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

2. Wingspan

Birds will flock to the best habitats in this beautiful looking game

Wingspan board game box
Wingspan's art-style is incredibly striking.

Who knew that a board game about collecting bird eggs could be so fun? As last year’s Wingspan proved; turns out the scientific practice of ornithology - the study of birds - can make for a pretty compelling competitive experience. Despite seeming a little overwhelming from the offset due to the sheer number of bird cards courtesy of designer Elizabeth Hargrave, Wingspan is actually quite easy to understand once you get your head around the concept of engine-building, which is essentially when you get a thing - in this case a bird - and upgrade that thing into something better; in this case, more birds. (If you’re looking for another beginner friendly engine-building game from last year, consider Fantastic Factories.)

This is what makes Wingspan such a satisfying board game to play, as it really masters that feeling of glorious progression and the joy of seeing your bird empire grow from one measly owl to an entire flock of beaked beasts. To do this you’ll need to make your chosen habitats suitable for the birds you want to attract by putting out the right food tokens, with other birds eventually following those that already reside within your habitats. Those birds that do choose to settle down in your habitats may eventually lay eggs, which also happen to be valuable methods of point scoring.

In the later stages of the game players will have the opportunity to attract rarer and rarer birds, which can make things surprisingly exciting and competitive considering it is a game about recording various bird species. Nevertheless, with its gripping mechanics and beautiful artwork Wingspan can’t help but whisk you away to a world of winged wonders.

Buy Wingspan on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

3. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

A hidden role game about untangling a violent murder plot

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong board game cards
Different roles will force players to behave in a certain way.

If you’ve ever wanted to host a murder mystery party without all the planning, then Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is the perfect board game for your next big social event. Set amongst the city’s darkest corners and featuring stories of murder most foul, Deception is an ideal party board game for big groups, able to cater for up to 12 players and keeping things to a snappy 20 minutes per session.

In Deception, players assume a variety of different roles: forensic scientist, witness, investigator, accomplice and, of course, murderer, with each one providing unique goals and gameplay challenges. Once everyone’s roles have been secretly assigned the murderer chooses a clue card and a means of murder card - combined, these become the ultimate solution to the crime. The forensic scientist is then invited to look at these clues, however, they cannot overtly relay this information directly to the investigators.

With the game in full swing the investigators must then attempt to correctly identify the chosen clues, all whilst the murderer and their accomplice attempt to secretly coerce them away from the right answers. Should the investigators successfully select the correct key evidence and means of murder then they win, whilst the murderer claims victory if they fail to crack the case. One final little twist to the game comes with the murderer and accomplice being able to successfully escape after being caught if they can correctly identify who was the witness.

Deception is easily one of the most well thought-out social deduction games on the tabletop, with an absolutely killer theme (pun intended) and intricately designed roles that provide players with a fantastic experience no matter who they are.

Buy Deception: Murder in Hong Kong on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

4. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1

One of the very first legacy games maintains its status as being a pioneer.

Pandemic Legacy: Season One board game gameplay layout
Every city is connected on the map, offering essential routes and dangerous paths for the diseases to spread across.

For co-op fans, Pandemic is one of the best legacy board games of all time, pitting you and your group against the relentless spread of disease across the world as you work together to discover the cure before all is lost. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 makes that great game even greater, introducing a story campaign set across 12 months (and roughly the same number of individual playthroughs) where the outcome of every play has lasting effects on the fictional world - and your real-life copy of the game, as you tear up cards, permanently place stickers on the board and open boxes packed with new rules, pieces to play and other surprises.

To say any more would spoil what makes Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 so special, but think of it as the board game equivalent of the latest Netflix show you binge-watched - you’ll be hooked from beginning to end. Luckily, once you wrap up Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 takes the story and gameplay twists and surprises one step further. Pandemic Legacy: Season 3 has been announced for release sometime in 2020, so now’s your chance to catch up and discover a truly unmissable board game.

Buy Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

5. Mice and Mystics

Players have an entire castle to explore and many scary insects and rats to fight.

Mice and Mystics board game minis
The models in Mice and Mystics are incredibly adorable.

Secret of Nimh, The Rescuers, Danger Mouse. Mice have featured as the plucky heroes in many a story because we just can’t help but root for the underdog (or undermouse?). But what if you were the mouse in an epic tale about fighting against overwhelming odds? This is the question that Jerry Hawthorne’s dungeon-crawling adventure game Mice and Mystics attempts to answer, as you and your friends suddenly find yourselves about three inches tall and trapped in a scary castle.

Mice and Mystics works as a co-op board game not just because every player has a unique role to perform - with one character being the duelist, another being a trickster, someone playing the bruiser and the other healing the party - but also because it really does feel like it’s your little group of rodents against the whole world. As you venture into each enormous room of the castle you and your fellow mice could face any number of horrors from fierce cockroaches, rival rats and even Brodie, the dreaded housecat. With each new challenge players confront they’ll have to combine their unique abilities, as well as the odd crumb of cheese, in order to successfully survive and continue in their quest to escape the evil Vanestra.

There’s more to Mice and Mystics than just combat, as you’ll be exploring the castle depths looking for secrets and engaging in various story beats that happen to pop up throughout the game’s narrative. Mice and Mystics is an incredibly rich co-op experience full of atmosphere and with some outstandingly beautiful artwork to boot, making it one of the top board games to play if you’re itching for some Borrowers-inspired adventures.

Buy Mice and Mystics on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

6. Codenames

Two teams compete to guess all their words before the opposing players do

Codenames party board game gameplay layout
Each team has their own set of illustrated spy cards.

There’s a reason why Codenames now comes in over ten separate versions, including a Marvel edition, Harry Potter version and ‘adult’ Deep Undercover release. The demand for more Codenames stems from the game’s intense popularity which, in turn, comes how incredibly accessible, yet immensely enjoyable, it is to play. Codenames sees two teams racing against one another to successfully locate all their spies, whilst avoiding pedestrians, enemy spies and the dreaded assassin.

These potential spies, or words, are arranged on a shared grid, with each team taking it in turns to give and receive clues pertaining to the right words. Despite having such a simple ruleset, Codenames is actually quite the meaty game. The boundless possibilities for different word combinations, and the individual thought-processes of the players, means that no game of Codenames ever goes the same way. And that’s the real beauty of Codenames; its simplicity makes it a universally fun experience, no matter what the version and who you’re playing with. For a more visual example of this fact, you can watch the Dicebreaker team playing Codenames with Outside Xbox at EGX 2019 below.

Buy Codenames on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

7. Mansions of Madness: Second Edition

A horror game where every scenario presents a new selection of terrors to defeat.

Mansions of Madness: Second Edition horror board game gameplay layout
The mansion's layout will change with every kind of tile that players lay down.

Mansions of Madness is one of the closest experiences you can have to horror RPGs such as Call of Cthulhu in a board game. And also, in our humble opinion, the best way to enjoy Lovecraftian horrors via cardboard.

In it, you’ll explore a range of cursed locations and solve horrifying mysteries. Players each control an investigator from the Arkham Horror Files universe (which also includes Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror and Arkham Horror: The Card Game) with special abilities and advantages, and will decide where to move, who to talk to, what to research and how to react in battle.

True to the doom and gloom of Lovecraftian stories, battle is terse and players definitely don’t have the advantage. Once the beings of cosmic horror are inevitably summoned, you’re better off fleeing then you are poking them with a candlestick.

In the old days, Mansions of Madness required a game master to dispense story and wrangle combat. The game's second edition introduced a companion app for PC and mobile which does that for you, making things much smoother and turning the game into a fully co-op experience.

It also packs extensive storytelling and atmosphere through well-written story flavour text, a spooky soundtrack and lots of dialog, making this an excellent choice for folks who love role-playing and story-based adventures. Also, definitely one of the best horror board games out there - things get wild.

Buy Mansions of Madness: Second Edition on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

8. Flick 'em Up!: Dead of Winter

A dexterity series and a horror series combine to make this weird game

Flick em up dead of winter board game box
The art-style for the game displays a clever sense of self-awareness.

Avengers Endgame eat your heart out (though no ill will to Marvel Champions as it’s a bloody brilliant game) because there’s a bigger crossover in town and its name is Flick ‘em Up!: Dead of Winter. You wouldn’t think that this unexpected pairing would work, but combining Dead of Winter’s tense zombie horror atmosphere with Flick ‘em Up!’s test of meeple-pinging skill makes for a surprisingly harmonious experience - though not necessarily the most calming half-hour when it comes to fighting zombies and desperately searching for resources, of course.

Unlike the original Flick ‘em Up! - which is one of the best dexterity board games in its own right - this iteration has its players facing off against the undead instead of cowboys and working together instead of competing with one another. However, it does share the mechanics of flicking discs in order to reach different locations and successfully shoot opponents. There’s a reason why Dead of Winter is one of the best co-op board games out there and it’s because the desperate circumstances players find themselves has the inevitable effect of bringing everyone together. The same can be very much said about Flick ‘em Up!: Dead of Winter, which if anything increases the need for camaraderie because players face the added challenge of attempting to successfully hit zombies with their discs, whilst still having to be careful about searching for food and not getting bitten.

As more hordes of brain-eating enemies emerge from the game’s terrifying zombie tower things get scarier, hands inevitably get sweatier and players can’t help but get invested in what’s going on despite how ridiculous the premise initially seems.

Buy Flick 'em Up! Dead of Winter on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

9. Scythe

An asymmetrical board game where making efficient decisions is the key to winning.

Scythe strategy board game miniatures
Scythe has some very detailed models for each of its factions.

If you’re after epic engine-building and strategy with gorgeous artwork, you can’t go wrong with Eurogame Scythe. It’s set in the fictional continent of 1920s Europa, which is still recovering from a terrible war fuelled by mechs. Meanwhile, the mysterious Factory which created the mechs has shut down, and everyone wants to claim a piece of its surrounding lands.

A game for one to five players, you each represent a faction of Eastern Europe seeking new territory, fortune and glory. They’re represented by animals, like the bear, and the lesser appreciated muskox. You’ll get to grab new recruits, harvest resources, accrue villagers, build structures and of course, activate your very own monstrous mechs.

In addition, you each have your own hidden goal, a unique starting location and an array of different starting resources. You are the master of your faction’s fate, with dice rolls and luck determining very little of the outcome in Scythe - even when it comes to combat.

That said, you’ll draw random encounter cards as you explore, which adds plenty of narrative flavour to proceedings. These will lead to decisions that can mitigate or worsen your circumstances.

Scythe is not a game for folks seeking outright carnage. In the early game, you’ll likely be building up your resources, while the latter half sees you scouting out threats and defending against other players. Violence exists more as a threat, cold-war style - although there are plenty of conflicts to be had.

It’s ideal for fans of strategy, and although it’s a little complex, it’s actually a really fantastic introduction to the world of Eurogames. Lastly, it’s totally beautiful, combining miniatures and a world ravaged by war, so it definitely builds a more evocative universe compared to most of its Eurogame brethren.

Buy Scythe on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

10. Root

Players will have an entirely different experience depending on which faction they play in this game

Root board game box
Kyle Ferrin is the talented artist behind Root's art-style.

How could a game featuring such adorable woodland characters also involve so much brutal conflict? Root is an asymmetrical strategy game about four warring factions of animals: the devious Cats, squabbling Eyrie, shadowy Alliance and mysterious Vagabonds, as they each seek to establish power over the great woodland. With the greedy Marquis de Cat working to establish her supreme dominance across the land, each tribe must rise up and achieve their unique goals before it’s all too late.

Root sees its players assuming command over one of the above groups with each granting an entirely unique set of troops, resources and aims. For example, playing as the Alliance allows you to use subterfuge to lay low and stay unnoticed, all whilst hatching conspiracies to take down the other players. As an asymmetric game Root offers a huge amount of variety, with each faction providing a completely different style of gameplay. However, a shared experience can still be found in player interactions and the overarching story that everyone helps to tell, ensuring that no-one ever feels too isolated.

There is a lot going on in Root, which could potentially put less experienced players off from trying it. But it’s definitely the kind of game that’s designed to be played many, many times, with each session easing you into its complex systems and uncovering new things to love about it. From its rich narrative elements to the elegance of the game’s asymmetric structure, Root really is one of the best board games out there at the moment.

Buy Root on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk