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Board game releases 2021: 10 upcoming board games you should play

These are the hottest board game releases hitting the shelves in the coming year.

Getting excited about an upcoming game is a wonderful thing, so this list is here to stoke those particular fires and to give you a good idea of what to expect in the coming months. If you haven’t already got a clear idea of which tabletop titles to keep track of in the near future, reading through this collection will get you up to date with the biggest board game releases of 2021.

Some entries on this list have a prestigious studio or design team behind them, whilst others are attached to a licence that’s seen plenty of love poured into it - either way, the board games on here have a lot of anticipation hanging around them. Several of the games featured on this list have had very successful Kickstarter campaigns and are set to finally be released in 2021, whereas a few of them have been waiting in the wings for quite some time now. Hopefully, we will see the arrival of the titles on this list fairly soon - though release dates are not always guaranteed, of course.

Board game releases 2021

  • Frosthaven: After the most successful tabletop Kickstarter campaign ever seen, there’s good reason to be excited about the sequel to Gloomhaven.
  • Quest: A spiritual successor to popular hidden role game The Resistance: Avalon, Quest continues the story of the Round Table knights.
  • Descent: Legends of the Dark: The sequel to Journeys in the Dark, this enormous dungeon-crawling adventure is one hefty upcoming release.
  • Burncycle: A co-op game about becoming a team of robots infiltrating the headquarters of humanity from the studio behind Too Many Bones.
  • Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile: The hotly anticipated release from the designer of Root and Pax Pamir that puts elements of legacy games into a fantasy setting.
  • Lizard Wizard: Become scaly magicians in this sequel to Raccoon Tycoon that features spell-creation and dungeon-raiding.
  • Critical Role Adventures: The newly-formed publishing house from the team behind Critical Role is releasing a board game based on the actual play D&D series.
  • Darkest Dungeon: Based on the indie video game about the perils of exploring dangerous ruins, this adaptation looks to embody the moody tone of its source material.
  • Soul Raiders: From the creator of Splendor, this ambitious narrative game will contain more than 1,000 cards in an epic adventure.
  • HeroQuest: The long-awaited revival of one of the most beloved adventure board games ever created is finally arriving this coming year.

Whether you’re anticipating the next big box co-op campaign, another tabletop adaptation of a cult classic video game or the next release from a renowned designer, this list contains shining examples of the best board games that players have to look forward to in the near future. It’s time to get excited about the next 12 months, as we cover 10 of the best upcoming board games set to release in 2021.

1. Frosthaven

The sequel to Gloomhaven promises players another narrative-driven campaign

Frosthaven board game promo layout
The game's outpost will gradually grow as players add new buildings.

There’s simply no downplaying the sheer popularity of Gloomhaven. A co-op board game taking place in and around a city inhabited by scores of people looking for the right mercenary band to complete their quests, Gloomhaven has become one of the most well-known board games out there - even ending up on the lips of people who might otherwise not be aware of most tabletop releases. Considering this level of fame, it’s unsurprising that its sequel, Frosthaven, is currently among some of the most anticipated games set to be released in 2021.

After a tremendously successful crowdfunding campaign - raising almost $13 million within a month, becoming the highest-funded tabletop Kickstarter of all time - Frosthaven is carrying a heck of a lot of weight on its shoulders. The fantasy title shifts the story to a new group of adventurers who answer the distress call of a frozen outpost north to the city of Gloomhaven. Terrorised by the dangerous creatures that populate the area, this inhospitable place is in need of some serious repairs and a band of brave mercenaries willing to protect them for the monsters that threaten them.

Whereas Gloomhaven was purely driven by players’ questing, Frosthaven provides players with the opportunity to develop the outpost they’re protecting using raw materials they find in their adventures. By improving the settlement, players aren’t only making it more durable against attacks from outside forces, but can also construct buildings that their characters can directly benefit from. They’ll need all the help they can get, because the enemies in Frosthaven are sure to pose a challenge - as players will have to deal with any buff opponents may receive from certain seasons in play. Find out if you and your mates are up for the challenge when Frosthaven is released.

Buy Frosthaven from Zatu and Kickstarter.

2. Quest

A hidden role title that pits the knights of Camelot against the forces of evil

Quest board game cards
The artwork for Quest's character cards is incredibly striking.

The Resistance: Avalon became an instant classic when it released back in 2012, cementing itself as one of the most well-regarded party games of the modern era. Despite its setting being nothing particularly unique - we’ve all seen plenty of games themed around Arthurian legends - Avalon’s complex approach to the hidden role genre and the variety of different character abilities on offer helped it to quickly rise through the ranks to become a favourite of many players.

Quest is a spiritual successor to Avalon, taking place in the same universe and possibly several years after the previous game - although the exact time frame has not been confirmed. Featuring many of the characters found in Avalon, Quest sees four to ten players taking their place at the Round Table and deciding who should be sent on a series of vital missions. The fall of Avalon is nigh, with the wicked sorcerer Mordred seeking to topple Arthur from the throne by luring his followers over to her side. In a desperate attempt to prevent this, the king and his remaining loyal servants must successfully complete several quests without the meddling of Mordred and her secret minions.

Throughout the game, players select a leader for each quest, whose responsibility is to choose two other players to join them. Whoever the leader chooses secretly decides whether they want the mission to succeed or fail. Before this step is finalised, one player is given a magic token which forces them to vote for the quest to succeed. The fate of the game rests on how many quests succeed or fail, with the option to add secret roles and amulets to mixt the game up even further. Avalon may be a hard act to follow, but we’ll just have to see whether Quest matches up to it.

Submit a late pledge for Quest on Kickstarter.

3. Descent: Legends of the Dark

This blockbuster release looks to provide even bigger adventures than its predecessor

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Legends of the Dark will apparently have a staggeringly large amount of components.

Having leaked over the summer, Descent fans were well prepared for the sequel to Journeys in the Dark when it was finally officially revealed. What they possibly weren’t ready for is just how enormous both the game and its $175 price tag look to be. Descent: Legends of the Dark is a dungeon-crawling board game that sees players taking on the roles of brave adventurers exploring the deepest depths of the land of Terrinoth. Much like the first entry in the series, and the Second Edition of the game released in 2012, Legends of the Dark will feature a series of missions for players to pursue and enemies to battle.

Unlike the first game, Legends of the Dark will contain 46 pieces of 3D terrain players can use to build the various locations they’ll be exploring. Keeping in line with many of Fantasy Flight Games’ recent releases, such as Mansions of Madness and Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth, Legends of the Dark will also feature a companion app that will integrate with the 3D terrain and instruct players on what to place as they explore the world. There will be six different heroes to choose from, each with their own unique skills and abilities for players to master and develop as they progress through each of the 16 available missions in the core box’s campaign.

How players decide to approach these quests is entirely up to them, but they’ll have the option to visit a nearby city to purchase new equipment or upgrade their current arsenal between scenarios. As enemies get tougher and start adapting to players’ actions during combat, getting better weapons and tools might be a necessary step. Players get three actions to perform each turn, including moving, attacking and exploring. Characters can also be readied by having their hero sheet flipped onto its other side - thereby enabling a different set of skills and abilities to be used. Keep an eye out for this particular behemoth of a game to release in Q2 2021.

Buy Descent: Legends of the Dark on Zatu and Fantasy Flight Games.

4. Burncycle

It’s the far-flung future and this time the robots are the heroes

Players become mechanical freedom-fighters in this co-op game.

Welcome to a post-apocalyptic future where the last remains of humanity maintain an iron-fisted control over a civilisation of robots once considered their saviours. Now, after years of mistreatment and imprisonment, the robots have decided to infiltrate the headquarters of humanity itself in order to free themselves and their kind from their masters’ control. In this case, the players are not the humans but the plucky robots seeking emancipation. If Burncycle’s unusual premise doesn’t interest you, the fact that it’s being developed by the studio behind Too Many Bones - the co-op board game that combines dice-rolling with roleplaying mechanics - should spark some excitement.

In Burncycle, players control the team of infiltrating robots by moving them from floor to floor of the enormous building they find themselves in. Each room they discover may contain various useful items that they can use along the way, as well as networks they can hack to open up new pathways forward. Obviously, the robots aren’t going to swan through the entire HQ of humanity without facing some resistance, meaning that they’ll have to battle human guards and security systems along the way.

During each round of the game, players will have to adhere to a random set of programming directives that dictate the order in which certain actions have to be played. However, if players happen to have action dice to spend, then they can choose to pass over certain directives or ignore them entirely. In order to successfully pull off their heist, players will need to complete all their missions before their captain is defeated or the threat level of the game exceeds its maximum limit. Should you and your friends desire to become a team of revolutionary robots, look out for this fresh new release next year.

Submit a late pledge for Burncycle on Kickstarter.

5. Oath: Chronicles of Empire & Exile

Consolidate power or squabble over the remains in this epic board game about ruling a kingdom

From the minds behind Root and Pax Pamir 2E, Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile is one of the most highly anticipated games coming in 2020.
The artwork for Oath is from the talented artist behind Root, Kyle Ferrin.

Up to this point, Cole Wehrle has had a pretty flawless track record when it comes to designing tabletop games. Having created arguably one of the best board games of all time in Root, before going on to make Matt’s favourite release of last year with Pax Pamir: Second Edition, Wehrle has already built up quite the portfolio. Wehrle’s next game, Oath: Chronicles of Empire & Exile, could continue this trend by providing players with an epic experience of developing the history of an ancient land and deciding its future.

In Oath, one to six players become characters in a land seemingly stuck in a constant state of political upheaval, wherein one chancellor is seemingly overthrown by another in short order. One player begins the game as this chancellor, desperate to maintain grip on their remaining power and willing to share it with those who are able to stay loyal to them. The other players start proceedings as exiles seeking to claim their own sources of power, whether by offering promises to gather support or discovering dark secrets to manipulate to suit their own needs. As each game progresses, players can explore the world of Oath and populate it with the various characters they meet along the way, essentially writing their own narratives. However, only one player can ever end the game in the role of chancellor, with the other players remaining empty-handed or possibly left to worser fates.

What’s especially interesting about Oath is that the game has legacy elements but is not a complete legacy game. Whilst players do not permanently alter the game’s components or remove anything like in many full legacy games, whatever happens at the end of each game of Oath goes on to affect how the next one begins. Once a playthrough of Oath is finished, players take account of what has happened during the chronicle phase, ensuring that the next game’s board will be re-centred around the previous game’s winner, with the victory condition adjusted accordingly and additional cards getting added to the deck. In the next game - or generation - of Oath, players will have a slightly different experience then the one they had last time. It’s an unusual and incredibly exciting prospect for a game.

Submit a late pledge for Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile on Kickstarter.

6. Lizard Wizard

The next game in the Raccoon Tycoon series centres upon magically-inclined reptiles.

Lizard Wizard board game cards
Lizard Wizard is stuffed full of adorable animals performing magic.

If you haven’t heard of 2018’s Raccoon Tycoon, it’s an auction game about wealthy business people taking advantage of a sudden economic boom by supplying towns, factories and train lines with the resources they need to run. Those wealthy business people also happen to be various adorable animals impeccably dressed in various finery befitting a well-to-do entrepreneur about town. Its unique art style and crafty gameplay helped to cement its status as a beloved board game that also happens to be about acquiring a market share in a competitive economy. Proving that an excellent theme can elevate almost any type of game above its competitors, Raccoon Tycoon is instantly more recognisable and approachable than many other titles focused around supply-and-demand.

However, the world of Astoria isn’t just populated by ambitious business owners. It also happens to be home to an organisation of magic users that deal in spells and sorcery. This is where the follow-up to Raccoon Tycoon, Lizard Wizard, picks things up - by having the players become magicians who create their own spells to sell to an unending sea of customers. If the sorcerers want to have wares to ply, then they’ll need to gather the right reagents required to create mana - a power source that can be used to recruit arch-mages, summon familiars and research spellcasting. Acquiring any of these resources can give a player the edge over their rivals, allowing them to explore the outside world for rewards and additional reagents.

As in Raccoon Tycoon, the aim of the game is to steadily build an empire that feeds into itself, growing ever larger and dominating the economic market. When the game ends, whichever scaly sorcerer has the highest total of wizard towers, gold and scoring spells is named the winner and presumably gets to turn their opponents into frogs. (Unless they already started that way.) This charmingly-illustrated board game about magical lizardfolk looks to continue the good work of its predecessor.

Buy Lizard Wizard: Kickstarter Edition on Zatu.

7. Critical Role Adventures

Tell your own stories in the world of Exandria as the heroes of Vox Machina

Critical Role cast
Members of the Critical Role cast are involved in the creation of this upcoming game.

To say that Critical Role is popular would be an understatement. The Dungeons & Dragons 5E actual play series has exploded since it first began in 2015, leading to a comic book adaptation, an animated Amazon series and even its own D&D 5E sourcebook. Considering its enormous fanbase, its unsurprising that the show - which sees actors Matt Mercer, Ashley Johnson, Laura Bailey, Marisha Ray, Liam O’ Brian, Travis Willingham, Sam Reigal and Taliesin Jaffe playing D&D 5E - has led to the creation of a publishing studio.

One of the games set to be released in 2021 by newfounded label Darrington Press is Critical Role Adventures, which appears to centre around the characters from the show’s first campaign. The party featured in season one of Critical Role is called Vox Machina and is made up of an interesting bunch of individuals including a gunslinger, a half-elf patron of the goddess of death and a goliath. These heroes came together to encounter an epic narrative containing everything from dragons to vampires to evil deities, with some truly spectacular stories told throughout the campaign. With Critical Role Adventures, it looks like players will be able to experience these stories for themselves as they become members of Vox Machina and explore the world of Exandria.

There aren’t too many details on what kind of scenarios players will face in the game, but we do know they can expect to tackle various combat scenarios and make key narrative decisions that will affect the overarching story. Being based on a D&D campaign, it would make sense if Critical Role Adventures took a page from the (rule)book of games such as Gloomhaven when it comes to integrating RPG elements into a board game. However the designers decide to handle things, being able to play as members of Vox Machina is still hugely exciting.

Critical Role Adventures isn't available for purchase yet. Fans of the show can buy Munchkin: Critical Role on Zatu.

8. Darkest Dungeon: The Board Game

Delve into the depths of long-forgotten ruins in this adaption of the gloomy video game

Darkest Dungeon board game miniatures
Each character in Darkest Dungeon has their own unique set of abilities.

Originally released in 2015, Darkest Dungeon has become a cult classic amongst lovers of indie video games. Dripping with a heavy atmosphere of dread and sadness, Darkest Dungeon twists the standard fantasy narrative of a group of adventurers questing in a dungeon into a nightmarish scenario. It’s a game that understands the kind of toil that venturing into ancient ruins filled to brim with terrifying creatures would have on a person, resulting in party members experiencing changes to their personality or mindset that can have a direct impact on how they play.

Considering how clearly it’s been influenced by tabletop roleplaying games and dungeon-crawlers, it’s unsurprising that Darkest Dungeon is now being adapted into a board game. Coming from Mythic Games - the publisher behind Time of Legends: Joan of Arc and Hel: The Last Saga - Darkest Dungeon looks to translate many of the elements from the video game to the tabletop, including the potential for player characters to experience various status conditions that affect their behaviours.

Players will experience a campaign of 11 possible missions, with several boss encounters along the way. As they make their way through the various locations in the game, they’ll gradually experience stress, forcing the player to move their character’s stress track. Journeying between rooms has players rolling dice to see what they encounter along the way, which could be everything from traps to interesting curios.

Rooms can also contain enemies that players will need to fight off using their character’s various abilities - which differ depending on their class type - all whilst coping with any potential status effects they might have. All in all, Darkest Dungeon seems to promise players all the doom and gloom they’ve possibly enjoyed in the video game, but within a co-op tabletop experience. The intense challenge of the original certainly looks to be making its way into the board game, so it’s perfect for players that enjoy overcoming seemingly impossible odds.

View Darkest Dungeon: The Board Game on Kickstarter.

9. Soul Raiders

Embark on an epic quest to prevent impending doom in this narrative-driven board game

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Players take the role of heroes attempting to stop a terrible catastrophe from happening.

Marc André might be best-known for beloved board game Splendor - which sees players competing to trade precious gems to noble families - but the designer’s next game looks to be something very different. Soul Raiders appears to be a story-focused tabletop experience that features more than 1,000 cards for players to use and interact with. Considering that Splendor is known for its relatively small amount of components and straightforward gameplay, this upcoming release is quite an unexpected direction for the designer to take - though certainly not an unwanted one. With the success of titles such as Gloomhaven and 7th Continent, epic games that allow players to explore a story campaign in a detailed world are certainly hot at the moment.

Soul Raiders will contain multiple one- to two-hour long chapters that make up the game’s entire campaign, with players having the opportunity to decide the direction of the story at various points. As players explore the world of Soul Raiders, they’ll have to draw encounter cards that present new scenarios for them to interact with and overcome. There is quite a level of freedom within the game, with no set turn order and players able to even split up into individual groups to pursue different quest lines and explore other locales. However, players will have to make sure they don’t stray too far away from one another, as they all share the same pool of hit points and are under threat of capture if they happen to linger too long in one area.

The art for the game features work from Magic: The Gathering illustrator Magali Villeneuve, as well as several more talented individuals. Players can also expect a collection of miniatures within the game box, ensuring that the immersion and presentation levels will be through the roof. The Kickstarter campaign for Soul Raiders is set to launch sometime early in 2021, so keep an eye out for that if you’re intrigued.

Soul Raiders is due to launch on Kickstarter in Q1 2021.

10. HeroQuest

After more than 30 years, the beloved dungeon-crawler is coming back to the tabletop

HeroQuest board game cards
HeroQuest will contain a wide variety of monsters, treasures and useful items for players to encounter.

The name HeroQuest certainly seems to carry a weight to it. First released back in 1989, it’s arguably one of the most influential board games of all time, proving that Dungeons & Dragons wasn’t the only way that players could experience an epic and immersive adventure. Despite going on to influence dungeon-crawlers from Imperial Assault to Gloomhaven, HeroQuest had all but vanished by the millennium, fading into the memories of those who played it in their youth. Until now, as in late 2020 Avalon Hill and Hasbro announced that they would be reviving the HeroQuest name.

The new HeroQuest won’t apparently be treading any new ground; instead, it looks to be a faithful recreation of the 1989 original. Copies of HeroQuest have become notoriously difficult - or expensive - to track down in the decades since its release, making a new edition of the game undeniably a light in the darkness for fans of the series. However, there will be some minor changes that look to bring the classic board game up to speed with certain advancements made in the last thirty years, such as the inclusion of female-identifying characters in both the party and the rogues’ gallery that players will face. Other than that, the title looks to remain mostly unchanged in regards to gameplay - with players once again selecting between a roster of characters based on various fantasy archetypes, before embarking a heroic quest.

The fundraising campaign for the game - which ran during the month of September - resulted in a total of almost $4 million being collected, which is a pretty big indicator of how popular this title is looking. Even though the crowdfunding campaign was exclusive to the US and Canada, excited individuals in the UK can get their hands on a copy next autumn from the online retailer, Zavvi - ensuring that as many fans as possible can get their own copy of the highly anticipated board game.

Buy HeroQuest on Zavvi and Hasbro Pulse.