Now that we’re done with some of the best board games from last year, it’s time to take a look at what the future holds for board game releases in 2020. Ready for the brand new decade, tabletop publishers have lined up a slew of exciting new titles for us to enjoy.
These include the likes of Oath, the next board game from Cole Wherle - the designer behind Root and last year’s critical darling Pax Pamir 2E. As well as brand new titles, we can look forward to remakes of old classics, such as the delightfully sinister Return to Dark Tower from legacy board game creator Rob Daviau and Gloomhaven designer Isaac Childres. Oath and Return to Dark Tower are arriving with the backers of their respective Kickstarter campaigns in early 2021, but will be landing on the crowdfunding site this year and should hopefully be ready to play early at conventions in the coming months.
Meanwhile, spin-offs and sequels to modern heavyweights like sprawling fantasy dungeon-crawler Gloomhaven and the third season of Pandemic Legacy, plus a dark spiritual successor to choose-your-own-adventure-style game The 7th Continent, are also on their way.
Last but not least, there are plenty of original titles to be had, including the gorgeous Sleeping Gods - in which you travel the seas under strange stars - and butterfly-collecting beauty Mariposas, a board game from Elizabeth Hargrave - the same mind that created last year’s bird-based blockbuster Wingspan.
We’ve chosen board game releases and Kickstarter campaigns we’re especially excited about, but there are plenty of other upcoming titles not featured here to keep an eye out for. Most notably, Scythe and Tapestry - Alex Lolies’ favourite board game of 2019 - publisher Stonemaier Games’ upcoming mysterious projects Sand and Cape, which only have codenames and very vague details so far.
Not to mention Tekhenu - in which you draft forbidden dice and appease ancient Egyptian Gods - the latest from the creators of heavy strategy title Teotihuacan: City of Gods. In a similar vein, the new version of popular board game Kemet, Blood and Sand - which includes updated mechanics and improved mythic miniatures -looks set to nab a few hearts this year.
There’s also a raft of new board games inspired by video games on the horizon, following in the same line as tabletop adaptations of Doom, Fallout and Dark Souls. This year, we’ll see a board game adaptation of legendary stealth-action PlayStation game Metal Gear Solid, on which Specter Ops designer Emerson Matsuuchi is taking the reins.
Board games releases 2020
So without further adieu, let's take a look at the best board games coming out in 2020. Featuring arcane history simulators, cursed voyages through both sea and space, and hordes of brightly-hued butterflies - among other things.
1. Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile
From the designer of beautiful woodland strategy game Root and last year’s Pax Pamir 2E - which was Matt’s 2019 Game of the Year - Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile has been attracting lots of attention.
An interactive strategy board game, one to six players control exiles vying for power. Described somewhat esoterically as a game “about how history gets written” by its publisher Leder Games, Oath looks set to be very special indeed.
First off, it changes as you play, depending on what you do. However, it doesn’t do this through the usual means of story cards and random events, but instead alters the actions, resources and core victory conditions available dependent on the decisions made during the last playthrough.
Depending on how the game goes, three things will change: the card draw deck - which features cards representing the denizens of the surrounding land, ideas and enterprises - plus the map and the victory system.
But, unlike legacy board games, Oath’s campaign system can reset at any point, no components are destructible and it doesn’t require the same group of players each time.
It also features the distinctive artwork of illustrator Kyle Ferrin, who recently applied his style to Vast: The Mysterious Manor.
It’s live on Kickstarter currently and is expected to arrive in 2021, according to its estimated shipping date.
2. Pandemic Legacy: Season 3
Risk Legacy technically came first, but Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 was arguably the game that fully demonstrated how special legacy board games could be when it arrived with a bang in 2015. Together, Pandemic creator Matt Leacock and legacy pioneer Rob Daviau created an engrossing version of Leacock’s co-op board game hit, set during 12 months in a world beset by disease epidemics and outbreaks. With the outcome of each individual playthrough (depending on if you won or lost) making permanent changes to the board itself and even resulting in cards - or entire characters - being torn up and consigned to the recycling bin for good, it was a brilliantly inventive, surprising and unforgettable ride.
2017’s Season 2 managed to pull even more surprises out of the bag - and several envelopes - by allowing players to explore and reveal the initially blank world map one region at a time in the order of their choosing, and customise their unique characters to an even greater degree. At the same time, Leacock and Daviau’s storytelling continued to develop the world of Pandemic, making the plot surprisingly compelling for a board game mostly about tiny cubes.
Billed as the conclusion to what the designers have described as a planned trilogy, details about this year’s Pandemic Legacy: Season 3 are still mostly under tight wraps. A tagline - “Every end has a beginning” - has hinted at the possibility of a prequel, while how else the gameplay and world might differ to the previous seasons remains to be seen.
One way or another, you can be sure we’re in for more twists and turns at the hands of Leacock and Daviau.
3 . Return to Dark Tower
Overseen by a multitude of big board game names, including Gloomhaven’s Isaac Childres and Cthulhu: Death May Die and Pandemic Legacy designer Rob Daviau, the remake of classic ‘80s board game Dark Tower from Restoration Games looks extremely promising.
The dark fantasy title comprises a literal, powered-up tower placed right in the centre of a board depicting a fantastical kingdom. As heroes, you root around the board nabbing resources and battling monsters - while the titular monolith generates encounters, predominantly grim ones designed to torment you.
Our own Johnny got to play Return to Dark Tower for about 20 minutes at last year’s PAX Unplugged and came away very impressed with the prototype version of its eponymous tower.
As well as looking hefty enough to stun a walrus, it turns out that Return to Dark Tower packs a pleasing number of features into its hulking, electronic frame.
As you feed little plastic skulls into the gaping maw atop the tower the whole thing lights up, emits ominous sound effects and, most impressively, rotates each level separately in order to spit skulls onto the kingdoms below. As the levels rotate, the different sections will also reveal forbidding runes - each serving to hamper the player the rune is facing.
The tower itself communicates with the app running the game, indicating when doors need to be opened and when events are to be resolved - it’s a simple conceit, but having that noisy and nefarious gadget in the middle of the table really helps create the sense that it is the thing driving the action - not the tablet in the players’ hands.
Return to Dark Tower also really seems to have a sense of comic timing. The pregnant pauses as players wait to see whether it’s going to start raining skulls are delightfully tense and there’s something oddly charming about a big monolith pausing for dramatic effect before spewing forth a tide of bones.
Return to Dark Tower landed on Kickstarter January 14th, and has raised over a million quid in funding thus far - more then double its initial campaign goal. It’s estimated to release around February 2021.
From the creator of last year’s surprise bird-collecting hit Wingspan, the second board game from designer (and bird fanatic) Elizabeth Hargrave sees one to five players collecting beautiful butterflies instead of beaky friends. Despite its unusual theme, Wingspan was one of the best board games from last year and we’re hoping it has set a trend for more left-field themes within board games generally. Furthermore, it also packs a good solo mode.
In Mariposas you’ll control hordes of migrating monarch butterflies across three seasons in a bid to become the master lepidopterist - a collector of butterflies. Whoever has the most victory points - namely, whoever kept the most butterflies in their set alive - at the end of the seasons wins.
It will be published by Alderac Entertainment Group, whose previous titles include Smash Up! and popular co-op board game The Captain is Dead.
Judging by the response, plenty of folks will be flocking to pre-order the upcoming title when it takes off in the third quarter of 2020.
5. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion and Frosthaven
Fans of co-op board game Gloomhaven rejoice, because the epic fantasy dungeon-crawler is getting not one, but two new releases in 2020.
First up, new big-box standalone expansion - meaning it works for players both old and new - Frosthaven is coming out. It’s been described as Gloomhaven 2.0 by designer Isaac Childres, and includes a raft of new enemies, characters and over 100 scenarios. You play mercenaries fighting for survival out on the frozen wastes. It’ll feature giant yeti-like monsters, horrifying aquatic beasts and unknowable machines that trek through the ice.
Next is newcomer-friendly prequel Jaws of the Lion. While Gloomhaven is known for being big of box and hefty of price, Jaws of the Lion promises a more accessible experience for all. Effectively a casual version of Gloomhaven, it plays quicker and features less components, plus a rather fetching $40 to $50 price tag.
The Kickstarter for Frosthaven will go live in March 2020, while Jaws of the Lion will be launching in the third quarter of 2020.
6. The 7th Citadel
The spiritual successor to Serious Poulp’s 2015 fantasy storytelling board game The 7th Continent, The 7th Citadel takes place in a dark fantasy world much bleaker than that of its predecessor. It follows a similar ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ exploration setup to The 7th Continent, although the developers promise multiple gameplay enhancements this time round, as well as a brand new universe to get lost in.
In The 7th Citadel, one to four of you roll up a character and set to exploring a wild, new land via event cards and building up a board through terrain. Like the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks that inspired it, you’ll need wit, brawn and survival skills to ensure you all make it through.
Curiously, The 7th Citadel will also include a dialogue book - the previous instalment only had dialogue on its cards - that’ll help immerse you further with the games raft of non-player-characters. Combined with its upcoming ‘thread book’, which acts as a sort of campaign companion, it looks like The 7th Citadel will be quite the storytelling experience.
One ambitious board game, The 7th Continent featured over 1,000 cards - and so we’re expecting a similar heft of cards included in Citadel’s box.
The 7th Citadel Kickstarter is expected to go live between May and September of 2020.
7. Sleeping Gods
The highly anticipated new board game from Above and Below publisher Red Raven Games, last year’s Sleeping Gods raised over one million dollars on Kickstarter - not too shabby considering its $50,000 funding goal.
In this co-op board game, you and up to three friends play Captain Sofi Odessa and her crew sailing across the strange world of the Wandering Sea in a rusty steamship named the Manticore. Originally, you folks were on your way home back to New York City, before you encountered a mighty storm. Now you are lost at sea under unfamiliar stars. It would seem the gods have bought you here, and you’ll need to wake ‘em up if you even want to see home again.
Over the course of its 20-hour campaign set in the 1920s, you’ll explore vast seas, meet new characters and discover the totems of the gods. You’ll also be pitted in a diceless battle against fearsome beasties and have to make some tough decisions with lasting consequences under its branching storyline - which will include things like whether or not a settlement gets annihilated.
Unusually, instead of a game board, Sleeping Gods features a gigantic atlas comprised of connecting maps. When you’re done with one map, just turn over to move onto the next stretch of shimmering sea.
It also features an actual novel-length storybook to set the scene as you play. It promises literally hundreds of quests, plus your characters and even the ship will level up as you play.
There is no public release date for Sleeping Gods currently, although its estimated Kickstarter ship date is May 2020.
8. The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
Co-op trick-taking space-travel card game The Crew has built up a lot of attention - including from the Dicebreaker team at PAX Unplugged 2019.
The Crew comprises a book of 50 missions ranging in difficulty from super easy to hard. You play two to five astronauts on their way to the ninth planet. While you’ll ultimately win or lose together, your individual actions are just as important. You’ll each get dealt coloured cards from a yellow, blue, pink or green deck - plus a fifth suite that acts as a set of trump cards. Whoever gets the highest-numbered card immediately becomes the commander and worthy of a salute.
As a trick-taking game, the first player will lay down a card from their hand; if the other players have a card in the same colour, they’ll put down that card. Whoever has the highest numbered card wins that trick and gets those sweet, sweet cards.
You’ll also have objectives, played out as task cards that are put out on the table, which can also match the cards in your hand. As such, you’ll want to complete your own goals but, because of the co-operative game element, also aim to make sure your teammates don’t lose too much, as you can only win if every single player wins.
It’s fast to play, coming in at around 20 minutes a mission, making it an ideal quick board game for lunch breaks and the like.
The Crew is aiming for an English language release in the first four months of 2020.
Strategy heavyweight Martin Wallace, who designed Brass, Age of Steam and Railways of the World, is now racing to the final frontier in Rocketmen: a game all about exploring space.
A deckbuilding and resource-management title for one to four players packed with tactical choices, you’ll all play spacefaring pioneers set on reaching out the furthest reaches of the cosmos. It’s set in modern times, with you all playing budding space empire builders in the vein of Elon Musk. As you’d expect with its heady capitalist themes, this game is competitive.
You’ll decide what space exploration endeavour is best, planning your mission, equipping rockets and shuttles and, of course, picking when to launch. If your launch is successful, you’ll garner victory points. However, should it fail, you’ll discard your entire hand. Whoever completes the victory point trail first wins. You’ll pick out whether to launch to nearby planets like the Moon or Mars, uncover new things in space or accrue that delicious Earth cash.
The game will be making its lunar landing on Kickstarter on January 27th 2020, while it should be hitting shelves come October 2020.
10. Metal Gear Solid: The Board Game
As the appetite for board games grows ever larger, more big-name video games are being given the cardboard treatment. Along with the upcoming testicle-popping adaptation of shooter Sniper Elite, legendary Japanese stealth-action game Metal Gear Solid is sneaking onto the tabletop this year. And like the video game, it even comes with its own cardboard box miniature for those mega-violent sessions of hide-and-seek the game is well known for.
A fully co-op board game that comes with plentiful miniatures, Metal Gear Solid: The Board Game follows the story of the very first Metal Gear Solid video game. You take on the roles of well-known characters, such as series protagonist Solid Snake and his ally Dr. Hal Otacon Emmerich - among many others. You’ll use each character’s unique skill sets to stealth through a number of campaign scenarios, and can complete your mission in any number of ways: whether that’s blasting through with guns ablazing, or using tech and stealthy prowess to slink your way across.
Curiously, the designer behind this project, Emerson Matsuuchi, is known to be a big Metal Gear Solid fan. One of his most well-known titles, sci-fi hidden-movement game Specter Ops, was actually inspired by the video game series.
Following delays last year, Metal Gear Solid: The Board Game looks set to finally ship in August 2020.
What games are you looking forward to in 2020? Let us know in the comments!