Top new board games 2021: the best new board games releases of the year

Looking for the latest board games? Here's what's fresh out of the box for your enjoyment

New board games
(Image credit: Asmodee)

There's never been a better time to get into new board games. The hobby is growing massively, and more and more people use them as ways to get together and have fun in real life, rather than on WhatsApp.

As a result, more games are being released than ever before – every month brings interesting, colourful, rich games with engaging themes and intriguing ways to play. So how do you keep up with which ones are worth playing? That's what we're here for – we'll collect the new games you most need to know about in this list.

You can read on for our full run-down of the new board games you should add to your collection, but here's a quick cheat sheet of some of the best choices for different groups:

  • Best new board game for families: Azul: Summer Pavilion
  • Best new board game for beginners: Wavelength
  • Best new cooperative board game: Horrified: Universal Monsters
  • Best new board game for two players: Undaunted: Normandy

We'll be updating this list regularly with brand-new board game releases, and dropping out games as they get older, though the cream of the crop will graduate to our list of the best board games overall.

Best new board games 2020: the list

New board games: Azul Summer Pavilion

(Image credit: Asmodee)

1. Azul: Summer Pavilion

A new spin on one of our best board games

Reasons to buy
+Feels like you’re making art while playing+Sequel to a multi-award winning game+Strategy for the whole family

A sequel to 2017’s smash hit Azul, which rides high on our list of the best board games, this version sees you drawing chunky leaf-shaped tiles and laying them on your board to make wheels of a matching colour. 

The catch is that you can’t just take what you want. Rather, like the original, the tiles are grouped in pools and you can only take one colour from one pool. This makes every turn a delicious balance of priorities, taking what you want without leaving colours other players need.

This version is gentler than the original, not punishing players with leftover tiles, so it’s more family-friendly. At the same time, it also has some extra bells and whistles to please strategy fans: there’s a 'joker' colour each turn and you can nab bonuses by surrounding features on your playmat with tiles. The result is a great family game with very wide appeal, because everyone like to make pretty pattens and be rewarded for it with points.

Best new board games

(Image credit: Amazon)

2. Wavelength

A new board games that's perfect for beginners

Reasons to buy
+Novel party game with a fun dial-up toy+Can play competitively, co-operative or with two+Simple, fast and suitable for all ages

The beating heart of Wavelength is the plastic gizmo known only as The Dial. One player, the “psychic” spins this in secret to reveal the position of a scoring zone on the left or right of The Dial. Then they take a clue of two opposites, say “rough” and “smooth”. Their challenge is then to give a clue to their team to indicate where the scoring zone of The Dial is. So if it was over toward the “rough” side they might say “sandpaper”. 

But wait. Sharkskin is well-known to be abrasive: but is it more so, or less so, than sandpaper, and by how much? And what happens if the dial is more in the middle and you get a clue like “carpet”? Because everyone’s had carpet burn, but it’s kind of soft if you’re gentle with it, and what kind of weave were they thinking and, oh dear.  Cue a desperate discussion to wrinkle out all these nuances and read between all the lines as you guess where the scoring zone might be. 

And, as one team flails, the other pounces placing a pointer as a bet against just how badly they think their opponents have done. Like all the best party games, Wavelength is an easy concept, stretched into an endless abyss of angst and doubt.

Best new board games: Ravensburger Horrified

(Image credit: Ravensburger)

3. Horrified: Universal Monsters

The best new cooperative board game, and you can play solo

Reasons to buy
+Your favourite B-movie villains+You can choose the difficulty+Co-operative and solo play options

From the tongue-in-cheek 'content warning' as you open the lid to the dayglo monster miniatures, Horrified is a hokey horror fest for all the family. Pick from a selection of six villains to face, from Dracula to Frankenstein and his Bride. Then you play as heroes roaming the town, working together to collect the items you need to defeat them and trying to protect wandering villagers along the way. 

You can play against between two and four monsters to vary the difficulty. And some, like The Mummy, are more complex than others so you can also vary the number of rules to learn. It can even be played solo. 

As a result, this is a terrific family game that does tons with its simple framework to make its world spring to life. Horrors stagger round the board, villagers dash unheeded into dangerous locations and it’s down to you to save the day. And like every good movie, you’re guaranteed a nail-biting finish. 

New board games: Little Town

(Image credit: Coiledspring Games)

4. Little Town

The best new family board games

Reasons to buy
+Really easy to learn and play+Changes every time you play+Small and cheap

Little Town (not to be confused with another recently released board game we've recommended, Tiny Towns) is a very smart little box that feels designed to squeeze the most amount of quick-fire strategy juice as possible from its components.

There's a board in the middle that everyone shares, and on it you'll all grow the little town of the title collectively by building new useful buildings, and you can activate those buildings by placing your ‘worker’ pieces next to them – this enables you to collect resources, money and the points you need to personally win the game. Placing a worker activates every building or resource next to it, so towards the end of game, when the board is packed, you can pull off killer combos of gaining and swapping resources to get big points totals.

The twist, of course, comes from the board being shared, so everyone else will want to go on the same best spaces, meaning this become a game of elbowing your way to prime spot before anyone else.

Yet at the start, the board is empty, so over four rounds you're building things up to that frenzy at the end, picking up resources and money here and there, and adding extra buildings to the board. Adding a building takes your whole turn, so everyone else will get a chance to activate it before you do… but they'll have to pay you to do it! There are 13 unique buildings with different powers to place in each game (and the game comes with 25, so you can vary things wildy), meaning you get to steer what everyone else's strategy looks like depending on what you build and when.

It plays out differently every time you play because it's all created by the players themselves – you're interacting with each other constantly, yet never attacking or really screwing over each other. And it's also so simple to play because all you do on your turn is pick up a worker, choose a spot with things you want, and plop them down. That makes it a perfect family game, especially since all this fits into less than an hour, and then into a really small box. We think this should be a big hit.

New board games Wingspan

(Image credit: Stonemaier Games)

4. Wingspan

A bird-themed strategy game that's friendly for all

Reasons to buy
+Irresistible nature theme+Some real strategy to dig into

What nicer theme for a family game night than managing a bird reserve? And the components – smooth plastic eggs, sumptuous art and a bird-box dice-rolling tower – will have everyone cooing with delight, too. But don't let all the loveliness fool you into thinking this is for featherweights. There's a proper game to tuck into underneath the plumage.

Wingspan is one of those circular games where you need to have resources in order to get more resources but there's never, ever enough to go around. You need eggs and food to play bird cards, and the more birds you have the easier it is to get eggs and food. And so on and so forth until your head is spinning like a spiral of seagulls circling the sky.

A clever combination of factors like habitat and nest type mixes things up in both play and scoring. And, for a game that might sound quite abstract, there's a lot of ornithology in the detail. Flocking species can combine for extra points, and egg-eaters let you target other player's collections. But all this pleasure comes in such a sweet, accessible package that it's a great contender for family or hobby game night alike.

Best new board games: King of Tokyo Dark

(Image credit: Iello)

5. King of Tokyo: Dark Edition

A clever refresh of a modern classic family game

Reasons to buy
+Monster-sized fun in a tiny box+Yahtzee-style mechanic makes it instantly familiar

Please forgive us for including a new edition of a 2011 game in a 2020 list, but we couldn’t help ourselves. King of Tokyo is a fantastic dice game and it’s from Richard Garfield, the designer of cultural phenomenon Magic: the Gathering. Besides, this edition does boast all-new stylish comic book art and a fun new mechanic to address a minor shortcoming in the original.

Players take a monster each and duke it out for control of the titular city. They do this by rolling a fistful of custom dice up to three times per turn, picking out symbols they want to keep like Yahtzee – different symbols will enable you to do different things. You win by being first to twenty points, which you accumulate by being 'in Tokyo' or by killing all the other monsters with claw symbols. The catch? When you’re 'in Tokyo', you’re automatically the target of all other monster attacks. 

You can also spend symbols to buy iconic movie action cards to upgrade your monsters, like Poison Spit or Anti-Matter Beam. With its raucous mix of dice rolling and cards, tactics and trash-talking, King of Tokyo is a miniature marvel.

New Board Games Sushi Roll

(Image credit: Amazon)

6. Sushi Roll

A great family game that feels like gambling without the downsides

Reasons to buy
+So cute!+Lots of interaction while playing+Perfect for all ages
Reasons to avoid
-Can be a bit luck-dependent

In this game, you'll try to build matching sets of dice with adorable sushi illustrations on them… but so is everyone else, and they might nick the sushi you want before it comes around the conveyer belt to you.

In practice, what this is means is each turn, everyone has their own set of dice that they roll onto a conveyer card, with different sushi types on the faces. You choose choose just one to keep from your dice, then you pass the rest to the next player on your left, and receive new dice from the player on your right. Then you roll again, and keep going until you run out of dice.

The tactics come from the odds of getting lucky. Smaller-value sushi are common, big-value sushi is rare, so you're gambling on whether it's worth committing to collecting the best stuff. Special tokens mean you can actually nick dice off other people if they have what you need, or can re-roll your own dice to see if you get what you need. It's very simple, it's tactile fun, and it plays in about half an hour.

New board games Undaunted: Normandy

(Image credit: Osprey Publishing)

7. Undaunted: Normandy

The best new two-player game

Reasons to buy
+Ingenious combat system+Really makes cards come to life+Grows you gently into the rules

If you're wondering what a simulation of squad-level infantry combat is doing here, bear with us. Undaunted is a magical game that brings to life the horror and heroism of hedgerow firefights in just a few pages of core rules and an hour of your time to play it. Yes, there is a little more to it than that, but it's introduced gently over twelve scenarios. By the end, you'll be co-ordinating scouts and snipers, mortars and machine guns like a seasoned general.

The engine of this sorcery is that you control your squads via a deck of cards that you can add to during play. When you do so, it's like ordering re-enforcements or bolstering morale. Then, as units come under fire, cards get removed. This simulates casualties and suppression, making them harder to order around.

Card play thus becomes an unlikely but effective stand-in for all sorts of issues facing real-life combat commanders. At the same time, players have to balance making their decks work with tactical action on a tile-based board. Strategy and tactics, excitement and simulation all stack together in a quite brilliant whole.