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Top Board Games Of 2021

best board games of 2021 ark nova cover

Hello cube pushers and dice rollers. It’s me! What do you mean you have no idea who I am and how I got into your house? Anyway, now we’ve got that confusion out of the way I’m here to talk to you about board games. Good ones in fact! Some might say, the best ones! So pipe down, take a knee and let’s get to it. These are some of the best board games of 2021 as taken from the boardgame geek database and filtered through my bucket with a hole in the bottom of it. Let’s get to it!

Ark Nova

Well, we couldn’t really skip this one, could we? This Zoo building behemoth has shot up the charts and is currently sat at number 4 in the list of the best board games of all time. In Ark Nova you’ll be taking a baron bit of dusty land and filling it with various enclosures and attractions. You’ll then fill those with animals of varying types which can be used to score points and objectives. Some animals also give you extra abilities and actions.

The bit of the game that really sings my song (the main reason I think it is one of the best board games of 2021), is the main action selection though. You have 5 action cards that sit on a little track. Each time you take one you do the action, the other cards slide along to fill the gap and your played action slips back in on the far left. So the less you use an action the further right it’ll end up. But, twist time, the actions get more powerful the further right they go. This means you’re trying to plan ahead and use each action as infrequently as possible to make sure you’re always getting the most out of it. Very cool.


More animals? What is this, some sort of National Park? Yes, yes it is. Cascadia is a tile laying game, players will be playing out tiles and then placing out animals on top of those tiles. Each of the tiles depicts some beautiful bit of rugged landscape as well as indicating what type of animals it can sustain. So you’ve got a little tile laying puzzle where you are trying to make the largest area of each of the land types, but each of the animals also have different ways of scoring. So you’re trying to balance the two out and they sometimes sort of work against each other, meaning sometimes there are tough choices to be made.

You’re also a bit limited on what options you can chose from. Each animal and land tile come in a set. You may really want that wetlands tile, but oh no! It comes with a fox, and you really don’t want that, it would scupper all your plans. Cheeky fox. It’s an interesting puzzle for sure, and with the animals scoring differently each game, it’s a puzzle that offers lots of new surprises with each playthrough.


Any animals here? No? Lots of fellas covered in spikes though. Well OK then. So, Radlands is a 2 player card battler where two clans of post-apocalyptic survivors will be going head to head to try and take each other out. Why can’t we just get along? Because the rules said so! Fair enough.

Each player will have 3 bases they are trying to protect. Lose them and you’re done for. Players can play out cards to protect each of these bases as well as events that will resolve at some point in the future. Each round of the game will have players taking their precious water resources and allocating them to draw new cards, play out events and characters or resolve abilities. It’s a nice little self-contained card game and it’s one to check out!


Destinies is a competitive story game where up to 3 players will be racing to achieve their destiny before their opponents do. It’s very heavily app based so that may put some people off, but if you can see past that there is a brilliant game here. Your characters will explore an expanding map discovering new characters and locations. You can interact with these to try and unravel the mysteries of the scenario or find useful new items.

The game uses your smart thingy’s camera to scan QR codes on the cards. This opens up some fantastic play ideas where you can ask characters about specific items. It’s a very nice non-spoilery way of doing things as the app doesn’t have to give the game away by saying which specific item you can ask about, which is something that can happen in more traditional adventure games.

There are loads of scenarios, each with branching narratives and multiple story endings for each character. Add to this a user generated story creator and there are lots of different destinies to achieve in this box of plenty!


Canvas is such a pretty game. So this is no surprise that it is on the list of best board games of 2021! They have absolutely ran with the theme in this one. The box can even be hung on the wall like a painting. Anyway, the aim of this top game is to put together 3 award winning paintings. There are goals you’ll be judged on in the middle of the table and you need to try and compose your pictures to best match these.

The main game is a card drafting, set collection affair. The cards have various symbols on the bottom of them which relate to the scoring objectives for the game. You’ll be grabbing elements of pictures which you can assemble to make your masterpiece. These cards are transparent too, so the order in which you place them makes a difference. You could block symbols you don’t want or more stressfully, have to choose between which symbols you do want.

It's a simple game but it looks brilliant and I’d highly recommend it.


As a massive fan of Alexander Pfister’s games, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention this one. Boonlake is a game where players will be playing as settlers, doing some settling along the shores of Boonlake. You’ve got a brilliant action selection mechanism, sort of similar to the one I mentioned in Ark Nova, where the less often an action is taken the more powerful it becomes. These actions will let you produce resources, explore, all the usual boardgame good stuff.

This game feels like a Pfister game. I’d recommend it to anybody who liked Great Western trail as the way the player boards work sort of remind me of that.

Red Rising

Now, it is fairly well known within the Zatu blogging community that I am not the biggest fan of some of the games Stonemaier Games puts out. But Red Rising has really clicked for me. It is a sort of hand management game where you are trying to end up with the best hand of cards you can. Each of the cards is beautifully illustrated with characters from the Red Rising series of books. They also have unique scoring conditions that will make them worth more, or sometimes less, points depending on what else is in yours or your opponent’s hands at the end of the game.

As you play and pick up cards from the different locations on the board you’ll end up moving up tracks or gathering resources. These are sort of side area control and racing games that’ll help you score big. There is a nice bit of balance between concentrating on your cards and these side games. And as a total aside, as somebody who has now read a few of these books, the theming between the scoring affinities on the cards fits so well.

So that’s it. Those are some of the best board games of 2021. I hope I didn’t miss off your favourites. I tried to get together a good list that’d please most people. For a few personal highlights I’d definitely consider looking at Excavation Earth, Maglev Metro and The Initiative. Those were probably the favourites of mine from last year that I didn’t think fit the list.

That was our list of the best board games of 2021! Do you agree with this list? Let us know your thoughts on socials @zatugames.