Our Most Anticipated Board Games of 2021
If you’re reading this, it means you survived 2020. A year of forest fires, economic collapse, murder hornets, and a global pandemic. At this point, we’re all allowed to tread ourselves a little bit. Personally, I’m looking forward to gathering people for game nights again.
But we’ve spent a lot of time playing through our existing catalog while locked up over the last year. Meanwhile, publishers were still announcing games left and right. These are the games that have us looking a head at the gaming light at the end of the tunnel.
Releasing in 2021
Aeon Trespass Odyssey
Aeon Trespass: Odyssey is the contender for which game can take up the most shelf space. At first glance, Aeon Trespass: Odyssey is heavily inspired Adam Poots’ Kingdom Death: Monster and reimplemented much of Kingdom Death: Monster‘s core mechanics. But if KD:M is a horror game, Aeon Trespass Odyssey is its action adventure counterpart.
AT:O is yet another big cooperative campaign game for four players. Despite the number of co-op campaign games have been on Kickstarter recently and how similar AT:O gameplay looks to KD:M, Aeon Trespass: Odyssey manages to set itself apart with some really interesting ideas. For starters, the Ancient Greece theme mixed in with some science fiction technology is a really fresh twist on a classic. Leaning into that theme, players will control Argonauts as the sail the Aegean sea and explore the surrounding areas uncovering adventures in ports like Crete and Sparta.
But giant monsters known as Primordials roam the world and when it’s time to go head to head with them, the puny Argonauts are no match. Instead, the Argonauts climb into flesh and machine hybrids known as Titans, that they pilot like a Trojan Attack on Titan and fight the Primordials. In most cooperative combat games, players and enemies get weaker over time as they burn through resources and run each other into the ground. But like any good kaiju fight, characters grow more powerful as the game goes on and pull off big surprise moves for a flashy finish.
Aeon Trespass: Odyssey has multiple campaigns that are referred to as cycles. The core game includes the first three cycles with Cycle IV: Gardens of Babylon and Cycle V: Black Flame of Atlantis available as an add-on. There’s also the option to back all five cycles together as a bundle which saves some money over purchasing a la carte. If you’re at all interested in AT:O we highly recommend late-pledging the publisher is including a lot of Kickstarter add-ons that may or not be available at a later time and there’s not better time to get the best value on this game.
Aeon Trespass: Odyssey is still available to late pledge here and is currently scheduled to be delivered around Q2 2021.
Blood on the Clocktower
I don’t love social deduction or bluffing games. I feel as if most of these games don’t need to exist on the market and are more often than not just physical representations of the games of Mafia we played as kids. Of course, I’ve made a few exceptions in my collection like Mysterium and Coup for the purpose of having good gateway games whenever I’m hosting, but they’re always the last games I suggest playing. But like so many others, Shut Up & Sit Down’s review of Blood on the Clocktower was so well done, they convinced me to ignore my normal preferences and pre-order the game.
Most social deduction games rely on the rules and components to move the game’s narrative through the turn sequence each round. What sets Blood on the Clocktower apart is that one player is given the role of the storyteller. Only they know which roles players have been assigned and it’s the storyteller’s job to use that information to strategically manipulate the other players’ experience. By updating the storyteller’s board using the game’s provided role tokens, the storyteller can keep track of what role each player is fulfilling and their abilities.
Blood on the Clocktower has been heavily delayed as a result of the creators still working on much of the artwork. Their current estimated delivery timeline is five to seven months after they submit the final artwork to the publisher, placing final delivery likely around June 2021. I’m very excited to finally be able to play this one and if you’d like to ride the slow moving roller coaster with me, you can pre-order/late pledge Blood on the Clocktower here.
Dead Reckoning is the newest pirate themed game from AEG. While there’s already a fair amount of those on the market, Dead Reckoning offers a ton of variability. As players explore the map, they can choose to take on the role of either a pirate, explorer, or merchant, which will help determine their ship and crew’s bonuses.
In addition, to the various roles available, AEG’s patented Card Crafting System allows players to upgrade their crews using transparent cards that players can purchase stack upgrades. These cards will grant their crews new abilities that can be mixed and matched to better support the ship’s goals.
As is usually the case, Dead Reckoning had stretch goals galore including two expansions (one is an optional add-on), exclusive crew upgrades, additional map tiles, and optional add-on upgraded components. If you have any interest in playing as a pirate and obliterating your friends as they peacefully try to explore uncharted waters like I’ll be doing, you can late pledge Dead Reckoning here.
Dinosaur World is the follow up to the Lisa Frank/Jurassic Park mashup, Dinosaur Island, that released in 2017. The world hasn’t forgotten the dangers of the island and the countless park fatalities so they’ll be hard-pressed to return to an even larger, likely more dangerous park. It’s up to you as the Park Director to draw as many tourists to your theme park as possible, outperform your competition, and keep your guests alive.
Where Dinosaur Island focuses heavily on resource management, worker placement, and some light engine building, Dinosaur World does that and adds an additional layer of tile placement and movement through the park. In order to generate excitement or activate the special ability of park facilities, players will move their park jeep around the map of tiles. But the more dinosaurs in the park to excite your guests, the more likely it is that Dinosaur World will see as much bloodshed as its predecessor.
Pandasaurus Games is including a bunch of upgraded components and exclusives for those who back the KS campaign including exclusive locations and unique dino meeples. There are also a number of optional add-on expansions like genetic hybrid dinosaurs, and aquatic species and attractions (a small nod to the Dinosaur Island: Totally Liquid expansion). If you’d like to gamble with the lives of tourists in the name of personal profit Pandasaurus is said to be opening the pledge manager this month.
I am a huge fan of Gloomhaven. The review I wrote was the longest we’ve done yet primarily because there is just so much content to cover in that one box. While the story itself isn’t all that engrossing, the variety of playable classes, missions, and unlockable items makes Gloomhaven an easy game to get lost in again and again.
Following Gloomhaven‘s rampant success, game creator Isaac Childres has since been eager to create the “big box follow-up”, Frosthaven. After raising $12.9 million and becoming the most funded Kickstarter game of all time, Childres has been toiling away at creating this new monster of a game. With his fan base solidified, Childres has more freedom to create increasingly complex puzzles and more interesting character classes like the Germinate and the Blinkblade (my personal favorite). While the core game mechanics remain the same, all the economic and world building systems have been revamped into something that will evolves based on player choices and will make each copy of the game feel its own unique world. We’ve detailed more about the differences between the original game and Frosthaven here.
Frosthaven is currently scheduled to be delivered to Kickstarter backers in March with retail distribution to begin shortly after. Pre-orders are still available if you haven’t already picked up your copy.
Frostpunk is yet another excellent game where players attempt to survive as long as possible in the bleakest of circumstances. Not unlike This War of Mine, the success of Frostpunk the video game has lead the way for Frostpunk the board game.
Not unlike the original, the board game version of Frostpunk will also include a variety of scenarios, each one offering a different objective and difficulty level for players to continue to challenge themselves. Where Frostpunk really diverges from the original are the multiplayer aspects of the board game. Each player will take on the sole responsibility of individual facets of the settlements operation. One player will own the heating/generator operations, another health, another player will deal with the Foreman Advisors, and the last will be responsible for the social aspects of the settlement. Together, they will have to effectively coordinate with one another in order to keep their citizens alive. For players who are more interested in playing Frostpunk as a solo game, they’ll simply manage all of the above functions. The only real difference between playing alone or with friends is the dynamic decision making process that will appear as a natural consequence of having differing opinions attempting to solve for the same problems.
The central piece of Frostpunk has always been the thermal generator in the center of the settlement and Adam Kwapiński made damn sure that the generator was just as much of a focal point in this adaptation. The thermal generator model in this version of the game is not just a great addition for table presence but serves a practical purpose. Cubes representing the coal resource will be dropped into the top of the tower and released into a drawer below. Any cubes released below the tower in this way are considered malfunctions and represent the wear and tear damage inflicted on the tower, slowly wearing itself down over the course of the game’s twelve rounds.
I’ve lost countless hours playing through the original game and from what we’ve seen so far, it looks as if Kwapiński’s board game adaptation is indeed a faithful one. If you’re as interested as I am in Frostpunk you may be able to late pledge when the pledge manager opens up in January.
Machina Arcana 3rd Edition
I haven’t spent much time writing about Machina Arcana, but I hope to soon. I’ve been enjoying previous two games off and on over the years whenever I’m up for playing something infuriatingly difficult (which is more often than you might think). This unique dungeon crawler combines the horror of H.P Lovecraft with the grimy fun of crafting steampunk tesla coil weapons and late 1800’s spiritualism and blood magic.
Machina Arcana send players into an exploration deep into the mountains where dark beasts lie in wait. The very presence of the explorers stirs the horrid beasties from their slumber spelling certain doom for our magicians and engineers. Players will use dark magic spells or steam powered weapons and armor to fight back against the tide of eldritch beasties. As they traverse the shadowy abyss, they’ll discover new gadgets that can be crafted onto their existing weapons and creating new and more powerful weaponry to stand against the creatures of below. Crafting these weapons and using the cavernous mountain’s booby-traps is an incredibly fun experience.
Each scenario has a unique deck of story cards that advance with each achieved objective. These double sided cards are the star of the show. On one side they detail the next part of the wonderfully uneasy narrative and what the players’ next objective is. On the other side are beautifully done illustrations that picture the chapter. As players progress through each scenario, the story cards flip like a storybook revealing the next page and associated illustration.
If absolutely nothing else, Machina Aracana‘s artists Aleksandra Bilic, Nele Diel, Sebastian Giacobino, Antal Kéninger, Igor Krstic, and Marek Madej have done an absolutely unbelievable job with the artwork. It’s the only board game that I’ve ever purchased the artbook for. I’ll admit that there have been moments where I’ve opened the box just to appreciate all of the artwork contained within it. The artists did a wonderful job taking the ethereal concepts of H.P Lovecraft and translated them into concrete monsters that feel like they could be lurking in the depths of any cave.
The biggest complaint against Machina Arcana is the rulebook which suffers from some translation issues and a complex explanation of monster movement. Thankfully, this third edition will resolve that and include an updated rulebook and revised language cards for improved clarity. For any owners of the first or second edition, there’s a card update pack available that will update the core box to the third contents so they can enjoy the most up to date version of the game. Whether you’re a new or returning spelunker, you can pre-order/late pledge here.
Not to continue to look like an Awaken Realms fan boy (I absolutely am) but Nemesis is my favorite horror game of all time. Not only did the team at Awaken Realms manage to capture the looming dread of the Alien franchise in the form of a board game, but they so exceeded expectations that I haven’t played with a single person who didn’t love it, despite the game’s lengthy playtime. Awaken Realms distributed a few copies of the original core box to retailers who very quickly sold out and Nemesis very quickly became the most sought after game on the second hand market in 2019.
Nemesis: Lockdown is a new standalone expansion that will expand the world of Nemesis. Where the original game found the crew of the Nemesis hunted by a xenomorph heavily inspired by that of H.R Giger’s design, Nemesis: Lockdown takes players to a secret Mars facility where (stop me if you’ve heard this one) the company knew about the aliens and have been plotting something all along. Lockdown will bring the same tense experience but introduce a few unique gameplay mechanics like power where players will have to manage in the dark while being hunted by Lockdown‘s bat-like aliens. The new version also features a double-sided board that will also introduce a Mars rover that players can pilot to escape the main facility and explore what’s happening elsewhere on the planet and its satellite facilities.
If the previous game is any indication of how Nemesis: Lockdown will turn out, we’re all in for a real treat. We’ll be reviewing Nemesis: Lockdown and playing it non-stop as soon as it’s delivered in September. If you’re at all interested, and any horror game fans should be, the pledge manager is currently closed for Wave 1 deliveries, but will be reopening early 2021.
Townsfolk Tussle is the second game on this list inspired by the gameplay structure of Kingdom Death: Monster. Panic Roll is bringing players a new arena combat game with all the same challenge of the genre with a friendlier flair to the artwork.
The artwork takes inspiration from Cuphead and slaps it onto a formula that’s otherwise been far more mature. Kingdom Death‘s artwork is much more explicit with the nudity and viscera. ButTownsfolk Tussle makes the same exciting gameplay more family accessible and a whole lot quirkier.
If absolutely nothing else, Townsfolk Tussle is is the most cost effective of the three games. Kingdom Death: Monster is a whopping $400 and Aeon Trespass: Odyssey is $140 for their base games. Aeon Trespass has two additional campaigns that jack up the price. And never mind how costly all of Kingdom Death: Monster‘s expansions are. If you didn’t back KDM on the original Kickstarter, the full set will set you back two thousand dollars.
Townsfolk Tussle on the other hand is a one box complete experience for only $85. If Townsfolk Tussle tickles your fancy for a big box campaign of quirky monster murder it’s projected for a Q3 2021 release. And if you’re not sure, they’ve also released a free demo on Tabletop Simulator that you can try before you buy. Currently the pledge manager is only open for backers but will likely open up for late pledge next year.
[Update 12/09/20]: In Kickstarter Update #28 Panic Roll has stated that the pledge manager will not be available for late pledge, and only those who backed the Kickstarter campaign. As we wrote put this list together in hopes that others might find a new game that excites them, we’re leaving this entry here in hopes of better news in the future.
Kingdom Death: Monster Campaigns of Death and Gambler’s Chest
While Kingdom Death: Monster has been out for many years now, there’s quite a bit of content that has experienced regular delays. The original fulfillment schedule had Wave 3 shipping in Spring of 2018, but it’s now been pushed back until sometime in 2021. There have been a lot of good reasons why Adam Poots has struggled to stay on track including personal loss, office relocation, and now COVID-19. If nothing else, Poots has a tendency to get lost in his head and this vast and mysterious world he’s created.
Throughout the development and playtesting processes Poots has been adding to the scope of the Wave 3 expansions, only increasing the amount of work to be done before the final release of The Gambler’s Chest and Campaigns of Death, which has been the primary cause of delay. In recent months, Poots has addressed this head on and has officially moved the fulfillment of Wave 3 expansions to February or March 2021.
As backers have become increasingly impatient with the ever expanding timeline, Poots has continued to release additional content between Wave 2 and Wave 3 of expansion shipments, the most content heavy of which has been the Vignette of Death: White Gigalion. Unfortunately the GenCon 2020 Vignette of Death didn’t see a release thanks to COVID-19 and GenCon 2020 moving to an online format. We’re hoping to see the next Vignette hit the market with a special sale prior to GenCon 2021, or maybe get extra lucky and see two Vignettes released next year.
In the meantime, check out or post detailing all of Kingdom Death: Monster‘s expansions and contents.
Despite how many great looking games are on the way, nothing excites us more than the fact that 2020 is finally over.
If there’s anything you feel deserves to be on this list that we missed, drop us a line!