My Top 40 board games of all time 2021: From 40-21

A full year of lockdown is (hopefully) coming to a close. But despite a lack of opportunities to play at the table, I’ve managed my usual levels of gaming. Much of it has been online, but those games have often be live. And with many of my favourite available on platforms such as BGA, Yucata and Boite a Jeux (noted below), I feel my 8th annual ‘best board games list’ has had the requisite level of scrutiny.

Links below go to my reviews of the games elsewhere on this site – and the one not yet reviewed will be soon. If you do intend to look into any purchases, please support this site by following this link to Board Game Prices. It’s a great comparison site for board games, which links through to a long list of online retailers. Also note these games are just in two sets of 10, listed alphabetically. I really can’t see anyone worrying about which game was 37th versus which was 36th.

I should also note that I’ve played close to 1,500 different board games over the years. And owned close to 500. There are also about 150 games on my shelves – and it’s not easy to stay on them. So even the games at the edge of my Top 40 have beaten back a lot of competition to figure on my list at all.

My 31st-40th favourite board games

  • 6 Nimmt
    (Released in 1994, 4-10 players, 20-40 mins)
    Online: BGA
    The sixth straight year on the list for this small box filler card game. Simple rules, agonising game play and it plays great at 5-8-ish players. So is perfect for finishing nights off at a con or game club night. Some say there’s too much luck. But I tend to see the best players winning again and again over time.
  • Basari: Das Kartenspiel
    (2014, 3-5 players, 30 mins)
    Basari is one of the least played games on the list, but has made my Top list five times. The lack of plays is down to it being a little niche. This is a filler game, best at 3-4 players, which needs a certain type of player. It’s about reading opponents, bartering, and spotting the right opportunities at the right time.
  • Archaeology: The Card Game
    (2007, 2-4 players, 30 mins)
    This has been on all eight of my lists without ever breaking the Top 20. And it’s my ‘most played’ game in this post (at 43 plays). Because it quietly, perfectly fits a niche. Portable, great with 2-4, simple rules. A set collection card game, so you can teach it to anyone. But with fun interaction and a risky push-your-luck element that help it stand out from the crowd.
  • Gnomopolis
    (2018, 2-4, 30-60 mins)
    A bit of a drop this year, but I still like Gnomopolis a lot. An oversized box and cutesy artwork hide a simplified Race for the Galaxy-style engine building race. Here you’re bag building, grabbing points while building a card tableau. But it may be a little too simple. So I’m hoping for a step-up from the coming expansion.
  • Kingdomino
    (2016, 2-4, 45 mins)
    Online: BGA
    A game seemingly destined to stay at this level for me, with this being its fourth straight year in the 31-40 bracket. It’s basically dominoes meets simple tile-laying. But it works beautifully. And I’m not tiring of it at all, despite 25+ plays. With new/non-gamers it’s always a hit. While the 7×7 grid two-player variant nicely notches things up a few bars.
  • NEW! Lift Off
    (2019, 2-4, 1-2 hours)
    Online: BGA
    The only new entry in this section and one I’ve only played a little so far, having received a review copy recently. But it has already won me over big time. Two levels of light card drafting (think Notre Dame) meet engine building, creating a wonderfully tight little game. While the 50s/Fallout-style artwork takes it to the next level visually.
  • Navegador
    (2010, 2-5, 90 mins)
    Online: Yucata
    Navegador has slowly dropped down my rankings, but I still love it. It’s a Mac Gerdts rondel euro, with a smart economic element tied to a race for scoring opportunities. Unfortunately it’s probably at its best with four and I rarely play it that way. But a great game nonetheless.
  • The Rose King
    (1992, 2, 30 mins)
    Online: Yucata
    For me, one of the jewels in the Kosmos two-player line. And another eight-year ever-present on my list. It’s a classic abstract but with an element of luck, as a card deck (to limit your movement options) mixes things up. Stopping the dull ‘learn the best strategy’ problem chess et al have.
  • Snowdonia
    (2012, 1-5, 90 mins)
    Online: Yucata
    After five years in my top 20, Snowdonia has spend the last three teetering around the drop. But it always hang in there, despite all the new shiny games. Because it’s a clever and original worker placement game that really does play differently each time. And that’s before you add in the copious mini expansions.
  • Tumblin’ Dice
    (2004, 2-4, 45 mins)
    Basically dice darts. Which is as stupid as it sounds. But so much fun. Flick dice along a wooden board, with the sections you land on multiplying the dice number depending on their difficulty to reach. so you can go for high scores. Or just knock your opponents pieces off the board to make them mad.

My 21st-30th favourite board games

  • Adios Calavera
    (2017, 2-3, 20 mins)
    A permanent fixture here since its 2017 release, Adios is an original and enjoyable abstract. When you throw in great artwork and plenty of variability, it hits a lot of sweet spots. It’s the kind of game that, while I’m playing with people, they’re ordering it online. But sadly I can’t get to all of you, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
  • Alhambra
    (2003, 2-5, 60 mins)
    Online: BGA, Yucata
    A tile-laying classic that is a tricky solo puzzle and competitive majorities game combined. Its popularity has led to loads of expansions, adding great twists and loads of replayability. I’ve owned it for years, but can’t see it ever leaving my collection.
  • NEW! Bruxelles 1893
    (2013, 2-4, 1-2 hours)
    Online: Boite a Jeux
    I recently managed to acquire this and am chuffed to bits, having only previously played online. Its a worker placement euro game with a typically boring city theme. But this hides a highly competitive and passively interactive core that makes every decision tricky and vital.
  • Maori
    (2009, 2-4, 60 mins)
    Online: Yucata
    Maori is an ever-present Top 40 game for me. It’s a tile-layer where you each fill your own tableau, moving a shared piece around a shared tile grid to limit your options. The pretty art again hides what can be a vicious game. Especially when played on the harder difficulty levels, that also add replayability.
  • Notre Dame
    (2007, 2-5, 60 mins)
    This is one of the more divisive Stefan Feld designs. So, when you add the fact it has no online version, I don’t get to play it as often as I’d like. But I love its mix of card drafting and action selection. And the tension created by never quite having everything you need to do what you want to do.
  • Orbital
    (2018, 2-4, 60 mins)
    Another slightly obscure title I make no apologies for bigging-up whenever I can. You each create a space station with tiles, trying to match things up to score points. But an incredibly tight economy in the tile buying makes for some super tricky buying decisions, on top of the puzzley positioning.
  • Pharaon
    (2019, 2-4, 60 mins)
    This is a pretty dry and abstract worker placement game, with lovely Egyptian style visuals. I’m not usually mad keen on ‘turn stuff into other stuff into points’ euros. But a clever worker placement system makes it very competitive. While you can plan for future turns, thanks to a smart rotating board showing you what you’ll need on your next turn.
  • NEW! Remember Our Trip
    (2019, 2-4, 30 mins)
    I seem to mention this in every post recently. But for good reason. Its a short, small box abstract tile drafting/pattern building game. But somehow they’ve made the theme – shared memories – shine through. Add pretty cartoon art to the simple ruleset and you have a thoroughly charming game.
  • Tales of Glory
    (2018, 2-5, 60 mins)
    There are way more tile-laying games in this list than I’d have guessed. And here’s another. The competitive tile drafting definitely works better with more players – as do the majority bonuses. But the game plays fast, is (now) well produced and does a good job of integrating the fantasy theme. And even with less competition, at two players, I enjoy the admittedly light puzzley challenge.
  • That’s Pretty Clever
    (2018, 2-4, 45 mins)
    Online: Steam, Apple, Google
    I do enjoy a good roll-and-write. But (spoiler alert) this is the only one good enough to make the Top 40. Dizzle was close. But the ‘Clever’ series is just a notch above that, and the rest. As you roll dice and mark off boxes, you can cascade bonuses that let you mark off more and more boxes. Which is hugely satisfying when you get it right.

Next time – the Top 20

My next post will be the Top 20. But if you like this kind of post, check out my Top 10s links page for all kinds of board game lists – including my old Top 40 games of all times posts.

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