The best board games of 2021, as chosen by The American Tabletop Awards

The American Tabletop Awards, the United States’ alternative to Germany’s Spiel des Jahres, are in. Divided into four categories — Early Gamers, Casual Games, Strategy Games, and Complex Games — these 20 titles represent some of the best new board games to come to market in 2021.

Launched in 2019, the ATTA’s were created by a dedicated group of industry professionals. Today the organization is served by a diverse volunteer committee, one backed by a robust code of conduct that provides transparency and provisions against conflicts of interest in the selection process. This isn’t a collection of the most-hyped crowdfunding campaigns, nor is it a niche list of the most technically demanding games available. The Awards celebrate the very best board games for fans of all skill levels.

We’ve noted the finalists and the grand prize winners in each category below, which are available online and at your friendly local game store.

Happy City

https://youtube.com/watch?v=npwqeQka9Ok%3Frel%3D0

Happy City, created by Kawasaki systems engineer Toshiki Sato and his eight-year-old daughter, Airu, is this year’s winner in the Early Gamers category. It’s a bright and cheerful city-builder with a very small footprint and just 140 cards inside the box. It’s a competitive race to create the most lucrative urban areas with the most cheerful residents. Published by Gamewright in the United States, the game will set you back $15.99.

Finalists for Early Gamers

  • Crash Octopus — Recommended
  • Kabuto Sumo — Recommended
  • Block Ness — Nominated
  • Hammer Time Nominated

Cubitos

Image: Alderac Entertainment Group

Cubitos, a fast-paced racing game, takes home this years’ award for Casual Games. Players roll tons of dice, cashing them in to move around the board and to buy upgrades for their team. Push things too far, however, and you’ll be unable to move very far at all until the next round. Another brightly colored game with a cube-based fiction all its own, it’s currently out of stock through the publisher but is available at local game stores and through Amazon.

Finalists for Casual Games

  • The Crew: Mission Deep Sea — Recommended
  • Whirling Witchcraft — Recommended
  • 7 Wonders: Architects — Nominated
  • Summer CampNominated

Cascadia

https://youtube.com/watch?v=f851NllfHMU%3Frel%3D0

Yet another game that leverages America’s love affair with its National Parks system, Cascadia is this year’s winner in the Strategy Games category. Designed by the same team behind award-winning Calico (one of Polygon’s picks for best solo board games), this tile-laying game focuses on the habitats and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest.

Finalists for Strategy Games

  • Furnace — Recommended
  • Genotype: A Mendelian Genetics Game — Recommended
  • Hadrian’s Wall — Nominated
  • BrewNominated

Lost Ruins of Arnak

https://youtube.com/watch?v=s7D06SMtFh8%3Frel%3D0

Lost Ruins of Arnak, from Czech Games Edition, deftly blends worker placement and deckbuilding. Players lead an expedition to a remote island wilderness, recover lost artifacts, and confront monsters as they discover mysterious secrets. The game also includes a robust solo mode, and a handy web-based app to aid both setup and play.

Finalists for Complex Games

  • Bitoku — Recommended
  • Origins: First Builders — Recommended
  • Sleeping GodsNominated
  • Oath: Chronicles of Empire and ExileNominated

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