The 29 Most Anticipated Games of Essen Spiel 2021

Join Meeple Mountain as we look at our most anticipated games of Essen Spiel 2021, the largest board game convention in the world.

In just a few short days, Spiel 2021 kicks off. The largest board game convention in the world, Spiel (sometimes called Essen, or Essen Spiel) is the mecca for board gamers of all stripes. Nearly 500 new games will debut to the European market at the event, many of which will make their way to the United States in the near future. Join the Meeple Mountain team as we comb through the new releases and help you find the diamonds in the coal.

Andy Matthews

Whirling Witchcraft

Although Whirling Witchcraft was available for preview at this year’s Gen Con, it wasn’t available in retail stores until the beginning of October and will see it’s official European release at Spiel 2021.

Whirling Witchcraft is a light engine building game about witches crafting potions with lots of creepy ingredients like spiders, mushrooms, mandrake root, “hearts of darkness”, and toads. Each turn players select one recipe to keep (then passing the remainder to the person on their left). Players then craft their potions, tossing the resulting creations into their cauldron (which is passed to the right). The goal of the game is to earn points by overloading your neighbor’s workbench with more of any given ingredient than they can store.

Whirling Witchcraft is delightfully fun, with wonderful vivid artwork, and clever gameplay, and is well worth a look.

Read our review of Whirling Witchcraft.

Publisher:  Alderac Entertainment Group
Designer: Erik Andersson Sundén

Terra Futura

Plan your own personal “world of tomorrow” in Terra Futura, a tableau building game from Time Slug Studio. Build a 3×3 grid of cards that, through careful planning, will allow you to earn points by activating other cards in the same row and column as a newly placed card. You’ll also have to be mindful of pollution or risk losing points at the end of the game. After everyone has finished their grid, you’ll activate your countryside once more with a secret bonus given to you at the beginning of the game,

I love lighter games. They’re usually easier to teach, faster to play, and have a lower barrier to entry than longer, heavier games. So if you show me a tableau building game that plays in about a half hour, and has really cool video game style artwork and graphic designer, you can count me in!

Publisher: Albi Polska, Time Slug Studio
Designer: Petr Vojtěch

Eternal Palace

Alley Cat Games ran a Kickstarter campaign for Eternal Palace earlier this year. It’s a dice placement game designed by Steven Aramini and features gorgeous artwork from Jacqui Davis and Quentin Regnes. In Eternal Palace players are currying favor with the Emperor by helping to rebuild the long-derelict palace. Collect supplies, rebuild monuments, and maybe stop every now and then to paint a beautiful painting of your progress in the Emperor’s honor.

I love worker placement games in general, but dice placement games can be an even better version. Replace a static worker with a die allows you more options and possibilities. Allary Cat Games has put out a number of dice based games, and they seem to have gotten it down to a science. Keep your eyes open for this one.

Publisher: Alley Cat Games
Designer: Steven Aramini


Light games are sort of my jam. Give me No Thanks, Point Salad, Five Crowns, or Sushi Go and I’m happy. Milestones from AMIGO seems to be in that same family, but asks players to win or lose as a team, while still playing on their own.

Milestones is a dice rolling game in which one player rolls a handful of dice, and then in turn order each player grabs as many or as few of the dice as they like. They can then reroll them, or claim them in order to complete their own goal cards. A round takes just a few moments, and players are trying to complete a set number of goal cards in order to win the game.

Sounds like a perfect game to play while you’re waiting for dinner!

Publisher: AMIGO
Designer: Christian Stöhr, Daniela Stöhr

Squaring Circleville

The Castles of Burgundy, Catan, Carcassonne. All classic euro games, all of which helped write the playbook for a raft of other games to come afterwards. And yet newer games have largely moved on and expanded their reportoire, mixing worker placement, deck building, resource gathering etc. But something about Squaring Circleville really reminds me of the classics, paying homage without copying, imitating while still offering something new and interesting.

Designer Matt Wolfe took a completely unlikely theme – one of the earliest examples of urban redevelopment in the United States – and made it come alive by literally allowing players to redesign an entire town piece by piece. Looking at Squaring Circleville and It’s like the early 2000s came to life again. I guess classics never go out of style.

Publisher: Spielworxx
Designer: Matt Wolfe

The Siege of Runedar

And speaking of influence, it’s hard to imagine modern board games without Dr. Reiner Knizia. The man has published hundreds upon hundreds of board games and shows no signs of slowing down. His newest offering, The Siege of Runedar, is a cooperative siege game in which players are a group of dwarves attempting to defend themselves against an onslaught of orcs, goblins, and trolls bent on murder and taking the gold mined by the dwarves deep under Runedar.

The Siege of Runedar has some really nifty features, with an insert that doubles as a multi-layered fortress complete with towers, a central vault, multiple rooms to defend, and a tunnel the dwarves are trying to escape through. The Siege of Runedar also mixes a collaborative deck-building mechanism with some really great components and artwork.

Dr. Knizia, you have my axe!

Read our review of The Siege of Runedar.

Publisher: Ludonova
Designer: Reiner Knizia

Bob Pazehoski, Jr.


This is the most ambitious thematic attempt of my choices, but the one that intrigues me most as a writer. Fernando Pessoa, the Portugese poet, was known to write under 75 names—heteronyms, as he called them. Pessoa allows players to assume the role of one of these heteronyms and a portion of real estate in the mind of the poet. Players share the ability to move Pessoa’s physical person through a series of inspirational places, like cafes and bookstores, while attempting to stir the creative juices in the metaphysical or astral plane. The game moves through time as heteronyms attempt to craft and deliver the greatest poem of the age. Pessoa is sprinkled with history and creativity throughout. If the folks at Geek Attitude managed to pull off even a fraction of thematic immersion among these mechanics, they have a winner on their hands.

Read our review of Pessoa.

Publisher: Geek Attitude Games
Designer: Orlando Sá


In splitting the estate of the esteemed villain Dr. Schism, Bequest uses a mechanic that I’ve not had to the table yet—I cut, you choose. I’m such a fan of drafting, and this mechanic adds a delightful twist to the process. Rather than simply passing cards along, five cards are divided into two piles for an opponent to view and select. The remaining cards are returned to sender along with the drafted spoils from the other neighbor. The economic engine looks like it ratchets up the tension throughout. This particular iteration looks like a charming blend of mechanic and theme, with lovely artwork to boost the experience.

Read our review of Bequest.

Publisher: WizKids
Designer: Marek Tupy

Garden Nation

Garden Nation is a case of curiosity at first sight. The artwork sets forth a stunningly colorful garden world, four storied earthy tribes, stackable building components, and a mini Torticrane—that’s right, a tortoise bearing mounted construction equipment. Without knowing a single rule, I would love to crack into this one, just to see it on the table and let my imagination run free. Bombyx looks to be putting another charmer on the market this year, complete with a modular board, a fight for area majority, common projects, secret missions, ploys, brambles, and did I mention the tortoise with a crane on its back?

Publisher: Bombyx
Designer: Rémi & Nathalie Saunier


Inks and typefaces, gears, guilders, and presses. Having spent a few years as a graphic designer, I was immediately drawn to Gutenberg, which takes players back to the 15th century arrival of movable type. I am more than ready to jump into the early printing world to chase after fame, fortune, and a smidge of cultural influence. I appreciate the design team’s dedication to maintaining historical integrity while attempting to design clever mechanics and accompanying components to highlight the world. The design diary entries provide a wonderful glimpse into their thought processes and only make me want to play the game even more. This is probably my most complex choice of the lot, but it still seems very approachable and remarkably immersive. Take orders, develop materials and abilities, improve the print house, find investors, fulfill the orders, ascend the social ladder. Along the way, enjoy some asymmetric powers, hidden action selection, worker placement, and a hint of auction goodness? I’m in.

Read our review of Gutenberg.

Publisher: Granna
Designer: Katarzyna Cioch, Wojciech Wiśniewski


This is arguably the simplest game in my list. Télos is a trick-taking game in which the Greek gods adorn the cards. The rules are simple enough: players must play cards of equal or greater value if possible. If not, they must play their lowest card. That all sounds well and good, but the aim of the end—in Greek, the telos—is to lose the final trick. Zeus lends special abilities to the mix, and the rules offer one additional variant to add challenges along the way. This seems like a great game that would allow for conversation around the table, and maybe a glass of wine among friends.

Publisher: Jolly Dutch Productions
Designer: Adrie Drent

1923 Cotton Club

When I see the preview images of this game, I can’t help but think of Bruxelles 1897, which is a game I thoroughly enjoy. Fast forward 25 years, replace the art with bootlegging, and I’m still interested. Worker pawns are placed to select from a bevy of criminal and pseudo-criminal actions. Prohibition era events are taking place all around to affect the storyline, and dirty money is freely flowing—I can only assume—in strange envelopes and seedy handshakes. Reputations and influence are on the line throughout as someone seeks to become the best bootlegger of them all. I appreciate the historical approach, the inclusion of all manner of personalities of the past, and a willingness to acknowledge the troubles of early 20th century culture. 1923 Cotton Club strikes me as an experience worth exploring.

Publisher: Looping Games
Designer: Pau Carles

Justin Bell

Maracaibo: The Uprising

An expansion for the modern classic Maracaibo from Alexander Pfister (Great Western Trail, Isle of Skye)? Yeah, count me in. This expansion was another Gen Con demo shipping casualty, but it will be available for demo at Essen Spiel. Maracaibo: The Uprising features more of everything: more content for the campaign mode, more cards, variable player powers, a cooperative mode, and expanded solo content. As an owner of the base game, this one is a must for anyone looking to continue their adventures in the Caribbean!

Publisher: dlp games / Capstone Games
Designer: Alexander Pfister


Stroganov had an intriguing crowdsourcing campaign earlier this year, complete with beautiful preview artwork, a glitzy deluxe edition, and, of course, wooden horse meeples. Gameplay takes place in 16th-century Siberia, where players are asked to collect the best furs over the course of four rounds. Despite previews that seemed to be all over the map, I’m excited to play Stroganov for one reason: the same man who designed Hansa Teutonica designed Stroganov. As the kids used to say, ‘nuff said.

Game Brewer will have other games we are collectively excited about at Meeple Mountain, including two games we have previously reviewed: Arkwright: The Card Game and the absolutely wild Rulebenders. Plus, Game Brewer will have the next game from Troyes co-designer Alain Orban, Hippocrates, on display as well.

Publisher: Game Brewer
Designer: Andreas Steding


It has already raised over $1M during its Kickstarter campaign; Mindclash decided to skip Gen Con but there is hope that they will preview physical prototypes of Voidfall at Essen Spiel. The pseudo 4X gameplay, plus ambitions to become THE go-to space Euro, are why I will likely back this campaign. Voidfall is designed by the same team behind the new deck-building Imperium games, Classics and Legends (Nigel Buckle and David Turczi) and features artwork by Ian O’Toole, maybe the busiest guy in board game art design right now. This will be one of the hottest games at the convention.

Publisher: Mindclash Games
Designer: Nigel Buckle and David Turczi

Free Radicals

I was really hoping to check out Free Radicals at Gen Con, but the global shipping crisis had other plans. This game has a slick, futuristic look and wildly different playable factions are why I’m excited to get my hands on the gameplay. The 10 factions let players race each other for the most victory points in many different ways; some factions use a hand management mechanism for their actions, while others use resource-conversion mechanisms similar to another WizKids game, Sidereal Confluence. All of the factions in Free Radicals have unique player components (similar to games such as Root) and access to a shared deck of “Data Cards” that are multi-use. Who doesn’t love multi-use cards?

Read our review of Free Radicals.

Publisher: WizKids
Designer: Nathan Woll

Mobile Markets: A Smartphone Inc. Game

It’s got a complicated title, but I’ll let that slide because any game based on the Smartphone Inc. model is going to be on my radar. I absolutely loved the base game, and our team loved it too; while the rules for Mobile Markets seem to hint at many of the same mechanics that made Smartphone Inc. shine (pricing other competitors out of the market, overlapping two tablets to plan actions for a round, producing just enough goods to make sales but not waste products), this time players are selling to common and private individual customers, not global powers like China and India. But don’t worry: winning this game is still all about the money! Mobile Markets has a slightly lower player count (4, instead of 5 from the base game) but keeps the “Steve” automa intact for a solo playing experience.

Publisher: Cosmodrome Games
Designer: Ivan Lashin


The design team which has given us Lorenzo il Magnifico, Alma Mater, Grand Austria Hotel and Coimbra has a new game appearing at Essen Spiel: Golem.

The information above is probably enough for most Euro gamers to say that they need to own their newest creation, but I’m intrigued about Golem because it looks like this will be the heaviest game from this team of designers. (I would call all of their previous games solidly midweight experiences, with maybe the exception of Alma Mater.) Golem has a fascinating narrative and its production components really have me excited, particularly after owning Alma Mater (oh, those textbook pieces!!) and seeing the unboxing of the recent Grand Austria Hotel expansion. I’m hoping for another classic from this Euro design dream team!

Read our first take of Golem.

Publisher: Cranio Creations
Designer: Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, Simone Luciani

Andrew Holmes

Hanamikoji: Geisha’s Road

Hanamikoji is a tense two player game of hard decisions as you and your opponent compete for the favour of seven illustrious geisha. First published in 2013, Hanamikoji is a simply outstanding game and I have high hopes for the sequel Geisha’s Road. Slightly more complex, Geisha’s Road uses the clever action mechanism from the original to guide a quintet of touring geisha to their favourite tea houses.

Read our review of Hanamikoji: Geisha’s Road.

Publisher: EmperorS4
Designer: Jerry Chiang, Eros Lin

Ark Nova

Want to play a board game about building a zoo? Want your captive breeding and conservation efforts to feel well earned? Always felt that Zooloretto and Bärenpark are a bit too simplistic? Well worry no more, Ark Nova is here to put the logic into zoological. Over 1.5 – 3 hours 1-4 players manage their action cards to build enclosures, exchange animals, support conservation projects, work with universities, and hire specialists, all to have the most successful zoological establishment in the world.

Read our first take of Ark Nova.

Publisher: Feuerland Spiele, Capstone Games
Designer: Mathias Wigge

Azul: Queen’s Garden

Designer Michael Kiesling returns with the fourth game in the Azul series, Azul: Queen’s Garden. Since Azul burst onto the scene in 2017, board gamers have been entranced by the Portuguese-based tile placement games, all using Kiesling’s signature tile selection mechanism. Whereas previous Azul games have been small evolutions on the original concept, Azul: Queen’s Garden looks to turn the formula on its head with a shifting tile market and tile placements where both the tile colour and pattern matters.

Publisher: Next Move Games, Lacerta
Designer: Michael Kiesling

Previously Reviewed

In addition to the games we’re looking forward to, we’ve already covered a number of titles that will be released to the European market at Essen Spiel 2021.

  • Cascadia – Build a cardboard countryside in this tile laying game set in the Pacific Northwest. Check out our review of Cascadia.
  • Mandala Stones – Mandala Stones is a beautiful and think abstract game from Board&Dice. Check out our written review or our video review.
  • Red Rising – Red Rising is a drafting and hand management game set in the rigid color-casted world of Pierce Brown. Check out our review of Red Rising.
  • Mazescape – If you’re familiar with the impossible geometry of handheld games like Monument Valley, then these solo puzzlers will be right up your alley. Check out our review of Mazescape games Labyrinthos & Ariadne.
  • Arkwright: The Card Game – Join the industrial revolution and run your own textile factory in the 1800s, changing the world while you’re at it. Check out our video review of Arkwright: The Card Game.
  • Hippocrates – Travel back in time to ancient Greece and help defend the noble science of medicine and build up the first hospital in history, Asclepios. Watch our video review of Hippocrates.
  • Rulebenders – Check out our video review of Rulebenders and find out the 5 things you need to know about rollicking adventure game, complete with zombies, pirates, and sci-fi.
  • Village Green – Village Green is a delightfully relaxing (and slightly cutthroat) game about competing in the annual Village Green of the Year competition. Read through our review of Village Green.
  • Dive – Dive is a push your luck game with a Polynesisan theme. Swim down through multiple layers of ocean, avoiding sharks and other sea creatures. Read our review of Dive.

About the author

Andy Matthews

Founder of Meeple Mountain, editor in chief of, and software engineer. Father of 4, husband to 1, lover of games, books, and movies, and all around nice guy. I run Nashville Game Night, and Nashville Tabletop Day.

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