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Board and Table Game Glossary

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

There are a lot of games out there. With the emergence over the last decade of independent game producers and greater access to international games, wading through titles and categories can be daunting.



We’ve created this guide to help demystify all the different categories and give examples of each type.


A few basic terms to go over first:


Type: The general category the game falls into. Knowing the type of game should give a player a general idea of how the game may look or basic play, even without knowing the rules. While some games can be classified under one “type” there are many that fall into two or three different categories. For example, a game can be classified by the overarching categories of board game or card game, and also as a family game.

In some cases, the theme of the game can also be used to describe the “type,” such as Civilization games where the entire game revolves around building and managing a civilization.


Game Mechanics or Mechanism: The rules or elements of a game that guide how players move and act, as well as how the game responds. Game mechanics are not only what drive the game, but are also the most easily definable differences between various games. Like game types, there can be several mechanisms within a single game.


Overall, you can think of Type as the category and Game Mechanics as elements within a game.

 

Click on a term to jump to the definition


 


Abstract Strategy (Type)

Games that are built on simple or straightforward design and mechanics, are theme-less, and where one player is overtaking their opponent or opponents. There are often no elements of luck or chance with these types of games.


Classic example of an Abstract Strategy game: Chess


More Abstract Strategy games:


Auction/Bidding (See: Market/Auction/Bidding)


Area Control (Type and Mechanism)

Games where players score points or acquire special abilities for having the most pieces, or occupying, a specific region of a board. Area control can be the main objective of the game and therefore can be considered a “type” of game, but can also be a mechanic, or smaller component of a game.

Examples of Area Control as a game type: Risk, Axis and Allies

Examples of Area Control as a mechanism: Carcassonne, Catan



City Building (Mechanism)

Players create and manage their own cities. The goal of the game is usually to create the most prosperous and well-functioning city possible by making strategic decisions about where to build infrastructure, what buildings to construct, and how to allocate resources.


Examples of games with City Building:


Civilization (Type)

Players develop and manage a society of people. Generally the goal is to build up a civilization that is superior to other players’ civilizations.


Examples of Civilization Games:


Cooperative (Mechanism)

All of the players work together towards a common goal. In some instances this could be to defeat a virus, save a city, solve a mystery or any predetermined goal. The result is generally either winning or losing as a group. There are versions of cooperative games known as traitor games that include a betrayal mechanism with hidden identities.

Classic example of a Cooperative Game: Pandemic


More Cooperative games:


Deck Building (Mechanism)

Where the main goal or a large component of the game is building one’s hand or “deck” by acquiring cards throughout play.

Classic example of a deck building game: Dominion


More games with Deck Building:


Deduction (Mechanism)

Similar to how Sherlock Holmes operates, deduction games are where the players form conclusions based on available premises. There is a wide range of deductive reasoning and logic required in these games including having to narrow down possibilities from a large list or set, observing other players/teams game play, or ferreting out a spy amongst the players.

Classic example of a Deduction game: Clue

More Deduction games:



Dice Game (Type or Mechanism)

Relatively self explanatory, these games revolve around or exclusively use dice during play.


Classic example of a Dice Game: Farkle


More Dice Games:


Drafting (Mechanism)

Involves players selecting cards or tiles from a common pool in a specific order. In a drafting game, players take turns selecting cards or tiles from a shared pool, with each player selecting one card or tile at a time until all available options have been chosen.


Games with Drafting:


Economic (Mechanism)

Game play general revolves around developing and managing a system(s) of production, distribution or trade of goods. More simplistically, they simulate some level of an economy. Economic games are often called “resource management games”

Classic example of an Economic game: Monopoly, Catan


More Economic games:


Engine Building (Mechanism)

Players collect things, such as resources or money, which can then be converted or exchanged for other items that make the game or future actions easier. Generally, as the "engine" is gradually being built over the period of the game, playing becomes more efficient.

Games with engine building can use this mechanism either as the main pathway to victory or as a component of gameplay. For example, the game Splendor uses engine building as the main pathway to winning; you start with nothing and turn by turn you are building a bigger and bigger "engine". Catan however uses engine building as a component of gameplay. Players have several options for what they want to do each turn, and building your engine is one of them. For this example, Catan uses engines in the sense that you are gaining resources and turning them into roads, settlements and cities which result in victory points.

Engine building games are always in the category of "strategy" because there are usually multiple ways to build your engine and it's up to the player to determine how they do so.


Examples of Engine Building games or games with Engine Building:


Family Game (Type)

Games that have simple rules, short playing time, often with higher levels of players interaction and require three or more players.

Examples of Family games:


Ladder Climbing (Mechanism)

Players attempt to "climb" a ladder of increasing values by playing cards in ascending order. The goal is generally to be the first player to get rid of all of their cards by playing them in the correct order.


Classic example of a ladder climbing game: Presidents/a**hole (card game)


More examples of a game with Ladder Climbing:


Legacy Game (Mechanism)

A multi-session game in which permanent and irreversible changes to the game carry over to future plays.

Example of a Legacy Game:


Market/Auction/Bidding (Mechanism)

A mechanism in game play where there’s an opportunity for bidding on goods, cards, resources, or position.

Classic example of a Market/Auction/Bidding game: Monopoly


More games with Market/Auction/Bidding:


Modular Board (Mechanism)

Board is composed of multiple pieces, tiles or cards. Often, placement is randomized which leads to different possibilities for strategy and gameplay from game to game.

Classic example of a modular board: Catan


More games with Modular Boards:

Murder/Mystery (Type)

Relatively self-explanatory - these games include solving a murder or murders.

Classic example of a Murder/Mystery game: Clue


More Murder/Mystery games:


Network and Route Building (Mechanism)

Players expand their presence on the board, generally by building roads/tracks/pipes etc.

Classic example of a Network and Route Building game: Ticket to Ride


More games with Network and Route Building:


Party (Type)

Games that are great for larger groups of people and often encourage social interactions. Generally, rules are relatively simple.


Examples of Party games:

Roll and Move (Mechanism)

A classic style of game where players roll dice or use spinners and move accordingly.

Classic example of a Roll and Move game: Monopoly


More Roll and Move games:

Set Collection (Mechanism)

Players collect cards, pieces or other items to gain points or complete tasks. Generally, as singular items the pieces have no significance or worth but grouped together have (a predetermined) value.


Examples of games with Set Collection:


Spy/Secret Agent (type)

Games that have a theme or storyline related to espionage. This may include having to use deduction to find a spy within a group of people, or attempt to reveal information that a secret agent holds.

Examples of Spy/Secret Agent games:

Storytelling (Mechanism)

Where a main narrator or multiple players uses a thematic storyline throughout the game. These can be spontaneous or scripted. Storytelling can involve players having different scripts, predetermined roles or of the players’ creation, that are used to progress the game.


Examples of games with Storytelling:

Strategy (Type)

Where players' decision-making skills have as high significance in determining the outcome of a game. They also generally require high situational awareness.

Classic example of a strategy game: Chess

More Strategy Games:


Territory Building (Mechanism)

Players try to expand the region they control or conquer the most territory. This is similar to Area Control games, but unlike Area Control games, where control may change between players throughout the game, once an area has been taken over it cannot be changed or taken away.


Examples of games with Territory Building:

Thematic Games (Type)

Contain a strong theme which drives the overall game experience, creating a dramatic story ("narrative") similar to a book or action movie. A Thematic Game is usually created around its main dramatic theme, which its rules and mechanics aim to depict. Themes typically involve fighting or good-versus-evil conflicts with heroes and villains. Science fiction and fantasy themes are common.


Examples of Thematic Games:


Tile Placement (Mechanism)

Games that feature placing a tile/piece to score points or trigger abilities. This can be random such as in Carcassonne, where a player draws a tile from the deck and places it next to the other tiles or player determined.


Examples of games with Tile Placement:


Trick-Taking (Mechanism)

A trick-taking game is a card or tile-based game in which play of a hand centers on a series of finite rounds or units of play, called tricks, which are each evaluated to determine a winner or taker of that trick.

In essence: The first player places the first card of the "trick" face up in the middle of all the players. The other players each follow with a single card, in the direction of play. When every player has played a card to the trick, the trick is evaluated to determine the winner, who takes the cards (usually the player who played the highest-value card of the suit that was led, unless a trump card was played).


Classic examples of other trick-taking games: Euchre, Spades, Pinochle, Hearts, Bridge


More Trick-Taking games:


Variable Player Powers (Mechanism)

Each player is assigned different special powers, rule making abilities or actions that they can perform.


Examples of games with Variable Player Powers:



Word Games (Type)

Where players use their knowledge and use of language competitively. Often using words as clues.


Examples of Word Games:


Worker Placement (Mechanism)

Often referred to as "action drafting", this mechanism generally requires players to select actions, in turn order, from a specific set of actions. These available actions are usually limited and therefore, once the limit has been reached, it becomes more expensive or no longer possible for succeeding players to also perform that action.


The worker placement aspect comes in because players often "place workers" (usually meeples or tokens) to show which actions have been selected by individual players.


Examples of games with Worker Placement:


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