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Board and Table Game Glossary

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

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


Area Control



Deck Building


Dice Game


Engine Building

Family Game

Legacy Game


Modular Board


Network and Route Building


Roll and Move

Set Collection


Set Collection

Spy/Secret Agent



Territory Building

Thematic Games

Tile Placement


Variable Player Powers

Word Games

Worker Placement


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

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:

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:

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: