Board game A-Z glossary

Firefly SummerI realise there are loads of confusing terms in the board gaming hobby if you’re just getting into it – hopefully this will shed a little light.

You may want to do a ‘control F’ on the page if you don’t find the term you want alphabetically, as it may be included as part of another entry.

Abstract games: Games where theme is, for all practical purposes, absent. Classics include Chess and Go, while more recent classics include Hive, Ingenious and the GIPF series.

Action selection: This mechanism describes games where players choose what to do on their turn from a predefined list of actions – often by choosing a card/token, or by worker placement (see below). Popular examples include Puerto Rico and Agricola.

Alpha player: Used to describe a player who, when playing a co-operative game, tends to take over and talk over other people’s ideas.

Ameritrash: A phrase, seen as derogatory by some, used to describe games usually heavy on sci-fi, zombie or fantasy themes that involve lots of story elements, random chance and character customisation/miniatures. Popular examples include Descent, Zombicide and Star Wars: Imperial Assault.

Analysis paralysis (AP): Used to describe games that paralyse certain players with indecision; usually because they have  wide range of options whose values can change drastically when any other game state changes. Some players are more prone to this than others, so an AP-inducing game played by a bunch of AP-prone players can last hours.

Area control: Games where players compete for parts of the board to win the game. The classic example is Risk, although more recent games such as Twilight Struggle, Small Worlds, Eclipse and Five Tribes have taken it in more interesting directions.

Board Game Geek (‘the Geek’): The undisputed number one online source for board, card and war game information. It looks like it was made in the 90s and takes some getting used to in terms of navigation, but believe me – everything you need is in there.

CCG: Short for ‘collectable card game’ (or TCG – trading card game), with the most popular examples being Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon. Players buy cards in packs, much like buying Panini stickers. Card collections can run into the thousands, but players make (usually) 40-60-card decks to play versus each other. A more recent trend has seen the rise of the LCG, or living card game – a similar concept, but where you always buy set packs of additional cards, not random ones.

PandemicCo-op: A co-operative game, where the players are working together against the game to claim a joint victory. You may also hear the term hidden traitor games, which describes a co-op game where one or more players are pretending to work with the other players but are secretly trying to make them fail.

Deck-building: A game mechanism first made popular by the card game Dominion. Borrowing from the CCG concept (see above), deck-building games make the deck-building element the game itself: you start with a small hand of basic cards which you use as currency to buy better ones to achieve a pre-set victory condition.

Deduction games: This covers quite a range of games, including abstract word/number/picture games (such as Codenames, Hanabi, Mysterium), detective games (Scotland Yard, Letters From Whitechapel) and social deduction/traitor games (Werewolf, Battlestar Galactica, The Resistance). The common theme is deducing hidden information through logic (or guesswork!) from a slowly revealed source of information.

Dick: Are you playing a game with Lloyd? You only have yourself to blame.

Drafting: Much like the American football draft, drafting (usually card) games see players choose one card from a randomly dealt hand then pass the rest to an opponent, trying to build a strong hand while trying to restrict other players from getting crucial cards they may need.

Essen: The ‘Internationle Spieltage’ is the biggest annual board gaming event in Europe, and most important in the world. It is held in this German city each year and simply known as ‘Essen’, or ‘Spiel’. Almost 1,000 games are launched at the event each year, with almost as many deals for future ones done behind the scenes. But it is primarily a public event, with more than 150,000 heading though the doors over the long weekend.

Euro game: A tradition of tabletop games that started in Germany in the 90s. Both mechanically and thematically they tend to exist between abstracts and Ameritrash games, usually also having less random factors and direct conflict than the latter. Classic examples include Puerto Rico, Agricola and Terra Mystica.

Expansion: Expansions add extra content to a board or card game. Usually released separately, this content can simply add extra choices (more cards, players etc) or make changes to the rules – and often both. Expansions are often modular, meaning you can the extra parts you like and leave out those you don’t. Generally they’re used to add shelf life to already popular titles.

Filler: These games ‘fill’ the space between playing longer games in a session, or are used at the start and/or end of a session either while you wait for people to turn up or are winding down. Filler games tend to last no longer than 30 minutes and tend to have a fairly low rules overhead and setup time.

ticket_to_ride_boxGateway game: The term used to describe games considered to be great stepping stones between mass market staples such as Monopoly and Risk, and the more complex modern hobby games of today. The most popular examples of gateway games are Catan, Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne.

Grok: A geek term used to describe having a total understanding of something – so in this case a game. A player doing really well at a game could be said to have ‘groked’ it. The word originates from Heinlein’s 1961 novel ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’.

Kickstarter: An American crowd-funding platform popular with board and card game manufacturers. Opinions are divided, as few great games have come from the platform. But its indie aesthetic and ‘stretch goals’ (‘free’ extras given out as funding goals are reached), alongside use by reputable game publishers such as Queen Games, Cool Mini or Not and Indie Boards & Cards, have helped it retain credibility.

Mechanics/mechanisms: A term used to describe what makes a game tick. Common mechanisms include roll-and-move, flicking, action selection, area control etc.

Keyflower meeplesMeeple: A term made popular after the launch of popular gateway game Carcassonne, used to describe its little wooden people pieces. Meeples are now used in many games are have become synonymous with the board gaming hobby.

Microgame: Enjoying a renaissance thanks to popular 15-card game Love Letter, the term microgames describes games that generally cost less than £10, have very few components and have a relatively low rules overhead and play time. Another great example is Empire Engine, but I would say that wouldn’t I?

Multiplayer solitaire: This tends to be used as a derogatory term to describe games in which there is little to no interaction between players in terms of your ability to win the game; so games which are more ‘heads down’ than confrontational. Genuine examples include Yahtzee and Take it Easy!, while popular euro games such as Race for the Galaxy and Agricola get tarred with the same brush by some as any interaction they do have tends to be accidental, or subtle.

P&P (print and play): This term is used to describe free games (or free versions of games) which you can print out and play yourself. These tend to be card games, due to the ease of printing and being able to put the printed cards in plastic sleeves to make them durable. Often used to help promote Kickstarter games, so players can get a feel for a game before they back it. You may also need to add some extra bits (dice etc) to the printed components.

Pick-up and deliver: A game mechanism where the clue is very much in the title. Move around the board, collect things, and deliver them. Themes range from pirates to trains and trucks to space ships and these games are more fun they sound – promise! Popular games include Merchants of Venus, Railways of the World and Merchants & Marauders.

Point salad: Often used as a derogatory term, point salad refers to games where you seem to score for almost anything you’ve done during the game at the end (often leading to points scores in the hundreds). The classic exponent of these games is designer Stefan Feld, with titles such as Castles of Burgundy and Trajan, but other popular examples include Tokaido and Village.

Rondel: Simply meaning ’round’, the rondel is a board game mechanism (most famously used by designer Matt Gerdts) where players move their playing piece (or pieces) around a circular group of action choices, only being able to go to the next few around the circle without penalty. Moving further is usually allowed, but at a considerable cost (victory points, currency etc). Examples include Navegador, Finca, Glen More and Walnut Grove – and of course Empire Engine.

Route building: This describes games in which players claim routes between different cities, often to fulfil contracts or to move stock. A classic of train games, the most popular example of this mechanic is in Ticket to Ride. Other popular and well regarded examples include Brass, Power Grid, plus the Steam and 18xx lines of train games.

Simulations: Games whose primary function is to recreate or educate, but where fun is hopefully a bi-product! Some war games are described as simulations (Advanced Squad Leader at the complexity end; The Grizzled at the educational end), as are some sports management games.

Solo games: As you’ve probably guessed, these are games designed for a single player. It’s also worth baring in mind that many co-op games are also suitable for solo play, as they’re non-competitive. Many standard games also have a solo variant but these can vary greatly in quality – so try to find specific solo reviews before you get behind a game that claims to be for ‘one to seven’ players, or similar.

SdJSpiel des Jahres (SdJ): The Spiel des Jahres are the board gaming world’s only universally recognised awards. The ‘German Game of the Year’ was first awarded back in 1979 and many of the winners are still favourites today, including Rummikub (1980), Scotland Yard (1983), Catan (1995), Carcassonne (2001), Ticket to Ride (2004) and Qwirkle (2011). There has also been a children’s game of the year since 1989; and a gamer’s game of the year since 2011.

Take-that: Used to describe games which have very aggressive mechanisms, where players directly take things or do damage to each other throughout the game. Modern examples include Coup, Ca$h ‘n Guns and Bang!, while older titles include Ludo/Sorry!, Cosmic Encounter, Munchkin and Nuclear War.

Thematic: If a game is considered to mechanically and/or narratively capture its subject matter well it is described as thematic, although there is much disagreement over what does and doesn’t constitute a thematic game. Ameritrash games are often described as thematic, as they tend to rely on a strong narrative structure and the development of characters – as in a role-playing game.

Tile-laying games: This term covers quite a few different styles of game, from abstracts such as Ingenious and Qwirkle to games that create more of a landscape of tiles, such as Carcassonne, Alhambra and Tigris & Euphrates. In general they are games where the ‘board’ starts empty and is slowly filled as players place tiles in turn order to score points, creating  unique board every time.

Traitor mechanic (hidden traitor games): These games involve one or more players (or at least the threat of them) pretending to be working with the rest of the group when they’re actually working to sabotage the groups plans. Werewolf is the classic traitor game, while popular recent iterations include Battlestar Galactica and The Resistance. By association, these games tend to have strong negotiation mechanisms built in.

AgricolaWorker placement: A very popular modern game mechanism first made popular by Keydom (1998) and Bus (1999). It tends to be a take on action selection, as workers are placed in areas to claim said actions for the player. But workers can generate all kinds of mechanical twists, such as certain types of worker only being able to do certain actions, bumping other workers out of position, or actions costing multiple workers to complete. Popular examples include Stone Age, Agricola, Terra Mystica and Lords of Waterdeep.