Board Game Basics - Common Game Types

Board Game Basics - Common Game Types

If you're just getting into the world of tabletop gaming you've undoubtedly stumbled onto some terms that are a little confusing, if not straight out mystifying. The board game world has a lot of terms and categories that, while useful, if you don't know what they mean are not that helpful.

Maybe you've just fell in love with Settlers of Catan and now you want to find something else in the same vein. You go on BoardGameGeek and look at some of the top games but the keywords associated with them don't make any sense. Does euro game mean you have to import it? Does deck building mean I have to buy packs of random cards to play? “This game has a lot of chits”. What the heck is a chit?!? Don't panic, I'm here to help!

Over the next few articles I'm going to explain some of the most common terms you'll run into. I'm dividing them into three separate categories, types of games, game mechanics, and various terms. I'll give some examples, pictures, and lay out everything in a way that will have you say, “Fiddly thematic game with resource management elements”, in no time!

Today I'll go through the various types, or genres, of games that are out there. I'm only covering the main ones you'll run into because there are a lot of sub-genres and sometimes game mechanics almost qualify as a genre themselves (I'm looking at you deck builders). I'm also not including an entry on mass market family games like Monopoly or Clue. Everyone has played one of these games as a kid and I'm sure most of us dread playing them as an adult. With that said, read on and enjoy!


What are they: In case you couldn't guess from the name, this genre of games originated in Europe, specifically in Germany and are occasionally referred to as German-style games. In eurogames, or euros for short, players are usually trying to win by accumulating points with little to no direct conflict. Euros also commonly have very little randomness and never have any player elimination. While this style of game has a theme, it's usually second to game play.

Will I like this type of game: If the thought of playing a game where finding the most efficient route to scoring more points appeals to you, you'll love euros. However, puzzling out the right way to build a well oiled point machine, is not for everyone, and some people find this type of game too dry.

Notable games: Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, Agricola, Power Grid

Thematic Games (a.k.a Ameritrash)

Star Wars: Imperial Assault Game
Fantasy Flight Publishing

What are they: Thematic games, often derisively called Ameritrash, are games that put the theme before game play. Unlike euros, these games often have a good bit of randomness, and are heavy on creating a dramatic experience. While it's common for this style of game to have direct conflict between the players, a large portion of cooperative games also fall into this category.

Will I like this type of game: Are you looking to play a game that tells a story and lets you slip into the role of a heroic knight, paranoid investigator, or scientists trying to save the world? If so thematic games are for you.

Notable games: Pandemic, Arkham Horror, Blood Rage, Star Wars: Imperial Assault


Memoir '44
Days of Wonder

What are they: Wargames are heavily strategic, tactical, direct conflict games that often re-enact famous battles of history. There are a number of different rules systems for this style of game, but they often involve some amount of dice rolling to determine combat. In most wargames troops are represented by either small cardboard pieces or miniatures. While some wargames are fairly light, the most heavyweight ones are at the far end of the complexity scale.

Will I like this type of game: Does the idea of commanding large armies in giant tactical battles appeal to you? Are you a fan of historical battles? Do you like the idea of moving little miniature troops around a map? If you said yes to any of these then wargames may be you thing.

Notable games: Warhammer, Paths of Glory, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures, Memoir '44


Rio Grande

What are they: Abstract is something of a loose term, and many people will argue about what qualifies a game to be in this category, but most of the time abstracts can be identified as having 2 or more of the following traits: almost complete lack of theme, perfect information, and no randomness. Most abstract games are two player games with alternating turns and are pure strategy. Most classic strategy games fall under this category.

Will I like this type of game: If you are a fan of classic strategy games such as Chess or Go you'll like abstracts. This is a genre that also attracts people who like to learn a game completely and out think their opponents. In this genre, the more skilled player always wins.

Notable games: Chess, Go, Hive, YINSH

Party Games

What are they: Sometimes called “filler games”, party games are quick, easy to teach, and most of the time can be played with large groups. Mechanics can vary greatly from game to game but usually have a low complexity level. Most of the time these games are heavy on social skills such as bluffing and low on pure strategy.

Will I like this type of game: These games appeal to people who care more about the social experience than actual game play. If you'd rather play something quick and light a bunch of times instead of a heavy, in-depth game, pick up a party game.

Notable games: Apples to Apples, Codenames, Spyfall, The Resistance

Dexterity Games

Flick Em Up! Game
Flat River Group

What are they: The term dexterity game, or sometimes action game, is a catch-all used to describe any game where the actual physicality of the game is important. This can include mechanics such as stacking blocks, flicking disks, or snatching cards off the table. This type of game most often crosses into other genres and is fairly broad.

Will I like this type of game: If you are lightning quick and agile, or just don't care how slow and clumsy you are, you should try a dexterity game. Also these games have a very different feel then most other board games, so if you are looking for a new interesting experience, pick one up.

Notable games: Jenga, Catacombs, Flick 'Em Up, Junk Art

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