Common Board Game Terms Every Board Gamer Must Know

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Every hobby has its jargon, terminology, and insider language, and board games are no different. Just visit your FLGS to check out the latest LCG, or join a gaming group that plays coop games. But don’t be an alpha player!

If all these board game terms confuse you, we’re here to help. Here are all acronyms and phrases you need to know to become a true master of the tabletop.

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18xx

A genre of deep, economic board games centered around the theme of creating and running the railroad in the 19th century, hence the name 18xx. Typically, these train games involve route building, stock trading, complex calculations, and market predictions, with the goal of earning the most money. Not to be mistaken for an 18xx title, Ticket to Ride might be a train game, but it doesn’t use the mechanisms that define the genre.

4X

Short for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. A genre of strategy games with expansive gameplay, usually with empire-building elements and an expandable board. The term comes from the legendary game Civilization, while the most prominent games in this genre are Twilight Imperium, Eclipse, and Scythe.

A

Abstract game

A game that either doesn’t have a specific theme or its mechanics are loosely based on one. Usually presented as a profoundly cerebral puzzle challenge. Common examples of abstract games are Chess and Backgammon, but among modern board games, Azul and Hive are mentioned as prime abstract strategy game examples.

Alpha player

In cooperative and team-based games, the term Alpha player is used to describe a player that takes control over the whole game, telling other players what to do and how to play. 

American-style games / Ameritrash

Name typically given to highly thematic strategy games that involve lots of player interaction and conflict. These games usually contain plastic components like miniatures, dice, and cards. This term in board gaming is mostly used in a derogatory fashion, especially by “serious” eurogame lovers, as American-style games often rely on luck to resolve various actions. Fantasy Flight Game is one the biggest publishers of such games.

Analysis paralysis (AP)

Synonymous to overanalyzing or overthinking. A player can “suffer from” or be “prone to AP,” meaning that they tend to take much longer to take their turn as they cannot decide on their best move.

Area control

A board game genre where players compete for dominance over different regions of the board. In most area control games, controlling the most territory is the winning condition, but some may not use tiebreakers and allow for shared victories.

B

BGG

Short for BoardGameGeek, this is an all-encompassing database of tabletop games, a board game glossary, and the biggest community forum for the hobby on the internet.

Booster pack

A blind bag or a box containing randomized additional content for a game. Usually, a business model for collectible card games.

Brain burner

A brain burner game often has lots of rules overhead and complex mechanics.

C

Catch-up mechanic(s)

A mechanic that allows players who aren’t in the lead (either by points or by position in a race) to get a slight boost and catch up with the leading player.

Collectible card game (CCG)

A type of card game usually sold in blind packs containing a semi-randomized set of cards. Players either have to purchase booster packs or trade with each other to obtain new cards. Often called trading card games (TCGs). CCG examples include  Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh!

Competitive games

Most board games are competitive, with players directly competing against each other to score more points or reach a victory condition first. These games can also split players into teams.

Cooperative games

Cooperative board games, or co-op games, have players working towards a common goal or trying to defeat the game itself. Players share both victory and defeat in these games. The most popular co-op games are Pandemic, Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, Mysterium, and Gloomhaven.

Crunchy

One of the more recent board game terms. It can be used as a synonym to describe very complex games or games with many interesting decisions and several different viable playstyles.

D

Deck building

Also known as deck builders, these are card-driven games that allow players to improve their personal decks as the game goes on. At the start of a deck-building game, each player starts with the same small deck as the others and upgrades it from the shared pool of cards. Instead of cards, these games can also employ tokens (bag building) or dice pools (dice building).

Designer game

A term describing a modern board game with the designer’s name prominently displayed on its cover.

Dexterity game

A genre of games where players’ physical skill determines the outcome. The interactions can include flicking or stacking components but can also require fast reflexes. Some common examples of dexterity games are Pitch Car, Jungle Speed, and Jenga.

Dice placement

A mechanic where dice are used to select actions from the board. This is very similar to worker placement games, with a difference in dice pips used to determine different outcomes of an action.

Dice-fest

A game that uses lots of dice for generating outcomes, which often leads to a high degree of randomness.

Downtime

The time between the player’s turns. Downtime mostly has a bad connotation, especially if the player doesn’t have anything to do before their next turn arrives, so board game designers work towards having shorter downtimes in their games.

Drafting

A game mechanic where players get to, one by one, select from a shared pool of components (cards, tokens, or dice). Games like 7 Wonders, Sushi Go, and Terraforming Mars include this mechanic.

Dudes on a board/map

Common board game slang describing games with lots of figures placed on the game board. Frequently, these can also be area control games – Risk and Blood Rage are good examples.

Dungeon crawl

This genre of board games has players traversing and exploring dungeon-like, modular boards. Typical dungeon crawl games have labyrinthine maps and are set in a fantasy setting, simulating the tabletop roleplaying experience. Popular dungeon crawlers are Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Star Wars: Imperial Assault, and Clank!

E

Economic game

A genre of board games that simulates building and maintaining an economy. Usually on the more complex side. In these games, players are tasked with producing and selling goods, re-investing their earnings, and trying to amass the biggest wealth.

End-game

The finale of a game during which the victor is determined.

Engine building

Engine building is a board game term that describes a common mechanic of players setting up their in-game economy – building an economic engine – so their later turns are more fruitful.

Eurogame / Euro-style game

This type of board game places a heavy emphasis on strategic thinking and economy, with little to no elements of randomness. Originating in Germany, eurogames are sometimes also called German-style board games, but nowadays, they’re being made all across the globe.

Euro-style games typically don’t have direct player conflict, and interaction between players is mostly passive-aggressive. They’re not based on luck and have no player elimination, but also their theme is often very loosely connected to the mechanics. Winning at eurogames is almost always determined by counting up each player’s victory points (VP).

The most prominent eurogames are Agricola, Concordia, and Brass.

Expansion

A box of additional content for a board game. An expansion can introduce new mechanics, increase the player count, or simply add new components for better gameplay variety.

F

Family game

Family games have less complicated rules, a shorter play time, and a theme that’s more interesting to the general audience. They can also have more player interaction and, sometimes, player elimination. 

Fiddly

Board game slang for a game with lots of small components or pieces that are easy to knock around the board.

Filler games

Board games that are very light on the rules and can be played quickly, usually in less than 30 minutes. These games are mainly used for filling out the gap between playing bigger games or while traveling due to their fast gameplay.

Flavor text

This refers to the small text on the cards that adds additional story or context for that card, immersing players into the game’s world.

FOMO

Short for “fear of missing out,” a common phrase used in various hobbies whenever a product has a time-limited release or some other incentive is used to push consumers into purchasing a product as soon as possible.

Friendly local game store (FLGS)

A relatively modern board gaming term for brick-and-mortar stores that sell tabletop games. A store where local players meet up to buy and play games, trade cards for a popular trading card game, or simply learn game rules thanks to the friendly and knowledgeable staff.

G

Game Master (GM)

In role-playing games, the role of a Game Master is to guide the game, act as a judge, and control all the non-playable characters the player group meets along the way. Despite popular belief, a GM isn’t playing against the players, nor are they trying to beat them.

Gateway game

A board game that’s proved to be good for introducing new people to the board gaming hobby. Gateway games are accessible and usually on the more affordable side. Popular gateway games are Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and Dixit.

H

Heavy games

Complex, often very complicated board games with many rules and interconnected systems. While the term may suggest the actual weight of the box, heavy board games don’t necessarily need to have many components to be called that. Good examples would be Lisboa and On Mars.

Hidden movement

A board game mechanic where one or more players do not physically move their pieces across the game board. Instead, players in hidden movement games secretly take note of their movements – either by writing them down or by playing cards – like in a game of hide and seek. Fury of Dracula and Letters from Whitechapel are the most well-known board games.

Hidden roles 

Certain board games have hidden information about which team each player is on. The hidden role mechanic is crucial to social deduction games.

K

Kickstarter

An online platform for crowdfunding projects that allows customers to make pre-purchases of yet-to-be-produced items. Many board game publishers found success on this platform due to its social nature.

King-making

An act of a player, usually one in a losing position, having to choose the outright winner of a multiplayer game

L

Legacy games

A legacy game is a type of board game that evolves in both rules and mechanics through several play sessions. Legacy board games are oftentimes story-driven, campaign games with branching narratives and high levels of player interaction. Players permanently alter various parts of the game by destroying components, writing on them, or putting up stickers. They also unlock additional content within the game’s box after passing certain milestones.

Initially, when players were done with a legacy game, they couldn’t continue playing it. But, in recent years, many games in this genre allow players to either restart the experience (sometimes by purchasing expansion packs) or continue playing on their own unique copy of the game.

The most notable legacy games are Pandemic Legacy and Gloomhaven.

Light game

In board game terminology, a light board game is a game with fairly simple rules and little strategy involved. These games often fall into the filler and family game categories.

Living card game (LCG)

Similar to CCGs, living card games are also sold in packs, but the contents of each pack are pre-determined by the publisher. The customers are informed of the exact contents of each box or booster pack for a living card game. Arkham Horror: The Card Game is the most popular LCG today.

M

Mechanism/mechanic

A catch-all term describing a game system and all elements that comprise the game’s rules. Most games have several mechanics with one central mechanic that everything else is built around, for example, dice rolling.

Meeple

A small, usually wooden playing piece, shaped in a distinguishable humanoid form. This game term was coined in 2000 by Alison Hansel during a game of Carcassonne as a combination of the words “my” and “people.” Meeples are very common in eurogames, and the Oxford Dictionary officially recognized the term in 2015.

Miniature

A three-dimensional plastic representation of a character or an object in a board game used as a playing piece. Unlike meeples, miniatures are highly detailed and found in modern thematic games. They’re also a crucial part of war games like Warhammer, and dedicated players paint their miniatures using acrylic paints.

O

Out of print (OOP)

Board games are produced in certain quantities, and the publisher orders a new print run only when the current is about to be sold out. Sometimes, the publisher has no plans to reprint the game, or it’s unable to due to various reasons (licensing, cost of production, slow sales). In board gaming lingo, an out-of-print game can no longer be purchased in stores. If a game becomes particularly popular when it’s out of print, it can be considered a grail game for some board gamers.

P

Party games

A popular genre of games designed to suit large groups of players. Party games rarely have game boards, so they take up less space than other games. They’re also light on rules and quick to play, often falling into the filler game category.

Player agency 

The ability of the player to make impactful decisions during a game. A game with a high player agency allows plenty of choices, and players feel more in control.

Player elimination

The act of removing a player from the game through the game’s mechanics. An eliminated player may have their pawn removed from the game but still have some level of agency. Frowned upon in longer games, but a frequent occurrence in party and family games.

Point salad

In board gaming jargon, a point salad is a game with many different scoring opportunities where points are scored at the end of the game. It can be seen as a negative quality if the players don’t have a certain way to focus their strategy. It is also the name of a popular party game.

Print-and-Play (PnP)

Files distributed over the internet that include both rules and components for a board game or board game expansion, so players can simply print out the game at home.

Push your luck

This mechanism is common for party games and filler games. In such games, players rely on the luck of the draw and basically gamble their resources for the possibility of a better outcome.

Q

Quarterbacking

Synonym for being an alpha player.

R

Real-time

A type of game where players take their turns simultaneously while racing against the clock. Examples: Galaxy Trucker, Captain Sonar, Magic Maze.

Reference card 

A reference card is meant to help players better understand the flow of the game or some specifics on the game’s mechanics. This piece of cardboard either has the whole game overview on it or lists actions a player can take on their turn.

Replayability / Replay value

This term is used to show how long the game will stay interesting to its players, even after finishing it several times. A highly desirable quality in board games and a badge of honor in modern board gaming terms. Game designers accomplish high replayability by using modular boards, variable setups and different player powers, modular rules, and additional scenarios.

Role-playing game (RPG)

This is a genre of tabletop games where players take up roles of various imaginary characters. An RPG usually has a GM that guides the game experience. This type of game uses dice to determine the outcome of players’ actions and is sold in books that explain in detail how it’s supposed to be played. 

Unlike board games with predetermined components and strict rules, RPGs are more freeform (to an extent), featuring more sandbox-like gaming environments and allowing for more player expression. Good examples are Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and Call of Cthulhu.

Rondel

Rondle is a game mechanic where available actions or resources are placed in a circle. Players move their playing piece along the rondel and select the action they wish to play, with further actions often costing more resources.

Roll and move 

One of the oldest mechanics in board games, in which players roll their dice and then move their pieces the number of spaces indicated by the dice rolls. The mechanic has been around since ancient times and games like Senet. Today, many board gamers consider it passé since it usually removes player agency in games like Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly. Modern games that use this mechanic are Talisman, Formula D, and Camel Up.

Roll and write

It is a very popular type of game in recent years, where players use a piece of paper as their player boards. Players take turns rolling dice or drawing cards, then marking the results on their sheets. Roll and write games can be played solo and can usually accommodate a large number of players (sometimes up to 100). Examples: Yahtzee and That’s Pretty Clever.

S

Sandbox game

A board game that allows many different paths to victory while still having pre-set goals and strict rules.

Set collection

One of the most common board game terms for games where players are trying to collect groups of cards, tokens, or other items. Scoring is based on the size of each collected set, or the player’s collection will unlock certain types of actions during the game.

Semi-cooperative games

Games where players have their own goals but, at times, have to work together to overcome certain challenges or to block the other players from winning. Another term for board games in this genre is semi-competitive games.

Shelf of shame/opportunity

A location where a board gamer keeps their unplayed (or sometimes unopened) games. While it’s often used to denote an actual shelf or part of it, the phrase can simply mean “my list of unplayed games.”

Shelfie 

The act of taking a picture of your board game collection akin to taking selfies. Unlike the term it originated from, a shelfie doesn’t have to include the person taking a picture.

Sleeves 

Small, tight plastic bags that can fit playing cards and protect them from damage. Sleeves are mostly transparent so the players can properly see the cards, but can have some kind of artwork on the back. 

Social deduction

Social deduction games have players trying to figure out each other’s secret characters and employing hidden role mechanics. Often, players are required to bluff and may be secretly split into teams. The most popular social deduction game is Werewolf.

Solitaire

A derogatory term for a board game that has little to no player interaction, effectively having players play by themselves. 

Solo game

Some board games can (also) be experienced as single-player titles. These are called solo games. In a solo game, the player tries to “beat” the game to a certain score or competes against an AI opponent, frequently called Automa. Likewise, a solo gamer is a type of player who prefers solo games.

T

Tableau

Set of cards/tiles in front of a player, considered “owned” by that player. A game where collecting such sets is the central mechanic is called a tableau-building game or tableau builder.

Table hog

A board game that takes a lot of space to play, usually covering the whole table (or more).

Table presence

The look of a game when set up on the table – a colorful, visually impressive game is one with a good table presence.

Take that 

A mechanism in board and card games where players can take actions that negatively impact the other players, usually as an immediate reaction to their turns.

Tap/tapping 

Frequently found in card game terms, tapping is an act of rotating the cards sideways to denote their effects being activated or resources spent. The term originates from and is used exclusively in Magic: The Gathering, making other publishers use the term “exhaust” instead.

Tile laying 

A mechanism and a genre of games where players place tiles on a surface. It often overlaps with other genres, so, for example, Azul is a tile-laying abstract game.

Token

A playing piece in a board game, most frequently used as a currency or a marker. Board game tokens can be cardboard, plastic, wood, or metal. Some ancient board games also used ivory.

Traitor mechanic

An integral part of semi-cooperative and social deduction games, with usually one or more players being put on the opposing team from the rest of the table. Since most of the players at the table do not know who the traitor is, the traitor can play on the general paranoia and distrust that grows as the game progresses. Some games that employ this mechanic are Nemesis, Unfathomable, and Dead of Winter.

Trick taking

In card games, a mechanic where the goal is winning the “hand” of cards. Trick-taking games have one player start the “trick,” and others follow suit or other rules introduced with the starting card.

V

Victory points (VP)

The player score and the main method of determining the winner in most board games. Common to German-style games but can be found in other genres, too. Players earn victory points for various actions during the game and, in some cases, right before the game ends. A game with too many ways to score is called a point salad in board game lingo.

W

Wargame

A sub-genre of strategy games with a realistic simulation of a war scenario. Wargames are often played head-to-head or in teams and involve a large number of tokens called “counters.”

Weight

A game’s complexity. Frequently represented by a decimal number between 1 and 5, so the board games typically fall into light, medium, and heavy games based on their difficulty.

Worker placement

As the name implies, Worker placement games have players placing the meeples in their colors on designated spaces on the board and performing actions, or “working.” Players have a limited number of workers and, thus, actions per round, while the game board may limit the number of meeples that can be placed on each space, causing players to block each other.

The most well-known worker placement games are Lords of Waterdeep and Everdell.

FAQ

  1. What is AP in board game slang?

    AP is short for analysis paralysis, a term used when players have trouble deciding on their next action.

  2. What are the things called in board games?

    A board game has its components or bits. These can be all kinds of playing pieces, pawns, dice, cards, or tokens.

  3. What are the basic elements of a board game?

    Each board has components, mechanics, and a theme.