Types of Board Games: Know Your Board Gaming Genres

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Board games, like movies and video games, come in various types and genres based on how they are played. No two games are the same, and even if they have similar elements, it doesn’t mean that they fit into the same category or genre. Some board game types may even overlap and belong to more than one category.

To help you navigate this maze, we will cover all the different types of board games you can find at stores, conventions, and game nights. Each section will include examples of the best games that represent each type. But before we dive in, we need to cover some basics and terminology

The Differences Between Mechanics, Themes, and Types of Games

Board games have been with us for more than 5,000 years, and as they’ve evolved, they’ve developed their own unique terminology. The three main words people often can’t get their heads around are mechanics, theme, and type.

This problem isn’t specifically related to board games, but it happens often enough that we have decided to take the time to first explain these three main terms and the difference between them before we start explaining different board game types. We’ll be using Catan as an example to better explain each element.

Settlers of Catan – a gem of a game that paved the way for modern board games

Mechanics

Mechanics are the individual game elements, the cogs that make the whole machine work. For example, the act of rolling the dice is a game mechanic, but it may not be what the game is all about. The game might have you move pieces, gather items, play cards, or do something else beyond just chucking dice to score victory points, and each of those is a separate mechanic. 

Game designers use them as building blocks when creating modern board games. Modern board games have several mechanics that work in conjunction to make the whole experience compelling.

Catan is one such game. The mechanics in it include dice rolling, resource gathering, trading, and building. These mechanics are used in combination to create a strategic game that requires players to think ahead and plan their moves. 

The resource gathering mechanic involves rolling dice to determine which resources players receive, while the trading mechanic allows players to negotiate with each other to acquire the resources they need. Finally, the building mechanic involves using resources to construct settlements, cities, and roads to score points and win the game.

Settlers of Catan and dice for resources
Settlers of Catan combines many game mechanics.

Theme

The theme of a board game is the story or concept that the game is built around. It can set the tone for the game’s events or provide context for the game mechanics. While some board games may not have a specific theme, such as party and card games, they can still be fully functional and enjoyable. It’s worth noting that even when a game lacks a theme, it can still have elements of narrative or setting that enhance the overall gameplay experience. Let us elaborate further on this.

When we talk about the theme of a board game, we usually refer to the overarching story or concept that ties the game’s mechanics and components together. For example, the theme of the popular board game “Catan” is centered around building a civilization on an uncharted island. The game’s mechanics, such as gathering resources and trading with other players, are all tied into this theme.

However, not all board games have a clear and distinct theme. Some games may focus more on the mechanics and gameplay itself, rather than on an overarching story. In these cases, the lack of a strong theme may not necessarily detract from the gaming experience.

It’s important to note that even when a game lacks a clear theme, it can still have elements of narrative or setting that enhance the overall gameplay experience. For example, a card game may not have a strong theme, but the cards themselves may have unique artwork and flavor text that give players a sense of the game’s setting or story. These elements may not be necessary for the game to function, but they can add depth and richness to the overall experience.

Investigators Eldritch Horror
Eldritch Horror leans heavily on H.P. Lovecraft’s work with its theme.

Board Game Type

If mechanics are the moving parts and theme is the story, then is the type of game some secret third thing? No, not really. As we hinted at in the introduction to this article, a board game’s type can be considered its genre. It’s a quick way to describe how the game works and feels without delving too deeply into the nitty-gritty details.

We use these terms to effectively categorize games. With thousands of tabletop games coming out each year, the industry needed a way to help gamers immediately understand what exactly they’re buying. These days, when the box says “a worker placement game,” we know precisely what kind of gaming experience we can expect.

Lords of Waterdeep board
Lords of Waterdeep is a great example of a worker placement game.

Understanding the type of board game can be tricky since it can consist of any combination of game mechanics and themes. In some cases, it can even refer to a single game mechanic, like deck-building, which can either define an entire genre of games or be just one aspect of a game. Moreover, many games can’t be easily categorized under a single type or mechanic, especially complex games that feature multiple game mechanics and themes.

A classic example of such a game is Catan, a eurogame that originated in Europe and emphasizes strategy, resource management, and limited player conflict. While not as complex as some other board games like Terra or Ark Nova, Catan features a combination of game mechanics such as resource gathering, trading, and building placement, making it a great example of a game that spans multiple categories.

With that being said, we can now delve deep into the various genres or types of board games and provide an explanation of what you can expect from each of them when you come across them

Different Board Game Types

There are many different types of games right now, and the list continues to grow as game designers invent new ways for us to play. The game types we’ll be covering today are the most common ones that the majority of board games fall into.

Abstract Games

Abstract board games typically feature a very light or no theme but present a serious mental challenge to players. One aspect that sets abstract games apart from others is that they offer “perfect information” to players. There are no random factors or hidden information during the game, providing a level playing field and allowing the best player to win without introducing a bunch of random elements that are often present in other game types.

Examples: Chess, Azul, Onitama

Azul tiles and boards
Can’t get more abstract than Azul.

Area Control Games

Sometimes, games make us compete for limited space on the game board. These are called area control games, and they often involve some sort of conflict between the players over the dominance of different regions. Area control board games often incorporate mechanics borrowed from other genres, resulting in a complex and dynamic type of board game.

Examples: Risk, Blood Rage, Small World

Card Games

Games that you exclusively play with cards. They may involve a board as well, but they are used as a space where you place the cards and nothing else. Aside from traditional playing cards, these games can also have a collectible nature (trading card games and living card games) and frequently also fall into other types of tabletop games covered in this article. Also, a game is not automatically a card game just because it contains cards. 

Examples: Magic: The Gathering, Arkham Horror: The Card Game, UNO

Magic the Gathering Land Cards
Everyone has heard by now about Magic the Gathering.

Campaign/Legacy Games

What happens when your board game changes over the course of several game nights, “remembering” what happened to the game world and characters within? Well, you get a legacy game. These games usually come with a campaign, a branching story that you and your group play through over a dozen or so sessions. In legacy games, you’ll be permanently changing or even destroying game components while you progress with the story.  

Examples: Pandemic Legacy, Charterstone, Gloomhaven

Children’s Games

Some games are created for educational purposes, and they’re usually designed so that younger players can enjoy them. While playing board games, children learn about numbers, words, animals, and the world around them. Children’s games are now designed so the whole family can play and enjoy them, especially since many board games have, over time, gotten new versions more suited for kids.

Examples: Rhino Hero, Loopin’ Louie, Dr. Eureka

Civilization-Building Games

This board game genre is complex and immersive, often spanning multiple eras and requiring players to manage resources, explore territories, and engage in diplomatic and military strategies. These games challenge players to balance short-term gains with long-term objectives and provide endless replayability due to the many different paths one can take to victory. Additionally, they frequently include elements of 4X games, such as expanding empires, researching new technologies, and sometimes waging tabletop wars with each other. 

Examples: Civilization, Through the Ages, Twilight Imperium

Deckbuilders

Deckbuilders are a subgenre of card games where the goal is to create the best deck as the game goes by. In deck-building games, each player starts with the same deck, which usually has just a handful of cards. These types of board games involve playing cards to gather resources which are used to acquire more powerful cards from a shared marketplace. Players use their cards to perform actions and support their strategies, building their decks over the course of the game to increase their chances of victory.

Examples: Dominion, Star Realms, Clank!

Dexterity Games

Dexterity board games put your physical skills to the test. It can involve quick reflexes, steady hands, or flicking motions to control the playing pieces. They are usually casual in nature and designed so the whole family can play them since they tend to be light on rules. 

Examples: Jenga, Klask, Crokinole

Dice Games

Dice games, as the name implies, are played using a set of dice. They’re a whole board game category by themselves, as they often include other mechanics beyond just rolling dice, like drafting, engine building, and even using your dice in an area control manner. Modern dice games are highly tactical, allowing players to mitigate the randomness of their rolls, although your typical board game enthusiast will still say they prefer having no dice in their games.

Examples: Yahtzee, Sagrada, Machi Koro

Dungeon Crawlers

Inspired by role-playing games, dungeon crawlers have a group of adventurers exploring maze-like maps, fighting various monsters, and collecting upgrades for their characters. They’re mostly co-op games, as the players have to work together to overcome different game scenarios, but they may have one player controlling the enemies and playing against the rest of the table. Dungeon crawlers are also storytelling board games and frequently come with a book that players can read the story bits from.

Examples: Descent, Imperial Assault, Gloomhaven

Engine-Builders

Another case of game-mechanic-as-a-type, engine-building games have you working towards creating an economy that will improve your actions as the game goes by. These games typically begin slowly, with players making only one or two moves per turn, only to later have entire systems propel them to victory. One common thing in these games is the permanence between rounds and turns.

Examples: Wingspan, 7 Wonders, Splendor, Earth

Eurogames

Eurogames are one of the biggest and most all-encompassing board game categories. The term “eurogame” is an umbrella term for all games that fit a certain style. Specifically, these games have little to no negative player interaction, are economic games by nature, and require players to focus more on strategy than on luck. Despite their name and German origin, eurogames don’t need to be developed in Europe to be called such.

Examples: Agricola, Catan, A Feast for Odin

Settlers of Catan with wooden components
Settlers of Catan by Klaus Teuber

Family Games

These are oftentimes mass-market board games you can find in supermarkets and bookstores, not just in specialized stores. Common qualities of these games are straightforward rules, usually a whimsical and non-aggressive theme, a relatively short play time (under 60 minutes), and an affordable price. Oftentimes, these are push-your-luck board games with lots of chaotic randomness.

Examples: Ticket to Ride, Pictionary, King of Tokyo

Ticket to Ride trains
Ticket to Ride – a great example of a modern family game without outdated mechanics

Fighting Games

Inspired by video games, fighting games pit two or more players in a tabletop conflict where the last man standing wins. The main characteristic of these games is the close combat format. Each player selects a character they’ll play and each character comes with their unique moves and skills.

Examples: BattleCON, Spartacus, Unmatched

Unmatched Cobble the Fog minis
Minis from unmatched – a duel between Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Mr Hyde, and the invisible man? Yes, please.

Miniature Games

Miniature games are considered one of the oldest types of board games. While many board games have miniatures (or minis) as playing pieces, the difference is that in miniature games, the models are the main components. Additionally, these games may require you to assemble and paint the minis before you can play, becoming a hobby within a hobby.

Examples: Warhammer40k, Age of Sigmar, Star Wars: X-Wing, Infinity

Nighthaunt from Age of Sigmar
Ghost minis from Age of Sigmar’s Nighthaunt army

One vs Many

One vs. Many is a genre of semi-cooperative games where one player competes against the rest. Not to be confused with RPGs where a player guides the experience, the one vs. many board games have that player directly involved, often armed with powerful abilities. These games frequently involve hidden movement mechanics and one-time power-ups, making them very thematic and cinematic.

Examples: Fury of Dracula, Letters from Whitechapel, Scotland Yard,

Fury of dracula board with minis
Fury of Dracula – a hidden movement classic

Party Games

These are quick, easy-to-teach board games, that can accommodate bigger groups of players. They’re a great fit for beginner board gamers due to their more casual nature and simple rules, but also a good choice when you haven’t got much time to play games as a round of party games usually takes no more than 20 minutes.

Examples: Codenames, Werewolf, Wavelength

Print-and-Play Games

Print-and-Play are board games that you’re expected to print out and assemble on your own. This is a type of board game that’s distributed digitally, usually in the form of PDF files. When acquiring a print-and-play game, you also need to provide your own dice, pawns, coins, or any other playing piece that’s not possible to create through a standard A4 printer.

Examples: Voyages, Monikers, Palm Island

Racing Games

Racing board games are the oldest tabletop game genre, dating back thousands of years to ancient Egypt. They are exciting and fast-paced games where players compete to reach the finish line first. In a typical racing game, players may roll dice or play cards to determine how far their playing piece can move on each turn, while also utilizing power-ups and special character abilities to gain an advantage over their opponents.

Examples: Camel Up, Heat: Pedal to the Metal, The Quest for El Dorado

Roll-and-Write Games

One of the fastest-growing board game categories is the roll-and-write games. Evolved from classic games like Yahtzee, these games also have you fill out a sheet of paper with numbers, colors, and symbols depending on your dice rolls. The genre has evolved in recent years to include cards (flip and write), tokens (draw and write), and other mechanisms for generating symbols. A lot of board games are getting their roll-and-write spinoffs due to the popularity of this genre.

Examples: That’s Pretty Clever, Railroad Ink, Cartographers

Social Deduction Games

Social deduction games are deduction-based board games where players are given a secret role before the round starts. During the game, players are required to communicate a lot and figure out which team the other players are on. They usually fall into the party game category due to their fast-paced nature and the fact that most social deduction games are designed for large groups.

Examples: Werewolf, Resistance, Blood on the Clocktower, BANG!

Wargames

Wargames are complex strategy games dealing with military operations, historical or fictional. Many games in this genre are massive, complicated games that take dozens of hours to complete, making them inaccessible to many players – The Campaign for North Africa is a notoriously long game, taking up to 60,000 hours to complete. Luckily, there are many quicker wargames now, and the genre is slowly becoming more accessible to beginners.

Examples: Undaunted, Root, War of the Ring

Worker Placement Games

A board game where each player selects their actions by placing a piece – called a worker – on the board. In a typical worker placement board game, there are a limited number of available spaces on the board, so players end up blocking each other while rushing to grab the best actions and resources. Worker placement board games, therefore, are typically considered eurogames, too, and are one of the most popular tabletop game genres right now.

Examples: Stone Age, Lords of Waterdeep, Everdell

Everdell board game
Everdell – one of our favorite worker placement games

Our Closing Thoughts

Armed with the knowledge from this article, you won’t be easily confused by board game terms the next time you go to game night. You’ll know exactly what to expect from the game. 

Understanding the various board game types can greatly enhance your gaming experience, especially if you’re just starting out. By knowing what to expect from each type, you can easily choose the games that suit your preferences and skill level and discover new ones that you may not have tried otherwise. 
Whether you prefer strategy, luck-based games, or cooperative board games, there’s a board game type out there that’s right for you. So next time you attend a game night or browse the shelves at your local game store, armed with the knowledge of board game types, you’ll be ready to dive in and explore the wonderful world of board games!

FAQ

  1. Do board games have genres?

    Yes, just like movies, books, and video games do. Genres, or types, are how we quickly describe board games based on how they play and their themes.

  2. How many types of board games are there?

    There are dozens of types of games right now and ingenious game designers are creating new types every once in a while. In this article alone we covered over 20 most popular and common game types.

  3. How do you categorize board games?

    Board games are usually categorized by how they are played, i.e. their mechanics. These are rules for how all the bits and pieces in the game box are supposed to be used and how they interact with each other. Depending on what mechanics, but also themes, are present in the game, it may be categorized into one or more genres described above.