What Is a Meeple? The Tiny Hero of the Tabletop World

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Welcome, fellow tabletop enthusiasts! Whether you are a newcomer or a veteran player, you’ve likely encountered a curious little game piece called a “meeple” during your board gaming adventures. 

These tiny heroes have been helping gamers conquer the tabletop world for decades. But what is a meeple exactly? Where did the term come from? And what board games have some of the most charming ones? Strap in for a fun, meeple-filled history lesson!

Meeple: Definition

Meeples are typically small, person-shaped figures, often made from wood, while some board games use plastic or even metal pieces. The classic meeple design features a simple, stylized human shape with a rounded head, arms, and legs. This iconic meeple shape is easily recognizable, making it a popular choice for many modern board games.

The term “meeple” is a blend of the words “my” and “people.” It was coined in 2000 by Alison Hansel after playing Carcassone with some friends and posting about it on BGG. The word quickly caught on in the board gaming community and it was even added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2015. 

Meeples in Board Game History

While the word “meeple” may have gained popularity in the early 2000s, these game pieces have been around for much longer. The use of small, human-like figures can be traced back to ancient board games, such as the Egyptian game Senet, played around 3100 BCE.

Modern meeples made their first appearance in European games in the late 20th century. These early meeples, as you can imagine, were simplistic and generic, serving as basic pawns for moving around the board. However, as board games evolved and became more thematic, so did the meeples reflecting the game’s setting. 

Nowadays, meeples come in various shapes, sizes, and colors, which can range from the classic humanoid shape to more thematic representations such as animals, vehicles, or other fantastical creatures. From the meeples’ simple beginnings, they have become an iconic part of modern board games and a beloved symbol of the hobby.

The First Game to Feature Meeples

While the exact origin of the meeple as a game piece is difficult to pinpoint, Carcassonne is widely recognized as the first modern board game to popularize the term and make the small person-shaped figure a staple of board gaming. Since then, meeples have become synonymous with board games, and their presence can be found in countless board game titles.

Are Meeples Copyrighted?

The iconic shape of the classic meeple is so closely associated with board gaming that we wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried to copyright the design. However, since meeple has such a basic and familiar form, it’s hard for it to be considered an original work that could be subject to copyright. 

Still, if you are considering making your own board game and you are thinking of using meeples, it would be a good idea to change their design at least a bit. You’ll see that some games have interesting takes on the familiar symbol of the hobby, with countless variations and adaptations. 

Beyond Meeples: Dice, Tokens, and Play

Of course, meeples are just one of many components that make up the world of board gaming. Dice, tokens, and other playing pieces all contribute to the rich tapestry of modern board games, offering endless opportunities for creativity, strategy, and fun. Tokens are used to track a player’s score, and progress, or to represent resources while meeples are generally used in eurogames to show a player’s workforce.

For instance, we loved how Lost Ruins of Arnak uses meeples that have Indiana-Jones-looking hats, while the game itself has amazing tokens like ancient stone tablets, arrowheads, and rubies. Modern designers, like CGE, have pushed their imagination from simple wooden figures and found imaginative ways in which meeples and other game components are used to enhance our favorite tabletop pastimes. 

Carcassone and Other Games With Iconic Meeples

As you’ll see from our examples, the diversity of these board games highlights the flexibility of meeples as playing pieces. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting and iconic examples of meeples in well-known board games.

1. Carcassonne

Carcassonne meeple

The birthplace of the term “meeple,” Carcassonne is a tile-laying game, where players build a medieval landscape filled with cities, roads, and monasteries. The classic humanoid meeple is used to represent a player’s followers, who are placed on tiles to claim points as the game progresses.

2. Agricola

Agricola meeples

This farming and resource management game uses meeples to represent family members who work the land, gather resources, and expand the farm. In addition to the standard humanoid meeples, Agricola features adorable wooden animals like cows, pigs, and sheep.

3. Root

Root meeples

Don’t be fooled by some of the cutest animal meeples you’ll ever see in a board game. In this cut-throat asymmetric title, players control one of several woodland factions vying for dominance in the forest. Each faction’s meeples are uniquely shaped, ranging from the charming Marquise de Cat’s feline warriors (orange pieces) to the woodland creatures of the Eyrie Dynasties (blue meeples).

4. Raiders of the North Sea

Raiders of the North Sea meeples

Who said that a game with mighty Vikings plundering their neighbors can’t look cute? The game has one of the most adorable Viking meeples with over-the-top horned helmets so you can look your best while you’re stealing cows and riches. Just remember, a happy meeple Viking is a rich one with a belly full of mead. 

5. Everdell

everdell meeples

You are gonna love meeples that Everdell uses for its workers. The base game comes with squirrels, hedgehogs, rabbits, and turtles, which all add greatly to the enchanting world and its fairy tale theme.

6. Tiny Epic Zombies

Tiny Epic Zombies meeples

What’s not to like about meeples that you can arm with various equipment to fight the zombie menace? You can even have them ride a motorcycle, truly taking the meeple concept to a new level of detail.

7. Meeple Circus

meeple circus components

What if you could stack meeples on each other and make a game out of it? That’s exactly what meeple circus is. You’ll find our favorite wooden components of all shapes and sizes in this entertaining dexterity game.

Customizing Your Board Games

If you like some games in particular and would like to breathe new life into them, consider using game components from third-party manufacturers. These companies specialize in creating beautifully detailed meeples and components. 

Alternatively, you can find talented creators on Etsy that offer a wide variety of options, allowing you to personalize your favorite game with unique, eye-catching components. From intricately designed meeples with decals or engravings to custom tokens and game pieces, you can elevate the overall aesthetic of the games you love.

Conclusion

Meeples have become an integral part of the tabletop gaming experience, adding personality, charm, and a sense of immersion to countless games. From the simple human-shaped pawns of Carcassonne to the fantastical creatures of Root, meeples help bring the stories and worlds of our favorite board games to life.

These tiny heroes have come a long way since their humble beginnings and continue to evolve alongside the ever-expanding board gaming industry. Whether you’re a seasoned gamer or a newcomer to the hobby, meeples offer a fun and engaging way to connect with the games you love. So, gather your friends, pick your favorite piece color, and let the games begin!

FAQ

  1. What does a meeple mean?

    A meeple is a small game piece, usually humanoid-shaped, used to represent a player’s character or pawn in various board games. The term “meeple” is a blend of the words “my” and “people.”

  2. Where did the term meeple come from?

    The word “meeple” is used to describe the wooden figures used in Carcassonne. It was coined by Alison Hansel who played the beloved game and affectionately called her wooden player tokens meeples. The word quickly caught on in the gaming community and has since become a widely recognized (and used) term.

  3. What are Meeples used for?

    Meeples are used to represent a player or player’s worker on a game board. They are mostly used in eurogames and serve various purposes, such as claiming territories, collecting resources, or tracking progress. 

  4. What are Meeples made of?

    Meeples are typically created from wood or plastic, although they can also be made from other materials such as metal or resin (which is quite rare). Wooden meeples are the most traditional ones and are often preferred for their tactile feel and classic appearance.