What Is a Board Game? Introduction to the World of Tabletop Fun

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Board games are a timeless form of entertainment that bring people of all ages together for fun and a bit of friendly competition. These games, which can be played by one or more players, come in a variety of themes and styles, ranging from strategy games to luck-based ones. 

Whether you’re a seasoned gamer or a newcomer, board games offer a unique form of social interaction and a way to test your skills. They can be played from the comfort of your home or in a board game cafe. But, what are they exactly, and what do you need to know about them?

What Is a Board Game?

You’d think that board games have a clean and simple explanation. After all, the answer is in the name, right? Well, the name “board game” can be a bit misleading. There isn’t a single board game definition that explains the term properly. The most popular definition considers all games being played on a board to be board games. While this definition isn’t wrong, it’s not entirely true. 

Board games don’t have to be strictly played on the board; a good example of this is various card games like Exploding Kittens or Cards Against Humanity. In such cases, the area the game is played on can be considered a game board. In most cases, that will be some sort of table. Before you ask, wouldn’t that make it a tabletop game? Well, yes, but actually no. 

Board games are a subcategory of tabletop games. And just like there are different types of board games, you have different types of tabletop games, which split into their own subcategories, but this is a story for another time. So, what exactly is a board game?

A board game is a game that is played for fun or competition, and it can range from simple titles for children to complex strategy games for adults. It can be played alone or with others, and while most utilize a board in some way, not all of them require one. A typical board game would include a board, tokens, cards, dice, or other interactable game objects that the players use according to the game rules. Most importantly, unlike some tabletop games, you get everything you need to play a game inside the game box. 

Was it always this complicated? The short answer is yes.

How Have Board Games Changed Over Time

Board games have evolved significantly since ancient times. Still, some elements, such as playing on a board or in a special gaming area, and having tokens and dice, are still present in modern games. But who invented the first board game and started this craze? It was the sand-dwelling and cat-loving nation of Egypt, of course. 

aliens
Or is it?

The oldest board game played, according to findings, is the ancient board game called Senet (3100 BCE). While no records of the game’s rules survived, scientists concluded that this, like many other early board games, was a racing game. We also know this only because at one point the game gained religious status, and from the surviving records, we know that it started to represent a journey of one’s Ka to the afterlife. 

This wasn’t that uncommon in the old days. Nearly all board games in ancient times, at one point or another, had religious significance. Even the fairly modern game of Snakes and Ladders started as a religious and educational teaching tool in India. In the 21st century, while not as prevalent as before, you can still find board games with a religious theme. 

Over time, racing games gradually fell out of favor in courts and royal residences and were replaced by strategy games such as chess and Go. They weren’t completely forgotten, though, as they were still being played by kids and common people, but the gentry took to strategic games instead.  For example, Go was considered a must for any Chinese gentleman scholar.

Until the twentieth century, most board games you could find were either racing or strategy games. With the increase in wealth and leisure time of the middle class, the board game industry saw a boom and gave rise to popular board games like Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, and the like. 

Fast forward to the 21st century, and board games are all over the place. Around 3,000 new board games are created each year. If you wanted to play all of them, you would have to play 8.3 games each day, which is more than even the biggest diehards among us can Before, when board games weren’t a commodity anyone could buy at the store, we had problems finding one to play. Today, we have trouble finding what to play.

Most Popular Types of Board Games

Not only do you have over 140,000 board games to choose from, but also over 20 different types of games, ranging from family titles to adult games. Keep in mind that most games can be lumped into several categories at once, so it’s not uncommon for a game to be a racing game but also a worker placement game.

The most popular types are: 

  • Amerigames
  • Eurogames
  • Family Games
  • Party Games

Amerigames and Eurogames don’t just represent a type of game but also a style. As you’ve probably guessed already, the names represent the continent from which the game originated, and you’ll soon see how the board game ideas developed differently on the new and the old continent. 

The Amerigames (North American board games), also known as Ameritrash, tend to rely more on luck rather than skill, but they come with rich art design, better miniatures, and vivid boards designed to immerse players in the game. On the other end, you have Eurogames (German-style board games), which are primarily based on skill and use simple-shaped objects like cubes and cylinders as tokens and feature fairly simplistic boards. 

Most Eurogames are worker placement games where people compete against each other but without backstabbing or elimination from the game. By contrast, in Amerigames, those two elements are often present and may even be the centerpiece of the game. 

Family and party games are very similar but cater to different audiences. Both of them use a simple game mechanic and are meant to be played by people who don’t play board games often, and this is where the similarities end. 

Party games can have more than eight players, whereas family games are typically for up to eight people and must be kid-friendly. So, no depictions of violence or anything of the sort. These restrictions do not apply to party games, which frequently cover more serious topics or include NSFW expansions. 

Most Popular Board Games

You’d think that NSFW board games are the most popular out there, but you’d be wrong. According to BoardGameGeek (BGG), the most popular board games played today are: 

brass birmingham

1. Brass: Birmingham (2018; eurogame) is an economic strategy game placed in Birmingham during the Industrial Revolution where players compete to build the most successful industrial enterprise. The game isn’t only the most popular board game, but it also won numerous rewards including the 2020 Gra Roku Game of the Year award. Finally, there is a consensus between the general public and the critics, as both love this game.

pandemic legacy

2. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (2015; legacy, co-op) is a co-op campaign game where players are trying to combat the spread of diseases and find a cure before it’s too late. You would think that people have had enough of pandemics, but this one is still going strong despite the recent events.

gloomhaven

3. Gloomhaven (2017; dungeon crawl) is a dungeon crawler where up to four players go on an epic campaign where they try to finish their individual goals while at the same time gaining XP, items, and gold. There’s no point in adventuring if you can’t open a tavern with funds from your monster-slaying antics at the end of it all. 

ark nova

4. Ark Nova (2021; eurogame) pits up to four zoo managers in a race to build the most scientifically managed zoo. The point of your zoo won’t be to earn money or have the most visitors. The point is to help the animals by supporting conservation projects across the globe. The game recently won the prestigious As d’Or Game of the Year 2023 award in the Expert category. 

twilight imperium

5. Twilight Imperium: Fourth Edition (2017; 4X, amerigame) takes the players far away from Earth and puts them in charge of a galactic empire that is trying to become the new master of the galaxy. The problem is, they aren’t the only ones trying. The players compete to take the planet Mecatol Rex, which is located in the center of the galaxy. The one who holds it will rule the galaxy. 

Benefits of Board Games

Board games today, like the earliest known board games in human history, are played for fun. While we can recognize the obvious benefits like socializing and relaxation, scientists have identified additional benefits to playing board games. These are:

  1. Cognitive development: Many board games involve problem-solving, critical thinking, and strategic planning, which can enhance cognitive skills and mental agility. This can help the elderly maintain their cognitive skills, and kids develop them early. 
  2. Stress relief: Engaging in a fun and relaxing activity like playing a board game can help reduce stress and promote overall well-being.
  3. Improved communication: Board games often require players to communicate effectively and collaborate towards a common goal, which can improve communication skills and teamwork.
  4. Entertainment: Board games offer a fun and engaging way to pass the time and provide an alternative to computer games and other video content.
  5. Education: Some board games are designed to teach specific concepts, such as history, geography, or math, making learning fun and interactive.
  6. Family bonding: Playing board games with family members can create a shared experience and help strengthen family bonds.
  7. Creativity: Some board games encourage creativity and imagination, allowing players to express themselves and think outside the box.

Conclusion

Board games have been popular since the dawn of civilization and continue to be so today, despite the abundance of gadgets and gizmos that are these days competing with them for our attention. They have managed to accomplish this feat without fundamentally changing the key aspects of the game throughout the years.

From the earliest board games to the most recent ones, many games still contain game boards, some kind of dice, and game pieces. The only thing that really changed was that they are now easily accessible to everyone, and there are a lot more of them. Truly, we are living in the golden age of board games. 

FAQ

  1. What are board games examples?

    Good examples of board games are Chess, Monopoly, Risk, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Clue, and Cards Against Humanity.

  2. What is defined as a board game?

    Any game played on the board can be considered a board game, but, ironically, board games don’t always have to be played on a board. Some can be played on any clean surface, like a table, for example.

  3. What is a board game used for?

    Board games help us relax and socialize, but they also have some additional benefits, especially when it comes to children’s cognitive development.