The Jargon – Board Game Edition
I’m doing something that’s a bit different style, I realize that there can be a lot of terms for various nerdy hobbies that might be a bit confusing. So I wanted to, for board games, run through what some of these terms are, if they describe games, give an example of what sort of games are in that genre. It might give you a unique vocabulary to better talk about games, it might help you realize what the exact genre of game is that you like the best and what you want to get more of, and it might just be a long list of words, which isn’t all that exciting, but anyways. Here’s the jargon of board gaming, or at least some of it.
Starting with the most popular
Roll and Write: This is a genre of board game where you are rolling dice and then filling in numbers, lines, areas, of a game board that is probably just your game board to try and get a higher score than other players. The original example of this game is Yahtzee. Yes, roll and write is that simple of a genre, but it’s having a huge moment now with the biggest game being a German game, Ganz Schong Clever. They’ve evolved past Yahtzee in their scoring, and while it’s a genre I haven’t gotten into, they tend to be a bit more clever in their game play versus Yahtzee which is just telling you the numbers.
Then moving to the classic
Euro Gaming: The next is also a genre of games, they can also often be called worker placement games, though that is a slightly separate genre. These games are the ones where the result of the game all comes down to math. You can figure out an optimal strategy and there isn’t going to be all that much that can be done to stop that strategy. They started to change that, as of late, with making the boards tighter so that you had to plan out things a bit more or taking it away from everyone having to do everything to score enough points to win.
Point Salad: I wanted to put this one next to Euro gaming as a lot of them can be point salads. What this means, is like a salad, you can have a ton of different things in there. So in a game, that means you are scoring points at the end of the game in six or seven different categories that make up your total score. Games like Five Tribes and Seven Wonders are two prime examples of those games. It allows you to customize your winning strategy based on another a things.
And now to one that’s more a favorite
Card Drafting: Card drafting can be a mechanic in a game or the basis of some games. The idea is that you have a hand of cards, you are selecting one card from that hand to play and then passing it on to the next player who is selecting a card from that hand either until all the cards have been played, or there is one left in the hand. This can be done several hands during a game, or it can be a lesser part of the game, maybe just at the start of the game. Two games that use it as the basis of the game are Sushi Go! Party and Seven Wonders. In those games, drafting is the whole game as you’re trying to make sets and score points based off of different criteria. A game like Blood Rage uses it at the beginning of each age to help you strategize and then you play with those cards, it’s similar in Near and Far where you draft cards at the start of the game.
Hate Drafting: So, clearly tied into the one above. Normally when you are drafting, you want to draft cards that are best for you. But in games like Sushi Go! Party and Seven Wonders, you will have an idea of what the other players want or need, so you might draft a card that doesn’t really help you, but it stops other players. Generally, this isn’t a great strategy for the person doing it, unless all the cards are equally as bad for them, but sometimes you do it to stop a large number of points just to keep yourself in the game.
The another genre that was popular and still is going strong
Deck Building: It’s a genre that has cooled off a little bit, probably more so because there are fewer games coming out in the genre that are new, and more expansions instead for older games. In these games, you have a base deck, or some resources to start buying cards, that builds up your hand and your deck. So by the end of each game, the players deck is personalized to them. The biggest game in this genre is Dominion. It has a pasted on theme of medieval times and is really about quickly drawing cards, getting money, and buying victory points. There have been a lot of games since Dominion got the genre to take off that have come out like Marvel Legendary, Xenoshyft, Hogwarts Battle, Clank!, and many more. This also can include games like Arkham Horror LCG and Magic the Gathering. They take it a slightly different way in that you are building your deck before the game is played, but the deck can still be customized to what you want.
Abstract Game: These tend to be the logic based and puzzle based games. A game like Quoridor or Blokus fall into the abstract game. It’s about thinking through and figuring out the puzzle for your given game situation. They also tend to have little theme on them, or if there is theme, it’s pasted on and there is disconnect between the theme of the game and the mechanics of the game. Dominion is a solid example of a game that could be an abstract game without any theme and it would still function just as well, but the theme makes it a more visually appealing game.
That takes us to one of the last overarching genres
Ameri-trash/thrash: It’s really Ameri-trash, but Ameri-thrash is more fun to say. These games are all about theme, whereas a lot of Euro games, their big genre counterpart, focus in on a lot of minute details and figuring out logically how to win, Ameri-trash have more luck involved. They also tend to be a lot more steeped in theme and have theme tying into the mechanics of the board game. Games like Gloomhaven or Near and Far are two prime examples. Ameri-trash games also have more randomness in their games. While Gloomhaven doesn’t have too much randomness, for Near and Far, you are rolling a die quite often to find out if you can complete a skill challenge or win a fight. You see the randomness more so in dungeon crawl sorts of games, such as Star Wars: Imperial Assault.
Gloomhaven takes us into another genre of game as well
Cooperative or Coop: These games are as they sound, you are all playing together on the same team and playing against the game to see if you can beat it or not. There’s no special mechanical piece that is tied into this, beyond that you are all on the game team. The game that caused this genre to take off was Pandemic which has come out with a ton of version and variations on the base game. Gloomhaven and Star Wars: Imperial Assault are also games that fit this genre, but Imperial Assault only does because of an app, before it fit into another genre.
One versus All: This is the other genre. Classic RPG’s fall into this as well as dungeon crawl board games. In these games one player is playing the bad guys, or the antagonists, and everyone else is playing cooperatively against them. In an RPG, that is going to be the game or the dungeon master and it’s a similar situation in dungeon crawl games. So Star Wars: Imperial Assasult, can be played as a dungeon crawl where one person plays the imperial characters and the other players play the heroes against the bad guys. The app changes that so that no one has to miss out on the story. There are also other games that don’t fit into either the RPG or dungeon crawl genres, like Not Alone where one person controls a monster that is trying to track down all the red shirts from a crashed alien ship.
I probably should define this category next
Dungeon Crawl: I’ve mentioned it a few times, so you probably have some idea what this is, so I’ll talk about it fast. This is a game where you are going through a scenario or going up against bad guys moving through a game board, exploring new areas, and trying to complete some objective(s). Games like Gloomhaven, Descent, and Star Wars: Imperial Assault fall into this genre. You might be thinking that you don’t remember any dungeons or many in Star Wars, but that’s more of a genre given name now that a specific.
Back to more coop games for a second
Semi-Cooperative Games (Hidden Traitor): This is a genre that is closely related to cooperative games and probably wouldn’t be as strong if it wasn’t for cooperative games. In these games you are basically playing a cooperative game where all the players have the same objective. That is, all of them but one (or more depending on the game). Those players are trying to sabotage the mission for the players or have their own objective. However, they are trying to not be found out. Games like Dead of Winter, Shadows over Camelot, and Battlestar Galactica are the biggest in the genre that really needs to get more games.
Social Deduction: This is the category that seems to be stealing a lot of the hidden traitor games. In these games, you have players who are in secret roles and you are trying to figure out who the werewolves, fascists, cannibals, or whatever the games theme says the bad guys are. It is similar in some ways to a hidden traitor game but there is one huge difference. These games are built around trying to draw out that information and all the mechanics are around that deduction piece. So games like One Night Ultimate Werewolf, The Resistance (Avalon), Donner Dinner Party, and Secret Hitler are all examples of this, but the best one, in my opinion, is Deception: Murder in Hong Kong as there is more game to it than games like One Night Ultimate Werewolf or The Resistance.
That brings me to one final trio of definitions. There are so many more things that I could write about, and I might do a part two, but this will be enough for now.
Light Weight: Probably an area that I could have described games sooner, but games are generally put into three different categories of weight, though the last one you never really hear the weight added to it. A light weight game is going to be a game with fewer rules and fewer options in the game. There can still be more strategy to the game, but it’s simple to sit down and play that game. weight in game can refer to strategy, complexity of the rules, and length of set-up/number of fiddly bits, but generally mainly the first two. Games like Splendor and Ticket to Ride are light weight games to me. While they are a bit more complex than the standard of Monopoly, they don’t offer that much strategy and complexity. Interestingly enough, a strategy abstract game like Quoridor also falls into this category even though it has a lot of strategy and thinking too it, because the rules and game play are very simple.
Medium Weight: Medium weight games are, shockingly, a step up from light weight games. They are going to offer more complexity in their interactions. You have to think through more of what you are going to do, and you can plan out multiple turns, but are more apt to have to adjust on the fly. They still aren’t getting into the area where they are too mathy or too much strategy where you are having to plan out a lot of turns in advance. Five Tribes is a great example of this where you have a number of decisions and options that you can do, and someone can take your move from you but also might not. Century Road: Golem Edition, is another game that is a bit on the lighter side of medium weight games, but builds up good strategy in the game and gives you quite a number of options.
Heavy: Heavy games are steeped in strategy and complexity of the game. A game like Gloomhaven falls into their category. There are a lot of rules to keep track of, there are a lot of little fiddly bits, there’s a lot of set-up, and there’s a lot of strategy. A lot of larger Euro games also fall into this category because you have to figure out what is going to be your best possible turn to get the most possible points from the game. I do want to point out that these games don’t always have to be the hardest games to play, once you know how to play t hem but they can often be more difficult to learn and have strategy that you need to know to be able to play the game well.
There are a lot of definitions, are there some terms that I’ve missed (or haven’t gotten to yet), that you are curious about?
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