Published on April 15th, 2013 | by Luke Turpeinen
Start at the Beginning
What a new board gamer needs to know
Most board gamers have a similar story: we played games at home with our families, grew out of them and then rediscovered good games that we never realized existed. What different kinds of games are out there and how can I tell them apart? Why don’t I just go out and buy all of Luke’s favorite games and just play those? Well, reader, I will shed light on those answers right now.
What kind of board games are out there?
If you’re just getting into board games, maybe you’ve just played the family staples plus Settlers of Catan, Munchkin, Fluxx, or Cards Against Humanity and you might not be aware of the wider types of games and their mechanics out there. I hope to alleviate some of that and tell you a bit about some popular game types. This is not meant to be an exhaustive or particularly in-depth look at game genres, instead it’s a beginner’s look at an ever growing game-scape.
Area Control: These types of games often have a battle/war element to them but they don’t have to. Area control games are about building up a pool of units/points in a specific area to gain a bonus. A popular example would be Risk, where you get bonus points for having control of a continent; or Alien Frontier, where you get special powers for having the most colonies in a zone.
Deckbuilding: Games that fall under this category typically use cards instead of boards (though not all do). Typically a player starts with a deck of 10 cards and uses points from their card draws to buy more cards to put into the deck. Strategies tend to be about optimizing possible hands while using some method of “attack” to disrupt other players. Dominion and Puzzle Strike are good examples of this type of game.
Worker Placement: This is a very broad category of games that runs a gamut of themes and has a number of variant sub-types. Essentially worker placement games are ones where each player has an amount of “workers” (though they may not be called that in-game) that they “place” to designate taking certain actions. Frequently, there aren’t enough spaces available to allow every player to take that action, making action order very important. Agricola and Caylus are probably the most widely known games using this mechanic, though the sub-type of “dice placement” games (such as Alien Frontier and Kingsburg) are gaining popularity as well.
Strategy: Probably one of the most widely known types of games, largely because of their success in being translated and complicated into video games. Strategy games are almost universally about units fighting each other in some war game simulation of varying complexity. This is so pervasive that I can’t think of an example that is not just that. While Risk or Axis & Allies may be the most widely known examples, they are but two games in a very large genre.
Cooperative: Not many games of my childhood invited cooperation. At best they didn’t encourage ruthless competitiveness (Operation, Life) but really do we need to teach children the cold harsh realities of selling mortgages to stave off bankruptcy so early? Cooperative games solve this problem by uniting players against the game itself in an effort to prevent some tragedy befalling them. Some cooperative games also set up scenarios that make being a secret traitor subtlety working against the group possible, but these rules are usually optional. Pandemic is the game that mostly started the co-op board game craze, though the Battlestar Galactica game is popular with people who like pretending to be toasters and cheating their human counterparts.
Set Collection: This kind of game is a little harder to define, but broadly, Set Collection games are ones in which you gather groups of things and turn them in for points. This may be like in 7 Wonders where you draft cards in three phases, completing sets that all scale differently depending on how hard it is to complete them. Glory to Rome could also be considered a set collection game for similar reasons though its mechanics tend to be more complicated.
Route / Network Building: These games are similar in a lot of ways to area control games. When route building, a player usually has to acquire a currency of sorts to place markers on the board, the more locations linked together, the higher your score. Ticket to Ride is an obvious example of route building, as is every train game that I can think of. Other variations include Power Grid where players are competing energy companies, or Hansa Teutonica where players are competing medieval merchants.
Party Games: This is a category of games you won’t see discussed much here, but the term is a useful one and may come up. Party games are usually more like activities than board games, though they may use a board. These games thrive more on interaction between people than they do on structured gameplay mechanics. Examples of party games are Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, Pictionary, Scattergories, Trivial Pursuit and Cranium.
Roll and Move: Lastly we have a genre that isn’t going to be discussed much on this site. Roll and Move games are almost completely confined to games intended to teach children how to count, how to take turns, and so on. Snakes and Ladders, Candyland, Sorry!, The Game of Life, Monopoly and every game where the majority of the gameplay is rolling dice and then moving a marker that many spaces. I assume most of our readers will be already familiar with these games and thus I personally won’t be discussing them often.
There are certainly more types of mechanics, and not every game will fall into these specific groups, but this is a broad list of very popular mechanics that anyone learning about board games will want to know! Do you have any other terms you’d like to see defined? Post them in the comments below!