Board Game Week: Understanding Hobby Game Terms

Credit: Kate Atkinson, Fishponds Gaming Group

Credit: Kate Atkinson, Fishponds Gaming Group

Like any hobby or industry, board gaming comes with its own set of jargon. When reading up on the topic or talking to more enthusiastic hobbyists, you may encounter terms that you don’t understand. Generally these refer to particular types of game. Here’s a guide to help you demystify the jargon, though bear in mind any definition and distinction is often subjective.

Most terms either refer to a broad type of game, or to its mechanics (the way the game works). Some of the types of games (which aren’t mutually exclusive) include the following.

Hobby games are those aimed at more dedicated players rather than families and are usually sold through specialist stores, in contrast with mass-market games (such as Clue or Risk).

Euro games take their name from the boom in hobby gaming that started with German publisher in the 1990s. Some of their main characteristics are defined in relation to a mass-market game: a Euro game usually has less luck involved, doesn’t put so much emphasis on direct conflict, and doesn’t usually have player elimination, so everyone plays until the end.

Ameritrash games are the other main form of hobby game. In contrast to Euro games they tend to have more player conflicts, put more emphasis on the theme, and often last longer and/or have more complex rules.

Gateway games are those which are viewed as a good way to introduce new players to hobby gaming. They’ll often be more complicated and sophisticated that mass market games but still easy to pick up and not too overwhelming. Often a gateway game will have at least one feature, such as being cooperative rather than competitive, that shows how hobby games can be very different when compared to mass-market games.

Social deduction games involve players taking on hidden roles (such as villagers or werewolves, or government or resistance) and trying to figure out who is who through discussion, accusations and bluffing.

Party games usually involve a shorter playing time, more players, quicker action and less complicated decision-making. Don’t be fooled however: a party game will often be deceptively challenging.

You may also see games defined by their mechanic. An easy way to think of this is that the mechanic refers to the particular type of decision-making that’s at the heart of the game. Most games involve multiple mechanics, but there’ll usually be one that’s dominant. There are dozens of mechanics terms in use, but some of the most common include the following.

Area Control. In these games players are usually moving or playing pieces into different areas around the board. At some point (either immediately or at the end of the game) the player with the most pieces in an area will gain a related reward or power. Key examples include El Grande and Twilight Struggle.

Auction or Bidding games involve players having a limited supply of game money and bidding for particular assets which they then use to earn rewards such as points. The challenge comes in not only working out how valuable the asset is to you but also to your rival players. Key examples include Power Grid and For Sale.

Card Driven Games are usually themed around a real military or political conflict. The main deck of cards involves an actual historical event, with the deck often setup so that the cards are drawn in a broadly chronological order. Players usually have the option of playing the card as an event, which will benefit or harm the two sides in a historically relevant manner, or for a points value, for example allowing them to place resources on a map such as in winning a battle or competing for votes. Key examples include Twilight Struggle and 1960: Making Of A President.

Deck Building games involve players starting with a hand (deck) of action cards which they use to play each round. Over the course of the game they’ll either buy or trade for new cards, thus hopefully improving their deck and in turn improving their options for future rounds. Winning often involves combining cards in the best way. Key examples include Dominion and Friday.

Engine. An engine isn’t a game mechanism as such, but rather a strategy that some games implicitly encourage. It usually involves setting up a combination of cards or other assets that creates a chain reaction where one event triggers another which triggers another, each bringing a reward or helping make the final step affordable. Usually an engine’s sequence can be repeated from round to round. Key examples include Imperial Settlers and (at certain stages) Scythe.

Pickup and Deliver is as the name suggests: players are rewarded for moving an asset from one position on the board to another, often based on a trading theme. There’ll often be a higher reward for more complicated “trips” that carry a greater risk of being blocked or interrupted. Key examples include Istanbul and Firefly.

Press Your Luck (or Push Your Luck.) In these games players repeat an action involving luck (such as rolling dice or drawing cards) and face the choice of settling for the reward they’ve earned so far or having another go of risking it for more reward. Key examples include King of Tokyo and Celestia.

Simultaneous Action means players don’t take turns. Instead they each secretly pick their action for the round and reveal them at once. This means players have to anticipate and predict their opponent’s actions rather than react to them, and may have to gamble on a rewarding action working out as planned. Simultaneous action games that involve selecting multiple turns in advance are sometimes called Action Programming. Key examples include 7 Wonders and Race for the Galaxy.

Worker placement. The name comes from some games where you are literally placing meeples (tokens representing humans) but it’s a somewhat misleading term. Usually a worker placement game involves rounds in which there’s a certain range of actions available to the players to help them achieve their various aims. Players will take it in turn to claim the right to use each action in a round, sometimes doing so more to stop another player than helping themselves. Key examples include Agricola and Terra Mystica.

For tomorrow’s article, we’ll show you the best way to teach games to new players.

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