Board Game Dictionary



Abstract Strategy Game: Abstract Strategy games are often (but not always):

  • theme-less (without storyline)
  • built on simple and/or straightforward design and mechanics
  • perfect information games
  • games that promote one player overtaking their opponent(s)
  • little to no elements of luck, chance, or random occurrence

Action Point System: In Action Point (AP) Allowance System games, each player is allotted a certain amount of points per round. These points can be spent on available actions, until the player does not have enough remaining to “purchase” any more actions. This method grants the player greater freedom over how to execute his or her options. Pandemic is an example of a game that uses this mechanic. In Pandemic, players are given 4 action points to be allocated between several actions: Movement, Air Travel, Special Action, and Special Ability.

Action/Movement Programming: In programming, every player must secretly choose the next ‘n’ turns, and then each player plays their turns out according to the choices made. A game has the programming mechanic if it provides choice of actions, preferably several, with a mechanism of executing those actions such that things could go spectacularly or amusingly wrong, because the status of the game changed in ways one did not anticipate, or hoped would not happen, before the action is executed.

Alpha Player: Also called, “Quarterbacking” and “leader effect.” In a derogatory sense, it is where one player tends to take the lead and may boss others around, telling them how to play. This has been a common complaint to Cooperative games in general. In a positive sense, it can also refer to a true leader who would listen to the group and guide them to consensus, share insights, teach others to see the angles and develop a team mentality.

Ameritrash/Amerithrash: “a catchphrase for ‘American style boardgames.’ In general, this means games that emphasize a highly developed theme, characters, heroes, or factions with individually defined abilities, player to player conflict, and usually feature a moderate to high level of luck.”

Analysis Paralysis: When overanalysis and mini/maxing increase the downtime in a game beyond a desirable level. Sometimes abbreviated as AP.

Area Control: The Area Control mechanic typically awards control of an area to the player that has the majority of units or influence in that area. As such, it can be viewed as a sub-category of Auction/Bidding in that players can up their “bids” for specific areas through the placement of units or meeples.


Balance:  1. The way in which elements of a game are equalized relative to each player. Often balance is established by giving all players similar starting positions and maintained by using mechanisms to hurt the apparent leader or help the likely loser.
2.  The state of a game where equally skilled players have a roughly equal chance of winning the game regardless of starting position, turn order, etc. Does not imply equality between the sides–a game like Ogre, where one side has a single huge tank vs. a side with many small ones can be considered balanced if both sides have an equal chance of winning.
3.  To modify the opening setup of a game in order to create a more equal starting position. Bidding for sides is a common way of balancing a game.

Betting/Wagering: Betting/Wagering games are games that encourage or require players to bet money (real or in-game) on certain outcomes within the game. The betting itself becomes part of the game. This mechanic is most commonly associated with Poker.

The Commodity Speculation mechanic is also a type of betting, in which in-game money is bet on different commodities in hope that that particular commodity will become the most valuable as the game progresses.

Bluffing Game: Bluffing games encourage players to use deception to achieve their aims. All Bluffing games have an element of hidden information in them.


Card Drafting: Card drafting games are games where players pick cards from a limited subset, such as a common pool, to gain some advantage (immediate or longterm) or to assemble hands of cards that are used to meet objectives within the game. Ticket to Ride is a well-known card drafting game.

Games where cards are simply drawn from a pile are not card drafting games – drafting implies that players have some sort of choice. In Ticket to Ride, players can choose to draw random cards. If they could only draw random cards however, it wouldn’t be drafting.

CCG: Abbreviation for Collectible Card Game. This type of game uses a basic rule structure and a large assortment of cards which each have characteristics that contradict or supplement the basic rules. Each player selects a number of cards that they own to create a deck which they use in the game. This allows players to predetermine their strategies. The game rules define how many cards must be used and how many copies of each single card are allowed. Cards are sold in “booster packs”. The original collectible card game was Magic: The Gathering.

Co-operative Play: Co-operative play encourages or requires players to work together to beat the game. There is little or no competition between players. Either the players win the game by reaching a predetermined objective, or all players lose the game, often by not reaching the objective before a certain event happens.


D6: Common abbreviation for ‘six-sided die’. Similarly D8 refers to ‘eight-sided die’. d10, d12, and d20 are also common terms. A pair of six-sided dice is sometimes called 2D6. These abbreviations are most common in RPGs and wargames.

Deck/Pool Building: Deck / Pool Building is a mechanism in which players start the game with a pre-determined set of cards / player pieces and add and change those pieces over the course of the game. Many deck-building games provide the players with a currency that they use to “buy” new items that are integrated into the deck or pool. These new resources generally expand the capabilities of the player and allow the player to build an “engine” to drive their future plays in the course of the game. This mechanism describes something that happens in play during the game as a function of the game, not customization of the game from a body of cards prior to play.

Dexterity Game: Dexterity games often compete players’ physical reflexes and co-ordination as a determinant of overall success.


Economic Game: Economic games encourage players to develop and manage a system of production, distribution, trade, and/or consumption of goods. The games usually simulate a market in some way. The term is often used interchangeably with resource management games.

Euro Game: A Eurogame, also called a German-style board game, German game, or Euro-style game, is a class of tabletop games that generally have indirect player interaction and abstract physical components. Euro-style games emphasize strategy while downplaying luck and conflict. They tend to have economic themes rather than military and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.

Expansion: Expansion for Base-game games are sets of additional components and rules for expanding on an original base game. An expansion cannot be played alone; they must be used in conjunction with the base game.


Fan Expansion: “Fan expansion” term for an enhancement made by people other than a base game’s designers or publishers. In other words, these are “unofficial” works.

Fighting: Fighting games are those that encourage players to engage game characters in close quarter battles and hand-to-hand combat. Fighting games differ from War games in that the combat in War games exists as one part of a large-scale military simulation, while in Fighting games the focus is on the particular combat scenarios.

FLGS: Abbreviation for “Friendly Local Game Store”. This represents a “brick and mortar” game store as opposed to an on-line establishment, and normally will also exclude large (and hence less friendly) stores like Target and Wal-Mart.


Game Master (GM): Abbreviation for Game Master or Game Moderator or Game Manager–a person who facilitates a game or tournament. GMs are most common in co-operative games and role playing games where players work together against the GM or a GM created scenario. GM’s are also common at conventions where they may teach new players a game or run a tournament.

Game System: A Game System is an item whose components are not a game, per se, but are used to play games. Examples include Piecepack, Decktet, and Shibumi. Items that describe a single game or a game that has a set of scenarios are generally not regarded as a games system.

Gateway Game: A game with simple rules that are easy to teach non-gamers in order to attract new players into boardgaming as a hobby.

Grid Movement: The Grid Movement occurs when pawns move on the grid in many directions. Usually the grid is square (like in Chess) or hexagonal (Abalone). In a game there can be many pawns (like in Chess or Checkers) or only one (like the bishop in Fresco).


Hand Management: Hand management games are games with cards in them that reward players for playing the cards in certain sequences or groups. The optimal sequence/grouping may vary, depending on board position, cards held and cards played by opponents. Managing your hand means gaining the most value out of available cards under given circumstances. Cards often have multiple uses in the game, further obfuscating an “optimal” sequence. Hand management has no relationship to action/dexterity.

Heavy: Having very complex rules and/or complex strategies that require deep thought, careful planning, and long playing times.

Hex and Counter: Classic war game mechanic, played with ‘Counters’ on a map with an Hexagonal grid allowing to move the counters in more directions (6) as opposed to a square grid with only four directions. Counters are commonly thick cardboard chit, with printed attributes and identification.


Industry/Manufacturing: Industry / Manufacturing games encourage players to build, manage and/or operate tools and machinery in order to manufacture raw materials into goods and products. Many of the most popular Industry / Manufacturing games are Economic games as well.



Kingmaker: A player, himself in a losing position, that has the power to decide who will win a given game.


LCG: A Fantasy Flight Games trademark for Collectible Card Games (CCGs) sold in non-random booster packs.

Light: Having very simple rules and strategies that do not require deep thought. Also can be used to describe a game with an extremely short playing time.

Line Drawing: Games using the line drawing mechanic involve the drawing of lines in one way or another. Lines may be used to connect objects as in Sprouts, to isolate objects, or to create areas as in the classic Dots and Dashes, also known as Square-it.

Ludology: The study of games and gaming.


Mass Market Game: A game often sold by mass market retailers, like WalMart, Toys ‘R’ Us or Target. Hasbro (Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley) and Mattel are large manufacturers of mass market games. Examples: Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, Uno, etc.

Meeple: “Meeples” is a term that describes anthropomorphic playing pieces in games, originally used to describe those used in Carcassonne. It is now more broadly used to refer to nearly any pawn or figure in a game.

Miniatures Game: Miniatures games are games in which miniatures are used to stage the game scenes. In such games, miniatures are the key components, and the playing represents the miniature’s surroundings. Not all games that use miniatures as components are miniature games.

Modular Board: Play occurs upon a modular board that is composed of multiple pieces, often tiles or cards. In many games, board placement is randomized, leading to different possibilities for strategy and exploration. Some games in this category have multiple boards which are not used simultaneously, preserving table space. Unused boards remain out of play until they are required.


Negotiation: Negotiation games explicitly involve and encourage making deals and alliances with other players and backstabbing when appropriate. Winning is rare without participating in these deals. Unlike cooperative games, Negotiation games are still largely competitive, while granting players certain times to make mutual agreements through discussion.

Negotiation also includes bribery, such as is used in Santiago or Power Struggle. In these situations, the negotiation is in the form of a naked offer, which can be accepted or declined.


OLGS: Abbreviation for “On-Line Game Store”


Paper-and-Pencil: The game is developed using paper and pen to mark and save responses or attributes that, at the end of the game, are used to score points and determine the winner. A game that merely keeps track of score on a sheet of paper does not use a paper-and-pencil mechanism.

Party Game: Party games are games that encourage social interaction. They generally have easy setups and simple rules, and they can accommodate large groups of people and play in a short amount of time.

Pattern Building: Pattern Building is a system where players place game components in specific patterns in order to gain specific or variable game results. For example: placing chips on 2, 4, 6, 8 on a board gets the player an action card they can use later in the game.

Pick-up and Deliver: This mechanic usually requires players to pick up an item or good at one location on the playing board and bring it to another location on the playing board. Initial placement of the item can be either predetermined or random. The delivery of the good usually gives the player money to do more actions with. In most cases, there is a game rule or another mechanic that determines where the item needs to go.

Empire Builder is a classic pickup-and-deliver game from 1980 that remains popular today. In this game, players build railroads between cities, and move trains around on the track. Players hold contracts specifying that specific cities demand specific types of goods. To fulfill a contract, a player must travel to a city where that good is available, pick it up, and deliver it to the destination city. When the player completes the contract, the player receives money as specified on the contract.

Player Elimination: Player elimination occurs in multiple-player games (>2) when a player can be eliminated from the game and play continues without the eliminated player. The typical examples of games that provides elimination are Diplomacy or Risk (where a player may be defeated) or Monopoly (where a player may go bankrupt and thus be eliminated). There are also games where achieving the win condition will eliminate you from the game and the last person remaining is the loser. An example for this would be Palace. Player elimination does not include two-player-only games where the goal is to defeat the opponent, ie. Chess.

Press Your Luck: Games where you repeat an action (or part of an action) until you decide to stop due to increased (or not) risk of losing points or your turn. Press Your Luck games include both Risk Management and Risk Valuation games, in which risk is driven by the game mechanisms and valuing how much other players value what you also want, respectively. This mechanic is also called push your luck.

Print & Play: Print & Play games are those which are often free to any player who wishes to print them off themselves. Many are available on the Internet.



Real-Time Game: Real-time games often allow for players to take their turns (or part of their turns) simultaneously. This is in contrast to turn-based games. There are also some Real-time games in which there is a consequence if a player does not play their turn in a set amount of time.

Role Playing: Some board games incorporate elements of role playing. It can be that players control a character that improves over time. It can also be a game that encourages or inspires Storytelling. This mechanic can be viewed as an extension of Variable Player Powers.

Route/Network Building: Route/Network Building games feature network(s) (interconnected lines with nodes) using owned, partially owned or neutral pieces, with an emphasis on building the longest chain and/or connecting to new areas. Although arguably a separate group, Connection games, in which players connect fixed points on the board, are also included among Route/Network Building games.


Secret Unit Deployment: Secret unit deployment games are games that contain hidden information. Only the player controlling certain playing pieces has perfect information about the nature (or even the whereabouts) of those pieces. This mechanic is often used in war games to simulate “fog of war”.

Set Collection: The primary goal of a set collection mechanic is to encourage a player to collect a set of items. For example, players collect and harvest different types of beans in Bohnanza, and they collect Monuments in Ra.

Simulation: Simulation games are games that attempt to model actual events or situations.

Simultaneous Action Selection: The simultaneous action selection mechanic lets players secretly choose their actions. After they are revealed, the actions resolve following the rule set of the game.

Stock Holding: Stock holding is a subcategory of Commodity Speculation, in which instead of purchasing or selling an entire commodity, players purchase and sell (or hold) a share in a given company, commodity or nation.

Notable examples include Acquire, where players can purchase shares of companies, and benefit if those companies grow before being bought out, and Imperial, where players are purchasing bonds in European nations which grant not only a dividend and points at the end of the game but also the right to control that nation’s actions for as long as you are the majority bondholder.

Storytelling: In storytelling games, players are provided with conceptual, written, or pictorial stimuli which must be incorporated into a story of the players’ creation. Once Upon a Time uses a selection of words while Rory’s Story Cubes include ambiguous symbols. Some games like Snake Oil and Big Idea prompt players to pitch a product, which frequently takes the form of a brief story or vignette.

Other storytelling games include titles such as Tales of the Arabian Nights and Above and Below, game designs in which players don’t create their own stories, but instead experience a story from the inside as one of the participants. Games along those lines might present players with a particular narrative situation, after which the player will make a choice that affects which end to the narrative is told — with the results of this narrative affecting the player’s standing in the game.


Take That: Maneuvers that directly attack an opposing player’s strength, level, life points or do something else to impede their progress, while usually providing the main engine for player interaction in the game. Usually used in card games. Mille Bornes is a good example. Munchkin or Give Me The Brain! could also be considered to use variants of this mechanic, where single unforeseen card plays can cause huge swings in player progress or power.

Territory Building: Territory Building games have the players establish and/or amass control over a specific area. Often, these games employ Area Control and Area Enclosure mechanics, in which the areas are not necessarily delineated at the beginning of the game but are instead contained from larger territories as the game progresses.

Tile Placement: Tile Placement games feature placing a piece to score VPs, with the amount often based on adjacent pieces or pieces in the same group/cluster, and keying off non-spatial properties like color, “feature completion”, cluster size etc.

A classic example is Carcassonne, where a player randomly draws a tile and place it next to other tiles and has a chance to place a meeple on the tile just played.

Trading: In games with a trading mechanic, the players can exchange game items between each other. For instance, players trade for different types of beans in Bohnanza, while they trade resources in Catan.

Trick Taking: Trick Taking is a game mechanism used in card games. Each player plays in turn order one card (or, in some games, a series, such as a pair or straight) from their hand face up onto the table; the group of cards played is named a “trick”. According with the rules of the game, one player wins the trick and captures all of the cards in the trick. The object of most trick taking games is to capture tricks or point scoring cards in tricks or occasionally avoid winning tricks. The most common way to win a trick is by having the card with highest value of the suit that was led, but many classical card games use the “trump” system (where the certain cards, usually those of a designated suit, will win the trick if they are played.) Occasionally there is a round of bidding to determine this trump suit. In many trick taking games (though not all), players are required to “follow suit”, i.e. play a card of the same suit as was led if they have one. If they do not have a matching card, they must play another card from their hand.

Turtling: to play a very defensive strategy (i.e. hide in your shell) in a multiplayer wargame, with the hopes that other players will attack each other thus weakening themselves. Generally seen as boring by players. Multiplayer wargames that avoid turtling usually do so by giving incentives to attack in the form of VP’s, additional units/resources, stronger units, etc.



Variable Player Powers: Variable Player Powers is a mechanic that grants different abilities and/or paths to victory to the players. To illustrate, here are some notable examples. In Ogre, one player controls a single powerful piece, and the other plays many weaker units. The net effect is a balanced game. In Cosmic Encounter, each player is assigned a random special ability at the beginning of the game. Although each player has the same victory goal (control five non-home colonies), their abilities enable differing means to the end. In Here I Stand, each player controls a political power with unique ways to score victory points. Some focus on military conquest, some on religious influence, etc. Also, player powers may change throughout the game as in Small World or Sunrise City.

Victory Points (VPs): Sometimes pronounced either “Veeps” or “Vee Pees”. Plural can be spelled VP’s, VPs or just VP. Points accumulated for completing various actions which count towards victory. Some games use the term “points” to refer to other factors–movement points, action points, etc.


Worker Placement: More precisely referred to as “action drafting”, this mechanism requires players to draft individual actions from a set that is available to all players. Players generally draft actions one-at-a-time and in turn order. If the game is structured in rounds, then all actions are usually refreshed so that they become available again for drafting. There is usually(*) a limit on the number of times a single action may be drafted in the same way for the same price. Once that limit is reached, an action can no longer be taken until a subsequent round or until the action space is no longer occupied by another player. As such, not all actions can be taken by all players in a given round, and action ‘blocking’ occurs.

Actions are commonly drafted by the placement of game pieces or tokens on the selected actions. Each player usually has a limited number of pieces with which to participate in the process. Some games achieve the same effect in reverse: the turn begins with action spaces filled by markers, which are claimed by players for some cost.

From a thematic standpoint, the game pieces which players use to select actions often represent workers of any given trade (this category of mechanism, however, is not necessarily limited to or by this thematic representation). In other words, players often thematically “place workers” to show which actions have been drafted by individual players. For example, in Agricola one starts with two family members that can be placed on action spaces to collect resources or take certain actions like building fences. When someone places a piece on a given space, that action is no longer available until the next round.




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