Gaming Glossary

Any hobby comes with terms very specific to it. Board games are no different. Feel free to use this as a reference when you come across a term you don’t know or just to familiarize yourself with the terms of the hobby. You can use the Index below to find terms of just scroll on through.

4X Game – A deep and complex strategy game characterized by 4 main features (or Xes): eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. Players control a faction or empire to explore their surroundings, expand into those areas, exploit and manage the resources in those areas, all of this with the goal of exterminating their opponents either through combat, economic, cultural or other means. Another feature of a 4X game is advancement through technology or upgrades that allow players to do the 4Xes better as the game progresses.

Acquisition Disorder – people who cannot resist the urge to keep buying games. These people will often have many games that they have not opened or played yet. Storage will be an issue.

Alpha gamer – a player who takes control of a coop game by dictating to other players what they will do on their turns.

Ameritrash Game – this style of game originated from American designers. Characterized by random elements, player conflict, and lots of components to convey a detailed theme. In order to avoid the negative connotation of the name, some have started calling these Amerithrash games.

Analysis Paralysis – When a player takes a long time to make a decision when faced with many options.

Asymmetrical Game  – a game where each side in the game plays differently in some way whether that is simply different powers or a completely different set of rules.

Brain Burner – usually a game with lots of depth and complex decisions to be made. Your brain will feel tired after playing a brain burner.

Board Game Geek (The Geek, BGG) – the largest internet repository of board game information, reviews, and discussion.

Casual Gamer – A person who enjoys playing games but does not actively pursue them.

CCG/TCG – Collectible Card Game/Trading Card Game – These games center around collecting cards by buying packets of random cards. Then players build decks from these cards to compete usually in 1 v 1 matches. Cards come in different rarities – Common, Uncommon, and Rare.

Chaos – the degree to which the players and/or different parts of a game interact to produce unintended or unforeseen consequences.

Complexity – on a scale of simple to complex – this usually refers to the number of options created by a very complex rule set with many exceptions. The more options and rules there are, the more complex the game.

Convention (Con) – a gathering of people around a particular interest for the purpose of fun and marketing, board games in our case. GenCon, Essen, BGG Con, Dice Tower Con.

Crunchy – describes a game that has lots of deep decisions or number crunching.

Cult of the New – people who feel the need to seek out and buy all of the hot new games as they are released.

D6, D20, etc – these refer to dice with the number of sides listed. A D20 is a dice with 20 sides.

Depth – the extent to which game mechanisms interact with each other to create multiple levels of decision-making. There can be very obvious surface level decisions but as the player learns the game they may begin to see many more decision spaces at the intersection of game mechanisms in a deeper game.

Dexterity Game – a game that emphasizes your reflexes or physical abilities over your strategic or tactical abilities.

Dudes on a Map – refers to a game usually about war that has lots of soldiers on a map. Risk is a great example of this.

Dungeon Crawl – a game where players move through a dungeon or other defined area fighting enemies, finding treasures, completing missions, and developing their characters along the way.

Engine – the system a player builds as a game progresses starting with obtaining small things that will help them gain bigger and bigger things. Deck building is a great example of this as players add buy specific low-cost cards to help them buy higher cost card and ultimately to buy high-cost victory point cards.

Eurogame – an outgrowth from the German game characterized by more complexity and depth via innovative mechanisms.

Fiddly – this is used to refer to how many components it takes to play the game and how often these components must be moved around the play area. A game with many components that are constantly being moved around would be considered “fiddly”.

Filler Game – a game that is quick to learn and quick to play that can fill some time between playing other longer games.

Game Designer – the person with their name on a box who put in lots of time and effort to create the game you get to play. Game designers are to the board game industry what authors are to the book industry.

Game Structure – the flow of a game. There are many different definitions out there, but I’ll try to present the most common structure flow.

  • Game – the game as a whole from beginning to end. Not all of the below pieces exist in all games. Sometimes all you will have Turn and Step or even just a one step turn.
    • Round – most games flow as a series of groups of player turns. These groups are usually called rounds. Each player usually has one turn per round. Rounds usually exist as a defined section of the game when something needs to happen after all players have had a turn or if the game’s length is measured by a number of player turns.
    • Phase – rounds can be broken up into distinct phases that grouped together by what happens in them. Usually, there will be a player action phase in which players do things on their turn followed by a phase where the game does something to maintain itself. (A phase can also encompass a group of rounds which would bump it up a level in the chain. In that case, phases are still used to group rounds together in logical units that allow the game to maintain itself or to differentiate distinct parts of the game. To confuse this further some games call groups of rounds Steps.)
      • Turn – this is when a player gets to do things to move them toward the goal of the game or to change the game state in some way.
        • Step – a turn can be broken up into several smaller steps. These usually consist of player actions followed by steps that change the game state. Sometimes there is only one step in a turn which can make this piece seem to disappear.
          • Action – one step in a turn is almost always when players get to do things (actions) to advance themselves in the game. It could be that players do one or many actions in one turn.

Gamer – a person who actively participates in and pursues the gaming hobby. They will seek out new and deeper experiences in games because they simply love to play. Not to be confused with a video gamer though the two can and do overlap.

Gamer’s Game – A complex, deep, or thematically niche game that would turn off a casual gamer but would attract a gamer.

Gateway Game – a game that is a good entry point for someone new to designer tabletop games. These are usually simple to teach, easy to learn, and are not overly long.

German Game – Originated in Germany and characterized by being family friendly, simple on rules, light on conflict and luck, but with lots of depth and replayability.

Grail Game – a game that seems to sum up everything you love about gaming. It becomes a must have and a must play.

Hand limit – a limit on the number of cards a player may have in their hand at one time.

Hidden Role Game – all players take on a role that only they know and they are trying to deduce what the other players are so that they can eliminate a threat to the main group. Or players could have hidden goals.

Kingmaking – a situation when a player makes a play that will decide which player will win the game.

LCG – Living Card Game – These center around buying sets and packs of known cards (unlike CCGs). All players have access to all of the cards. Then then build decks out of their collection to compete in usually 1 v 1 matches. There is no rarity to the cards.

Legacy Game – these games remember what happened from one play to the next usually via stickers, ripping up cards, and writing on boards. They can also provide a great sense of narrative progression through sealed packets that players open when certain events occur in the game. Each game you play leaves a legacy that the next will pick up.

Mechanic/Mechanism – a system of components and rules working together to create gameplay. These are the metaphorical gears that make the game work. Here is a short list of some mechanisms you will find in games:

  • Action Point Allowance – each player has a certain number of action points to spend on a set list of actions each turn.
  • Area Control – players are trying to completely control different areas to score points or claim victory.
  • Area Majority – players are trying to have a majority in a section of the game board. The player with the majority will gain the most benefit while players in subsequent places may also gain some smaller benefit.
  • Auction – players will place bids on items in order to enhance their position in the game
  • Card Drafting – every player has a hand of cards or tiles that they pick one from. Then they all pass their hand to the person next to them. Players will continue picking and passing until all or most cards are used from the hand players had.
  • Deck Building – all players begin the game with a similar base deck of cards and add to it as the game progresses from a shared pool of cards.
  • Hidden Movement – usually a one-vs-many game where one player moves around a board without the other players knowing where they are with the other players trying to catch them.
  • Hidden Traitor – in a cooperative game one player is assigned to be a traitor and work against the group somehow. They are hidden from the rest of the players until they reveal themselves or are found out.
  • Pick up and Deliver – usually in an economic type of game players are picking up goods from a location and trying to efficiently deliver them to another to maximize their benefit.
  • Press Your Luck – players roll dice, keep some of the result, and roll the rest trying to get a certain result. How many dice do you keep and how many do you re-roll? Or cards could be used similar to Blackjack.
  • Role Selection – players select a role that they will take on for the current round. These roles give the players special actions or benefits.
  • Roll and Move – roll some dice and move that many spaces on the board. Think Monopoly but other games have used this mechanic in innovative ways.
  • Route/Network Building – there are nodes on the board players are trying to connect to form a network. This can come in the form of trains, power grids, etc.
  • Set Collection – players are trying to collect sets of cards or tiles to score points or spend in some way.
  • Simultaneous Selection – all players pick something and reveal it at the same time without knowing what other players have picked. This can be a card or action.
  • Tech Tree – used to simulate technology progression in civilization-type games. Players will start by researching a low tech which will allow them to research several higher techs and so on, building their technology throughout the game.
  • Tile Placement – players take turns placing tiles on the table to earn points usually based on tiles it is being placed next to.
  • Trick Taking – All players play a card and the player with the highest value of the led suit wins the trick.
  • Worker Placement – players have a limited number of workers available to them to take actions usually by placing them on action spaces. These actions produce some benefit for players that they can use to enhance their position in the game.

Meeples – a game component that is vaguely shaped like a person. Some people also use this more broadly to refer to any game component shaped like the thing it represents. Miniature people.

Metagame – situations outside the mechanisms of a game that effect the outcome of that game or even other games. Some gamers carry grudges from one game to the next and target the player who beat them in the last even though nothing in the second game necessitates this.

Microgame – a game with very few components that can fit into a small box and play in a small space. They usually also only take a small amount of time to play.

Miniatures/Minis – small plastic sculpted figures that represent different elements of a game. They are usually considered an upgrade from standard game components and can make a game very pretty but also very expensive.

Mulligan – discard a hand of cards and draw a new hand.

Orthogonally Adjacent – straight up, down, left, and right from a given game element. Not diagonal.

Play Testing – when a game is in development it will be tested through play. A lot. This is play testing.

Randomness – lack of pattern or predictability in a game or game element.

  • Input Randomness – random event then player decision – something random happens and then the player decides what to do with the results of that randomness. A card draw is a good example of this. The cards the player draws are random but then the player gets to decide what to do with the cards.
  • Output Randomness – player decision then random event – the player makes a decision and then a random event decides the outcome of that decision. A combat die roll in risk is a good example of this. The player decides to invade a territory then rolls dice to determine the outcome of that decision.

Resource – anything in a game that is obtained in order to spend or combine with other resources to build or buy something bigger.

RPG (role playing game) – Any game where players take on character roles in a story. One player usually is the story teller and plays the opposition to the other players. This player usually is not competing with players but challenging them and facilitating the story. Dungeons and Dragons is the most notable example.

Spiel des Jahres – the most prestigious game of the year award in table top gaming given out at the Essen fair in Germany.

Strategy – a player’s overarching plan that will play out over the whole game. Players will pick a strategy that will help them decide what to do from turn to turn.

Tabletop Game – any game that can be played on a flat surface. This includes board games, card games, miniature games, and RPGs. But when you see it used on this website it will usually refer to board and card games.

Tableau – this refers to the play area in front of each player in which players will play cards, tiles, or other components. The items placed here will be built upon during a turn or the entire game. In Race for the Galaxy, players will pay to put planets and developments into their tableau that give them additional powers and abilities. The first player to have eight cards in their tableau wins the game.

Tactics – a reaction to a current situation.

Tap (a card) – turn or flip a card to indicate that it is used and cannot be used again until it is untapped somehow.

Theme – a setting or feeling given to a game intended to evoke a particular situation, a period of time, culture, etc.

Thematic – a measure of how well the theme of a game is evoked through the varied combination of art, components, mechanisms, and narrative.

Turtling – a player who sits back and avoids confrontation by taking a defensive position in a game with direct conflict (usually military-type conflict) is said to be turtling.

Victory Points – the object of many games is to have the most or a certain number of victory points at the end. Many games benefit from having this common “currency” to determine a winner and make it easier to understand the value of an action or progression in the game.

Weight – on a light to heavy scale – 1) the number of rules and rule exceptions a player must keep in their mind while playing a game. A game with many rules and exceptions weighs heavier on the player’s mind as they make decisions. 2) How much the number of rules a player has to keep up with and the number of decisions a player has to make weigh on their mind.