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Every Board Game Genre You Should Know

This is a follow up to my previous article about board game mechanics. While similar in many ways to game mechanics, a genre is less rigidly defined. Much like movies, games come in many genres. If you like one genre it is highly likely you will enjoy others of the same type. With that in mind, I have compiled a list of the most common game genres as well as a few games from each

Abstract Games

Abstract games share several things in common. There is no hidden information, players start with an equal playing field, and the intrusion of random chance within the game is minimized. This genre is among the most ancient with titles like Chess, Go, and 9 Man’s Morris serving as prominent examples. Abstract games are also very popular among competitive players who can win entirely with skill; luck will not make you a world chess champion. While some complain that abstract titles only light incorporate them, there are numerous examples of games with interesting and diverse subject matter. Examples: Onitama, Hive and Santorini.

Onitama

Onitama game box

American Style Games

Often termed Ameritrash by both detractors and affectionate fans, this genre actually has its roots in the United Kingdom. American style games put heavy emphasis on style with hundreds of components of very limited uses. These games are typically highly competitive and often have an emphasis on combat. For example, Games Workshop’s Warhammer line are bombastic fantasy and sci-fi miniature-based games with hundreds of individual pieces and combat that requires double handfuls of dice. These games are designed to inspire cinematic moments and stories of glorious combat scenes that you will remember for years. Examples: Forbidden Stars, Axis & Allies, Dune, Cosmic Encounter, and Twilight Imperium.

Gryn
Gryn
Gryn, are there goblins in American games?
Goblins are everywhere there are games to win, my dear Gryn…everywhere there are games to win!
Grump
Grump

Forbidden Stars

Forbidden Stars game box

Beer and Pretzels Games

You’ve had a long day at your office in Germany, and it is time to relax at your local pub. While you are up for a game you do not want to think too hard about it.  You have just described beer and pretzel games, the perfect solution for this situation. These games are simple to understand and are very luck-driven.  Despite being relatively simple most beer and pretzel games have extensive rules that encourage experienced players to take the lead in teaching.  They often take multiple hours to complete. This genre is perfect for setting aside an evening for friends where you can talk freely without concentrating too much on the game. Examples: Talisman, Munchkin, Relic and Red Dragon Inn.

Not to be reductive, but these titles can almost play themselves.
Grump
Grump
Gryn
Gryn
Well, I reduced you to tears yesterday with that game of Relic, if that’s what you mean by reductive.

Relic

Relic game box

Bluffing Games

While any game with hidden information encourages a good poker face, bluffing games require it. In order to make bluffing necessary, these games often limit information available to players, and rules are aimed to encourage players to stretch the truth- or outright lie- to win. Sometimes players are secretly on teams, like in “hidden roles” games, or players attempt to trick their opponents, much like games of Coup or Poker. Regardless of the mechanism, these games as best described as thrilling.  You never know what is real and what isn’t (unless you are helping perpetrat the lie, of course). Examples: Cockroach Poker, Coup, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, and Resistance.

Cockroach Poker

Cockroach Poker game box

I don’t understand why these games are so hard. I often have the best strategy!
Grump
Grump

Gryn
Gryn
Well, I think it is hard to win when you sweep all the pieces onto the floor when you get angry, Grump.

Classic/Mass Market Games

Perhaps you have heard this scenario before.  You mention to a friend that you like to play board games. Interested, the friend asks, “oh, like Monopoly?”

For better (or, arguably, worse) most people’s experience with board games starts and ends with Monopoly, Life, Risk, and other classics. These games are more than two decades old and were created before the modern board gaming community was even formed.  These games have not changed measurably since their initial release, but they are still sold in huge numbers, along with cheap components. Most Mass Market games succeed due to nostalgia and name recognition.  The fact that they have not evolved means they are not worth a lot of time, but can possibly serve as an entree to move non-gamers to more fun, corollary games. ExamplesMonopolyLifeCandy LandSnakes and Ladders, and Risk.

Gryn
Gryn
Aren’t Magic: the Gathering and Catan now classics for gamers, Grump?
Well, I suppose they are classics, but more a much more discerning audience, such as moi.
Grump
Grump

Life

Life game box

Cooperative Games

Like a kid’s superhero cartoon, cooperative games claim that ground which says any challenge can be solved through the power of friendship.  Cooperative games thus pit a group of players against the game itself. Through cards or dice, the game spits forth a set of automated challenge for players to overcome. While the game is typically stacked against them, players are encouraged to share strategy and work together in order to even out the odds. Cooperative games are best for players who don’t enjoy competing with their friends. Examples: Eldritch/Arkham Horror, Pandemic, Robinson Crusoe, and Imperial Assault.

Eldritch Horror

Eldritch Horror game box

Dexterity Games

Dexterity games push the boundaries of what a tabletop game can be. They are highly active games that require players to balance, flick, and stack pieces in what might be considered very simple – that is, if it were not for the rule sets. While some games emphasize a steady hand or fast reflexes, others can be surprisingly tactical. The 100+-year-old Crokinole, for example, encourages players to line up their shots very precisely and predict trajectories as they alternate flicking pieces towards the center of a circular board. Blocking an opponent’s strategies can be just as valuable as making a good shot yourself.

Still, most games are more about the joy of playing rather than complex strategy. Dexterity games can be a hit with both kids and adults alike. Examples: Riff Raff, Junk Art, Ice Cool, Terror in Meeple City.

Riff Raff

Riff Raff game box

Euro Style Games

Popularized in (you guessed it!) Europe, euro games developed in cultural isolation from their American counterparts in the years following World War II. Many consider this genre an explicit rejection of the competition and struggle that gripped the European continent during years of war. Euro games are mainly economic- or engine-building games where players are tasked with building a domain that is as efficient as possible. Competition typically focuses on resources and rarely takes the form of war or battle. Once decried as multiplayer solitaire, the euro genre has grown in popularity among hardcore gamers who crave a more thought-provoking style of game. While trying to “solve” the puzzle of these games is part of the fun, a well-designed Euro also encourages”on-your-feet” thinking, and the ability to plan ahead. Examples: Le Havre, Agricola, Heaven and Ale, and Puerto Rico.

Le Havre

Le Havre game box

Gambling Games

If you do not like to waste money at a casino, never fear- you can play at home without your cash.  Gambling games often do not involve money but rather try to capture the thrills of high-stakes betting without the actual loss of cash. Gameplay typically involves players who bet a number of their points or “in-game” money, on decisions that involve risk, typically due to a lack of information about the outcome. Based on educated guesses and more than a bit of luck, the participants attempt to score big if there bet proves correct. Strangely enough, most casino-themed board games do not  have betting; instead taking a more business-orientated approach by putting players in the shoes of casino owners. Examples: Poker, Shut Up and Sit Down.  Check out the Youtube series “card games that don’t suck” for more options. 

Gryn
Gryn
Why are you wearing those rags again, Grump? Oh wait- did you just finish a game of Sabbac?
Um. Shut up.
Grump
Grump

Poker

Gateway Games

For most of us, a look back at the first modern board we played most often reveals a game like Catan or Munchkin. These titles are designed to be approachable, do not have a set of dense rules or a high difficulty of game play, and yet have enough depth and dimension that experienced gamers find them enjoyable. Gateway games tend to explore themes uncommon in other titles. Rather than generic fantasy or sci-fi, they could include themes of gardening, bird watching or exploration. When trying to introduce the uninitiated to tabletop gaming, try using a Gateway table game. After all, first impression matters a lot. If you want to avoid scaring new players, use a gateway game. Examples: Photosynthesis, Catan, Azul, and Ticket to Ride.

Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis game box

Miniature-based Games

Among all the game genres listed here, games based on miniatures are among the most difficult to pin down. While many games today use plastic models to replace playing pieces the use of plastic pieces does not make them miniature-based games. A true miniature game is one where the mini plastic models are the most important element of the game. While there may be tokens or cards, they typically serve a secondary role to the figures. As we will detail later, most miniature games are war games or have combat as a focus. Miniature figures are often sculpted into monsters, soldiers, heroes or vehicles, which do battle with one another. The majority of these games do not come with a board, as these games often incorporate the secondary hobby of assembling terrain on which the games is played, or painting their collection. As many a miniature game player will tell you, there is no joy like that of  seeing a splendidly painted army marching across a realistic landscape toward war. Examples: Star Wars: Legion/X-Wing/Armada, Warhammer 40,000, Battletech and Flames of War.

Gryn
Gryn
I definitely prefer hugemungified games!

Star Wars Legion

Star Wars Legion game box

Legacy Games

Popularized by Risk Legacy this exciting game family represents an entirely new tabletop experience. Legacy games evolve session-to-session game play, where the game itself eventually evolve into an entirely different game from that which the players started. Participants often open sealed packages of goodies, write on components with permanent marker, and even rip up cards. While these games can be enjoyed by players who drop in mid-campaign they are best enjoyed by a gaming group that meet consistently and enjoy the experience together. Examples: Pandemic Legacy, Risk Legacy, Gloomhaven, and Betrayal Legacy.

Pandemic Legacy

Pandemic Legacy game box

Living Card Games (LCG)

LCG’s are a genre of games owned by Fantasy Flight Games. Simply put, LCG’s use elements from trading card games but remove randomized packs. Instead, players purchase core sets with enough cards and components to play. They often can expand their collection with expansions that contain a pre-selected set of cards.  Examples: Lord of the Rings: the Card Game, Marvel Champions, Arkham Horror, Legend of the Five Rings.

Lord of the Rings: the Card Game

The Lord of the Rings card game box

Party Games

When meeting with a large group of friends, many of whom don’t play board games, the last thing you want to do is start a four-hour Euro Game. Still, you may want to play something with a similar feel that brings out the laughter and fun games can provide. Party games are the solution. These games are easy to learn, quick to play, and can accommodate a larger number of players. Also, these games generally do not take themselves very seriously and are designed to create comedic situations. Players do not need to think too hard, and can spend more time chatting and laughing. Try bringing a small party game to your next social gathering and you will be surprised how great an icebreaker it is. Examples: When I Dream, Codenames, Secret Hitler, Mysterium, and Dixit.

When I Dream

When I Dream game box

Roleplaying Games (RPG)

RPG’s are imagination harnessed for gaming. Often a DM, (Dungeon Master) or some other facilitator leads the group through an interactive, narrative experience. Any given adventure is careful charted out by the DM who leads the group as a non-playing story teller. If the group encounters a new location or character, the DM sets the scene or acts out the characters (called non-player characters, or NPC’s) the group encounters. The players are encouraged to respond in kind, acting out their unique character and stating what they plan to do. Skilled DM’s can respond to the unpredictable actions of players and improvise new encounters that were unplanned. Examples: Dungeons and Dragons, Kingdom Death: Monster, Call of Cthulhu, and Pathfinder

Dungeons and Dragons

Single-Player Games

While playing with others is one of the great advantages of tabletop gaming, sometimes you just happen to be alone and want to play a game. Enter single-player games to save the day. A the name suggests, these games can be played entirely solo. Much like a cooperative game, a simple rules-based opponent often takes the role of another player or some other challenge. However, the nature of solo play often allows for different experience based on factors such as unbalanced matches and long term progression over multiple plays. To illustrate how popular the solo play is, many multiplayer games now offer single-player modes built into the rules. Often the single-player mode can be a great opportunity to learn the game before teaching it to others. Examples: Slyveon and other omniverse games, Friday, and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective.

Sylveon

Sylvion game box

Trading Card Games (TCG)

Easily the most lucrative gaming medium for game publishers, TCGs are played by millions of people all over the world. Trading Card Games are defined by their collectible nature. The rarity, and real-world cost of any given card is defined by its scarcity. Cards are randomly collected through packs, and valuable cards can be worth hundreds of real-world dollars. Most TCGs are card battling games, where players try to strategically defeat their opponent through creatures and spells depicted on the cards. Some games have grown incredibly complex as their card count has increased over the years. Players can build their own decks based on themes or play-styles, and can alter the strategy of their deck by placing in different new cards. With near-limited possibilities, TCGs remain the most popular tabletop game medium. Examples: Magic: the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon the Card Game, and Keyforge.

Gryn
Gryn
Grump, do you want to trade my Goblin King for your for your Troll Warlock card?
Toss in a Pikachu and we’re good!
Grump
Grump

Magic: the Gathering

Magic the Gathering box

War Games

Originally utilized by various militaries throughout history, war games allow players to replicate conflicts and battles, both real and fictional. Some games use miniature soldiers, while others utilize chits and tokens with platoons and squads emblems. Every war game involves strategy and tactics, each to varying degrees. Some games involve modeling individual skirmishes while others take on entire wars with all the nitty-gritty complications of supply chains and logistics. This family of games has an incredibly dedicated following and is perfect for those looking for a hobby to which they can dedicate hours of concentration. Examples: Breakout: Normandy, Memoir 44, War of the Ring, Sekigarhara, and Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage.

Breakout: Normandy

Breakout: Normandy game box

Gryn
Gryn
Phew, there are a lot of game genres these days!
The more to win with, my dear Gryn, the more to win with!
Grump
Grump

About Kael Barend

Kael is a graduate of University of California Berkeley and longtime gamer. He was the founder and president of three successful campus board gaming club and has held various positions including game guru, Magic: the Gathering Dealer, and Video game reviewer. He considers himself a gaming evangelist, always eager to spread the gaming hobby far and wide. Check him out on his gaming site OmniGamer.website. Favorite games right now: Castles of Burgundy, Rising Sun, Sagrada, Codenames, Onitama, Fresco, Alhambra, Kingdomino, Star Wars Rebellion, X-Wing and Armada, and Magic: the Gathering.

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