Today, I’m going to take a break from talking about board games so that I can teach YOU how to talk about board games! There’s a lot of terminology that we take for granted and I realized that I don’t really define my terms all that well. Get ready! This is going to be… Dictionary-esque! Don’t take these definitions as the end all and be all! If you really disagree with me, let me know!
Board Game: That’s right! We’re going to slow things right down. A board game is a game that usually comes in a box, has tangible components and is meant to be played with people, sitting around a table, usually with some kind of real representation of what you all are doing. Monopoly is meant to be played with other people, has fake money that you can touch, components that you move around, and a board that you move around on. Fair enough? There are TONS of exceptions to the above, but that’s where we start.
European Game: This is going to be less a definition than a philosophy. European games tend to be less about getting into conflicts with other players and more about building something of your own, racing to a conclusion against other players. It’s like actual auto racing, if everyone had their own lanes and couldn’t go interfere with another player’s progress. European games are best exemplified by something like The Settlers of Catan, where the most conflicty thing you can do is build a road that cuts your friend out of an area of the board. Come to think about it, things get VERY heated when you build a road that cuts your friend out of an area of the board. Okay, European Games do have conflict, but they tend to be less about war, and more about animal husbandry.
Ameritrash Games: These are games that traditionally forego balance and amazing mechanics for theme. These days, Ameritrash and Eurogaming tend to be blending together, but think of something like Risk Legacy- it’s not very well balanced, but the theme is BALLS TO THE WALL. That’s an Ameritrash Game. Most games exist on the spectrum between European Game and Ameritrash Game.
Collectible Games: These games usually come in blind packs, where you can’t see what’s inside. There are components which are rarer to acquire than other components, and so you end up chasing them down. These can become worth quite a lot of money, like in Magic: The Gathering, or the game can tank and your collection can become worthless.
Mechanics: The guts of the game. Strip away the theme of a game and get down to how you actually play. The mechanics of Monopoly are simple: Dice roll to move, money to purchase property and houses, follow space instructions, roll doubles go again, roll 3 doubles go to jail, land on a space owned by another player pay rent, you’re allowed to trade property and cards between players for barter or money. That’s how Monopoly works. It’s easier to explain with the actual terminology of the game, but you could abstract it even further if you wanted to. Bad Mechanics=Bad Game. The best games tend to have simple, easy to understand mechanics that allow a player to make meaningful choices- The mechanics of Chess are good mechanics.
Flavour: Or THEME! Once you have your mechanics, what is the theme of the game? Even chess has a theme, although it doesn’t need one. It could just be different geometric shapes on a board and you could play the same game. The flavour of the game is going to bring it to life and appeal to different people. Chess could have a futuristic flavour, or a stone age flavour. Usually the flavour gets people into the headspace of the game and allows them to become immersed. A good game with a great flavour is Dead of Winter, previous reviewed on the website.
Miniatures Game: A game that is primarily played with miniature representation of things, such as army men or space ships. The miniature usually represents a whole host of concepts, making these games complicated and hard to learn. Warhammer 40k is a great example of a miniatures game that is VERY hard to learn. The X-Wing miniatures game is actually very EASY to learn, and quite good.
War Game: A game that represents War in all of it’s interesting facets. Sometimes the game is individual soldier level, or it can scale all the way up to world wide war.
Role Playing Game: A game where you play as a character, and make decisions in the game based upon the character that you have created. These kinds of games are usually moderated by an umpire, as they allow you to make decisions that aren’t accounted for by the strict rules of the game. Dungeons and Dragons is the obvious example of a Role Playing Game.