Learn about the types of board games that make tabletop gaming so much fun.
Humans have been playing board games throughout history. From Senet in ancient Egypt and Backgammon in Mesopotamia to modern board games. Tabletop gaming has played an important role in culture. In fact, there are many tangible benefits to board gaming.
If you played Life or Monopoly as a kid, you might be surprised to find that board games go way deeper than the familiar classics. The board gaming world has entire genres for different mechanics. If you’re new to the terminology, it can be overwhelming.
In this article, I’ll help you navigate the most common types of board games. I’ll explain each type, as well as answer some frequently asked questions about board games. You’ll be ready to take on the board gaming world by storm.
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in!
What Are the Four Categories of Board Games?
Classical games have no author or clear ownership. Many of these abstract board games go back hundreds or thousands of years. They are essentially folk games.
The ancient Egyptian game Senet is possibly the oldest board game known to have existed. Other ancient games include the Royal Game of Ur from Mesopotamia, chess (Chaturanga) from India, and Go from China. Some of these board games are widely popular to this day.
According to Woods, early classic games fall into four categories, determined by their goals: race games, space games, chase games, and games of displacement.
Racing games are just what they sound like–players race to be the first to finish. Backgammon and Pachisi are notable examples.
Common space games include games such as tic-tac-toe, dots and boxes, and Sternhalma (i.e. “Chinese checkers”). The goal of these games is to manipulate the position of the game pieces to make connections or cross the board.
Chase games have asymmetrical starting positions, where one player is in the role of pursuer and the other player is pursued. Hnefatafl, sometimes referred to as “Viking Chess” is among the most well-known examples. Fox & Geese is another chase board game.
Finally, displacement games involve players attempting to capture their opponents and denying access to a space. The most famous games of displacement include chess, checkers, and Go. Visit my Go board game review to learn more about this ancient Chinese game.
What Are the Different Types of Board Games?
Below are several of the most common types of contemporary board games. There are even more genres and sub-genres than this list includes, but this will give you a fairly comprehensive view of board game types.
Abstract games involve little to no theme or storyline. Such games include simple mechanics with a high level of player strategy. There is little luck involved in the outcome. Many traditional board games are abstract games, including chess, checkers, Go, backgammon, and mancala.
More modern abstract board games include Blokus, Azul, Patchwork, and Hive. My personal favorite from this group is Azul.
Bluffing Board Games
Bluffing board games are generally card games that involve a bluffing element. The goal of the card game is to guess a card or cards a player has. The card can be in their hand or played face down. The players must reveal the correct one.
Bluffing games also go hand-in-hand with social deduction and hidden traitor games. Sometimes this also overlaps with cooperative games. In this case, the game would be called “semi-cooperative.”
Popular bluffing games include Sheriff of Nottingham, Shadows Over Camelot, The Resistance, and The Chameleon.
Campaign games are unique because they allow the players to save their progress and pick up where they left off. Some legacy games require the players to tear up game components or permanently alter the board game, meaning you can only play it through once.
If you’re looking for a legacy game, I suggest Gloomhaven, Pandemic Legacy, and Charterstone.
Many games require you to build a civilization or an empire. This board game type might involve personal combat, exploration on a pre-marked board, or gathering resources.
Most of these games have shared elements with war games and puzzle games as you battle for territory and resources. They can be co-op, but most are competitive.
Civilization and territory-building games can be heavy. These are light party games. You have to be committed to seeing the game through. But if you prefer heavier, complex games, these are right up your alley.
Twilight Imperium is my top civilization-building game. Other popular examples include Small World, Star Wars Legion (a great Star Wars miniatures game), Through the Ages, and the classic game Risk.
Co-Op Board Games
When most people think of the different types of board games, they generally think of competitive games. They might even think of a single-player competing against other players. But co-op games are a fan-favorite. They consist of players working together toward a shared goal instead of competing against one another.
Players work as a team and share resources throughout the game that will help them score points and achieve victory. They must collaborate with one another and use their specific role or set of skills to reach their goal.
Co-op games offer loads of entertainment without worrying about hurt feelings or overly competitive players that take it too far. They’re also great for younger players who might struggle with a highly competitive environment.
Two of the best games in the cooperative genre are Pandemic and Gloomhaven. Check out my full list of the best cooperative board games.
Deck-Building Games/Card Games
Deck-building games are fast-paced and full of action. Deck builders involve players carefully constructing their decks in order to obtain power and money, upgrade their character, or unlock specific abilities.
Each player typically begins with a basic hand of cards that they work to unlock and buy new cards. They slowly build up their deck and make it more powerful against other players.
Top deck-building games include Dominion, Clank!, Star Realms, and Legendary: Marvel.
Related to deck-building is another card game sub-genre, drafting games. Drafting games refer to when players take a component (a tile, meeple, card, etc.) and pass the rest to an opponent. They then receive the next set of components and make decisions on what to keep and what to pass.
Drafting board games allow a large number of players to play the board games, which is an advantage. They tend to move at a fast pace, as well, which is great for keeping the attention of easily-distracted players.
More popular games in this genre include Sushi Go Party!, 7 Wonders, and Wonderful World.
Dexterity Board Games
Instead of strategy or mind-bending puzzles, dexterity board games require physical skill and quickness. The most famous dexterity game is Jenga, which is played by pulling out wooden blocks from a tower. Players must have steady hands or they’ll topple the tower and lose the game!
Other notable examples include Operation, Twister, or Klask. If you need a good brain break, these games will do the trick.
Educational Board Games
Board games aren’t just fun; they can also be educational. Games can help you learn all sorts of knowledge, from economic games and historical games to word games like Scrabble.
If you’re looking for educational board games to play, you’ll find no shortage of options. Some of my favorites include Mariposas, Cashflow, Boggle, and 7 Wonders. Pay Day is my favorite educational game for teaching personal money management in an easy way.
Engine-Building Board Games
Over the course of an engine-building board game, you build an “engine,” or something that takes your beginning resources and turns them into more resources, which turn into even more resources, and so on. Those resources usually include cards, tiles, and player boards.
Players must choose wisely when making decisions, gathering resources, and spending resources. They make important decisions throughout the game that ultimately decide whether they have enough victory points to win.
Some of my favorite engine-building board games include Wingspan, Terraforming Mars, Splendor, and Century Spice Road.
Euro games have been around for a while, but they have increased in mainstream popularity over recent years with the creation of Catan. You’ll find a Euro game (or more) in every gamer’s personal collection.
The name comes from the fact that this type of board game is quite popular in Europe (more specifically, Germany). The focus is on strategy, building, and scoring points, but there isn’t the same level of interaction as with other types of board games.
Stone Age, Ticket to Ride, and Lords of the Waterdeep are all popular Euro games of varying weight. If you prefer something lighter, go with Ticket to Ride. Stone Age and Waterdeep are a little heavier.
I also like Power Grid Recharged, especially for those who enjoy economic games.
Unless you’re a farmer, you might not think farming games would be that entertaining. But this is one of the more favored board game categories. It usually involves growing some form of crops, managing resources, and possibly animal husbandry.
Agricola is the iconic farming board game that put this genre on the map, so to speak. This game’s high replay value and simple yet challenging mechanics drew in gamers.
Since then, many farming games have cropped up (see what I did there?). Takenoko is a charmingly creative and simple children’s game that involves farming bamboo and caring for a giant panda.
Print and Play Games
A print and play game board is one that you download digitally and print at home. It’s a common path for creators to do a soft launch of their games. These are often available on Kickstarter.
After you print them, you need to cut out the components and cards and assemble the game as instructed. One of the most well-known examples of a print and play game is Root. It was released, and people began requesting advanced copies. It led to a physical version being released.
Other games such as Secret Hitler and Corinth began as print-and-play games but have since released published versions.
Resource Management Games
Resource management games are among my top game types. Many are Euro games with trading mechanics.
Most resource management board games are four-player games. They involve a lot of strategic thinking and careful planning. Some games are negotiation games, where you must trade with other players.
Some great resource management games include A Feat for Odin, Terraforming Mars, Catan, and Concordia.
Roll & Write Board Games
Roll-and-write board games require players to roll dice and then write or draw items on a sheet of paper. Players can score points via various methods, which are kept on a scoresheet.
Roll-and-write games typically have simple game mechanics. Each player receives their own personal scoresheet and then uses the dice for each turn. The player rolls the die and then marks something off a score sheet.
The most iconic example of the roll-and-write genre is Yahtzee, but there are other games that also fit this category. Games like Qwixx, Railroad Ink, and Cartographers are great roll-and-write games.
Need more ideas? Visit my list of the best roll-and-write games.
Roll & Move Board Games
Roll-and-move board games are another subset of dice games. In this type of board game, players roll dice and then move the number of spaces on the game board. Many family games are roll-and-moves, since they’re easy to learn and generally quick to play.
Dice games involve a lot of chance, so if you’re not a big fan of luck board games, this board game version is not for you. But if you want a light, laid-back game that’s appropriate for all ages, most roll-and-moves would fit that description.
The most well-known games in this board game type include Monopoly, Deep Sea Adventure, The Game of Life, Snakes and Ladders, Candy Land, and Formula D. Formula D is also considered a racing game.
My favorite roll and move game is Deep Sea Adventure. It has a fun theme and puts a unique twist on this type of board game.
RPG Board Games
You’ve likely heard of Dungeons & Dragons, the most famous of this type of board game. Role-playing games are where two or more players take on the role of characters who embark on a series of wild adventures. Players explore worlds and must complete various missions along the way.
More specifically, many role-playing games also go by the term “dungeon crawler.” Based on the format of D&D, one player takes on the role of dungeon master, guiding the other players through the adventure.
The others follow the game scenarios and battle monsters as they seek to complete the missions and continue the story. A dungeon crawler is a fun game type for those who love a good story. Read about my favorite dungeon-crawler games.
Favorite RPG board games include Gloomhaven, Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeon Fighter, and Mice & Mystics. Check out some of my top picks for RPG board games.
Social Deduction Board Games
Social deduction games require players to uncover another player’s hidden role or team allegiance. Social deduction games rely heavily on seeing who you can trust and voicing your suspicions to other players.
While most people think of the classic game Clue, there are a myriad of games that fit this board game type. One Night Ultimate Werewolf, The Resistance, Mysterium, and Codenames are fun games in this genre.
Several deduction games also fall into the category of hidden traitor games, where one traitor is secretly working against the other players. Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game is a good example.
Check out the best social deduction games.
Storytelling Board Games
Some board game types take an immersive theme to the next level by focusing on a narrative. Unlike other types of board games, storytelling board games are not generally as competitive. They usually focus on the story itself and not on achieving victory.
Storytelling games are great party games, but they can have vague rules or ambiguous objectives. A storytelling game might include several RPG elements, but without the emphasis on campaigns that a role-playing game has.
Dixit, The King’s Dilemma, and Once Upon a Time are popular storytelling games.
Tile Placement Games
Tile placement games are designed for players to draw and place square tiles in an attempt to match them with a similar tile to score victory points.
The most popular tile placement game is Carcassonne, in which players draw and place square tiles and try to match them with the correct terrain. Players gain points when they claim features with their meeples.
There are plenty of different types of board games within the tile placement genre, but the core mechanic remains the same–a tile must be placed and matched with a similar tile to score big points.
Takenoko, The Castles of Burgundy, and Cacao are tile placement games.
Take over the world! Or maybe just conquer the game board. Either way, if fighting games are your thing, you might enjoy war games. Pit your first army against your opponent’s and duke it out on the battlefield, winning territory.
If you like to play games with high-quality miniatures, this is one of the best genres for detailed game pieces. Some examples of war games include Risk, Star Wars Legion, War of the Ring, and Axis & Allies.
Need some ideas? Check out my list of the best war board games.
Worker Placement Board Games
Worker placement games are heavy on strategy as players must use their “workers” to gather resources and earn points. The iconic wooden game piece known as a meeple originated with the worker placement board game genre.
Worker placement board games involve players choosing actions from spaces on the board. You assign your meeples (i.e., workers) to the spaces. Usually, actions taken by a player cannot be taken by the next player. This leads to increased player interaction.
Worker placement board games often overlap with other genres. Some of my top worker placement game choices include Agricola, Caylus, Everdell, and Viticulture.
What Is the Most Popular Type of Board Game?
It depends on which board game era you’re discussing.
For classic tabletop games, Monopoly is one of the longest-lasting, best-selling traditional board games. As of 2015, it was estimated that over 275 million copies had been sold.
In spite of Monopoly’s cultural legacy, you wouldn’t know it if you spoke to the average board game enthusiast. Most experienced gamers aren’t as enthralled with the fast-dealing property trading game.
Risk is another classic board game that has enjoyed enduring popularity. But again, it isn’t as well-loved among the gamer community.
There are other board game types that ascend to the top nowadays. You can’t discuss modern games without mentioning Catan. This Eurogame introduced many to the world of board gaming. It has become one of the most beloved hobby games in the modern era.
Another bestseller is Pandemic, the cooperative strategy game that has players working together to stop the spread of four deadly diseases. If you thought this game was inspired by 2020, you’d be incorrect. This prophetic game was created in 2008, but it has enjoyed widespread acclaim.
Find similar games to Pandemic for your next game night.
Playing Board Games: What Makes a Good Board Game?
The perfect board game doesn’t exist, at least not objectively. Determining what makes a good board game is challenging for a couple of reasons.
First, board games are largely a matter of personal taste. Some people prefer highly strategic games, while others enjoy luck-based dice rolling. Some like RPG games, while others like social deduction games.
On top of the sheer volume of board games available, various games fit into more than one category.
For instance, the game Betrayal at House on the Hill is a semi-cooperative social deduction game that has tile-building, role-playing, and dice rolls. Good luck trying to pinpoint a single genre for that game!
In spite of those realities, there are some elements that make a board game more appealing. A game doesn’t have to include all of these elements, but it must include several to hit the right notes for gamers.
A Clear Objective
Perhaps the most important thing every board game needs is a clear objective. What’s the goal? Is it to win the most victory points? Conquer the most territory? Figure out the murderer? Having a clear objective gives players a reason to play the game.
Combination of Luck and Strategy
Strategy encourages players to master the game by improving their skills and playing again and again. The challenge adds to the fun, and you want to reward more highly skilled players with an advantage.
However, a modest amount of luck can do wonders to improve the game’s appeal. Chance allows players who are losing to potentially catch up. It also means players at different skill levels can still play together and have fun.
Striking the right balance between strategy and luck is challenging, for sure. Game designers have to appeal to different preferences, but good board games include both elements.
Even though a board game should be challenging, the rules should be clear. Even complex games should have rulebooks that are easy to read and understand. Players get frustrated when they don’t know how to proceed.
While many children’s games tend to have simple mechanics, other board game types can get quite complicated. As game mechanics increase in complexity, the more important it is to have clear rules with no vague areas.
Highly predictable games are boring games. You never want a game to feel repetitive.
That’s why people still enjoy luck board games, even if they’re light on strategy. The random element is entertaining. Unique interactions, chance plot twists, and multiple paths to victory are all features that add to the surprise.
Even structured games that required skilled play, such as chess, can have twists and turns. In fact, the seemingly endless combinations and possibilities are part of what makes games like chess perpetually popular.
Anytime someone mentions a game night, we all have those favorite board games we turn to time and time again. Many board games are designed to be played repeatedly, but that doesn’t mean you’ll actually want to play it over and over. Games that are exciting each time you play are simply better. I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth when I play a game many times over.
Nothing kills the excitement like knowing who’s going to win every time. One player may have better odds than other players due to age, skill, or experience. However, the others should at least have a shot at winning.
The more heavily a game depends on strategy, the more important it is to have players of similar skill levels. You would never see a chess grandmaster playing a novice and expect it to be fun for either person.
Tabletop games must have a steady pace of interesting events to keep players tuned in. Nothing disengages players more quickly than long periods of inactivity waiting for their turn.
If the game has short turns, this isn’t a problem. But longer turns require players to sit without anything to do. Some board games feature simultaneous play, which cuts down on inertia. Other games are cooperative, so even when a player isn’t active, they’re strategizing and interacting with others.
Quality Game Components
The theme, artwork, and game pieces must work together and be of high quality. Not only should they be visually appealing, but they should also be durable and withstand heavy use.
Cheap cardboard pieces and ugly or outdated graphics can kill a board game’s appeal. But colorful graphics and an interesting backstory can add a lot of flavor to a board game. People are drawn to beautiful things and compelling stories.
While the entertainment value is more important, board games are more fun when they capture our imaginations.
At the end of the day, board games should be fun! One of the best ways to make a board game fun is with plenty of player interaction.
You know those times when your stomach hurts from laughing so hard, or when your gaming group is talking about the game several weeks later? Those are the types of interactions that make playing board games so memorable.
Even solo-player board games should have good interaction between the player and the game, or between different elements within the game.
Matches Target Audience
This may seem obvious, but not all board games are for everyone. Many board games are designed to target a specific audience. For instance, advanced board game enthusiasts probably won’t find a game like Clue Jr. entertaining. Likewise, children might get scared playing a zombie-themed game.
A good board game matches the interest level, maturity, and gaming experience of its audience.
What Are Board Game Pieces Called?
The little figurines used to represent players in board games go by multiple names. Most people refer to these figurines simply as game pieces. You can also call them tokens. Meeples are abstract game pieces that represent people. They are often colorful and abstract in design.
Miniatures, or minis, is the term used to describe miniature scale models used to represent warriors, vehicles, artillery, buildings, and terrain. Minis are popular among RPG board games.
Board Gaming Genres: Final Thoughts
Which board game type appeals to you? If you’re looking for a new board game, it’s helpful to be familiar with the different types of board games. Perhaps you like cooperative games, deduction games, or maybe you prefer fast-paced dice games.
Whatever your preference, there’s a board game for you. If you’re ready to have friends over to play your next board game, learn about hosting a board game night.