What is a Meeple? Meaning, History, and Origin

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What is a meeple? It’s essentially a playing piece in board games used to represent people.

Whether you’re new to board games or a board game connoisseur, you’ve probably run across the term, “meeple.” If you’re curious about this term, you’re not alone.

In this article, I’ll break down exactly what a meeple is, where the term comes from, and answer all your questions about meeples and board games. You’ll also find examples of many modern board games that include meeples.

Ready to get started? Let’s jump right in.

What Is a Meeple?

A meeple is a small token or pawn used to represent a player in modern board games. A meeple can take various shapes, like a human, animal, or something abstract. The most familiar shape, however, is a person.

Meeples are often wooden figures that are painted in different colors to distinguish between each player. You can find a wide range of colors, although meeples are most commonly blue, red, green, or yellow.

Meeples come in different sizes but most often are about the size of a quarter.

When people typically think of meeples, they most often think of wooden figures. But a meeple can be made of practically any material. Though I have to say that the wooden figures are my favorite.

Watch as Kevin Grote and Gabriel Garcia give a brief overview of the meeple, what it is and where it came from:

Origin of the Meeple

Okay, we’ve covered what this funny-sounding word means. But where did the word “meeple” come from?

According to Wiktionary, the word “meeple” originated in November 2000, when Alison Hansel used it to describe the wooden figures used to represent people in the classic board game Carcassonne.

So if you’ve been playing board games for several decades but didn’t know about meeples until recently, don’t feel bad. The term didn’t even exist when you were playing Cluedo and Monopoly in the 1980s.

The meeple has acquired such a strong presence in modern board games that the word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015.

Why is it Called a Meeple?

The term “meeple” is actually a combination of two words: “my” and “people.” The word “meeple” was coined in November 2000 by Alison Hansel when playing Carcassonne.

Since then, meeples have made an appearance in many other games. They can take various shapes (animal, human, object, etc.), but they most often take a human form.

What Game is the Meeple from?

The word “meeple” originated with the board game Carcassonne, but it has spread to include any playing piece that represents a person. Many different games use meeples of various shapes, colors, and sizes.

They don’t have to resemble a human, either. Many meeples resemble animals or other objects.

What Are Meeples Used For?

A meeple is a playing piece used in board games to represent individual players. Move the meeple during gameplay according to the rules and mechanics of the game.

Many modern board games, especially Euro-style games, feature meeples of various shapes. The meeple is also popular in worker placement games and in some tile-placement games.

They are abstract enough to maintain a more minimalist look, but their bright colors make them easy to see and easy to distinguish.

Is the Meeple a Modern Idea?

While the word “meeple” is relatively new in the board game world, wooden figures of various shapes have been around in gaming for centuries.

The game Hnefatafl, or Viking chess, was a chess-like board game played by the Vikings from around 400 A.D.

The name of the game literally translates to “king’s table,” but don’t ask me how to pronounce it. This game used carved wooden tokens to represent a tribe of Vikings.

Which Modern Board Games Use Meeples?

Many modern board games use meeples in the gameplay. If you’re searching for a board game that includes a meeple, here are just a few examples:

Carcassonne

Since the word “meeple” originated with the game Carcassonne, it’s only fair I include it at the top of this list. Carcassonne is a fantastic board game that offers fun for beginner and experienced gamers.

It’s a tile placement game where players must place map tiles and decide whether to put one of their followers (i.e., meeples) on the tile. This game includes a lot of strategy and decision-making.

Carcassonne is set in the famous French city, and it’s suited for 2-5 players. Unsurprisingly, there are five different colors of human-shaped meeples included with the board game. Choose from red, black, blue, green, or yellow.

Interested in reading more about Carcassonne? Visit my article on Empire-Building Games.

Dixit

Dixit is a storytelling game where players form clues based on dreamlike illustrations. Enter the world of imagination in this game.

Each player votes for which illustrated tiles match the clues given by the narrator for that round. A player scores points for each vote they receive.

In Dixit, the meeples are in the shape of animals. To be more specific, they’re cute little bunny rabbits. The meeples are used to keep track of a player’s score.

Everdell

Everdell is a delightful forest-themed worker placement and engine-building board game. Each player is the leader of a group of critters set on completing different tasks. There are buildings to construct, lively characters to meet, events to host, and more.

Players have the task of putting their meeples (workers) on different areas of the game board, performing actions that help the player build their tableau. They can gather resources, draw cards, and take special actions.

Everdell features meeples in the shape of various animals, such as a rabbit, duck, fox, squirrel, and more. Each meeple has its own color, and they vary in size.

Agricola

Agricola is the classic worker placement board game where rivals play as 17th century farmers intent on guiding their families to wealth, health, and prosperity.

Collect resources, build your house, and make more meeples to add to your meeple pool. But you must feed your growing brood, so you have to plan wisely.

The meeples in this board game have a human form with a farmer’s hat. It’s a pretty awesome token, in my opinion. You can also find meeples in the shape of various farm animals and crops.

Kingdomino

Kingdomino is another tile-placement game that also has an element of card drafting. In this game, each player has their own castle, where they must use “dominos” to make a grid around the site.

Players select their dominos by placing their meeples on the tiles they would like to use for the next round.

Each meeple in Kingdomino is shaped like a king, with ridges on top to resemble a crown. They come in blue, yellow, green, and pink. Each color represents a different player. Each player receives two meeples for gameplay.

Charterstone

Charterstone is a village-building legacy game that will give you hours of entertainment. As a player, you are working on behalf of the Kingdom of Greengully to colonize the vast lands beyond its borders.

You must construct buildings and inhabit a shared village. Complete actions at each site with your meeples. This game is designed to be completed over 12 game sessions.

Each player receives one meeple for gameplay. The meeples come in six colors: red, purple, green, yellow, blue, and gray. It also includes metal coins and cool dice.

Stone Age

In Stone Age, players are transported back in time to a period when humans had to fight for their survival. Each player must collect resources to attain a higher level of knowledge and build a civilization.

This game contains four different colors of meeples: green, blue, red, and yellow. Each meeple has the shape of a Stone Age person, presumably.

Is Meeple Singular or Plural?

The word “meeple” stands for “My People.” Since people is plural, you might think that the word “meeple” is plural, too.

But you’d be wrong.

Meeple is a singular noun, since a meeple generally refers to a single token. You’ll see the term “meeples” used frequently, as well.

So if you want to describe two or more player tokens, you can use the word meeples. But don’t use the word “merson” for one token. It’s meeple.

Can I Purchase My Own Meeple?

Most board games include meeples with the other game materials. But if you’re interested in purchasing or creating your own meeples, there are several resources available for you to do that.

You can purchase a large set of meeples to use for other games. Or you can purchase custom meeples. For example, this custom set is made of resin and features characters from the Bristol 1350 board game.

You can find meeples in the shape of animals, archetypal heroes, farmers, or other special characters.

If you want to create your own meeple, you can cut a small piece of wood in the shape of a human (or whatever shape you want). Check out the video below for instructions on making your own meeples:

How Do I Store Meeples?

Many modern board games include specific meeple storage, either with an insert or a pouch of some sort. However, if you wish to purchase separate storage, you can absolutely do that.

There are tons of options available for storing not only meeples but all sorts of playing tokens–dice, other wooden figures, coins, etc. Clear plastic containers like these are popular, as well as bags or pouches like these.

Are Meeples Copyrighted?

The standard human-shape meeple is ubiquitous in modern board games and does not appear to be copyrighted.

The word meeple is trademarked by Hans im Gl├╝ck, which means you can’t produce wooden shapes called meeples and sell them under that name. You would have to create your own design and use another term.

However, if you’re interested in creating your own meeple for personal use, you can find tutorials on how to do that.

If you’re interested in creating your own game, you can use a meeple-like shape as a player pawn or token. However, make sure your design and game mechanics are original. Don’t copy the idea behind other games, or else you could potentially wind up in legal trouble.

What About Digital Meeples?

You may be thinking, “I didn’t know a digital meeple was even a thing!” You wouldn’t be alone, friend. But it’s real. Well, digitally real, at least.

You can earn badges at Happy Meeple, an online board game site. The meeple is used to show a user’s experience and skill at gaming. Happy Meeple features an assortment of board games to play. Some of them you probably haven’t heard of.

There’s even a meeple emoji! Unfortunately, it’s not available on standard phones or tablets. But you can find a meeple emoji on Slack, as well as some board game sites.

Meeples: Here to Stay

Whether Alison Hansel knew the term would catch on or not, the fact of the matter is that meeples are here to stay. Modern board games, especially popular Euro-style games, have embraced these colorful wooden figures. Meeples add to the fun!

Ready to find your next board game? Check out my article on the Best 4-Player Board Games, several of which include some awesome meeples.