Exploring Different Types of Board Games
The board games industry has exploded. There are hundreds of new board games popping up all the time. You just have to look at Kickstarter or any crowdfunding website to see its insane popularity. This can be a bit overwhelming.
What happens on those beautiful days where the family sits around the dinner table for Monopoly friendlies, immediately followed by screaming matches and table flip because Kendra never trades green property…?But I digress.
Today’s board games have turned into a giant, with gameplay and strategy becoming increasingly complex and immersive. With so many new players in the industry, imaginations run wild. The traditional view of what board games is has been completely discarded, the genres and mechanics becoming so intertwined that it’s hard to know “What’s in the box?”
There are tons of different ways to play, so we’ve put together a list of some of the most common types of board games players will discover and some new mechanics that new players won’t be familiar with. Fear not, Cow Games is here!
Game Abstract Strategy Board
When you think of an abstract strategy game, a picture of a socially awkward child with tape around his glasses comes to your mind (tl; chess club dr).
But abstract strategy board games have been around for a long time, since before written history, and have been played continuously by nearly every culture in the world. Some of the oldest board games in the world are abstract strategy games.
Abstract Strategy Board Game Elements
- Easy, Player vs. Player
- Rely on skill over luck
- There is no theme
This type of play is independent of real-world themes and the outcome is entirely dependent on the decisions the player makes. Many of these games have what is called “perfect information”, where the player has nothing to find, only has to logically think about their moves.
Abstract Strategy games rarely have a luck or chance component, such as rolling dice or drawing cards. They tend to have a simple set of rules that are easy to learn. The real challenge is the complexity of the options that come after a short list of rules. These games are great for increasing critical thinking, where players have to think many steps ahead to outsmart their opponents.
The first introduction of many players to board games was abstract strategy games.
Educational games have been around for quite some time and they get a bad reputation for being childish and silly or for being dry and trivial. Some of them definitely work, but I’ve played a lot of educational games that are actually quite fun. So yes, learning can be fun too.
Educational Board Game Elements
- Usually aimed at young children
- Focus on teaching a specific skill, technique, or area of inquiry
Most games have some kind of educational benefit, but there are some whose main purpose is to make sure the player learns something tangible from the game.
Ravensburger is a German game company that produces games specifically aimed at children. They are very attractive because each of them has a specific educational quality.
Kendra grew up playing many of these games and we still play them to this day, because even though they were made for a younger audience, the games themselves are still a lot of fun.
Board Games in Education
Games can be an excellent tool for education. When I taught eighth grade English Literature, I was preparing my students to argue, so naturally, I forced them to play the game of Werewolves on a large scale. This, of course, turned into a shout-and-scream match, leading me to my lessons on how to form arguments and argue with respect and accuracy. Next time we play, after the debate is over, the dynamics of the game are much more articulated.
Educational games are great for families and young children. They tend to have very simple mechanisms and are a great introduction to teaching kids about cooperation and following a set of established rules.
Cooperative play is great when you have one player who is more competitive than the rest of your game group. Your entire group is pitted against a common enemy, usually the board itself. It’s an interesting mechanic and has seen its recent popularity in new board games.
Cooperative Board Game Elements
- Players work together against the game itself.
- Players win or lose together
- Usually, goals with higher difficulty levels take the place of player collaboration
This game genre usually has some random mechanic that acts as the AI for the board. The pandemic uses a deck of cards that tells which regions it is infected with. It doesn’t have to be a deck of cards but there is usually some kind of random element the board will use against the combined strengths of all the players.
Some of the more experienced players may have noticed that 2 of the games on our recommendation are not 100% cooperative. Betrayal and Dead of Winter, even though the two begin to work together, lead to a game of hidden traitors (we’ll talk in more detail about that in the next few sections). german style)
One of the most interesting types of board games I have come across is Eurogame. This genre originated in Germany after World War II and because of anti-war sentiment, many Germans turned away from the typical military theme that board games have tended to have historically. Instead, they focus on economic topics, such as agriculture, infrastructure, or buildings.
- Usually includes indirect player interactions
- Focus on economic goals rather than military expansion
- Boost skills over random elements (luck)
- Players rarely get knocked out
I find it very interesting to see how anti-war sentiment has such a profound impact on people’s mindsets and to see how it manifests itself in their daily lives. If you want to learn more about the history of board games, be sure to check out our latest post, which discusses the evolution of board games from prehistory to modern times.
Eurogames has become a defining style of play around the world. They are usually easy to learn and require random luck thinking to win, and it’s rare for players to get knocked out. This makes it an excellent game for any family or gaming group. Most implement some sort of points win feature which tracks the score throughout the game and allows the player to continue playing instead of being attacked and forced off mid-game.
Game Hidden Traitors
Hidden Traitor Games are amazing. Nothing brings a friend closer then sitting at a table and lying down facing their faces. Maybe not enough, but that’s what happens in the board game Hidden Traitors. The premise underlying this type of play is that everyone works together except for a small group of players. The best part? Good people don’t know who the bad guys are.
Elements Game Hidden Traitors
- One or more players are on separate teams and will try to undermine the whole group
- Hidden Traitor Games make great party games as they allow for a larger group of players
- Require players to question the motivation for the loyalty of others
- Combine lies, betrayal and many broken alliances
- Usually game sessions are quick and fast, with a lot of replayability
As a “good” player, you will share some goals with the rest of the “good” team. As a “bad” player, your goal is to make the “good” players weak. It makes for a fun night of lying and betrayal with your best friend.
The bigger party games such as Werewolf or Secret Hitler have a bit of a theme but have the same goal of finding out who the traitor is and getting rid of him. This can seem simple but tends to get really complicated and harsh depending on your game group.
In larger party games, the action takes place off the table. It’s all about what you say and how you say it. This game depends entirely on your ability to convince or lie, or lie convincingly. If you have a group of players who genuinely love the spirit of the game, this could be one of the most fun social events you could possibly have. It can also go south pretty quickly if you forget it’s a game.
You may hate your friend after this …
I’ve been in a few games where emotions flare up and the quiet players are controlled by the tougher ones. If you are in a larger group, sometimes help the outside to judge / refere some of the matches so they can keep an eye on until everyone is comfortable with the rules.
There are also some big box games that use hidden traitor mechanics as well. In Dead of Winter one of your comrades who survived might wait their time for them to activate the group. The same can be said for the Battlestar Galactica game where one of the players is Cylon in disguise. In the bigger game boxes, the main focus was not on the hidden traitor, but on the overall objective of the game. Traitors are just another element in this type of game, always present and always a threat.
In: iconic meeple. Meeples is synonymous with board games and is one of the main components of most Worker Placement Games.
In the Worker Placement game, players will have a set of meeples representing the workers available to them. It’s up to the players how to allocate their labor, and it’s important not to try to do it all at once.This type of play is highly dependent on your strategy and workforce allocation planning.
Elements of the Employee Placement Board Game
- Rely on methodical strategy, rather than luck
- Players compete for limited resources
- Requires organization and planning to succeed
- Typically, individual player mats are incorporated into the components of the game
One of my favorite worker placement games is Lords of Waterdeep, where you take control of one of the classic Dungeons & Dragons city lords, Waterdeep. You send your minions all over the city to hire adventurers (resources) and complete missions to earn victory points. If you mismanage some of your workers from the start, then you will find yourself at a disadvantage in the late game.
If you like this type of game as much as we do, you’ll want to check it out.Role-Playing Games (RPG) have sat at the top of the nerd hierarchy for some time. Imagine, if you will, the stereotypical nerds locked in a basement with a big bag of Cheetos and Mountain Dew…
However, this is not necessarily a problem anymore. Traditional Pen and Paper RPGs (like Dungeons & Dragons) are alive and well, but along the way, someone is thinking of combining it with traditional board games, and it truly is a match made in heaven.
RPG board games can give you all the fun and excitement of pen and paper RPGs without debating who will be the Dungeon Master. In plain pen and paper RPGs, you need a player to take on the role of Dungeon Master. They usually spend hours creating a campaign that is fun for the players. Luckily for us, the board game version of RPG takes the hassle out of creating your own campaign. It is much more structured, but also easier to get casual players to in the game.
Elemen RPG (Role Playing Game)
- Very thematic
- Rely on a leveling mechanism (where players gain level and improve their character over time)
- Often uses random mechanics (such as dice) to act as AI
In Mice and Mystics, game setups and scenarios take on the role of the DM / GM (Dungeon Master / Game Master) running the game for you. All that’s left for you to do is become a character and kill some monsters.
Starting a traditional pen and paper RPG is a huge investment of time for all players involved. I love to do it, but sometimes it’s hard to organize and bring everyone together. Board game RPGs are much simpler and offer many of the same experiences. You can role-play and create characters, just like in a traditional RPG. Many RPG board games have built-in leveling mechanisms to improve your character and best of all, it’s much easier to get everyone playing together.
Ready to dive deeper into the RPG? Click here for our favorite low-down RPG board game.