Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Board Games Defined: What Am I Getting Into?

Light, heavy, Eurogames, Ameritrash, dry, thematic, dice chucking, deck building, party game, co-op game, hidden traitor, social game...what are you getting yourself into with this whole board game thing?

Photo: The History of Board Games
Yes, there are dozens of different board game categories. Yes, it can get a bit confusing at times. But the great thing about having so many choices is that there's going to be some game out there that lines up perfectly with your own, unique tastes, if not several. There are so many categories and each category has so many more sub-categories, so I will do my best to list the main categories I think most of you will come across, along with an example of each. 

So without further adieu, what's out there?

Made popular in Germany, Eurogames are perhaps best known for their emphasis on strategy as opposed to luck and typically have simpler rules and less-hefty duration. There is typically no player elimination and normally some facet of scoring is kept secret in order to prevent opponents from identifying the clear winner.

Example: Ticket to Ride

Ameritrash Games
Popularized in America, Ameritrash Games are much different than their Euro counterparts. More emphasis is placed on luck than strategy, and themes are often very important, resulting in a much thicker rule book oftentimes. It is not uncommon to have heavy player conflict and even player elimination in these games.

Light vs. Heavy
It's probably intuitive, but I want to explain this for anyone out there who is super unfamiliar with games. Light typically means thin rule book, streamlined mechanics, game duration of two hours or less (typically less), and they often have a smaller price tag. On the other hand, heavy games may have more complex mechanics and combinations, a thicker rule book, typically a bigger emphasis on theme, and can take anywhere from one to eight hours (or longer)! 

Examples: Light - Love Letter; Heavy - Caverna

Dry vs. Thematic
Bland cardboard laid across the table with nary a theme in sight -- that's dry. You'll know a thematic game when you see one. They scream from the boxes: Zombies! Aliens! Sushi! Trains! Haunted houses that get picked up by giant birds and you have to find a parachute to save yourself! Dry isn't necessarily bad, and theme isn't necessarily good, but they each have a place on any shelf. 

Examples: Dry - Castles of Burgundy; Thematic - Mansions of Madness

Dice Chucking
A main mechanic of Dice Chucking games is, you guessed it, rolling dice. These games rely heavily on luck but can be very satisfying. The mechanic can be used for racing, fighting, determining outcomes, and so much more.

Example: King of Tokyo

Deck Building
In most deck building games players begin the game with a few cards and are then tasked with the objective of building an efficient engine of a deck by selectively choosing only the best cards from a sea of options. Efficiency, strategy, and foresight play a much bigger role in these games.

Example: Dominion

Party Game vs. Social Games
There isn't a huge difference between party and social games, but some people get very offended if you refer to a game with any sort of strategy as a "party game," cue self-righteous scoff. I'll define it this way, party games are solely about having fun, typically through a means of trivia, quick thinking, or some sort of physical demonstration (acting, role-playing, drawing, etc.). Social games typically have at least a little bit of strategy, but they require a lot of group interaction. 

Example: The Resistance

Cooperative & Hidden Traitor Games
Cooperative games require most or all players to band together in an effort to beat the board game. In a Hidden Traitor game, one or more of the team may have a hidden agenda to foil the players' plans. There are also semi-cooperative games where one person plays a pre-identified bad guy and the remaining players try to beat him/her. 

Examples: Cooperative - Pandemic; Hidden Traitor - Shadows Over Camelot; Semi-Cooperative - Descent.   

Worker Placement
Players place a number of finite workers to collect resources and perform actions in order to achieve winning conditions. These workers sometimes come in the form of dice, which also emphasizes a bit of luck.

Set Collection
Winning a Set Collection game requires a player to earn points through collecting cards, making combinations, etc. The concept became popular with card games such as Gin Rummy and the board game market has really taken off with the mechanic.

Example: Jaipur

Gateway Game
A Gateway Game is a game that is easy to teach new gamers, simple yet attractive enough to draw people in, and addictive so that players want more! It's a common term in board game crowds and typically spoken highly of. Most board game connoisseurs will have some sort of Gateway Game in their collection because they want their friends and acquaintances to pick up the hobby. In board game land, the more the merrier!

Examples: Catan 

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