Types of Board Games: The Complete Tabletop Gaming Guide
Throughout history, board games have provided entertainment for families and pharaohs alike. For centuries, they’ve developed from simple games of wit and chance into the modern classics that we know and love today.
In this guide, we’ll explore some of the most popular types of board games that have been created over the years. Whether you’re an expert in tabletop gaming, or new to the arena, we invite you to learn about the rich history of board games, and how they arrived where they are today.
The History and Evolution of Board Games
Believe it or not, board games have been around for millennia. Their origins reach all the way back to ancient civilizations and were far more than mere pastimes.
Ancient Board Games
The oldest board game in recorded history, The Royal Game of Ur, was developed 4,600 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. Another one of the earliest board games was called Senet and was played in Predynastic Egypt as early as 3100 BCE. Ancient board games have been found buried along with their owners, and are believed to hold religious and philosophical significance.
As civilizations evolved, so did board games. In the 6th century, ancient India developed Chaturanga, a strategy board game considered to be a precursor to modern chess. Similarly in ancient China, the Chinese created the strategy board game named Go, which dates back to the Zhou Dynasty 4,500 years ago. Go is considered to be the oldest board game that is still widely played today with over 46 million players worldwide.
Board games would go on to spread throughout Europe. From Ancient Greece to the Middle Ages, board games were a popular form of entertainment. Many board games that we still know and love today such as later forms of Chess were born out of Europe.
Modern Board Games
The 19th and early 20th centuries were described as “The Golden Age,” of board gaming in America. Classic board games like Monopoly and Risk gained popularity during the Great Depression and the post-World War II era, capturing the global dynamics of the times.
The 20th century continued to witness a board gaming renaissance. There was the emergence of many popular titles such as Settlers of Catan, Trivial Pursuit, Candy Land, Snakes and Ladders, Operation, and more recently, Pandemic, a board game where players search to find a cure for four diseases spreading around the world.
Popular Board Game Types
The term “abstract” is given to board games that don’t have a specific theme or storyline. These games rely mostly on simple game features and mechanics that require skill to win. Classics like Chess and Go are prime examples of abstract games, where historical or cultural themes are minimal and do not influence the overall gameplay experience.
The beauty of abstract games lies in their simplicity and depth. With sets of rules and little left to luck or randomness, players engage in mental warfare, battling out each move. Abstract games like Draughts or modern variants like Santorini have a timeless appeal that has made them staples of the board gaming community.
Deck Building Games
One of the youngest types of board game genres on the list is a card game variant known as deck building. Originating with Dominion back in 2008, deck building board games have rapidly gained popularity. To play, players start with a basic set of cards and strategically try to acquire stronger cards to build a more powerful deck as the game goes on. Some cards work synergistically with others, adding more strategy and complexity to the game.
While Dominion only offers a limited set of cards to purchase, other games like Clank have a diverse collection of cards, adding another layer of gameplay. These games blend strategy with a touch of randomness, offering a fresh experience each time you play.
Worker Placement Games
Worker placement games are a pillar in the board game game genre. In these games, players allocate their limited number of workers (or tokens) on the board to perform actions or gather resources.
This genre is renowned for its strategic depth. Great examples include classics like Agricola, as well as newer games like Lords of Waterdeep, where players compete for crucial spots on the board. While some may view worker placement board games as a bit slower-paced than other types of board games, they offer competitive gameplay in the realm of strategy and resource management.
Dungeon crawlers offer an immersive adventure experience. Players often explore a fantasy world, battling monsters, and uncovering treasures. Popular dungeon crawlers like Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth are known for their rich narratives, character development, and cooperative gameplay.
Gloomhaven stands out as a frontrunner in this genre, offering a deep, story-driven experience with evolving gameplay scenarios that require cooperation. Dungeon crawlers transport players into another world, where strategy, luck, and teamwork combine into a challenging and adventurous gameplay experience.
Area Control Games
Area control games are commonly centered around the strategic occupation and control of specific territories on the game board. Similar to worker placement games, players compete to dominate regions, often through a combination of tactical placement and resource management.
Examples of popular area control board games include Risk and Root, where players expand their empires and vie for control over the map. In addition to strategy and elements of luck, area control games usually involve a bit of negotiation, as well as ferocious attack, adding more tension and interaction throughout the game.
Roll & Writes Games
Roll & writes, also known as flip & writes, are typically played by players with rolling dice or drawing cards and marking the results on individual score sheets. Initially, Roll & Writes were essentially enhanced versions of bingo, but recent innovations have pushed the boundaries.
Games like “Long Shot: The Dice Game” merge the thrill of betting and racing with classic Roll & Write mechanics, offering a more high-intensity experience. Another notable example is “My City: Roll & Build,” which incorporates an element from legacy games, where the game evolves over multiple sessions, creating a multi-game campaign similar to some role-playing games and miniatures games.
Closed Drafting Games
Closed drafting games are usually fast-paced, yet have little interaction between players compared to other genres. Players select cards from a hand and pass the remainder to the next player, crafting their strategy from a continuously rotating pool of options.
In addition to classic closed drafting games like 7 Wonders, newer games like Inis combine elements from closed drafting games and area control games. Players are pitted against each other with a 20-card deck to control a shared board. The game is highly interactive, with every decision of what card to draft based on each player’s strategies.
Racing board games are simple and fun. Whoever reaches the finish line first, wins. Just like racing video games, racing board games are fast-paced and are always exciting to play with friends and family.
Some racing board games can lose their appeal when there is a clear winner early on in the game. But games like Heat: Pedal to the Metal address this issue by allowing players who have fallen behind chances to easily catch up to those leading the pack. These games are always a fan favorite among board game enthusiasts, offering plenty of exhilarating gameplay.
Logic Deduction Games
Logic deduction board games challenge players to piece together clues to solve a problem or puzzle. These types of games range from household “who did it” classics like Clue to more sophisticated modern variants that incorporate futuristic sci-fi themes.
For instance, Search for Planet X is a modern logic deduction game that incorporates the use of a mobile app to manage clues. This creates a unique bridge between board games and technology. Logic deduction games will appeal largely to those who enjoy problem-solving and unraveling mysteries, making them a fun and engaging choice for game nights.
Choosing the Right Board Game
Selecting the best board game to play can be just as difficult as playing one. But understanding the types of board games and how they work can help you narrow down your choices. If you’re in the mood for strategy, go with an area control or worker placement board game. Want adventure? Go with a dungeon crawler. There’s something out there for everyone.
Remember, board games aren’t just games. They have a rich history spanning thousands of years and have been handed down for centuries from culture to culture. Choose your board game wisely.