The Unabridged and Unfinished Tabletop Gaming Terms Dictionary
Here at Antsy Labs, we consider ourselves decently knowledgeable about the tabletop gaming space.
We’ve had some luck (thanks to all of you!) producing a few games (like Storm the Gate and Fidget Factory) and also commemorating some of our favorite gaming achievements (with a Tabletop Gaming IRLA Pack).
Creating games is one thing. Being able to speak the tabletop gaming language… that’s something else entirely.
We realized we’re not alone in not always knowing the difference between a Dungeon Master and Meeple.
To help bridge the board gaming gap and bring beginners and experts alike a little bit closer, we have created a piece we are calling the Unabridged And Unfinished Tabletop Gaming Terms Dictionary.
(How might something be unabridged *and* unfinished, you might ask? For one, a love of alliteration. And two, as an industry that’s always evolving, we wanted to answer this to the best of our abilities now, while leaving the door open for revisions later.)
Without any further ado, let’s get to the terms!
4X Game – These reference a genre of IRL and virtual expansive, empire building games characterized by 4 main features: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. As a player, you start by controlling a faction and exploring, then expanding into new areas, using and exploiting the area’s resources, and then defeating and exterminating fellow players.
Abstract Games – With the rise of themed games, this category refers to games without a theme. A game for gaming’s sake. Classics include Chess and Go.
Action Selection – A game mechanism that sees players choosing what to do from a set list of actions, like choosing a card, drafting, or worker placement.
Alpha Player – This term, sometimes called quarterbacking (an archaic term about some professional sport few people still play), refers to when one person takes the lead in the game. This can be because of the player knowing more about the game than fellow players, or because of the game design itself.
Amerigame/Ameritrash – For games whose theme and story are more nuanced than the gameplay itself.
Analysis Paralysis – Difficulties or delays in making decisions when faced with many possible actions and many variables to consider. This is less a trait of any particular game and more a personality trait.
Area control – These games are played and won by controlling parts of and/or all of the board.
CCG – Often used interchangeably with TCGs (trading card games), CCGs are collectible card games. Instead of a board game that contains all the necessary components in the initial box, these sets need to be collected (often by booster packs). Decks are built from these cards and then played against each other.
Co-op – Short for co-operative, this involves players working together for a joint victory.
Crunchy – This is a game that has depth to it, one you can sink your teeth into thanks to interesting rules, decisions, and gameplay mechanics.
D6, D20 – These reference the dice used in gameplay. D6 would be a standard die with 6 sides.
Deck-Building – Like the idea from CCG, but the assembling of the deck is part of the gameplay mechanics.
Deduction Games – Gameplay is built around figuring out hidden information through logic or guesswork as information is slowly revealed throughout play.
Dexterity Games – These are designed more around a physical action than specific gameplay mechanics and appeal to a wide age range of players.
Die Pips – Pips are the spots on dice. A D20 has 20 pips.
Downtime – In turn-based games, this refers to the time between a player’s turns.
Dudes On A Map – This is a genre of games where soldiers are moved around a map.
Dungeon Crawl – As evocative as the name sounds, these turn-based games involve moving through dungeons (or dungeon-like areas) while developing characters and completing quests.
Eurogame – Games that feature strategy and decision-making over luck.
Expansion – For self-contained board games, expansions add additional content like more cards, a different storyline, or something else. This is a common way to extend a game’s shelf life.
Fiddly – This can reference a game that involves lots of very specific rules to keep track of, one that takes a long time to explain, or, more literally, games with mechanisms that require a lot of manual manipulation of pieces.
Filler – Often played in 15 minutes or less, these are lighter games that could be played while traveling, while waiting for others to arrive, or as a mental palate cleanser between larger games.
Fluff/Fluffy – A way of describing the world of a game, fluffy games have strong senses of story and of world-building.
Gateway Game – Like the gateway drugs we were warned about by DARE in middle school, these games are stepping stones from mass market games to the more complex ones available.
German Game – Characterized by having simpler rules, family-friendly conflict, this category also features games with depth and replayability.
GG – Taken from the internet, GG is short for "Good Game" and is often said/typed by all after playing as a sign of good sportsmanship.
Grognard – A label for gamers who prefer older-style wargames, though it has also become synonymous with those who complain about younger gamers or styles of gameplay.
Grok – Taken from Heinlein’s 1961 novel ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’, a grok is someone who has a total understanding of something and in this context would be a player who has mastered a game.
Kickstarter – Popular with board and card game manufacturers, this crowd-funding platform has allowed many indie game makers to fund the development of their boardgames.
Kingmaker – Despite not being in a position to win, this is a player who still gets the chance to choose which player will win through his actions
Legacy Game – As opposed to traditional games that reset completely at the end of each game, a legacy game is designed to change permanently as it is played (by writing on cards, destroying certain elements, etc.). This often means there is a finite amount of playability.
LCG/Living Card Game – Similar to CCGs, living card games come in predefined packs without discrepancies so that players know which cards are contained within.
Mathy – For games that heavily feature math, either in terms of the gameplay and strategy or for keeping score.
Mechanics/mechanisms – This is the umbrella term for how a game is played. These include roll-and-move, flicking, and area control, among others.
Meeple – Named for the little wooden figures used in different board games, meeple has become a symbol for board gaming.
Mulligan – The act of discarding an entire hand and drawing a new one.
Multiplayer solitaire – A term that trends from neutral to denigrating, it describes games where your ability to win the game doesn’t depend much on interaction between players.
OOP – Out-of-print games are ones that the publisher is no longer manufacturing, so playing it means finding an unsold copy, buying it used, or playing it at a board game café.
Orthogonally Adjacent – Of the directional moves you can make in a game, these include straight up, down, left, and right - not diagonal.
Pick-Up And Deliver – A game mechanism that refers to moving around the board, collecting items, and delivering them.
PNP – Print-and-play games are ones that can be downloaded and printed out.
Point Salad Games – Games with multiple ways to earn victory points.
Press Your Luck Games – Games that involve players repeatedly making decisions with a certain amount of risk, leaving it up to the player to decide when to stop - or risk losing all that they’ve gained.
Rage Quit – What happens to a player who is overcome by frustration into quitting a game before it’s finished.
Role Selection – The process of a player choosing their role for the current round or game (as seen in our very own Fidget Factory).
Roll-And-Move Games – Another classic game mechanism that involves rolling dice and moving a corresponding number of spaces.
Roll-And-Write Games – Like the above, but instead of moving a piece, these games use the dice rolls to motivate filling out a worksheet.
Rondel – Games where a player's choice of actions is limited by their ability to move around the rondel. This restricts a player from taking the same action repeatedly, though they can keep moving by paying a cost.
Route Building – Games built around players claiming routes between cities.
RPG – Role-playing games are often described as situations where a player controls a fictional character and then undertakes a quest in an imaginary world.
Simulations – These games are primarily designed to recreate or educate. These can include business simulation, sports management, and historical recreations, among others.
Solo Games – Board games designed for solo players, or a range of players that can include a single player.
Table Hog – A way of describing board games that take up a large amount of the table.
Take-that Games – A particularly aggressive type of mechanism which features players taking things or doing damage to other players throughout gameplay.
Thematic/Theme – Games that feature narrative structures and/or the development of characters
Tile-Laying Games – Games which involve the laying of tiles to score points
Traitor Mechanic AKA Hidden Traitor Games – Games with one or more players work to sabotage or subvert the rest of the group’s plans.
Turtling – Describes a player who takes a more defensive position in a military style game
Train Games AKA 18xx – Games built around 19th century railroad companies that include route building, stock markets, and market manipulation. 18xx represents a year, often either 1830 or 1846.
Unbalanced – Games that are not fairly balanced, or that have a dominant strategy that can always win.
Victory Points – These are a reference to elements that directly help a player win the game, which are often a large part of the game, too. In Monopoly, the player with the most money at the game’s end wins, and money is also a significant portion of the game.
Weight – The perceived weight of playing the game, including the rules and rule exceptions that must be kept in mind throughout play.
Worker Placement – This mechanic refers to players with a number of available tokens, referred to as "workers.” They take turns assigning them to different "action" spaces.