It’s Dangerous to Not Know, Take This!

You walk into the game store, confidence in your step. The smell of paper, plastic, and nerd wafts through your nose and you feel it begin to ebb. Why did you come here? The person at the counter eyes you with lazy suspicion, clearly you don’t belong. You step toward the racks of game, trying to hide as you look at the bright covers. Words float from the side of you, “The remarkable thing about Dominion is how it invented the deck-builder genre, but it clearly has issues with inter-player activity due to its lack of any form of market economy mechanic”. Your eyes go wide, what are they talking about? Economy? Deck-Building? Isn’t that one a board game?

Has this happened to you? No? Ok maybe it’s just me. Regardless, the gamer mumbo-jumbo can seem scarily extensive and intimidating when you haven’t been immersed in it for long, or at all. Luckily, it’s really not that hard to sound like you know what you’re doing and feel confident in your newfound nerd-age. To help you in your quest, here is a quick guide to some common game types and terms:

Note: I’m not a game scholar. You can disagree on these categories, these are what I’ve learned from my time in the game environment, and may be less ‘academic’ than other resources.



Turns out there are more than just the die you use for gambling, and it can be important to know which is used for many different games, especially when it comes to roleplay

© Diactritica
  • D4: Four-sided dice.
  • D6: Six sided dice.
  • D8: Eight sided dice.
  • D10: 10 sided dice.
  • D00: 10 percentile dice.
  • D12: 12 sided dice.
  • D20: 20 sided dice.

Boards –

When people think of ‘analog’ they automatically think of board games. While a lot of games may have a board, it usually isn’t in the same vein as Monopoly or Clue.

  • Some boards are used as trackers, such as the one for Secret Hitler.
  • Boards can be modular and shift from game to game, such as in Catan’s hexagonal pattern.
  • Tabletop roleplaying games often have players creating the boards, such as in Dungeons and Dragons
Dungeons & Dragons Board via Wikipedia
Secret Hitler Board ©Nonstop Tabletop
Catan Board © Catan Shop

Cards –

EcoFluxx Cards ©Looney Labs

These are the most variable and flexible mechanic in games. Every game you play will probably have a different use for cards, so here are just a few examples:

  • Persistent Objects: cards that represent traits, items, resources, characters, etc.
  • Tools for Randomization: shuffling for the introduction of chance mechanic, keeps insuring games are different; note that not all games use randomization with cards so it’s important to check before you shuffle!
  • Self Explanatory: Games with cards may have more complex rules, but luckily they also typically explain what they do so don’t worry!





Mechanics/Game Types:

Drafting –

Card drafting is a common mechanic among card only games. Players take cards from a limited set and based on rules discard, trade, or keep cards to build a deck. Sometimes these decks are meant to reach a certain goal, other times they  are used to fight each other. Drafting is typically the focus if it is done before play begins. It also means player can choose the cards; they aren’t a randomly drawn hand.

Deck Builder –

Deck building is very similar to drafting. They can come in a much greater variety, and may use tokens as well as cards. Deck building typically means you construct the deck while play is underway, and are the focus of play. Many times they are combined with economic mechanics in which players can ‘buy’ or ‘trade’ cards.

Deduction –

I’ve personally discovered that this is my favorite mechanic. In deduction games, players become detectives and try to solve a mystery based on the available information. They are often very social games with interesting concepts like Secret Hitler or One Night Werewolf. Many are friendly toward beginners and can feature all manners of logical deduction.

Role-Playing Game –

The first name you can probably think of that fits this category is Dungeons & Dragons, and you wouldn’t be wrong. DnD is the quintessential RPG, and many people default to that when learning this category of games. But any game can have a role-playing or storytelling element, including games like Dread, Honey Heist, or even homebrewed variations for characters in games like Clue. Role-playing begins when anyone decides to tell a story with gameplay, so don’t think you have to buy a $60 300-page manual to play an RPG!

Area Control –

We all like a power trip once in a while, and nothing is better than a game that encourages you to do that! Area Control games involve taking over an area. Pretty self explanatory. Catan is a great example of this, in which you race to control resources and block others to reach a goal. If you have a competitive streak in you, you’ll like Area Control Games

Worker Placement/Action Drafting –

I’ll be honest, I’ve heard about these but haven’t really played them. The emphasis is on action. Players select a single action from a set of actions available to everyone. There can be limits on action, prices for actions, or even repercussions. Often times it is used in complement to one of the mechanics or genres above.

This is by no means a comprehensive or evenly very detailed list. Games often combine these ideas to make a new and different experience, but they are common enough you’ll learn to recognize them and realize what you do and don’t like! What kind of games do you think you’d want to play? What do you still want to know about tabletop games?

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