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Guide to Gaming: What do all these terms mean?

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As in any subculture or group, unique terms (jargon) are created to describe common events, elements, or people within that group. Unfortunately, that can make it very intimidating to outsiders or newcomers–what do all these things mean? How do they fit in? And no one wants to look like an idiot and use terms incorrectly. So here’s a list of terms for your reference.

Please feel free to leave a comment if you’ve seen a term not on this list that you think belongs here, or if you’ve encountered a term you do not know and would like to find out (without getting harassed by trolls). This is your safe place.

If you know a term that isn’t on this list, or have encountered a term you don’t recognize that we don’t have on this list, please let us know in the comments and we will add it in. Note that we will likely remove comments after we have added the terms requested, just to keep things neat and tidy.

The following terms are presented in alphabetical order, for your convenient reference.

4X Game—A type of game, usually set in space, that involves 4 ‘Xs’ are: Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate. These refer to the four main elements of this type of game–the exploration (usually of space) and discovery of new land/planets/resources, the expansion of the player’s empire by claiming land/planets/resources and building up armies/fleets, the exploitation of resources in their various forms, and the extermination of enemies in combat. These types of games are often highly thematic with complex rules and lengthy playtimes. (Examples: Eclipse, Twilight Imperium, Space Empires 4X)

Abstract game—A purely mechanic-driven game with no theme based on perfect information and little to no luck. (Occasionally, a game with an irrelevant theme—for example, Through the Desert—might be described as abstract.) (Examples: Checkers, Chess, Ingenious)

Ameritrash—A style of game that focuses heavily on theme, with attempts to tie mechanics into the story of the game.

Analysis paralysis—Condition in which a player takes an inordinate amount of time to decide on a move because of overanalyzing the situation, perhaps based on a large amount of information or an important choice.

Area control—A mechanic in which players compete over zones on the board for points or privileges. Depending on the game, control is held by having a majority of tokens or by eliminating the other player’s tokens from that zone. (Examples: El Grande, Midgard, Mission: Red Planet)

Auction—A mechani whereby players compete through bidding for resources, advantages, or points in a game. (Examples: Ra, Modern Art, Power Grid, For Sale)

Bits—Refers to all the little pieces that come as part of a game—wooden or cardboard tokens, meeples, coins, dice, miniatures. Also referred to as “components.”

Blind bidding—A mechanic that has players making one bid for privileges, resources, or points while being unaware what the other players are bidding for the same privileges, resources, or points. (Examples: Revolution!, Money, Modern Art)

Card drafting—A mechanic that forces players to choose only one card from a common pool, allowing the other players to choose from what remains. (Examples: 7 Wonders, Biblios)

CCG—Abbreviation for “collectible (or customizable) card game,” used to describe games with a basic rules set that governs a large collection of licensed cards. Player collect and assemble cards into decks in order to play. (Examples: Magic: The Gathering)

CDG—Abbreviation, typically in wargaming, for “card-driven game,” games in which cards determine when and how you can move and conduct other actions.

Chrome—Rules, mechanics, or especially bits added to a game that enhance its theme but which are not necessary to gameplay.

Cooperative—A game type in which players work together as a team to overcome challenges presented by the game. Players win or lose together, and the opponent is the game itself. (Examples: Pandemic, Escape: The Curse of the Temple, Space Alert)

Collectible Miniatures Game—A miniatures game (see below) in which players must build their sets by buying randomized boxes of miniatures, much like a CCG. (Examples: Heroclix)

Cubies—Small, colored wooden cubes often used to represent resources or serve as markers, especially in Euro games.

D6(D#, D%)—This refers to dice with a specific number of sides.  A d6 is a standard 6-sided die.  Common dice used in board games are d6, d8, and d10.  Other dice, especially used in Role-Playing Games, include d4, d12, d20. In some cases you will see a number preceding this symbol, such as “2d6” or “3d10”, where the first number refers to how many dice should be rolled. A special case, d%, refers to rolling 2d10, with one die representing the 10s digit and the other representing the 1s digit of a number between 1 and 100.

Deck-building—A mechanic in which each player has their own deck of cards, and during the course of the game, they add and remove cards to their deck to improve its effectiveness in the game.

Dexterity game—Games that require proficiency in some physical task such as flicking, sliding, or balancing. (Examples: Crokinole, FlowerFall, Ascending Empires)

Dice allocation—A mechanic that involves the use and placement of dice for game benefits. (Their function is similar to workers in worker placement games, but the workers have the values of the dice.) (Examples: Garden Dice, Kingsburg, Carnival, Alien Frontiers)

Dungeon master—A person, usually in Role-Playing Games, who sets up the stories and encounters that the other players have to interact and deal with.  This person controls the actions of all NPCs, describes scenarios, and determines whether player actions meet with success or failure.  Often referred to as a DM.  The term “Dungeon Master” is most often used for the Dungeons & Dragons RPG. See also: Game Master

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D/DnD): A very popular role-playing Game published by Wizards of the Coast.  D&D is the most well known of all RPGs, and many people use the term D&D or Dungeons & Dragons when referring to role-playing games in general.

Dynamic player order—A mechanic in which player turns do not always go in clockwise order. Instead, player order is determined by the game situation and can change throughout the game. (Examples: Kill Doctor Lucky, Olympos, Glen More)

Euro game (or just Euro)—A style of game that focuses heavily on mechanics, usually with an abstract goal (victory points) and often themed around economics—producing and managing resources efficiently to score points.

Fiddly—Term describing the lengthy and/or cumbersome manipulation of a game’s elements, either requiring players to move lots of physical pieces or make extensive mental calculations.

Filler—A quick, light game with simple rules typically to be enjoyed in between heavier games. (Note: This term is many times used derisively and is not universally used.)

FLGS—Abbreviation for “friendly local game store.”

Game Master—A person, usually in Role-Playing Games, who sets up the stories and encounters that the other players have to interact and deal with.  This person controls the actions of all NPCs, describes scenarios, and determines whether player actions meet with success or failure.  Often referred to as a GM.  The term “Game Master” is a more general term for non-Dungeons and Dragons RPGs. See also: Dungeon Master

Gateway game—A game with simple rules that is easy to teach to families and non-gamers, yet with enough depth to retain its appeal for gamers. Gateway games usually have a hook, an element of universal appeal (whether thematic or aesthetic), in order to make a positive introduction into the hobby. (Examples: Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne)

Hidden role—A mechanic in which players have a special ability or goal in the game that is unknown to the other players. (Examples: The Resistance, Shadows over Camelot, Citadels, Mafia/Werewolf)

Icons/iconography—Small pictorial representations used to remind players of rules and abilities in a game without forcing them to read blocks of text. (Board games often use icons to make a game language independent, since most games have small print runs and are sold to multiple countries through the same publisher.)

Kickstarter—A website that facilitates the creation of various projects by allowing anyone to contribute money in a low risk fashion.  Projects must have a set goal to reach; the amount they need to make the project happen, and if that amount is not reached no one actually has to give any of their money.  Many smaller and more independent game publishers have utilized Kickstarter to raise the money for games to increase initial production value and print more copies of a game than they might be able to do themselves.  In addition, some larger companies have started using Kickstarter to fund side projects that they would not otherwise be able to afford, such as mobile app versions of their games.

Kingmaker—A player who helps another player win by ignoring their own success and helping that player through intentional inaction or actions that assist the player.  Someone who acts as a Kingmaker often throws off the balance of the game, and acting as a Kingmaker is highly discouraged.  This does NOT refer to someone that makes an unintentional in-game mistake that helps another player win, nor does it refer to a player who makes an alliance with another player hoping to seal the victory for him or herself.

LCG—Abbreviation for “living card game,” a trademark of Fantasy Flight Games. LCGs (and other non-trademarked models) are similar in style and substance to CCGs, but sell their cards in smaller, more complete sets so as to minimize the collecting aspect. (Examples: The Lord of the Rings LCG, A Game of Thrones LCG, Call of Cthulhu, Android: Netrunner, Star Wars: The Card Game)

Luck-based—A game that relies heavily on lucky dice rolls or card draws, or another element of luck, for victory.

Majority control—A game mechanic in which players compete in having the most in some area or resource, such as pieces in a region or shares in a stock.

Mass market—Well-known games such as Monopoly, Sorry, and Life, which are sold in big-box stores like Target. These games are usually simpler and many of which feature basic roll-and-move mechanisms and are often regarded as children’s games.

Math trade—A computer-assisted way of trading games. Players list the games they own that they wish to trade away, then select others’ games on that list that they would be willing to trade their games for. At a scheduled time, a computer program compiles all the information and attempts to maximize trades.

Mechanic/Mechanism—A functional element of a game; the building blocks from which a game is constructed. Each game features a system of mechanics that work together to form the whole.

Meeple—A common wooden game token that vaguely resembles a person. Variations of this refer to different shapes of wooden tokens. Variations you might see: vegemeeple, animeeple, feetple.

Minis—Small plastic or metal pieces that are sculpted to look realistic. Whereas cubes are generic representations of something, and meeples are simplified representations, minis may appear as a detailed ship or warrior or creature that you will use or encounter within a game.

Minis game—A game primarily featuring tactical manipulation of minis, usually in direct conflict with the other players. These games often feature warfare or combat (Examples: Star Wars X-Wing Minis Game, Warhammer 40,000)

Negotiation—A game mechanic that involves a heavy degree of diplomacy, interaction, and occasionally backstabbing in order to advance. (Examples: Cosmic Encounter, Chicken Caesar, I’m the Boss, Bohnanza)

NPC—”Non-Player Character.”  Refers to an in-game character that is not directly controlled by a player.  In RPGs, NPCs are usually controlled by the Game Master. In board games, NPCs usually follow patterns or simple directives based on card draws or dice rolls.

Party game—A game designed for a large group of people with very simple rules that emphasize social interaction, usually through creativity and/or humor. (Examples: Scattergories, Apples to Apples, Wits and Wagers)

Press your luck—A game mechanic that presents players with a strong risk/reward element, usually by forcing players to decide for themselves when they will end their turn. The decision usually involves small or large incremental games with a possibility for losing everything. (Examples: Can’t Stop, Incan Gold, Infiltration)

Print and Play (PnP/P&P)—A version of a game in which electronic files are provided in order that players may print off the cards and boards themselves.  This is a definitively cheaper method of board game distribution, however the component quality is generally significantly downgraded from a retail box version, and often requires the players obtaining their own pawns, cubies, and other non-paper components.  Print & Play files are often given away as part of Kickstarter backer rewards, or for player-designed expansions or alternate versions of games.

Real-time game—A game in which the passage of time within the game matches the actual passage of time. Performing tasks with precision within a set time limit (or faster than opponents) is usually the mark of these games. (Examples: Escape: The Curse of the Temple, Space Alert, The Omega Virus, Dutch Blitz)

Replayability—A measure of a game’s ability to remain fun and engaging for repeated plays.

Resources—Elements used in the economy of a board game. Many games require the collection of various resources (sometimes generic, sometimes specific types such as wheat, sheep, or clay) and spending combinations of them to gain benefits.

Role selection—A mechanic in which players each choose roles (either simultaneously or in turn) that grant specific functions and/or privileges for the chooser. (Examples: Puerto Rico, Citadels, Glory to Rome)

RPG—Abbreviation for “role playing game,” those games (usually with just books and supplements for rules) in which players create characters and collectively participate in a controlled and progressive story facilitated by a moderator (i.e., gamemaster). (Examples: Dungeons and Dragons, Fiasco)

Runaway leader—A game condition that allows one player to advance so far in a game that the other players have no chance to catch up. Usually this is a condition that game designers try to mitigate.

Set collection—A mechanic that rewards players for acquiring multiple copies of game resources. (Examples: Ticket to Ride, Ra, Saint Petersburg, Canasta)

Simultaneous play—A game in which players do not take discrete turns; everyone plays at the same time, either as much as they want or within the same round. (Examples: Dutch Blitz, Escape: The Curse of the Temple, 7 Wonders)

Strategic—A descriptor for a game that requires long-term planning for victory. “Strategy” refers to the bird’s-eye-view planning for a game.

Tableau building—A mechanic in which players play cards in front of them that provide lasting abilities, functions, and privileges as long as the card is in play. Tableau-building games often have a strong element of combos, where abilities interact with each other. (Examples: Race for the Galaxy, Glory to Rome, San Juan, Saint Petersburg)

Tactical—A descriptor for a game that requires decisions based on a dynamic play environment. “Tactics” refers to decisions that are made on the fly, often in response to other players’ decisions that affect the game situation.

Theme—Subjective representation that a game generates with its rules, mechanics, components, and design that makes you “feel” like you’re doing more than just playing a game. Also: the principle that draws the game together in aesthetics, mechanics, and gameplay.

Tile-laying—A game mechanic that uses spacial placement of game pieces to affect the game’s outcome. (Examples: Carcassonne, Through the Desert, Samurai, Tigris & Euphrates, Garden Dice)

Traitor—A mechanic in some cooperative games that forces or allows one player to betray the team and pursue a separate goal. (Examples: Shadows over Camelot, Betrayal at the House on the Hill, The Resistance [to a lesser extent])

 Worker placement—A common mechanism in which players place their pieces on different areas of the board, granting them access to specific functions, resources, or privileges. (Examples: Caylus, Agricola, Kingdom of Solomon, Stone Age)

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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