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Baffled by Board Game Banter? Your Guide to Talking the Talk


Ever got into a conversation with someone about board games and seconds later you are scrambling to think where the nearest priest might be because the person in front of you begins speaking in tongues? Shorthand, acronyms, and in jokes are a great way to build and feel part of a shared community. They can also be bewildering barriers and tremendously intimidating learning curves for people trying to wiggle into our lovely community and have some fun with us. Time for a cheeky little glossary to give our new friends a head start and keep this hobby inclusive. If you are a battle-scarred veteran of card and cardboard then feel free to see how many of the below terms you already know and yes, if you know all of them then you are a very clever sausage. Well done.

PS. this is far from an exhaustive list. This is a mix of commonly encountered terms aimed at those getting started.

Coming to terms with basic lingo

General jargon

General terms to help you hit the score track running.

Analysis paralysis / AP - when you are stuck in indecision. Do you take tickle the dragon to save the princess? Trade with King Daddy Ostrich for those level 2 Asparagus Sandals? Or maybe kiss The Frog to secure an optimum mortgage rate for next year’s renewal? All these things might benefit you and could even win you the game but what gives you the best odds? Well best think it over for another 5 minutes. I’m sure the other 7 players won’t mind waiting.

Aggro - When you draw the aggressive attention of something, usually away from someone else you are trying to keep alive. It’s blasting an air horn at that mob of goblins who are currently kicking the bejesus out of your squishy wizard friend. You brought heavy armour so mind being kicked and stabbed far less than Merlin over there.

FLGS - Acronym for Friendly Local Gaming Store. If you are looking for a fab place with big tables and full of board and card games to conduct some nerdery then start here. You could even start at Zatu’s very own shop! Just be aware that most FLGS have a closing time and will make you leave eventually despite your mightiest protests. Find me a 24 hour FLGS that doesn’t close. I challenge you. Please. DM me.

Mechanics - The nuts and bolts of how a game works. Games are often described or discussed by their mechanics as this can give an overall sense of the sort of experience you are likely to have with any given game. “You might hear someone say We have played a lot of Area Control games recently. Can we switch it up with a Deck Builder this week?” And yep, both of these mechanics are described below!

Meeple - an endearing term for a type of component which usually represents some sort of being. Mostly these are little wooden tokens cut to look like people. Since the hobby has expanded games have produced meeples in all sorts of flavours including animals, vehicles, and strawberry. Meeples have become an iconic symbol for the hobby and are often seen on merchandise.

Min Maxing / Min Maxers - is a style of play or type of player who carefully constructs their character, builds their deck, or plays a game to maximise efficiency and often requires a bit of maths and planning. This could be a barbarian player who puts all of their points in strength, then finds a loophole in the game that lets them tie a bear to the end of their axe for additional damage, then equips them with a loincloth made from the same material as high vis jackets and only fights on clear sunny days to maximise the chance their opponent will be blinded by reflective glare.

(Player) agency - how much freedom and control a player has in a game. Snakes and Ladders offers little agency beyond how hard you throw dem dice. Other games give the player more options in how they wish to play with ample actions to take, rules to take advantage of, and resources to deploy.

Point salad - a game that has lots of ways to score points and a player can usually choose between all or most of them at any given point. On your turn you could choose to go to the bakery which will get you one bread and two victory points, or you could go to the the tavern and listen to the old man in the corner for 3 victory points and a wisdom token, or you could go to the butcher and ask about rich beef sausages which will get you 1 victory point and move you along the meat cult track, or you could trade your wood for 2 Toyota Space Cruisers and a happier childhood.

Shelf of shame - The pile of games you own but havn’t played. For some, collecting IS the game. I find the longer that shrinkwrap stays on the harder it is to remove. Don’t be like me. Enjoy your games. You deserve them.

Sleeves - Little protective plastic sleeves that individual cards slip into. Usually purchased as an additional product rather than included with the game itself. The idea is to create a protective barrier around your coveted card board to ward off crumbs and grease stains. A must for some, a baffling expense to others.

Tableau - a general descriptor for your play area or row of cards, tiles, resources that sits in front of you.

Tap or Exhaust - Sometimes cards or components give you access to a resource at certain intervals during a game. ie. A card called “Gold Coin” may give you one gold coin to spend per turn. When you have spent this resource you may be required to “tap/Exhaust” the card. This means turn it 90 degrees as a clear symbol to your fellow players that you have used that card this turn. You may well be “untapping” or “refreshing” it later in the game which means to turn it back and therefor remind everyone at the table you have that resource to spend again.

Weight - Indicates how complex a game is. That is to say how much reading the rulebook gives you a nose bleed. You may hear something like: That was fun but was quite heavy; I have had a long day so let’s play something light; The box for Twilight Imperium is so big and heavy that it could crush a motorcycle if dropped from a second storey window.

Game types

A humble selection of common terms for types of games and the mechanics that run them

CCG - Collectible Card Game or sometime TCG for trading Card Game are games like Pokemon and Magic The Gathering where you buy packs of semi random cards which you use to build decks and play against other players' decks. These often lead to sub markets where people buy and trade individual cards online. Can be great fun but also pretty pricey if you go all in so best know that from the start!

Engine builder - games where the player is creating or managing a machine of sorts and they must continue to enhance, refine or sometimes repair it to make it more efficient or effective. Bear in mind the term engine is rarely literal. Your engine could be a village for which you introduce a woodsmen that give you 1 wood per turn. Next turn you introduce a sawmill that if your engine contains a woodsman you also gain 1 plank.

Worker Placement - games where players have tokens that represent workers of some kind which are used to place on spaces on a board that have an effect. Place your caveman here to get 1 wood, here to get 1 fish, or here to be eaten by a woolly rhino because he is not well liked by the other villagers.

Area control - games where you are vying for control of an area. Yep, that easy. This style lends itself well to themes of war and politicing. Risk would be the most universal example, where you are using the little vibrant men to grab land from one another.

Deck builder - A style of game that borrows heavily from CCGs where instead of building a deck them playing against other players you build a deck WHILE playing against other players. Usually cards are obtained from a shared pool and are competed for by other players. I onehundo recommend this style of game. It scratches that CCG itch without having to dedicate 40% of my annual salary and 3 walk in cupboards to it.

Dexterity games - Games where the fastest and/or most dexterous wins. These could include flicking, dodging, catching, holding your hands steady, performing open heart surgery, running, hiding, being hunted by something unknowable, tickling, giving someone the fingerguns before they give them to you, culinary preparation, etc.

Roll & write - Games were components generate actions or options available to a player. Usually this is through dice. The dice are rolled and the numbers or symbols they land on provide the player their options for that round. If a die lands on a house you are allowed to build a house that turn, if it lands on a train you can buy a train, if it lands on an elephant them run because this is Jumanji and the stampede is coming.

Take that - a mechanic which allows for some sort of attack or aggressive action against another player. ie. I play swarm of sentient floating molar teeth which means you lose all your cards and can’t go to Ikea for 1 month. Ha, take that!

Trick Taking - based on some really old card games played with a standard deck. Trick taking games are usually played over rounds where each player gets to play a single card each. The game has a system to define what card beats what in any scenario. Think Top Trumps but ranging from a bit to a lot more intricate.

Euro games - Loosely speaking Euro games (or simply Euros) are games that give their focus to complexity and depth. They are often a little heavier to learn and longer to play. Not all Eurogames are out of Europe but the style was certainly popularised this side of the pond first, with some of the most classic examples coming from Germany.

Gateway games - Acting as a gateway into the hobby these games tend to be easy to pick up, often affordably priced, and usually themed and marketed with accessibility in mind. Gateway games can be great for giving people a foundational understanding to play more complex games but don’t think gateways are just for newcomers. They are often adored by veterans alike. I’ve a fair few hours at the table under my belt but I regularly play gateways still particularly as warm up games before we move onto something heavier.

4X - Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate. Any game that lets you play like you are run a fortune 500 company. These are games where you run historic empires, build space federations, conquer newly discovered lands, etc.

Abstract - games that are loosely connected to their theme or simply don’t have one at all. Chess is a good example of this. If Chess was made today it would have been Kickstarted, come with hyper realistic resin miniatures for each piece, have 9 different multitiered boards each representing different biomes, have 10 different faction decks all inspired by different historical empires, and include 3 campaign book.

American style games - often considered at the opposite end of a scale to Euro games. American style tend to be more action focused and often go heavier into the theme. You might hear these games referred to as “Ameritrash” which is a dismissive or derogatory term sometimes used by eurogamers. The joke is a bit old (if it was funny to begin with) so I’d keep it friendly with American style if I was you.

That’s all I got. What you got? SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT.

Hope these were of some help. If you have some terms which you think could also help new players then get in touch! By raven if possible because I think that would be really cool.