The starting point for any board game enthusiast is understanding all of the different types of board games out there. Once you figure out what type of board game works best for your group, you can really tailor the whole game night around games that your group will love.
Board games have been around for a long time, plenty of time to create tons of different genres of games. All of those different genres are usually named after the main mechanic or something that stands out about how the game is played. To make things more confusing, games can even be in multiple categories.
This guide will not only help you understand all of the different types of board games, it will also list out examples to try out any particular genre.
This type of board game is the oldest that is still played today. There are a few specific features that define this category of game:
- No randomness (dice rolls, card draws, etc.)
- There is no hidden information
- Turn-based movement
- The theme is not important
Of course, there are some outliers. For instance, Stratego manages to incorporate hidden information without any random elements and is usually considered an abstract strategy game.
Here are some of the best known games in this genre:
Action drafting games rely on a shared pool of actions between players, each player chooses an action to do each round which eliminates the ability for any other player to do that action.
This isn’t as popular of a game category since many games use this mechanism while still being placed firmly in another category of board game. However, there are some great games that use this concept:
- War of the Ring
- Puerto Rico
- Twilight Imperium
- Rising Sun
Worker placement games are a sub-category of this type of game. The difference between the two being that a worker is used to draft an action instead of the player directly doing it.
This is a pretty straightforward genre of game. Players are tasked with controlling an area of a board or map. Most of these games revolve around controlling area by placing player resources there like armies or workers, which can be removed by enemy players.
There are several huge mainstream area control games:
- Twilight Imperium
- Gaia Project
- Twilight Struggle
These are very strategic games that usually require a paying attention to what’s going on over a large area of map and controlling a lot of units. For that reason, these games are some of the hardest for newer players to get into.
Bluffing games are another straightforward type of board game. These games involve some sort of deception from players and hidden information.
This is another mechanic in board games that is usually not the main focus of the game but a secondary tool used in the game. Some popular games that incorporate bluffing are:
- One Night Ultimate Werewolf
- Cockroach Poker
Most of these games also make great party games.
This is a type of game where the main mechanic focuses on players picking cards from a lineup. All players have a chance at the same cards and a big point here is that the cards are not drawn randomly or from a pile.
It’s hard to say what game holds the title as the first card drafting game. However, undoubtedly one of the games to bring this type of board game to the spotlight is 7 Wonders, which released in 2010.
Several other games have iterated on the concept and have had some amazing success implementing card drafting into all types of games. Some notable games that have card drafting are:
One of the best things about this genre of game is the flexibility it has to be implemented in some in depth strategy games as well as fun party games that are much more lighthearted.
Cooperative board games are a cornerstone of the hobby. They allow players to work together towards goals to beat the game. In that sense, players are actually playing against the board game.
One of the earliest and most successful cooperative board games is Pandemic which released in 2008 and sold countless units both physically and digitally (like on iOS). Since then, several other coop board games have followed in step and there are tons of high-quality games that get players to work together. Here are some of the best:
- Spirit Island
- Aeon’s End
- Pandemic Legacy
These games are extremely fun and accessible to anyone which makes this category one of the best for groups with people new to board games or younger children.
The main mechanic in this genre of board games is building a deck, either before or during gameplay. This is similar to Trading Card Games (like Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic: The Gathering) in that decks are assembled by the players. However, these don’t require as much of a time and money investment and allow for more variety in strategy.
This type of game was kicked off with the release of Dominion in 2008. Since then, there have been several excellent games that can be considered deck-building games:
Some of these games (like Mage Knight) have incorporated deck-building without making it the main mechanic in the game. Due to the great mix of fun and strategy that this mechanic brings to games, it will surely continue to be implemented in some of the top board games.
This is another type of game that explains itself. Dexterity games rely on the player’s physical motion to play the game in the vein of Jenga or Operation. The game genre goes back much further than either of those games.
Crokinole, a Canadian dexterity game, is dated back to 1876 and is still widely played today. The genre has seen a resurgence with some great games being made in the last few years:
- Flick ’em Up
- Pitch Car
- Go Cuckoo
These types of games mesh with much larger games that can’t be considered board games. Several tabletop games have taken the concepts of games like shuffleboard or bowling and successfully brought them to tabletop size.
Engine building board games are characterized by players buying or building up resources that allow them to gain even more currency or resources. This type of game can be a little harder to visualize.
The name comes from the idea that players are building an engine which will produce points later in the game and snowball on itself when you feed those points it produces back into the engine. Some of the best examples of modern engine building games are:
- Terraforming Mars
This is a highly strategic type of board game since choices made early in the game have a snowball effect over the rest of the game.
Eurogames can also be called German-style board games since the invention of this type of game took place in the country. The games are defined by a few different characteristics:
- No player elimination
- Low amount of luck
- Low amount of player interaction
- Typically have multiple scoring methods
The Settlers of Catan threw this board game into the limelight when it released in 1995 and went on to sell over 25 million copies. However, there are some recent games that have made their own dent in the genre:
- Brass: Birmingham
- Great Western Trail
- Power Grid
This is such a broad category of game, with such wide appeal, that it will probably always be a major player in the board game space.
Legacy games are a type of tabletop game where the game is permanently changed over the course of the game. Usually this means that these games are only good for one playthrough.
Risk Legacy, released in 2011, was the first game to use the format. Since then, this type of board game has become extremely popular with several legacy variants of popular board games being released.
Here are some of the most successful legacy board games:
- Pandemic Legacy (several seasons)
- Betrayal Legacy
- Aeon’s End: Legacy
A standout in this list is Gloomhaven which has arguably been the most popular board game for years.
It’s hard to call this a “type” of board game since it’s the only category on the list that isn’t based around a mechanic or the way the game is played. This type of game is based on whether or not it includes miniature figures.
It did make the list though because tons of people specifically look for and collect games that include miniatures. Generally, these games are sprawling roleplaying or wargames with very detailed environments and, of course, miniatures.
Some of the most popular miniature board games people are playing today are:
- Mansions of Madness
- Star Wars: Rebellion
- War of the Ring
These types of games attract the people that are deep into the tabletop gaming hobby because of the detailed stages and deep gameplay that they bring to the table.
This type of game sells a ton of units due to its mass appeal. A party game gears itself towards groups of people that may not be particularly into tabletop games. Here are some things that make a really good party game:
- Easily Understood Rules
- Quick Gameplay
- Higher Maximum Player Count
- Easy Setup
There are a lot of games that fall into this category with some early entries into this genre being Charades and Pictionary. Those are not quite on the level of modern party games, here are some examples of newer games in this category:
- Secret Hitler
- Cards Against Humanity
The social aspect of these games set them apart from any other genre on the list. It makes this type of game super fun to play in any situation with pretty much anyone.
This type of game is characterized by players taking on the role of a fictional character. This group of games, also called RPG’s, are some of the most popular games ever made both on the tabletop and in video games.
The first commercially available RPG game was Dungeons & Dragons published in 1974. The character building and story building systems in this game gave rise to the genre but other games have arguably perfected RPG gaming.
Some of the best modern RPG games are also the most popular games out today:
- Mage Knight
- Arkham Horror: The Card Game
- One Deck Dungeon
Modern RPG tabletop games have simplified the complex games that originally created the genre without sacrificing the freedom that make RPG games so much fun.
Roll and Write
These games are usually pretty portable and easy to learn and play. They are categorized by players doing an action, like rolling dice, and then marking the results or choices on a sheet.
The most popular tabletop game in this genre is Yahtzee but there has been a lot of innovation in this style of game since Yahtzee’s original release in 1956. Some of the best modern roll-and-write games today are:
- Welcome To…
- That’s Pretty Clever
- The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game
One of the best things about roll and write games is their flexibility with player count, many have no max player amount which makes them great party games.
Storytelling games make the storyline the main part of the game. This type of game closely relates to roleplaying games since those also make storytelling a main portion of the game.
There are games that are more focused on storytelling though. Here are some good examples of games built around storytelling:
- Fog of Love
- Once Upon A Time
- T.I.M.E Stories
Someone that is very into roleplaying games are likely going to be happy to try or even seek out this type of game.
These types of games are defined by players placing tiles to place a piece or tile that gives the player points or triggers an action.
The main game pointed to in this genre is Carcassonne, in which players create a map and gain points for the pieces that are placed. There are several other good examples of this type of board game:
- The Castles of Burgundy
- A Feast for Odin
- Terraforming Mars
This is usually a secondary type of game, not the main mechanic a game is build around. For that reason, not many people specifically collect or seek out tile-placement games.
Trading card or collectable card games are based around players collecting cards and making decks out of them which can then be played against other players. Baseball cards were an early form of collectable card games which still thrive today.
The pinnacle of this type of game is Magic: The Gathering which kicked off the trading card game craze of the ’90s. Since then the genre of game has had success with some iconic games being released like:
- Pokemon Trading Card Game
- Android: Netrunner
Lately, these types of games have made the jump to being primarily digital games, mostly focused on mobile platforms. Most of these digital-only board games have roots in the esports industry with huge prizes and massive crowds watching the tournaments.
The biggest of the digital only trading card games include:
- Gwent: The Witcher Card Game
These types of games will likely continue to focus on digital platforms for the huge audience they have.
This is a type of game, generally played with cards, that focuses on a series of rounds. These rounds are called tricks and a winner is determined for each round. The goal of the game is based around the amount of rounds won, or tricks taken.
Old trick taking games include Bridge and Spades. More recent trick-taking games include:
- The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
- The Fox in the Forest
- Skull King
This category of game skews toward older games. There have been notable recent standouts that have put trick-taking games back on the map. I would expect this type of game to continue to become more popular.
The wargame genre of board games is one of the broadest and most popular type of tabletop game. These games tie themselves closely to military action where wars are covered in either historical or fictional situations.
The first wargame is credited to a game invented in Prussia in 1780 meant to teach military strategy but was later available commercially to play for fun. Todays wargames have evolved to be much more fun to play than that original game, some of the most popular modern wargames are:
- Twilight Struggle
- War of the Ring
Although there are some great modern tabletop wargames, digital games have a heavy advantage in this category since the computation around moves (or in real-time) can make the game so much more realistic.
Worker placement games are highlighted by a mechanic that allows players to place a “worker”, usually represented by a meeple, that does a task. The task it does usually gives the player resources.
Keydom, a game released in 1998, is usually referred to as the game that gave birth to this genre. However, that game never became quite as popular as games that implement this gameplay today. Some of the most popular worker placement games are:
- Lords of Waterdeep
These games tend to have a low amount of luck involved which make them great game for players looking for strategy games with a little more spice to them than the games that make up the abstract strategy category.