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Types of Board Game Categories

Types of Board Game Categories

The board game industry has exploded. There are hundreds of new board games popping up all the time. You only need to look at Kickstarter or any crowdfunding website to see the rabid popularity. It can be a bit overwhelming.

What happened to the good ol’ days where families sat around the dinner table for a friendly game of Monopoly, shortly followed by a table flip and screaming match because Kendra never trades the green properties…?

Monopoly Table Flip

But I digress.

Board gaming today has turned into a behemoth, with games and strategies becoming ever more complex and in-depth. With so many new gamers in the industry, imaginations run wild.

The traditional view of what a board game is has been completely thrown out the window, the genres and mechanics becoming so intertwined that it can be hard to figure out “What’s in the box?”

There’s been such a huge influx of ways to play so we’ve compiled a list of some of the most common types of board games players will find and some of the newer mechanics that new players won’t be familiar with.

Have no fear, Game Cows is here! Explore the different types of board games and categories below.

Abstract Strategy Board Games

Abstract Strategy Board Game Examples

When you think of an abstract strategy game the image of a socially awkward kid with tape around their glasses comes to mind (tl;dr chess club).

But abstract strategy board games have been around for a long time, since before written history, and have been played continuously by almost every culture in the world. Some of the oldest board games in the world are abstract strategy games.

Elements of Abstract Strategy Board Games

  • Straightforward, Player vs. Player
  • Rely on skill over luck
  • No theme

These types of games do not rely on any real-world theme and the outcomes are entirely contingent upon the decisions that players make. Many of these games possess what’s called “perfect information,” in which players have nothing to discover, only must think through their moves logically.

Abstract Strategy games rarely if ever have either a luck or chance component, such as dice rolls or card draws. They tend to have a set of simple rules that are easy to learn. The real challenge is the complexity of options that come after the shortlist of rules.

These games are great for improving critical thinking, where players must think many steps ahead to outmaneuver their opponent.

Many players’ first introduction to board games will be abstract strategy games.  

Examples of Abstract Strategy Board Games

Educational Board Games

Examples of Educational Board Games

Educational games have been around for quite some time and they get a bad rap for being childish and silly or for being dry and trivia-heavy. Some of them definitely can be, but I have played many educational games that were actually quite fun. So yes even learning can be fun.

Elements of Educational Board Games

  • Usually geared toward young children
  • Focus on teaching a particular skill, technique, or field of inquiry

Most games have some kind of educational benefit, but there are a few whose sole purpose is to ensure their players learn something tangible from a game.

Ravensburger is a German game company that produces games specifically geared toward children. They are particularly interesting because each one has a specific educational quality.  

Kendra grew up playing a lot of these games and we still play them today, because even though they’re made for younger audiences, the games themselves are still tons of fun.

Board Games in Education

Games can be an excellent tool for education. When I was teaching eighth-grade English Literature I was preparing my students for debates, so naturally, I forced them to play a massive game of Werewolf.

It, of course, devolved into a screaming and shouting match, which led to my lesson on how to form arguments and argue them respectfully and accurately. The next time we played, after the debates were over, the game dynamic was much more articulate.

Educational games are excellent for families and small children. They tend to have very simple mechanics and are a good introduction to teaching young children about cooperation and following a set of established rules.

Examples of Educational Board Games

Cooperative Board Games

Cooperative Board Game Examples

Cooperative games are particularly good if you have one player that is more competitive than the rest of your gaming group. Your entire group is pitted against a common enemy, usually the board itself. This is an interesting mechanic and has seen some recent popularity in new board games.

Elements of Cooperative Board Games

  • Players work together against the game itself.
  • Players win or lose together
  • Typically, higher difficulty objectives make up for player collaboration

This gaming genre usually has some randomized mechanic that acts as the A.I. for the board. Pandemic uses decks of cards that tell what territories are being infected.

It doesn’t have to be a deck of cards but there is usually some kind of random element that the board will use against the combined forces of all the players.

Some more experienced players may notice that 2 of the games on our recommendations are not 100% cooperative. Betrayal and Dead of Winter, although they both start out cooperative, lead into a hidden traitor game (we’ll talk more in detail about those in the next few sections).

Examples of Cooperative Board Games

Eurogame (German-Style Board Games)

Eurogame Board Game Examples

One of the most interesting types of board games I’ve found is the Eurogame. This genre originated in Germany after WWII and because of anti-war sentiment, many Germans turned away from the typical military themes that board games tended to have historically. Instead, they focused on economic topics, like agriculture, infrastructure, or building.

Elements of Eurogames

  • Usually includes indirect player interaction
  • Focus on economic goals over military expansion
  • Encourages skill over randomized (luck) elements
  • Players rarely get eliminated

I think it’s fascinating to see how anti-war sentiment had such a huge impact on the mindset of a people and to see how it manifested in their everyday life. If you’d like to learn more about the history of board games be sure to check out our post, which looks at the evolution of board games from prehistory to the modern-day.

Eurogames have become a defining style of games worldwide. They’re typically easy to learn and require thought over random luck to win, and rarely is a player eliminated. This makes them excellent games for families or really any gaming group.

Most implement some sort of victory point feature that tracks the scores throughout the game and allows players to continually play instead of being attacked and forced out mid-game.

Examples of Eurogames

Hidden Traitor Games

Hidden Traitor Board Game Examples

Hidden Traitor games are incredible. There’s nothing that brings friends closer together than sitting down at a table and lying to their faces.

Well maybe not quite, but that’s exactly what happens in Hidden Traitor board games. The underlying premise of this game type is that everyone is working together except for a small group of players. The best part? The good guys don’t know who the bad guys are.

Elements of Hidden Traitor Games

  • One or more players are on a separate team and will attempt to undermine the whole group
  • Hidden Traitor games make great party games because they allow for larger groups of players
  • Require players to question the loyalties and motivations of others
  • Incorporate lying, betrayal, and lots of broken alliances
  • These are usually fast-paced, quick gaming sessions, with tons of replayability

As a “good” player you’ll have some shared goal with the other “good” members of the team. As a “bad” player, your goal is to undermine the “good” players through subterfuge. It makes for a fun night of lying and betrayal with your besties.

The larger party games like Werewolf or Secret Hitler have a bit of a theme to them but have the same goal of finding out who the traitors are and getting rid of them. It can seem simple but tend to get extremely complicated and loud depending on your gaming group.

In the larger party games, the action takes place off the table. It’s all about what you say and how you say it. The game relies entirely on your ability to convince or lie, or lie convincingly.

If you have a group of players that really get into the spirit of the game it can be one of the most fun social events you can possibly have. It can also go south pretty quickly if you forget that it’s a game.

You might hate your friends after this…

I’ve been in some games where tempers flared and the quiet players got steamrolled by the louder ones. If you’re in a larger group it’s sometimes helpful to have an outside player be a judge/referee for a few games so that they can oversee until everyone is comfortable with the rules.

There are also some larger box games that use a hidden traitor mechanic as well. In Dead of Winter, one of your fellow survivors might be biding their time until they turn on the group. The same can be said for the Battlestar Galactica game where one player is a Cylon in disguise.

In the larger box games, the main focus isn’t on the hidden traitor, but rather on the overall goal of the game. The traitor is just another element in these types of games, always present and always a threat.

Examples of Hidden Traitor Board Games

Worker Placement Board Games

Worker Placement Board Game Examples

Enter: the iconic meeple. Meeples are synonymous with board games and one of the major components to most Worker Placement Games.

In a Worker Placement game, players will have a pool of meeples that represent the workers available to them. It’s up to the players how to allocate their workforce, and it’s important not to try to do everything all at once.

These types of games rely heavily on strategy and planning your workforce allocation.

Elements of Worker Placement Board Games

  • Rely heavily on methodical strategy, rather than luck
  • Players vie for limited resources
  • Require organization and planning to be successful
  • Usually, an individual player mat is incorporated into game components

One of my favorite worker placement games is Lords of Waterdeep, where you take control of one of the rulers of the classic Dungeons & Dragons cities, Waterdeep.

You send your minions throughout the city to hire adventurers (resources) and complete missions for victory points. If you mismanage your few workers early on, then you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage in the late game.

If you love these types of games as much as we do, you’ll want to check this out.

Examples of Worker Placement Board Games

RPGs (Role Playing Games)

RPG Instruction Graphic

Role-Playing Games (RPG) have been sitting at the top of the nerd hierarchy for some time. Imagine, if you will, the stereotypical nerds locked in a basement with a bag jumbo bag of Cheetos and Mountain Dew…

This, however, isn’t necessarily the case anymore. The traditional Pen and Paper RPG (like Dungeons & Dragons) is alive and well, but along the way, someone thought to combine them with traditional board games, and it’s truly a match made in heaven.

RPG board games can give all the fun and excitement of a pen-and-paper RPG without arguing about who’s going to be the Dungeon Master. In typical pen-and-paper RPGs, you need a player to take on the role of Dungeon Master.

They typically spend hours coming up with fun campaigns for the players. Luckily for us, the board game version of RPGs takes the hassle out of building your own campaign. It’s much more structured, but it’s also much easier to get the casual player in the game.

Elements of RPG (Role Playing Games)

  • Heavily thematic in nature
  • Rely on leveling mechanics (where a player gains levels and improves their character over time)
  • Often use randomized mechanics (such as dice) to act as A.I

In Mice and Mystics, the game setup and scenario take the role of a DM/GM (Dungeon Master/Game Master) that runs the game for you. All that’s left for you to do is get into character and slay some monsters.

To begin a traditional pen-and-paper RPG is a huge time investment for all players involved. I love doing it, but it’s sometimes hard to manage and get everyone together. The board game RPGs are much simpler and offer a lot of the same experience.

You get to roleplay and create a character, just like in traditional RPGs. Many RPG board games have leveling mechanics built in to improve your character and best of all it’s much easier to get everyone together to play.

Ready to dive deeper into RPGs? Click here for the complete low-down on our favorite RPG board games.

Examples of RPG Board Games

Legacy Board Games

Legacy Board Game Examples

Legacy games are the newest board game fad to hit the scene. These play differently than traditional board games. Each playthrough builds upon the previous game. Your first playthrough of a legacy game will play like a normal version of the game. But after that, it can get a little weird. Depending upon the outcome of the first game, players could get a bonus or disadvantage.

Elements of Legacy Board Games

  • Persistent playthroughs
  • Previous games will affect future games
  • Typically, once the scenario is completed, the game ends

The idea is that previous games matter. Each game will affect the next game. Sometimes entire sections of the board will be altered, or even have entire characters or game pieces destroyed. I had to destroy several of the cards in my Pandemic Legacy game, and my character went insane and died during the last few playthroughs.

I think this type of game is fantastic especially if you can get a group together consistently to play through the entirety of the legacy.

Because the game is altered drastically between plays, the games themselves tend to have an expiration date. As you play the game you will destroy cards, write on the board, and change the pieces. There is no way to go back and no way to reset to the first game. It will drive OCD players absolutely nuts. (ahem, Kendra)

This adds tension to the game and adds real consequences to the outcome of each game, however, once you’ve completed the scenario there is a sense of finality to the board.

If you want to go back and start over from the beginning you would have to buy another game or get creative with trying to replace everything you destroyed and wrote on.

Is it worth it?

So if you’re investing all that money and time into a board game that has a limited number of playthroughs, it begs the question, “Is it worth it?”.

I like to think so. The legacy games are designed to have about 12-20 plays of a game before the scenarios run out.

Math FTW

If you think about it mathematically (gasp) then it’s a pretty cost-effective form of entertainment.

4 people getting 12 games out of the box at an hour a play.
4 x 12 x 1 = 48
48 hours of entertainment.
Divide the cost of the board by the hours of entertainment.
65 / 48 = $1.35 per person per hour of entertainment.

At least that’s how I rationalize my massive board game collections.

Examples of Legacy Board Games

War Games & Wargaming

Warhammer 40k Kill Team RPG Board Game

War Games cover a broad category of board games. They are completely different from Miniature Wargaming. War Games are any broad category of board game that uses war and conquest as their overall themes.

Any of the Risk games or Axis & Allies-style games are considered war games. Each player takes control of a faction and builds up their army to attack and destroy the other players’ factions.

It’s highly strategic and requires players to plan when to attack and not leave their territories undefended by overextending their armies. They also rely heavily on dice rolls to simulate battles.

Elements of War Games and Miniature Wargaming

  • Typically, large map strategy games
  • Rely on strategy, but use luck to simulate battles

War games will typically rely on a large map (not always) as the board to simulate the field of battle. It gives you a feeling of being a general looking down on your war maps and positioning troops.

Miniature Wargaming is a different beast altogether. Miniature Wargaming is a hefty investment in both time and money and is 50% hobby and 50%  game.

Wargaming requires players to purchase individual models, construct them, and paint them all before being able to play the game. Each player will need to buy and create their own customized army. It’s incredibly time-consuming and expensive, but it is a lot of fun.

Usually, when miniatures wargaming and War Games are spoken of they run in completely different circles. As with most things in the board game industry, the lines and genres have blurred considerably as designers and publishers started mixing and matching genres and mechanics.

Star Wars X-Wing is a miniatures board game, but there’s minimal assembly, comes prepainted, and still feels more like a board game.

Warhammer 40k Kill Team is one of our favorites when it comes to miniature wargaming. It’s actually possible to build a viable kill team for less than $50. You can thank us later.

Examples of War Board Games

Examples of Miniature Wargames

Technology-Enhanced Games

Technology Enhanced Games Examples

Technology has always tried to integrate with board games, with mixed success. For most, it’s just been a gimmick like Monopoly’s credit card machine replacing paper money. It’s always been on the fringe, and as computers get smaller and cheaper, it’s becoming much more common to include some kind of device to assist with your game.

Elements of Technology-Enhanced Games

  • Incorporate an electronic element into the game
  • Typically, smartphone apps are used to enhance play or give directions
  • A relatively new mechanic in the industry

Technology-enhanced games can incorporate almost anything. Munchkin has an optional app that lets you keep score, and gives you a bonus. It’s not at all necessary for the game but it’s still an option.

Some games require you to use some kind of smart device and if you don’t have one you won’t be able to play it.

  • XCOM the board game requires an app that times the game and yells at you whenever your players are being attacked.
  • DropMix uses a phone or tablet on a smart reader board that plays and mixes music as you set down cards.

Ever-Encroaching Technology

As technology advances, there is going to be an increased amount of electronics showing up in our cardboard boxes. One of the newer technologies that I’m personally excited to see integrated into traditional tabletop games is Augmented Reality. As with most new elements, it’ll most likely start off as a gimmick, but I think it’s going to be really interesting to follow how the games evolve from there.

On top of enhanced traditional tabletop games, there are a ton of games that are going completely digital. You can find most classic games on every app store as well as some of the newer and more complicated ones.

Ewww, there’s technology in my board game! I must admit that I have mixed feelings playing these. On one hand, I can have a lot of my favorite board games in my pocket wherever I go. On the other, forgo on sitting around a table with all of your friends, and you lose a lot of the social aspects of gaming.

Examples of Technology-Enhanced Board Games


Most games coming out today are hard to classify into one core concept. As games become more advanced, clear-cut genres begin to meld together, which can be a fantastic combination.

As board games continue to increase in popularity, we will see more and more innovation. It would be very rare to find a new game that is strictly categorized into only one genre. And as players, that means more options and more games for us to play.

If you’ve gotten this far in the article we assume you aren’t waiting for the “Classic Games” category, on the edge of your seat to read about Monopoly and all of its spin-offs. That’s just not going to happen. We’re not going to write about Monopoly. You can’t make us. 

What are your favorite types of board games? Which do you avoid at all costs? Drop a comment below and let us know what you think!

Why not check out some of our other guides including DnD 5e Books, Barbarian 5e or Warlock 5e.

Dice Lover Larry

Saturday 4th of December 2021

I appreciated this article! It helps put into categories the overwhelming number of games types that are out there now. In HS and college I loved playing arcade video games, RPG's , and dabbled in old style board games like Risk, Monopoly and Yahtzee. Now in my mid-50's I've found new adult friends and have been re-introduced to what feels like the Renaissance period of modern board game development and creation! There is almost too much out there and more coming every day. Luckily, as an adult, I now have the income to actually buy what I am interested in, often used.

As a returning player myself, Librarian and one who likes to introduce modern games to new audiences I've been thinking about who or how to develop some progressive game lists for specific newer, never exposed audiences.

As an example: New parents who want initial ideas or lists of games to progress through a child's life that start out with basic game and dexterity motor skill development (Chutes & Ladder, I Spy, Memory Match), then move to basic, moderate and advanced educational concepts (Labyrinth, Yahtzee, Blokus, Clue, etc), then to adolescence interests (cooperative and Euro games) then move to thematic interests as they enter tween and Teen years into adulthood (Legacy, RPG, Tech/App).

Audiences and potential introduction lists I've been thinking about are: kids of all age groups, special needs or challenged youth groups, students struggling in school with __(fill in)__ subject, the Incarcerated, and the Elderly. I feel that modern board games could address each groups specific needs around social re-connection, entertainment, social, educational and mental challenges each group is facing these days.

Kind of like Readers Advisory that Librarians conduct in Library's, but with Games. I didn't necessarily enjoy reading when I was in middle school, but once I got into RPG's, I spent A LOT of time reading player's and monster manuals, campaigns, and then fantasy and Sci Fi fiction that came from the RPG's I was introduced to.

Just thinking out loud. Thanks for getting me thinking about it.

Dice Lover Larry

Pierce Fabreverg

Tuesday 20th of October 2020

Playing board/card games seems to be an effective, fun means of delivering medical and safety educations to students and trainees. If you agree and looking for a new unique and strategic card game, check this local-inspired fiction game and prepare to defend your village.

Drew Olds

Monday 26th of November 2018

I think you made a mistake with the name for your RPG section. A pen and paper RPG is a completely separate thing, of course.

The hybrid genre- the tactical miniatures board game with an RPG elements and an RPG styled theme- started up way back in the '80s. The word for such games is "Dungeon Crawler." There is a world of difference between the experience of playing one of these dungeon crawlers vs. playing a traditional pen and paper RPG (even one that uses miniatures for combat resolution).

This genre has been especially booming since Kickstarter started up- probably because dungeon crawler games really work best as big box games with loads of expansions and miniatures.

Some Examples of Dungeon Crawler Board Games:

Hero Quest Of Mice and Mystics Super Dungeon Explore Stuffed Fables Mansions of Madness Shadows of Brimstone Warhammer Quest (every incarnation) Massive Darkness Dark Souls: the Board Game Gloomhaven

Two of the most interesting entries in the genre recently are Kingdom Death Monster and Folklore the Affliction. Each of these retain the most essential Dungeon Crawler elements, but they don't feature a dungeon to be crawled (replace instead with other random event generators, followed by a more traditional Dungeon Crawler boss fight).

The lack of dungeon has definitely confused a lot of players about how they might categorize these games- it is basically like a Euro Game being made in the US- the genre name doesn't really say it all.

Bryan Truong

Monday 3rd of December 2018

Hey Drew,

Thanks for commenting!

You are correct the experience from a traditional pen and paper RPG is going to be completely different from a Dungeon Crawler board game. The trouble comes in because we used such a broad term when we wrote this article.

RPG is an absolute beast of a category and encompasses a lot of territory. I’m sure there were examples before this but as far as I know it hit the mainstream with Gary Gygax in the 70s and has constantly evolved ever since. The difficulty in categorizing board games is that now (especially with all the newcomers and innovations to board games) things are starting to mix it up. You’d be hard pressed to find a game that fits just one category.

For example Mice and Mystics, I played with Kendra and her family and we passed around the story booklet reading and getting into character as we played through the scenarios. Not exactly the same as pen and paper, but similar.

I was trying to show how the genre has evolved and more importantly branched out. We’ve gone from a narrow view of what an RPG is to a multitude of categories. Each one completely different yet still very comfortable with the label of RPG, and I think you’re right that the examples we gave weren’t clear enough on my point about how the genre has evolved.

I have checked out Kingdom Death and it’s awesome. It’s such a unique blend of storytelling and horror. I don’t think there’s quite anything like it on the market. I’ve been saving that for its own article at some point, and I will definitely have to check out Folklore the Affliction.

Thanks for reaching out. I love talking board games and we really appreciate you checking out our site and leaving awesome feedback.

BTW I checked out your site on GardenNinja, I love your 40k minis.