A Gamer’s Dictionary: Definitions of Gaming Jargon
Updated: Jan 21
Irrespective of how much such a thing is wanted I’ve found the building jargon of tabletop gaming to be sufficient to need some explanations. As such this ongoing blog will be including definitions of tabletop terms, as and when they occur to me or I encounter them.
18xx – A popular subgenre of game where players take the part of railway investors, guiding the expansion and management of railways across various regions during a range of time periods. Suffering a reputation for complexity and extended play times they remain perennially popular with hardened fans. Beginning with 1829 launched in the 70s by legendary designer Francis Tresham.
Examples -1829, 1853, 1856, 1860, 1861, 1870.
4X - Games based around four actions, exploring, expanding, exploiting and exterminating, hence the Xs (Chosen because it sounds cooler than 4E). These games tend to be quite complex and lengthy although many modern designers have produced shorter versions and some now avoid the exterminating option. Scythe is a hugely popular modern example.
Examples – Twilight Imperium, Scythe, Star Trek: Ascendancy, Sid Meier’s Civilisation, Seafall.
5e – RPGs based on the engine of the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons.
Examples – Carbon 2185, Stargate.
Abstract – A game that makes no attempt whatsoever to create a theme for the game, such as Go or Tic Tac Toe.
Examples – Go, Tic Tac Toe, Blokus, Ingenious.
Alpha Gamer – A player who “knows” the best way to play a given game and voices it to all other players, particularly problematic during co-op games and even worse when they’re right.
Ameritrash – (See also Narrative); A less kind definition of narrative games with a large number of miniatures and components. As narrative games these games will often require rules to cover situations that come up very rarely, leading to their being perceived as less elegant than “Euro games”, hence the less than flattering definition.
Examples – Arkham Horror, Cosmic Encounter, Talisman, Twilight Imperium.
Analysis Paralysis – The feeling of being unable to decide between a range of equally viable options in a game.
Area Control – Games where controlling sections of a board (often a map) gain victory points and/or in game resources. Risk is a well known example.
Examples – Risk, El Grande.
Asymmetric – A game where starting positions and/or powers are uneven. Technically almost every game is asymmetric due to the existence of first player advantage, however asymmetric games choose to make a feature of such elements. Cosmic Encounter is widely acknowledged as being the most influential game in this field, but many modern games include asymmetry to some degree as almost impossible to design out so easier to make a virtue of.
Examples – Cosmic Encounter, Root.
Bag builder – A game where components are drawn randomly out of a bag or other opaque container. The strategy of such games tends to centre on putting more beneficial components into the bag or deleting negative ones from it.
Block – A sub genre of wargame where units are represented by, usually wooden, blocks that have the stats of the unit facing its player and a largely blank face facing the opponent. A simple way of representing Fog Of War.
Boardgame – A tabletop game generally self contained within a single box (excepting expansions) and needing tokens or elements to be manipulated across the tabletop. As opposed to miniatures game, card game or roleplaying game.
Broken – When certain options are so OP as to make choices meaningless and a game therefore bad.
Buff – Typically present in miniatures a buff is when one elements boosts the abilities of another (such as an officer bolstering the moral of the men they lead). Reductions are described as “Debuffs”.
CCG – Collectible Card Game, any card game where cards are intended to be added after the base release. The main types are Tradable Card Games (TCG) or Living Card Games (LCG). Almost any card game could be defined as a CCG due to the existence of expansions but practically it should be used to define those where collectability is intended irrespective of the game’s relative success (unlike expansions).
Competitive – Games where players are faced directly against each other in a zero sum gain result so that one’s victory is another’s loss.
Co-op – Cooperative, games which require players to work together to defeat the game in some way. Arguably the currently best known is the gateway game Pandemic. Alternatives are ‘Many against one’ where many players will cooperate to defeat another more powerful player or ‘Semi cooperative’ where players may work together but are in some way allowed not to do so.
Creative Commons – An increasingly popular form of copyright protection allowing others to alter elements of a design so long as they give credit and list any changes. Cards Against Humanity is probably the most valuable property using this licence.
Crowdfunded – Games which ask members of the public to contribute to its original production are crowdfunded. Many sites facilitate this but Kickstarter is currently the leading one for tabletop gaming.
Cube Pusher - (See also Eurogame); A less kind definition of games with few and elegant rules. Since these games use reoccurring resource manipulation and management mechanics they can have repeated elements, hence the less than flattering definition ‘Just another Euro cube pusher’.
D – D6/D8/D10/D12/D20 short hand for six sided, eight sided etc. dice.
DeBuff – See Buff.
Deckbuilder – Originally a game where players had to create a personalized deck of cards with which to compete in the game itself, such as in Magic or Pokemon. Since the advent of Dominion and its winning the Spiel Des Jahres this has come to mean more specifically a genre of game where the use of in game resources to purchase cards making up a personalized deck of cards with which to compete in the game is the actual process of the game.
Developer – Generally the person who fine tunes the mechanics of a game such that they operate as intended.
Designer – Generally the person who comes up with the core concept of a game and has final say over its iteration.
Dexterity game – A game where a player’s manual dexterity has some influence on their chances of success. Jenga is probably the most famous but ‘Shove sixpence’ or variations thereof are widely played (and the basis for a whole gaming sub section).
Dice builder – Generally a game where better dice are purchased and added to or replace starting dice (often as part of a bag builder). More rarely games where the actual faces of a constructible dice are purchased and added to make dice better at rolling as required (Dice Forge being an example of the latter).
Dice tower – A physical construction with a series of internal baffles intended to make the rolling of dice more random, fair and dramatic.
Dice Tray – A tray or container used to trap the relatively violent nature of dice rolling such that it doesn’t dislodge or disrupt other game elements.
Draft – A process whereby players take turns selecting from a pool of elements, usually dice or cards, with which they will compete in either the entire game or just a part of it, such as a turn. Various processes are used to overcome a first player advantage here such as separate simultaneous drafting, Snake or Up and Down drafting, re-drafting each turn with different first players or charging players resources for drafting certain items.
Dudes on a Map – or DoaM. A fairly vague category of boardgame consisting of a map with figures representing units who then struggle for control of parts of the map. Risk is the archetypal DoaM game, though defining some games as being DoaM is not always clear.
Engine Builder – A game where elements are established such that when they activate they trigger other elements in manners that are advantageous, usually generating resources of greater number or superior quality.
Escape room – A genre of game that has exploded in recent popularity where players examine physical elements in order to discover clues leading them to a game winning discovery. Originally staged in locked rooms where the final discovery was the means of exit these now come in play anywhere boxes of clues and artifacts.
Eurocube – A small generally wooden or plastic cube used extensively in playing Euro games.
Euro game - (See also Cube Pusher); Any of a number of games generally based around few rules used elegantly to produce combinations of strategic effects. Mostly broken down into sub sections such as worker placement, resource management, engine building among others.
FLGS – Friendly Local Gaming Store, bricks and mortar game shops. A vital resource the community should make an effort to support.
Fluff – Background or story text for games.
Fog of War – Rules which seek to obscure what one player should not know about their opponent’s troops from them. Generally used in Wargames.
Gateway game – Games easy to learn and suitable for a wide range of ages such that none game players will be encouraged to play, the Spiel Des Jahres awards the best of these a prize each year.
Grognard – Also, Grognardian. From the French for veteran soldier, or literally ‘grumbler’ Both a game and the players who enjoy it that places a high value on detailed and accurate simulation and depth of detail, usually reserved for wargames of some sort and generally representative of a slightly old school attitude to gaming. Examples would be “I love a game with a lot of mathematical bookkeeping, but I’m pretty Grognard” or “No, its not fully Grognardian, it abstracts some of the more complex physics”.
Grognard Capture – When a game is launched if it has enough of a following and complexity players will form levels, those that fail to make it out of the bottom level will tend to drop out, leaving those in the middle at the bottom. The new bottom will perceive their drop in win rate as them getting worse at the game and in turn drop out, meaning that when the game comes to its second edition it has the choice between trying to re-capture those former more casual players, or please its current core audience by becoming more complex and detailed. Taking the second route is ‘grognard capture’.
Grok –The act or capacity in a reasonably complex game of being able to resolve all situations in play and their possible outcomes by sheer force of mind alone. As likely to be a source of disappointment “I lost interest when I realized I could totally Grok the game from turn two” as frustration “I gave up when I realized I couldn’t Grok what was going on at any point”.
Heuristic – A rule of thumb that a player might use to become better at a game such as ‘never draw to an inside straight’. A game having a rewarding progression of heuristics is usually central to its having continued appeal.
Hidden movement – A game where one or more player moves their piece on the board hidden from other players (usually by noting movement on a pad). Discovering the position of hidden players is usually the centre of such games.
Hidden objective – A game where players have goals and aims hidden from other players.
IGOUGO – Usually in miniatures games the process where players take turns in activating models, as opposed to activating via semi-random activation (such as decks of cards or bags of counters) or due to tactical turn triggering (either by chaining or interrupting activations).
LCG – Living card game, actually a trademarked description owned by Fantasy Flight. A game where packs of new cards are introduced at regular intervals but in none randomized packs. The lack of randomization makes trading (and arguably collecting) such cards pointless.
Legacy – Legacy games are those where the components of the game are in some way altered during play. At the very minimum components should be added when certain conditions are met but further components should be altered or preferably destroyed to really fulfill the definition. Altering components should significantly alter gameplay.
LoS – Line of sight, a contentious issue used in miniatures gaming to define which models can see and therefore interact with each other (generally violently). Often split between true line of sight where models can see things that they can trace a line to from the eyes of the model and abstracted where models cannot see things behind hills, irrespective of height or can see models they can only trace a line to a small part of. LoS is usually abstracted since miniatures games wish to encourage the building of interesting models and wish to reduce any advantage to be gained by such building, or true since this is seen as simpler and a more accurate simulation.
LARP – Live Action Role Playing, role playing games, usually with standard character progression, where participants dress up as their characters and physically as far as is possible play out the actions being performed.
Matrix – A form of game where actions are determined by players making arguments for their position with an umpire or other mechanics deciding victory.
Mechanics – The mathematical and other principles that govern the working of rules within games.
Meeples – Playing pieces in the rough outline of a creature (usually human), originating with SDJ winner Heimlich and Co. but more generally now recognized as the Settlers of Catan style ‘Starfish’ design. A term coined in 2000 by Alison Hansel while playing Carcassone.
Meta – The rules and gameplay not explicit within the game itself. If a game asks you to engage your opponent but its rules allow you to win without doing so disengagement tactics could be said to be part of the metagame. Metagame develops particularly in competitive and tournament play or isolated gaming groups. For example if a balanced play style (Call it Scissors) is easily defeated by another style (Call it Rock) then the new style becomes meta powerful, but if there is a third style which is weak against balanced play but powerful against the balanced play beating style (Call it Paper) while the third style may have been avoided without the second it can end up being widely tournament dominant.
Miniature – Generally metal (often pewter or lead), plastic or resin models representing playing pieces. Often used in games for their attractive quality and price point increase but rarely necessary.
Miniature games – Games where miniatures are placed on scenery filled table and manipulated by a set of rules. Separate from boardgames using miniatures, also referred to as Wargames or Skirmish games.
Narrative - (See also Ameritrash); Games that focus on varied and specific story telling over elegance and simplicity of rules. RPGs are Narrative by nature, this is really only a relevant description when used in relation to board, miniature or card games
NPE – Negative player experience, a rule or event leading players to have an unpleasant sense of powerlessness. The current generation’s OP.
OP – Over Powered, optional elements or tactics in a game (usually in an asymmetric game) that are seen to be better than all others to the point of detriment to the game.
Pilot – Usually in card games where players decide the quantity and type of cards they play with the term for how the cards are played and triggered.
Print and Play – Games, usually free or low in price that players can print off at home and build to play themselves rather than buy pre-built.
Push Your Luck – A game where players have a choice to continue to take a chance based action for greater reward, but risk losing all accumulated rewards, or to bank what they have so far. For example, if a player gained what they rolled on a dice and could roll as many times as they liked but would lose all their points and forcibly end their turn if they rolled a one, it would make a basic push your luck game.
Reskin – The process whereby a popular game has a set of surface alterations to sell it to a wider audience. Monopoly has the most reskins of any game. It should be noted that certain series, such as Risk, alter the underlying mechanics of their Re-skins for a series of different games.
Resource – Any in game element that can be collected and used to advantage in an attempt to win the game. Generally separated into workers (multiple use flexible resources), resources (single use non-flexible) and engines (multiple use non-flexible).
Roll and Move – Boardgames where player pieces are moved by random dice rolls. Generally unpopular in modern games due to the potentially severe effects of bad luck.
Roll and Write – A genre of game where a randomly generated set of options are shared between all players. Originally the options were generated by dice (hence the roll part) though cards, dominoes or other elements have been used. Players then record their usage of the generated options on a personal and usually custom printed pad (hence write). These games generally suffer from a lack of interaction, though they are almost always playable as solo games.
Rondel – A mechanic whereby a collection of items are placed on the spaces of a circular track (the track is the rondel itself) and players have to pick up all items on the space when interacting with it. Based on the classic game Mancala, usually the items are then placed out across the other spaces of the track, or in turn. Depending on the game the spaces may represent actions within the game, rewards themselves or any number of other elements, and players may typically be required to pay a cost equal to the items found on their chosen space or take the action that their last item is placed on.
Route Builder – Games where one part of the game is spent generating a route such as a road or railway line and another spent using that route, usually to shift resources around for other purposes.
RPG – Role playing games, games where players take on generated characters and tell a shared story of some form. Character progression is standard in long form RPGs but short or single shot versions have grown hugely in recent times. Dungeons and Dragons is easily the best known example of the genre.
Set Collection – A game or mechanic within a larger game where cards are only valuable when a player holds a matching set of some form.
Shuffle Builder – A game where at some point, usually the beginning, players select from a pool of pre-set sets of cards and shuffle them together to form a deck that they can then compete within the game itself with.
Sleeve – A thin plastic sheath used to protect cards from damage. Used as a verb as much as a noun to describe the act of choosing to use sleeves on your cards such as ‘Do you sleeve?’.
Snake Draft – Also Up and Down Draft. A system of drafting where players take turns from a first player to a last, then the last player takes a second turn immediately, followed by the next to last and so on back to the first. The result is that the last player takes to picks in a row while the first gets the first pick and then the absolute last. Intended to overcome first player advantage, since the first player gets the best and worst choice.
Spiel Des Jahres – The most prestigious award for boardgames. Generally awarded to gateway games with tactile elements. There are now three categories of prize given, the main prize, a children’s category and an expert’s category (usually those requiring more learning time).
Social Deduction – Games where players attempt to deceive each other, usually as to their hidden identity and objectives. Depending on the game the ‘Social’ element (that based on direct bluff and deception) and the ‘Deduction’ element (that based on information that can be correlated for further information) can vary significantly.
Skirmish game – A form of miniatures game defined by small scale combats and usually individual miniatures or loose squads with a range of rules specific to each miniature.
Step Reduction – A game mechanic usually in conflict based games where units lose effectiveness as they suffer damage. Multiple modern games using this process replace miniatures with six sided blocks that can physically be revolved as they step down to physically show their changed capabilities, or allow Block mechanics to be used.
Tabletop game – Games played on the table with physical elements, as opposed to computer games.
Tableaux – Cards that are placed onto the table with the intention of remaining in play from turn to turn. They may create an actual image but usually interact with each other, forming a running ‘tableaux’ of cards on the tabletop. The most common would be the cards spread to the table during a game of Rummy.
Take That – A sometimes controversial family of game mechanics where a player’s plans can be intentionally ruined by other players. Based on the imagined satisfaction of a player performing the ruining action and saying ‘Take that’ to their victim as they do it.
TCG – Trading card game, games where cards are randomly distributed such that players may wish to trade cards among themselves to obtain rarer or more useful cards.
Threat range – Generally a miniatures term used to describe the distance at which one miniature can effect (usually violently) another.
Tile layer – A boardgame where the selection and laying of cardboard tiles forms the majority of the game’s tactics. Tiles will have rules to their laying and will generally need to be fitted into patterns either pre-existing or generated by the position of other players in order to score points and claim victory.
Time filler – Also Time killer, simple games that take up to 15 minutes to play through that will often be played in between other games or life events.
Trick taking – One of the central mechanics to most non-custom card decks whereby one card played in a round captures all other cards and takes the ‘Trick’. Games are generally won by capturing cards of certain values or the most tricks overall.
Up and Down Draft – Also Snake Draft. A system of drafting where players take turns from a first player to a last, then the last player takes a second turn immediately, followed by the next to last and so on back to the first. The result is that the last player takes to picks in a row while the first gets the first pick and then the absolute last. Intended to overcome first player advantage, since the first player gets the best and worst choice.
VP - Victory points, a number of points gained during play that allow the player with the most to gain victory at the end of the game.
Wargame – A sub category of miniatures game usually referring to games where larger scale battles are fought between units of models and combat resolution is a regularly used mechanic. Also a sub-category of board game where battle is represented at a scale able to represent a reasonably high level of complexity (Risk is usually considered a step or two too pulled out a scale and complexity to be part of the category) which tend to involve elements such as Fog Of War and Logistics.
WYSIWYG – What you see is what you get. Almost exclusively used in miniatures games to state that what a miniature has available to use during a game is represented on the model such that a playing piece’s in game abilities may be quickly judged by a visual inspection.