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A Gamer’s Dictionary: Definitions of Gaming Jargon

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.