Ed “Duke of BAzlandia”
My brother Sam and I recently had a conversation on categorizing board games. This led to an interesting discussion on how when describing a board game people use different methods or strategies to describe the game. This might be a problem when presenting your game to people. With varying backgrounds, you possibly promote a specific aspect of your game using different key words than what others might recognize.
As this conversation continued, we conducted an ongoing conversation/thought experiment on what a more scientific approach would look like. We eventually went down a path of classification using the same type of system that is currently used in Taxonomy today. Just to be understood, this a thought experiment and we thought it was interesting to discuss. The following are mostly my thoughts for how that would or should look like. You will see some thoughts from Sam where he may have a different opinion than mine. While I was writing this all down, I thought it would be fun to add in some Latin (everyone knows science requires Latin). I added these Latin words and phrases and labeled the taxonomic categories and then applied it to the hobby.
DISCLAIMER: This list is not meant to be all inclusive. It’s not meant to be. You will see dexterity games mentioned but I have no idea where I would put them. I know nothing of Latin and adding Latin was just something fun. I AM NO WORDSMITH, just ask anyone who is, and to give them my writing might just make them cry. On to the main event.
The first 4 categories are extremely broad and we will only be providing a Latin word used for classification for where we think Tabletop games would fit in if this was a real thing.
Fun – Delectationis – Start at the top. This is the easy one. It’s also overly broad for some people but you got to start somewhere. So I started with the fact that people are involved with a lot of activities and some of those categories are done due to the fact that people find them to be “fun” or for their own amusement. This is an overly broad category but people also have to eat, sleep, work, and other activities just to do what people call “living” necessary for life or not. Yes, I chose the word “Fun” it’s not very scientific but that’s what I did.
Sam – I would classify this as entertainment where the goal is focused on having fun. You can have fun doing things outside of entertainment. It may be splitting hairs here but classifying as entertainment denotes its focus and goal is to entertain versus just having fun.
Games – Ludos – The next step-down would be games. Once again, a very broad category but we are also at the very broad area of the triangle. This category divides activities that people would consider to be fun into ones that would be considered games. This would be any type of activity that could be considered a game from very physical things likes sports to games that only involve words between people.
Sam – I agree. Games are a unique form of entertainment.
Inside – Interius – Games that are played inside or generally played inside. Now people may say, “Hey, what about arena football, indoor soccer, and etc.?” While technically yes, they are inside, but let’s get real, an indoor stadium hosts sports of all types and could be “technically” indoor/inside games. So we will narrow this down to games that are normally played inside an average sized home.
Sam – I agree with this but not completely. I think this is an issue that can get quite muddy really fast and I would remove this category completely, or divided differently based on my next set of comments below.
Tabletop Games – Supra Axedo – Finally we get to the beginning of the classifications that we are interested in. We started at fun, went to games, then to games played inside, and now we arrive to games that are played on, generally, or derive from a game that is normally played on a Table Top. This allows us to differentiate from something like Flashlight Hide and Go Seek, while fun, is a game, and played inside, but is rather difficult to restrict to a table top. I chose to divide this by games played on a table and not. You don’t run into dexterity game problems that my brother mentions.
Sam – Could be by the main way you exert yourself. Physical exertion vs. mental exertion. Yes, there are some board games with physical activities but that is not the main medium by which we play those games. This is where Dexterity games get a little fuzzy but they could have their own class or depending on where it comes from. Dexterity games are just so strange in the scheme of things.
Miniature War Games – Tabula Minisculus – Games with Miniatures that are played on top of the table. This category is for games that rely on miniatures and do not have “boards” the miniatures move around on or to dictate movement. We will not delve further into this category but Warhammer, Warhammer 40k, Hordes, Warmachine, and many others.
Tabletop Role-playing Games – Tabula Partes – These are your pen and paper RPG’s. Once again, we are not going any further into this category. I would be interesting to do so and see how much further you could break down and classify these games. This, however, is not the blog post that I will be doing that. This category would include, D&D, Pathfinder, Rifts, and the myriad of other RPGs that it is not possible to name. I just mentioned Rifts due to good childhood memories.
Dice Games – Tabula Tesserae – This category would involve pure dice games. Craps would be a good one and most betting games that would only involve dice. We will not be delving in further.
Card Games – Tabula Carta – Games that only involve cards, Poker, Gin Rummy, Scum, Hearts, Pinochle, and the thousands of other card games that are out there. Another category that would fall under here would be Collectible Card games, Trading Card Games, Living Card Games, and even games like Werewolf. While some of these game definitely have some overlap and properties in common with many board games, we will not be going any further into classification in this post.
Board Games – Tabula Ludos – Finally BOARD GAMES! Games that are played on a board or some sort of boards. Yes, they usually involve cards, tokens, dice, miniatures, and a myriad of other components; however, they are played, moved, and constricted by an actual board where players interact with their pieces and other players’ pieces.
Random Output (AmeriThrash) – Alogus – Some don’t like the term Ameritrash and I can understand where they are coming from. I just don’t think it matters. I personally embrace my love of the genre and I am perfectly happy being an Ameritrash Panda. I do have a proposal in that games in this category would involve random output. Players would make decisions or actions on their turn and then the output from that is random. A classic example of this is Risk and most war games where confrontation is decided by some sort of die roll after troops are committed. An interesting game that would possibly fall in this category would be Wallenstein and Shogun. Though they are considered a euro game you put troops in a tower and the outcome of that encounter is not set and not always logical.
Sam- I don’t use the A word, I prefer AmeriThrash!!
Random Input (Euro) – Logica – This would be the opposite of the above. Players deal with input that has been randomized. This is the basis of most Euros. Even light Euros or games that people don’t consider a “true” Euros. Most of your Evergreen games fall into this category, Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and all the others that are once again too numerous to count.
Dungeon Crawler – Spelunca – I feel that dungeon crawlers deserve their own category outside of Euro or American. They are really dealing with a different type of game. The game usually involves several different maps or boards that are often interchangeable to build different adventures. These games are also different then legacy games in that the board is not permanently scarred and components are not destroyed. They do usually follow some sort of campaign but often have a single play or random dungeon playstyle for a single use game.
Legacy – Legatum – These are games where you permanently scar boards, components, and game play rules can be permanently altered as you progress through the game. Any game that you can think of that has the word Legacy in the title or in the description would fall in this category.
Social Deduction – Porisma Socialis – A genre that deserves its own category. The object of these games is to figure out who is who. You win by determining this. Werewolf, and Secret Hitler are good examples of these type of games.
Cooperative/Semi-Cooperative – Cooperatus – Games that require people to cooperate in order to beat the board. Shadows over Camelot and Battle Star Galactica are good examples of this category.
Party Games – Comitatus – Games that are light, not complicated, and what matters most is people having fun instead of exacting rules. Gameplay often heavily encourages player to player interaction in an often silly or absurd ways.
Genus – Theme or System
This is where I run out of Latin words and don’t have the time or energy to even begin to try and name all of the different themes out there. I would even venture that it is not possible. Theme was hard to place in this classification guide. After thinking about it for a while I think the best place is to put it here near the narrow part of the Pyramid. If you were to place theme higher up you run into too many overlapping issues with game genres. Genus I believe should also include game systems. There are certain games that have turned into systems. Two examples of this are Catan and Pandemic. These are games that have their multiple games based on the base mechanics. A system in not an expansion to the base game but actual separate stand alone games that derive most of the game from the base game or “system.” My brother argues for its elimination or putting it higher up on the list. He points there are some categories that are broad such as Horror, Fantasy, Cthulhu, and Sci-Fi. He is right that those themes are broad and encompass too many items. I would argue that theme is still useful to classification and if anything should be moved underneath mechanics and not further up or eliminated.
Sam – I think this one is the most problematic category. Theme is tricky here. Not sure if I would put it anywhere. Theme is almost superficial in comparison to breakdowns of games into mechanical parts. It matters but not sure if it warrants a classification based on it. If anything, it would be a Family trait. Pulling together a wide variety of systems under one umbrella, theme. Maybe even Order but not sure how that would work.
Species – Mechanics
Last but certainly not least is Mechanics. Here I advocate for putting down only 1 or 2 main mechanics in the game that accurately describe the game. I think it would be a mistake to list more than 2 mechanics. Also, when I shop for a game I often look at or ask about the mechanics first. So to me it makes sense that this would be the last category and just like when looking at taxonomic names of animals you see Species or Genus and Species but you don’t read the whole list of categories it falls under. Most games from my experience can be described with 1 or 2 mechanics, theme, and type of game (coop, euro, dungeon crawler, etc.) Once again too many mechanics to come up with Latin terms here and define them.
In the end does this really matter? Maybe? I think the industry could benefit from some sort of unofficial/official guideline. Not a mandatory one but more of a self-regulated one developed and used by the industry. Not one that is enforced but one that would benefit the customers when deciding on and trying new games. One that would ensure people are talking about the same thing. The system I described here probably isn’t the best one. Maybe a form of the Dewey decimal system applied to board games would work even better. That might make it convenient when browsing games in a home collection or a board game café. I have seen all sorts of home systems. Thoughts?