Types of Board Games

types of board games - board game categories and meanings

When I was first getting into tabletop gaming, I was pretty confused by all of the different types of board games that were out there. It actually took me over a year to get a good grasp on the differences between all of the board game categories. I’m hoping this page makes learning the different board game types a much quicker process for others!

My ultimate goal with this guide is to help gamers know the types of games they’re getting into before they buy board games for their groups.

25 Types of Board Games

Rather than going through every type of board game, which would take me ages to do, I decided to include 25 of the most common types of board games you’ll run into. Keep in mind that a lot of board games–most, actually–fall under more than one board game category.

I’m focusing on cooperative board game types, but the majority are used in both competitive and co-op games.

I’m going to do the best I can to make each description make as much sense as possible. If you have a better understanding of each type’s meaning when you leave, I’ve done my job!

Cooperative Games

Robinson Crusoe board game review - trying to save Jenny

It makes sense to start here! (Don’t worry, the rest of this list is in alphabetical order)

In cooperative board games, players are on the same team and they’re attempting to beat the game together. You can have different roles to play, but at the end of the game, you’ll either win or lose as a team.

Examples: Well, all of the board game reviews and board game rankings on this site cover cooperative board games!

See the Top 40 Cooperative Board Games

Abstract Strategy Games

Team Up! review - completed pallet

Abstract strategy games are games with little or no theme. These games are known for having simple mechanisms, but they’re usually very tough to master because they’re skill-based (little or no luck involved).

Chess and Go are the most popular competitive abstract strategy games. There really aren’t a lot of abstract co-op games yet, which is a shame.

Example: Team Up!

Area Control Games

Spirit Island review - invaders

In most area control games, you’re trying to have more power than your opponents in as many parts of the map as you can. In some area control games, you just have to have more pieces. In others, it’s the strength of each piece that matters.

You wouldn’t expect to find area control in co-op games, but in recent years some creative designers have found a way to make it work!

Examples: CO₂: Second Chance | Spirit Island

Campaign Games

Dawn of Peacemakers review - fightin animals

Campaign games have you play through multiple missions or scenarios before you reach the end of the game. Your characters will usually get better as you move through the campaign, and the scenarios themselves get tougher.

Campaign games are typically much longer than other board games, often requiring many sessions to get through.

Examples: Adventure Tactics | Dawn of Peacemakers

City-Building Games

This is a pretty simple one! In city-building games, you attempt to build and manage a city. You’ll usually get points based on how well your city was built.

Examples: Cities: Skylines | Sprawlopolis

Deck Building Games

Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle review - player area

In most deck building games, you start with a basic deck of cards and you make your deck better as you play through the game. You usually do that by acquiring new cards and by getting rid of some of those basic cards.

For example, you might start with a Weapon card that gives you a low amount of power, you later acquire a Weapon card that gives you more power, and then you use some game action to remove the weaker weapon from your deck to improve your odds of drawing that better weapon.

Examples: Aeon’s End | Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle

See the Best Deck Building Games

Deduction Games

Chronicles of Crime 1900

In deduction games, you have to solve problems by using the information you’ve gathered during the game.

Popular types of board games that can sometimes fall under the “Deduction” umbrella include detective games, murder mystery games, and puzzle games.

Examples: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective | Chronicles of Crime

See the Best Deduction Games

Dexterity Games

Menara review - building the temple

In dexterity games, you have to use physical skills to accomplish your goals. These games often have players standing up to perform the main actions of the game. At the very least, you’ll be moving more than you do while playing other types of board games.

Flicking games and balancing games are two of the main types of dexterity games.

Examples: Slide Quest | Menara

Dungeon Crawler Games

Cthulhu Death May Die review - fighting some nasty enemies

A dungeon crawler is a type of game that has players move through an environment (sometimes a dungeon, but not always), search for items, deal with a bunch of dangers, and ultimately fight some type of boss.

These games have a ton of exploration and there are usually many “dungeons” that you have to get through to beat them.

Examples: Cthulhu: Death May Die | D&D: Castle Ravenloft

See the Best Dungeon Crawlers

Economic Games

Freedom The Underground Railroad review - the board

In economic games, you usually have to efficiently manage one or more resources to do well. These are often engine-building games in which you need to make whatever produces a resource run smoother/quicker as the game moves along.

Examples: Freedom: The Underground Railroad | Debtzilla

Family Games

flash point board game review

I like to think of family games as games that can be enjoyed (not just played) by pretty much all gamers. They usually have simple rules and fun gameplay, which is why they are some of the most popular board games around.

Examples: Flash Point: Fire Rescue | Castle Panic

See the Best Board Games for Families list

Fighting Games

Marvel Champions The Card Game review - middle of a game with Black Panther

Fighting games are all about characters battling it out! These games could have a bunch of one-on-one fights or they could have a group of characters fighting one or more enemies.

I think it’s important to point out that there are a lot of games that have fighting mechanisms, but I consider fighting games to be the ones that focus on fighting.

Examples: 5-Minute Dungeon | Marvel Champions

Check out our Top 10 Family Games!

Hand Management Games

Maximum Apocalypse review - survivor and his cards

In hand management games, it’s all about using your cards in the most optimal way. These games often have hand-size restrictions, so knowing what to hold and what to play can be the difference between winning and losing.

Examples: Champions of Hara | Maximum Apocalypse

Kids Games

Mole Rats in Space - winners!

Unlike family games, kids games are meant to be easy enough for younger kids to play.

Kids games usually have cute themes that kids enjoy. They also teach kids how to think strategically and, in the case of cooperative kids games, to work together.

Examples: Mole Rats in Space | Stuffed Fables

See the Best Board Games for Kids

Limited Communication Games

hanabi card game review

Limited communication games limit what you can say to the other players at the table in different ways.

For example, in some co-op limited communication games, you try to figure out what cards your teammates have by paying attention to the other cards they’ve played.

Examples: The Mind | Hanabi

See the Best Limited Communication Board Games

Party Games

Just One review - clues

Party games are light board games that usually have a lot of player interaction.

Party games often have short play times and they can be played by five or more players, making them perfect for people who want to play a quick and fun game with their friends without having to learn/teach a lot of rules.

Examples: Just One | Cross Clues

See the Best Party Board Games

Pick-up and Deliver Games

Now Boarding review - upgraded plane with passengers

Pick-up and deliver games have you doing what the name implies: picking things up and delivering them somewhere else. You’ll usually have to travel to pick stuff up, and you’ll often get rewarded in some way every time you make a delivery.

Examples: Horrified | Now Boarding

Programming Games

Mechs vs. Minions review - programmed cards

In programming games, everyone programs their movements and actions, and then you see how everything plays out. You don’t know what the other players have programmed, so you can’t be sure that what you planned will come to fruition.

Examples: Quirky Circuits | Mechs vs. Minions

Real-Time Games

Space Alert review - ship board

In real-time board games, you’re on a clock and you need to complete objectives before time runs out. Most real-time games use digital timers or sand timers to track time.

These games can be super chaotic!

Examples: 5-Minute Dungeon | Space Alert

See the Best Real-Time Board Games

Set Collection Games

Black Orchestra review - conspirator board and cards

In set collection games, putting groups of cards together in sets is a big part of how you succeed.

A classic example of a competitive set collection game is Rummy, which has players attempting to put sets of cards together based on their rank or suit.

Examples: Pandemic | Black Orchestra

Storytelling Games

Sleeping Gods review - atlas, ship, and other components

Storytelling games, also sometimes called narrative games, usually have you following along in a storybook as you play. Often you can change how the story plays out based on how you answer questions in the book.

Examples: Sleeping Gods | Aftermath

Tower Defense Games

Last Bastion review - fighting

Tower defense games typically have you defend one location from onrushing enemies. You usually need to set up defenses around your “tower,” and fight any enemies that get close.

Examples: Last Bastion | Pavlov’s House

War Games

Warfighter WWII review - winner!

War games allow you to reenact past battles or fight in fictional wars. These games are usually very thematic since the designers wanted to be as accurate as possible when they were creating them.

Most of the war games that are out there are competitive, but more publishers have been putting out co-op war games in recent years.

Examples: D-Day Dice | Warfighter WWII

Word Games

Letter Jam review - 4 player game

Word games are all about spelling, unscrambling, defining, or finding links between words.

If you’ve played Scrabble, you’ve played a word game!

Examples: Letter Jam | Codenames Duet

Worker Placement Games

Atlantis Rising (Second Edition) review - the Cosmic Gate board

In worker placement games, you send your characters (workers) to perform actions for you throughout the game.

There are usually a bunch of actions available in worker placement games, but you only have so many workers to send out. These games often only allow one worker to be in an action space each turn, which further limits what players can do.

Examples: Robinson Crusoe | Atlantis Rising


Thanks for taking a look at our Types of Board Games guide!

Be sure to check out our Best Co-op Board Games list and other board game rankings.

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