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Mechanisms, Themes, Types, etc. and a Request for Assistance

12 replies [Last post]
Joined: 12/31/1969

We've had a number of discussions here on the concepts of game mechanisms, themes, "types," etc., trying to classify games in order to better get a grip on designing them. All of these conversations have been quite interesting.

Right now I'm working on a little web app to make Game Design Showdowns easier. As part of it I realized that I wanted descriptions for the various mechanisms, themes, etc. and so, remembering that there are some on the BoardGameGeek, went over to take a look.

Unfortunately they vary considerably in quality and, even, existence (lots are missing). When I started working through them I remembered that some of the things listed as "themes" included stuff like "card game" and "dice". I decided to reclassify such things as "types," which while being a non-ideal word, is certainly better than nothing.

Here's where I'd like some assistance: I'd like descriptions for each of these, and I'd like them to be better categorized where necessary, so I'm looking for any input you can provide on the lists below. Most of the descriptions are from the 'Geek, though I modified a number of them and added a few.

Something missing? Something in the wrong group? Something just not fit the groups? Something wrong/incomplete with the description? Have a thought for a description? Any thoughts would be great. I will, of course, pass all of it back to the BoardGameGeek guys after we come up with something.


Action/Dexterity: Features manual dexterity.
Board: A game board is the primary focus of play.
Card: Cards are the primary focus of play.
Children's: Simple rules allow children to play and reasonably compete.
Collectible: Players collect items -- cards, miniatures, etc. -- between playings by purchasing additional sets or "boosters" designed to improve or change the game.
Dice: Dice are the primary focus of play
Miniatures: Miniature figures are the primary focus of play.
Party: Light, fun game, usually designed to be played by a festive, boisterous group.
Puzzle: (Not strategy/tactics oriented)
Trivia: Players' knowledge of specific facts is tested.
Wargame: Often based on historical scenarios, wargames usually feature overt conflict between players.
Word: Features the use of vocabulary or spelling skills.


Acting: Players must represent another/perform theatrically.
Action Point Allowance: Players get a set number of points each turn to devote to various actions, at their discretion.
Area Enclosure: Fence off or surround.
Area Movement: Players move pieces on a board, often traversing irregular areas rather than a grid.
Auction/Bidding: Evaluation and bidding for items or opportunity.
Battle Cards: Players resolve conflict by choosing from a limited hand of cards to play against each other, commonly adding to or modifying some other conflict comparison.
Betting/Wagering: Players risk money to gain more money, based on the outcome of the game or sub-game.
Bluffing: Players try to fool each other.
Commodity Speculation: Players acquire commodities or other speculative elements in the hope that the value will rise.
Cooperative Play: All of the players (or all but one) play as a team and win or lose together.
Crayon Rail: Players draw (usually railroad) tracks between cities.
Deduction: Players use logic to determine currently-unknown information.
Dice Rolling: Players roll one or more dice that significantly affect the outcome of the game.
Drafting: Players make selections from a number of open choices.
Exploration: Players reveal unknown territories or rewards.
Hand Management: Players are given a collection of cards with which to accomplish a set of goals with the caveat being that players should be very frugal with the cards.
Hex-and-Counter: Played by moving cardboard counters over a map superimposed with a hexagonal grid as in many wargames.
Line Drawing: Players produce a likeness by making lines on a surface.
Memory: Players memorize and recall game information.
Modular Board: The playing surface of this game is composed of changeable elements which are vary with each playing (different setup), or mutate during play.
Negotiation: Players are required to make deals with other players in order to win.
Paper-and-Pencil: Plays mostly using pencil and paper. Does not include games like Bridge where it only includes scorekeeping or Boggle where where it is merely used to record information.
Partnership: Each player cooperates with at least one other, winning or losing as a team.
Pattern Building: Players match or associate colors, shapes, symbols, etc. to form a larger pattern.
Pattern Recognition: Players actively attempt to recognize patterns in colors, shapes, symbols, etc.
Pick-up and Deliver: Players need to physically move resources around the board to fill demands or game requirements.
Point-to-Point Movement: Players move pieces from one point on a board to another, not necessarily in a linear fashion.
Race: Players attempt to finish a sequence or task first.
Real-Time: Instead of taking turns, quick thinking and action are rewarded.
Rock-Paper-Scissors: Based on the simple children's game of the same name, players attempt to out wit opponents by correctly guessing and countering others' moves. Requires that some moves are "better" than others.
Roleplaying: Players use their imaginations to "act out" roles, usually only verbally.
Roll-and-Move: Players roll one or more dice and move pawns or markers the indicated number of spaces on a (usually) fixed game board, generally along a linear path..
Secret Unit Deployment: Player's on-board resources are not implicitly known by all players, all the time.
Set Collection: Players seek to acquire particular sets of elements and usually more of one type is better.
Simultaneous Action Selection: Each player picks his action for the turn secretly, and then all moves are resolved simultaneously.
Singing: Players sing, hum, whistle, or play melodies.
Stock Holding: Players acquire interest through purchasing stock, which usually means one player doesn't have exclusive control/benefit over an element.
Storytelling: Players tell parts or all of a story, usually coming up with the wording and sometimes the plot and characters.
Territorial: Players control and, usually, attempt to expand areas of a board.
Tile Placement: This game features non-moving tiles arranged on a playing surface.
Trading: Players exchange resources to better suit their individual needs.
Trick-Taking: Players serially play cards (usually one card each), with the "trick" (or played cards) usually being awarded to the winner.
Variable Phase Order: Order of the phases changes from turn to turn; not all phases may be present every turn.
Variable Player Powers: Each player has different gameplay abilities, commonly powers that "break" the rules.
Voting: Players make game decisions together by voting.


Abstract: No theme.
Adventure: (Like Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc.)
American Civil War: Features the civil war in America, primarily 1861-1865.
American Revolutionary War: (I'm thinking all of war might be collapsed into one theme for these purposes?)
American West: Features the 19th century American West, including cowboys, ranching, and American Indians.
Ancient: From the beginning of written history (about 4000 BC) to the end of the Roman Empire (about 500 AD). Later than Prehistoric, earlier than Medieval.
City Building: Players plan and erect buildings.
Civilization: Players represend different cultures or the game is about developing different cultures.
Comic Book:
Economic: Money management is a main feature, which isn\'t simply used to keep score.
Fantasy: Features elements commonly found in fantasy fiction such as elves, swords, and magic.
Farming: Features the planting and harvesting of crops.
Horror: Features gore, violence, and/or the supernatural.
Korean War:
Mafia: Features the elements of gangster films, including crime and crime families.
Medieval: Thematic elements from the Middle Ages are represented in this game, such as knights and serfs. Later than Ancient, earlier than Renaissance.
Modern Warfare:
Movies and Television:
Murder/Mystery: Features some sort of mystery to solve or murder to thwart.
Napoleonic: Features the military conflicts of France's Napoleon Bonaparte.
Nautical: Features nautical elements such as ships, fishing, and navigation.
Political: Players seek to manipulate elements or events to fit a personal agenda.
Prehistoric: Takes place prior to written history (generally pre 4000 BC).
Renaissance: 15th century in Italian areas and later elsewhere awakening to new ideas, global exploration and expansion of long-distance trade. After Medieval.
Science Fiction: Features elements commonly found in science fiction such as aliens, space, and futuristic technology.
Sports: This game is about sporting events: bicycling, soccer, football, etc.
Trains: In general, this game is about trains (or a reasonable facsimile).
Transportation: Players move people, commodities, and/or vehicles from place to place.
Vietnam War:
World War I:
World War II:

I have lots of ideas for changes and more information myself, but time is always short for me and so any input y'all can provide would be great!

-- Matthew

Joined: 04/23/2013
*sniff* *sniff*

*sniff* *sniff* I smell wiki material! :D


Joined: 12/31/1969
Mechanisms, Themes, Types, etc. and a Request for Assistance

Ooh, good point. Though the Wiki's general lack of visibility right now makes it slightly less ideal, so I'd like to leave it here for the early responses.

Joined: 04/23/2013

FastLearner wrote:
Ooh, good point. Though the Wiki's general lack of visibility right now makes it slightly less ideal, so I'd like to leave it here for the early responses.

Quite right. I was actually refering to when the wiki goes online officially.


Joined: 08/28/2008
Mechanisms, Themes, Types, etc. and a Request for Assistance

First of all, a big cheer for doing so much work. Secondly some suggestions...


Children's (hmm, that doesn't feel right, but I don't know wehere it should be categorised)

I think math and word(or linguistic?) might be categorised under educational(maybe a subgroup?)


Commodity Speculation might be categorised under betting/wagering

Crayon rail seems a bit too specific, maybe you can broaden the defeniton into something like Crayon construction and use it as an example

Partnership and cooperative play could be combined

Acting and Roleplaying could be combined

If you have cooperative gameplay as a mechanism, mabe you should also include competetive gameplay


Seems great, I've got nothing to contribute here at the moment.

I'm a bit in a hurry, but if there are still some things to work on next week, Ill give you my 2 cents again.

Mechanisms, Themes, Types, etc. and a Request for Assistance

Might I suggest as an alternate source of game info, Funagain's advanced search form? There is a wide listing of formats, genres, themes, and more!

Joined: 08/03/2008
Mechanisms, Themes, Types, etc. and a Request for Assistance


Good show! Obviously, a fair amount of work went into this, and it's off to a good start!

I'll confine my comments to the "Mechanisms" section since there's nothing to argue with in "types", and "themes" is just a grocery list of all the themes one might use (although in "themes", I might single out some of the more common ones -- space, commerce, etc -- as being more "prevalent").

With regard to mechanisms, I would start by removing party games and the associated mechanics from consideration for now. Certainly, being comprehensive is a virtue, but in this case perhaps it adds to unnecessary clutter. Party games and "German games" are so different in intended player experience that they deserve to be handled separately, in my opinion.

My second thought is that while all of the categories under "mechanisms" do provide a valid way to group together a certain number of games, these aren't all at the same "level". I would probably subdivide this category further into "mechanics" and "styles".

Mechanics would describe systems by which players interact with the game itself. So, things like "roll and move" or "action point allowance" or "tile laying" would be mechanics -- they tell you what you're going to be doing if you're playing the game.

For lack of a better word, I'm calling the other category styles. Herein are things like "commodity speculation" or "racing". They describe the overall "thrust" or "scope" of the game, but don't give specific details as to how mechanically that purpose is implemented. For example, you could have a "racing" - style game that used the mechanic of set collection, or one that used the mechanic of trick taking, etc.

Somewhat on the fence between these are things like "area majority" which both describe the scope of the game (you win by gaining majorities) and, typically, the mechanic involved (you drop pieces on the board to gain the majority).

There are also things like "Adventure" or "Exploration" that are probably even a further level of abstraction back from what I've called "styles". "Adventure" is too vague to be a theme, way too vague to be a mechanic, and probably too vague to be a "style". Saying we're playing a "racing" game gives me some information about the player objective. Saying we're playing an "adventure" doesn't tell us much at all about the game, beyond its overall "feel". Nothing wrong with that, of course.

So, anyway, I would probably, if I were trying to be really precise, regroup the "mechanisms" according to three levels (at least), with an eye towards how much information is conveyed in the title of the entry. Level 1 would be the most specific -- it tells how players will interact with the game components and/or each other -- "Roll and move", "trick taking", etc. Level 2 would tell what kind of goals the players will have in the game -- "Commodity speculation" or "Racing". Level 3 would give info about the overall "feel" or "gist" of the game -- "Adventure" or "Exploration".

These also need not be seen as mutually exclusive; something like "negotiation" could be seen as being both "level 1" (we interact with each other by negotiating) and "level 2" (the scope of the game is that we're seeking to negotiate with each other).

Having said all that, the majority of the entries in the list that Matthew presented probably fall under the umbrella of what I'm calling "level 1" or "mechanics", so probably restructuring isn't, strictly speaking, necessary. I simply suggest it because I think it's useful to be specific about how we categorize games, and understanding the distinctions between the ways we interact with the game, and the style or feel of the game itself.

And of course, having said that, I'm not a huge fan of categorization anyway, in music or art or game design or whatever. I understand why it's useful, but I think we run the risk of trivializing games when we strive too hard to categorize them. For example, in reading about Hansa, I heard it described as a "pick up and deliver" game, which is sort of true (I guess) but I think it's a gross oversimplification that doesn't begin to describe the richness of the game system. And that's true of a lot of games. So we need to view categorization as a useful tool for understanding patterns in game design, but should never think that knowing a game's category really tells us enough to evaluate the game. (I've heard people say things like "I don't like area-majority games" which, to me, seems like an absurd thing to say, but I'm sure I could come up with a sweeping generalization of mechanics that I don't like, too...)

As for new categories, I've felt for a while that at least two new ones are due. One is "role selection", which is exemplified by Verrater/Citadels/Puerto Rico; players choose a role, and this gives them the right to take a certain action. This is sort of like "Variable Phase Order", but not exactly -- "Verrater" and "Citadels" don't have variable order of actions, eg. And it's sort of a confluence of Drafting, Variable Player Powers, and Variable Phase Order, but again, not in all cases. This mechanic is becoming the next "Action Point Allowance" (in the sense that it's bordering on becoming overused!) so I think it deserves mention.

Also, I would say "visitation" is a category that has emerged, where by "visitation" I have in mind the idea that a big, NPC piece is visiting certain spaces on the board, probably according to a pattern or rubric, and this affects some aspect of the way certain actions are allowed. Examples are El Grande, Carolus Magnus, Meuterer, Fifth Avenue, Pueblo (?) and others.

Anyway, there's my long response to your long note. Hope it's helpful!


Joined: 04/23/2013
My thoughts

Would be to make all of these things simple 'traits'. I.E. Either game has that trait or not. I think agreeing on categorization is going to be difficult, but you can almost always agree whether a game possesses a certain trait.

For example, you could have a fantasy racing game that used set collection.

You would pull the game up and check the box next to racing, fantasy and set collection. For game categorization this would work fine. However, as far as trying to break down the various genres, mechanics, styles, etc. for further study this wouldn't work. But for simple game categorization it would work fine.

I'm probably way off base here but just thought I'd throw in my 2 pence.


Mechanisms, Themes, Types, etc. and a Request for Assistance

I got the impression, though, that the original intent was to make a tool for use in the Game Design Showdown. I'll bet (at the risk of designing it for FL) that he intended to grab one trait (to use dh's succinct terminology) from one category, a second from another, etc.

And what is the exchange rate between pence and pennies these days? :wink:

Joined: 08/03/2008
Mechanisms, Themes, Types, etc. and a Request for Assistance


I agree with you, and as I said, these are valid ways to group games, individually. I just don't think they work as a broader classification scheme, such as the kind of thing that might appear in the wiki. But if you just want to search a list of games by traits, as in BoardGameGeek or, or if you just want to pick a couple of traits for the design showdown, then sure, just a list of traits is fine.


Mechanisms, Themes, Types, etc. and a Request for Assistance

Great compilation of game components! I would suggest adding two more as mechanics or types: Collection--players collect items/money/power, etc. and Depletion--players remove or discard their own or other players' items, pieces, etc. (like chess or backgammon).

Mechanisms, Themes, Types, etc. and a Request for Assistance

I was under the impression (from the inclusion of Connect Four and other games of that type) that "Line Drawing" meant that the point of the game was to connect your pieces into a line. Perhaps the person(s) who listed those games made the error? Also, I agree that "Crayon Rail" is pretty specific. Maybe it would be "Point Connection" where you are supposed to connect two or several points?

Ah ha!

Nice job, I copied and pasted (sp) that list into my game folder. I wanted to do a list like that to have at my fingertips, but you did it first. Thanks man, well done.


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