Archive for category Glossary

Gaming Glossary: Worker Placement

This is a post I’ve been trying to get written for about 8 months, inspired by a post over on the Hyperbole Games blog, in which Grant discusses how important blocking is to make a worker placement game operate well. That struck me as odd, because I didn’t see it as a very firm requirement in a worker placement game. But it got me thinking about what makes a game “Worker Placement”. Worker Placement (WP) is one of those standard Euro Game mechanics that everyone seems to mostly agree on, but everybody has their own criteria. What some people see as excluding a game from being WP, others see it as the “twist” that makes it stand out. I consider my game New Bedford a WP game, but others likely disagree. So I want to try and establish what makes a game cont as WP.

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Gaming Glossary: Microgame

I dealt with a lot of big subjects in 2014, so I’m going to start off 2015 with a small subject: Microgames. The last two years were full of small games. There were a number of big Kickstarter projects for games that packed a lot into a tiny package. UNPUB 5 is right around the corner, and I plan on taking a handful (quite literally) of games I’ve been working on that I consider Microgames. Today, I want to look at what makes microgames unique and interesting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Gaming Glossary: Meta

The term “meta” has gotten a bad rap. It has been a buzz-word in pop culture, associated with made-up spiritualism, and used in meaningless corporate jargon. But there is an important technical meaning: something applied to itself.

One frequent use of it is “meta-gaming”. This is commonly applied to games in which players have interaction that is not explicitly in the world of the game. Take poker: the cards have fixed values that will tell you which hands beat other hands. But poker isn’t just about getting the best cards, it is about the way players act with each other. Bluffing and secret identity games are commonly identified as having “meta-game” elements, where players are trying to game the system to their advantage. The phrase “game the system” is not used lightly; players are literally making a game out of playing the core game elements. So meta-gaming is gaming the game, because the subject of a meta-game is the game itself. (Note: this is different from the game within a game (like Inception (the movie)), in which each level is only contained within the outer one.)

So what other meta-approaches are there? Well, rules are an important element of a board game. Sometimes (in Fluxx for example) the rules are flexible, and there are more rules that tell you how rules can be changed. Those are meta-rules. Rules about rules. If you had rules about how the meta-rules can be applied (Use only certain rule-changing cards in certain games for example), they are meta-meta-rules.

Of course there are meta-concepts, too. The science of “Epistemology” deals with how concepts are formed. So epistemological concepts are meta-concepts. (And that previous sentence was a meta-meta-concept) Of course at this level, levels can start to overlap, and you can get self reference.

It’s also important to remember that “meta-” doesn’t just mean anything that’s not explicitly in the rules. For instance, long term strategy of a game is rarely in the rules, but that doesn’t make it a meta-game concept. The strategy is just part of the game. It becomes “meta” when you have a strategy about how your strategies should change from game to game. This is basically the concept of a “shark”. You lull someone into a false sense of security by intentionally playing badly, then play at your full skill level once the stakes have been raised.

This is not a comprehensive look into meta-games, or designing games using meta-game elements. It’s just an explanation of what “meta” actually means, for future discussion.


Gaming Glossary: Euro Game and American Game

I’ve used these terms in many of my articles, and have proclaimed my preference for Eurogames. These two terms are often seen as one of the major divides in classifying boardgames. After playing a lot and reading a lot about games, I have a good feel for what category a given game will fit into. Despite that, they are just loose categories without any official definition. And it seems that nobody else can really agree about them, either. My overall definition has so far been more along the lines of “I know it when I see it”, but today, I’ll attempt to set some boundaries for these terms through clearer definitions. Read the rest of this entry »


Gaming Glossary: Boardgame, Tabletop game, Card game

With “game” clearly defined (successfully or not remains to be seen), the next most important term to define is “boardgame”. The first question to answer is whether a boardgame needs to also fit the definition of a game. I was not happy with how to define and categorize boardgames based on that first definition, so I revisited my definition and discovered I needed another word. I added a section on the end of that article to address it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Game-like Playable Activities

My definition of Game from last week generated some good ideas in the comments. It’s difficult to encompass the entirety of what defines a game in the space of a single article. Today, I want to do a more in-depth study of what sort of things fit in my definition, what doesn’t fit in, and see if my definition can be more robust. Read the rest of this entry »

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Gaming Glossary: An Overview

Last week’s post on defining a game was the first in my series attempting to explain game terms in a technical sense. I try to give good definitions for terms I use to discuss boardgames and  game design, because providing good definitions is one of the most helpful things a person can do when working with ideas. A definition is a form of identification which is important in several regards.

First, it lets you clearly establish a concept in firm language that is understandable. It explains. It becomes a reference point so I know what I am talking about and can make my points more clearly. It also lets me share my ideas with others on a shared conceptual footing. Second, it lets you differentiate things that fall under that concept and things that don’t. It excludes. You must be able to evaluate things against the definition and determine whether they meet it or not. A definition that doesn’t specify which things are and aren’t included isn’t useful. Through this, I can refine or change my opinions when needed. Finally, it puts a name to a concept. This completes the act of identification, and means I can reference the concept easily.

There are two more important features of a definition. A definition can change as new information is added. Changing does not automatically make the old definition wrong, because the old definition may be included as part of the new refined definition. And definitions need to be usable, above all. Not everybody needs to agree on a single definition, but a word that means different things to different people at the same time is not a useful medium for ideas. Rather than attempting to capture every sense in which a word is used, these definitions are meant to establish my own abstract concepts in more firm language for a starting point of discussion.

The “Gaming Glossary” series will provide some technical definitions for gaming terms. But my larger goal in the series is to not just define terms, but to study their use in depth and try to understand why they are important in the hobby in general and in game design specifically. So I have started with the most basic concept, the game. This page will provide a logical (not alphabetical) index and outline to terms as I define them.


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