Shower thoughts #2: the different types of board game

I was in the shower, and I revisited a topic I’ve been thinking about lately: what are the various different types of board game? Here are my ideas.

The objective is to be the first player to move a piece or pieces from the start point to the goal.

In a traditional race game the players move their pieces a number of squares dictated by a dice roll. The opponents’ pieces can be captured by landing on the square where they are resting. This group includes some of the oldest and most popular board games, such as senet and the twenty squares game; and is today represented by backgammon and Ludo.

Quoridor is also a race game, but with very different peculiarities: pieces can only move a single square at a time, and the players can obstruct one another by placing walls.

Line construction

The objective is to be the first player to use their pieces to create a line of a certain length. The classic of the genre is gomoku / renju, which spawned various derivatives like Connect Four. The class also includes three-in-a-row / tic-tac-toe, one of the simplest of all games.


The objective is to enclose the most territory. The main game in this genre is of course Go.

Total capture

The objective is to capture all of the opponent’s pieces. The best example of this class is draughts / checkers, and it also includes the Roman game ludus latrunculorum and the Japanese game hasami shogi.

This group also includes wargames such as Warhammer, which have much more complex rules and equipment. I hesitate to even include wargames as board games in the traditional sense.


The objective is to capture a “king” or “general” piece, or to checkmate him (ie. place him in unavoidable threat of capture.) International chess is the most famous regicide game, followed by variations such as shogi and xiangqi.

Term linking

The objective is to get the most points by linking together words or numbers. Think Scrabble.


The objective is to get the most points by purchasing squares of the board and receiving points from opponents who land on that square, ie. Monopoly.


The objective is to occupy all territories on a map by successively conquering them from the opponents by winning military engagements determined by dice rolls and the number of troops present in the attacking and defending territories. This describes the game Risk.

Set matching

The objective is to match together sets of tiles or cards by common numbers or signs, often in order to be the first to complete a winning hand; or just to score points. The games most committed to the set matching mechanic, though, are games without a board like rummy and mahjong.

What other types of board game are there, or more granularity of subclasses?


Connection games. Hex, Twixt, Slither.

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Cooperative games (with the possibility of a traitor). eg Pandemic

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Games where the sum-total of the important information is somehow hidden, and the players are given access to a small sub-set of the total information.

The players then try to accomplish certain goals by taking the information they have, and behaving in such ways that the the other players have to infer what information they know vs what their opponent knows, determine if they are telling the truth, or lying, and react accordingly.

Examples: poker, werewolf/mafia, etc

EDIT: I guess none of the above examples are a BOARD game, per se, though I have seen various packaged game sets that formalize mafia/werewolf. I guess we’re getting into Game Theory at this point…

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Statego is a Regicide board game with hidden information. Bridge (card game) also comes into mind.


It’s hard to make a proper classification of board games. Some of them are going to overlap or be too specific.

In the end all the games are about getting a winning pattern. Except maybe when there’s no winning condition.

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Uh oh! It looks like we’re circling back to Finite vs Infinite Games :wink:


My touchstone for questions like this is the great scholarly history, Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations, by R. C. Bell. Bell was a grouper rather than a splitter. He classified non-proprietary board games in these categories: Race, War, Positional, Mancala. He also had “table” game categories of dominoes, dice, games of words and numbers (bingo), games of manual dexterity (e.g., crokinole), and card games with a board (cribbage). I don’t consider the table game categories that use a board to be real board games in the sense usually meant. Certainly, the board in cribbage is irrelevant to the game; it is just a convenient scoring device (we used to score on paper).


I too appreciate Bell’s taxonomy of games. With any attempt to categorize, these things can be endlessly debated, so perhaps grouping into broad categories is best. However, the modern era has seen an explosion of commercial, proprietary games of all sorts, which makes it challenging to extend Bell’s system beyond non-proprietary games.

It is notable that he classifies Go under the category of “Positional Games” rather than “War Games”, even though he places Go as the sole example under the sub-category of “Territorial Possession”. His description of Go certainly leaves much to be desired, but it’s understandable given the breadth of his project and the limited amount of time that he can devote to any one single game.

I also found it amusing how while he spoke about various games (both historic and modern) in the “Chess Group” at great length, all he has to say about “Modern International Chess” is that “information is so readily available that it will not be described here”.


Hah! That’s a beautiful parallel to the twenty squares game which was incredibly popular in the ancient Middle East. Of course no-one would write down the rules, everyone knew them already! The reason we have the rules now is because the wonderful Irving Finkel deciphered them from a cuneiform tablet, that described a more complex gambling game that could be played as an addition to the humdrum version.

What if international chess had only survived as a side note in an essay on the Capablanca variant?!