Board game

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The board game Monopoly is licensed in 103 countries and printed in 37 languages. US Navy 110713-N-NT881-124 Personnel Specialist 2nd Class James Vail, left, and Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Nathaniel Eaton play board games with ch.jpg
The board game Monopoly is licensed in 103 countries and printed in 37 languages.
Young girls playing a board game in the Iisalmi, Finland, library in 2016 Pelipaiva Iisalmen kaupunginkirjastossa.jpg
Young girls playing a board game in the Iisalmi, Finland, library in 2016

Board games are tabletop games that typically use pieces . These pieces are moved or placed on a pre-marked board (playing surface) and often include elements of table, card, role-playing, and miniatures games as well.


Many board games feature a competition between two or more players. To show a few examples: in checkers (British English name 'draughts'), a player wins by capturing all opposing pieces, while Eurogames often end with a calculation of final scores. Pandemic is a cooperative game where players all win or lose as a team, and peg solitaire is a puzzle for one person.

There are many varieties of board games. Their representation of real-life situations can range from having no inherent theme, such as checkers, to having a specific theme and narrative, such as Cluedo . Rules can range from the very simple, such as in snakes and ladders; to deeply complex, as in Advanced Squad Leader . Play components now often include custom figures or shaped counters, and distinctively shaped player pieces commonly known as meeples as well as traditional cards and dice.

The time required to learn or master gameplay varies greatly from game to game, but is not necessarily related to the number or complexity of rules; for example, chess or Go possess relatively simple rulesets but have great strategic depth. [2]



Classical board games are divided into four categories: race games (such as pachisi), space games (such as noughts and crosses), chase games (such as hnefatafl), and games of displacement (such as chess). [3]

Board games have been played, traveled, and evolved [4] in most cultures and societies throughout history. Several important historical sites, artifacts, and documents shed light on early board games such as Jiroft civilization game boards [5] in Iran. Senet, found in Predynastic and First Dynasty burials of Egypt, c.3500 BC and 3100 BC respectively, [6] is the oldest board game known to have existed. [7] Senet was pictured in a fresco painting found in Merknera's tomb (3300–2700 BC). [8] [9] [ better source needed ][ dubious ] Also from predynastic Egypt is mehen. [10]

Hounds and jackals, another ancient Egyptian board game, appeared around 2000 BC. [11] [12] The first complete set of this game was discovered from a Theban tomb that dates to the 13th dynasty. [13] This game was also popular in Mesopotamia and the Caucasus. [14]

Backgammon originated in ancient Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago. [15] Ashtapada, chess, pachisi and chaupar originated in India. Go and liubo originated in China. Patolli originated in Mesoamerica played by the ancient Aztecs and the royal game of Ur was found in the royal tombs of Ur, dating to Mesopotamia 4,600 years ago. [16]


Board games have a long tradition in Europe. The oldest records of board gaming in Europe date back to Homer's Iliad (written in the 8th century BC), in which he mentions the Ancient Greek game of petteia . [17] This game of petteia would later evolve into the Roman ludus latrunculorum . [17] Board gaming in ancient Europe was not unique to the Greco-Roman world, with records estimating that the ancient Norse game of hnefatafl was developed sometime before 400AD. [18] In ancient Ireland, the game of fidchell or ficheall , is said to date back to at least 144 AD, [19] though this is likely an anachronism. A fidchell board dating from the 10th century has been uncovered in Co. Westmeath, Ireland. [20]

The association of dice and cards with gambling led to all dice games except backgammon being treated as lotteries by dice in the gaming acts of 1710 and 1845. [21] Early board game producers in the second half of the eighteenth century were mapmakers. The global popularization of Board Games, with special themes and branding, coincided with the formation of the global dominance of the British Empire. [22] John Wallis was an English board game publisher, bookseller, map/chart seller, printseller, music seller, and cartographer. With his sons John Wallis Jr. and Edward Wallis, he was one of the most prolific publishers of board games of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.[ citation needed ] John Betts' A Tour of the British Colonies and Foreign Possessions [23] and William Spooner's A Voyage of Discovery [24] were popular in the British empire. Kriegsspiel is a genre of wargaming developed in 19th century Prussia to teach battle tactics to officers. [25]


The Mansion of Happiness (1843) FirstAmericanPrintrunOfThe MansionOfHappiness.jpg
The Mansion of Happiness (1843)

The board game Traveller's Tour Through the United States and its sister game Traveller's Tour Through Europe were published by New York City bookseller F. & R. Lockwood in 1822 and claim the distinction of being the first board games published in the United States. [16]

Margaret Hofer described the period of the 1880s–1920s as "The Golden Age" of board gaming in America. [16] Board game popularity was boosted, like that of many items, through mass production, which made them cheaper and more easily available. Although there are no detailed statistics, some scholars[ who? ] suggest that the 20th century saw a decline in the popularity of the hobby.[ citation needed ]

Chinese, Arabic, and Indian

Outside of Europe and the U.S., many traditional board games are popular. In China, Go and many variations of chess are popular. In Africa and the Middle East, mancala is a popular board game archetype with many regional variations. In India, a community game called Carrom is popular. [26]


The number of board games published by year (1944-2017), as listed on BoardGameGeek. Expansion sets for existing games are marked in orange. Board games with expansions 1944-2017.svg
The number of board games published by year (1944–2017), as listed on BoardGameGeek. Expansion sets for existing games are marked in orange.

The late 1990s onwards have seen substantial growth in the reach and market of board games. This has been attributed to, among other factors, the Internet, which has made it easier for people to find out about games and to find opponents to play against, as well as with a general increase in leisure time and consumer spending on entertainment.[ citation needed ] Around the year 2000, the board gaming industry began significant growth, with companies producing a rising number of new games to be sold to a growing worldwide audience. [27] [28] In the 2010s, several publications referred to board games as having a new Golden Age, though some board-gamers prefer to call it a 'renaissance', as The Golden Age is both predefined and a common term. [27] [29] [30] Board game venues are also growing in popularity; in 2016, over 5,000 board game cafés opened in the U.S. alone. [31] Board game cafés are also reported to be very popular in China. [32] Board games have also been used as a mechanism for science communication. [33]

Luck, strategy, and diplomacy

Some games, such as chess, depend completely on player skill, while many children's games such as Candy Land and snakes and ladders require no decisions by the players and are decided purely by luck. [34]

Two Qataris playing the traditional board game of damah Board game damah at Souq Waqif.jpg
Two Qataris playing the traditional board game of damah

Many games require some level of both skill and luck. A player may be hampered by bad luck in backgammon, Monopoly, or Risk ; but over many games, a skilled player will win more often. [35] The elements of luck can also make for more excitement at times, and allow for more diverse and multifaceted strategies, as concepts such as expected value and risk management must be considered.[ citation needed ]

Luck may be introduced into a game by several methods. The use of dice of various sorts goes back to the earliest board games. These can decide everything from how many steps a player moves their token, as in Monopoly, to how their forces fare in battle, as in Risk, or which resources a player gains, as in Catan . Other games such as Sorry! use a deck of special cards that, when shuffled, create randomness. Scrabble does something similar with randomly picked letters. Other games use spinners, timers of random length, or other sources of randomness. German-style board games are notable for often having fewer elements of luck than many North American board games. [36]

Another important aspect of some games is diplomacy, that is, players, making deals with one another. Negotiation generally features only in games with three or more players, cooperative games being the exception. An important facet of Catan, for example, is convincing players to trade with you rather than with opponents. In Risk, two or more players may team up against others. Easy diplomacy involves convincing other players that someone else is winning and should therefore be teamed up against. Advanced diplomacy (e.g., in the aptly named game Diplomacy ) consists of making elaborate plans together, with the possibility of betrayal. [37]

In perfect information games, such as chess, each player has complete information on the state of the game, but in other games, such as Tigris and Euphrates or Stratego , some information is hidden from players. This makes finding the best move more difficult and may involve estimating probabilities by the opponents.[ citation needed ]


Many board games are now available as video games. These are aptly termed digital board games, and their distinguishing characteristic compared to traditional board games is they can now be played online against a computer or other players. Some websites (such as,, etc.) [38] allow play in real time and immediately show the opponents' moves, while others use email to notify the players after each move. [39] The Internet and cheaper home printing has also influenced board games via print-and-play games that may be purchased and printed. [40] Some games use external media such as audio cassettes or DVDs in accompaniment to the game. [41] [42]

There are also virtual tabletop programs that allow online players to play a variety of existing and new board games through tools needed to manipulate the game board but do not necessarily enforce the game's rules, leaving this up to the players. There are generalized programs such as Vassal , Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia that can be used to play any board or card game, while programs like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds that are more specialized for role-playing games. [43] [44] Some of these virtual tabletops have worked with the license holders to allow for use of their game's assets within the program; for example, Fantasy Grounds has licenses for both Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder materials, while Tabletop Simulator allows game publishers to provide paid downloadable content for their games. [45] [46] However, as these games offer the ability to add in the content through user modifications, there are also unlicensed uses of board game assets available through these programs. [47]


The modern German board game Catan is printed in 30 languages and sold 15 million by 2009. Nepomuk 280 - Osadnici z Katanu.jpg
The modern German board game Catan is printed in 30 languages and sold 15 million by 2009.

While the board gaming market is estimated to be smaller than that for video games, it has also experienced significant growth from the late 1990s. [29] A 2012 article in The Guardian described board games as "making a comeback". [48] Other expert sources suggest that board games never went away, and that board games have remained a popular leisure activity which has only grown over time. [49] Another from 2014 gave an estimate that put the growth of the board game market at "between 25% and 40% annually" since 2010, and described the current time as the "golden era for board games". [29] The rise in board game popularity has been attributed to quality improvement (more elegant mechanics, components , artwork, and graphics) as well as increased availability thanks to sales through the Internet. [29] Crowd-sourcing for board games is a large facet of the market, with $233 million raised on Kickstarter in 2020. [50]

A 1991 estimate for the global board game market was over $1.2 billion. [51] A 2001 estimate for the United States "board games and puzzle" market gave a value of under $400 million, and for United Kingdom, of about £50 million. [52] A 2009 estimate for the Korean market was put at 800 million won, [53] and another estimate for the American board game market for the same year was at about $800 million. [54] A 2011 estimate for the Chinese board game market was at over 10 billion yuan. [55] A 2013 estimate put the size of the German toy market at 2.7 billion euros (out of which the board games and puzzle market is worth about 375 million euros), and Polish markets at 2 billion and 280 million zlotys, respectively. [56] In 2009, Germany was considered to be the best market per capita, with the highest number of games sold per individual. [57]

Hobby board games

Some academics, such as Erica Price and Marco Arnaudo, have differentiated "hobby" board games and gamers from other board games and gamers. [58] [59] A 2014 estimate placed the U.S. and Canada market for hobby board games (games produced for a "gamer" market) at only $75 million, with the total size of what it defined as the "hobby game market" ("the market for those games regardless of whether they’re sold in the hobby channel or other channels,") at over $700 million. [60] A similar 2015 estimate suggested a hobby game market value of almost $900 million. [61]


Mathematicians playing Konane.jpg
Board games serve diverse interests. Left: kōnane for studious competition. Right: kōnane for lighthearted fun.

A dedicated field of research into gaming exists, known as game studies or ludology. [62]

While there has been a fair amount of scientific research on the psychology of older board games (e.g., chess, Go, mancala), less has been done on contemporary board games such as Monopoly , Scrabble , and Risk , [63] and especially modern board games such as Catan , Agricola , and Pandemic . Much research has been carried out on chess, partly because many tournament players are publicly ranked in national and international lists, which makes it possible to compare their levels of expertise. The works of Adriaan de Groot, William Chase, Herbert A. Simon, and Fernand Gobet have established that knowledge, more than the ability to anticipate moves, plays an essential role in chess-playing ability. [64]

Linearly arranged board games have improved children's spatial numerical understanding. This is because the game is similar to a number line in that they promote a linear understanding of numbers rather than the innate logarithmic one. [65]

Research studies show that board games such as Snakes and Ladders result in children showing significant improvements in aspects of basic number skills such as counting, recognizing numbers, numerical estimation, and number comprehension. They also practice fine motor skills each time they grasp a game piece. [66] Playing board games has also been tied to improving children's executive functions [67] and help reduce risks of dementia for the elderly. [68] [69] Related to this is a growing academic interest in the topic of game accessibility, culminating in the development of guidelines for assessing the accessibility of modern tabletop games [70] and the extent to which they are playable for people with disabilities. [71]

Additionally, board games can be therapeutic. Bruce Halpenny, a games inventor said when interviewed about his game, The Great Train Robbery:

With crime you deal with every basic human emotion and also have enough elements to combine action with melodrama. The player's imagination is fired as they plan to rob the train. Because of the gamble, they take in the early stage of the game there is a build-up of tension, which is immediately released once the train is robbed. Release of tension is therapeutic and useful in our society because most jobs are boring and repetitive. [72]

Playing games has been suggested as a viable addition to the traditional educational curriculum if the content is appropriate and the gameplay informs students on the curriculum content. [73] [74]


There are several ways in which board games can be classified, and considerable overlap may exist, so that a game belongs to several categories. [16]

H. J. R. Murray's A History of Board Games Other Than Chess (1952) has been called the first attempt to develop a "scheme for the classification of board games". [75] David Parlett's Oxford History of Board Games (1999) defines four primary categories: race games (where the goal is to be the first to move all one's pieces to the final destination), space games (in which the object is to arrange the pieces into some special configuration), chase games (asymmetrical games, where players start the game with different sets of pieces and objectives) and displace games (where the main objective is the capture the opponents' pieces). Parlett also distinguishes between abstract and thematic games, the latter having a specific theme or frame narrative (ex. regular chess versus, for example, Star Wars-themed chess). [75]

The following is a list of some of the most common game categories:


Although many board games have a jargon all their own, there is a generalized terminology to describe concepts applicable to basic game mechanics and attributes common to nearly all board games.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Backgammon</span> Board and dice game for two players

Backgammon is a two-player board game played with counters and dice on tables boards. It is the most widespread Western member of the large family of tables games, whose ancestors date back nearly 5,000 years to the regions of Mesopotamia and Persia. The earliest record of backgammon itself dates to 17th-century England, being descended from the 16th-century game of Irish.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dice</span> Throwable objects with marked sides, used for generating random numbers

Dice are small, throwable objects with marked sides that can rest in multiple positions. They are used for generating random values, commonly as part of tabletop games, including dice games, board games, role-playing games, and games of chance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eurogame</span> Type of board game

A Eurogame, also called a German-style board game, German game, or Euro-style game, is a class of tabletop games that generally has indirect player interaction and multiple ways to score points. Eurogames are sometimes contrasted with American-style board games, which generally involve more luck, conflict, and drama. They are usually less abstract than chess or Go, but more abstract than wargames. Likewise, they generally require more thought and planning than party games such as Pictionary or Trivial Pursuit.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tables game</span> Class of board game

Tables games are a class of board game that includes backgammon and which are played on a tables board, typically with two rows of 12 vertical markings called points. Players roll dice to determine the movement of pieces. Tables games are among the oldest known board games, and many different varieties are played throughout the world. They are called 'tables' games because the boards consist of four quadrants or 'tables'. The vast majority are race games, the tables board representing a linear race track with start and finish points, the aim being to be first to the finish line, but the characteristic features that distinguish tables games from other race games are that they are two-player games using a large number of pieces, usually fifteen per player.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Klaus Teuber</span> German board game designer (1952–2023)

Klaus Teuber was a German board game designer best known as the creator of Catan. Originally working as a dental technician, he began designing games first as a hobby then as a full-time career.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tabletop game</span> Social activity played on a flat surface

Tabletop games or tabletops are games that are normally played on a table or other flat surface, such as board games, card games, dice games, miniature wargames, or tile-based games.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Royal Game of Ur</span> Ancient Mesopotamian board game

The Royal Game of Ur is a two-player strategy race board game of the tables family that was first played in ancient Mesopotamia during the early third millennium BC. The game was popular across the Middle East among people of all social strata and boards for playing it have been found at locations as far away from Mesopotamia as Crete and Sri Lanka. One board, held by the British Museum, is dated to c. 2600 – c. 2400 BC, making it one of the oldest game boards in the world.

In tabletop games and video games, game mechanics are the rules or ludemes that govern and guide the player's actions, as well as the game's response to them. A rule is an instruction on how to play, a ludeme is an element of play like the L-shaped move of the knight in chess. A game's mechanics thus effectively specify how the game will work for the people who play it.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to games and gaming:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">3M bookshelf game series</span> Series of board games and card games

The 3M bookshelf game series is a set of strategy and economic games published in the 1960s and early 1970s by 3M Corporation. The games were packaged in leatherette-look large hardback book size boxes in contrast to the prevalent wide, flat game boxes. The series grew to encompass over three dozen games. Most were multi-player board games or card games; a few were trivia games or two-handed board games. Acquire and TwixT were among the best-selling titles. The series later became part of the Avalon Hill Bookcase games. Very few of these games are still being published.

Race game is a large category of board games, in which the object is to be the first to move all one's pieces to the end of a track. This is both the earliest type of board game known, with implements and representations dating back to at least the 3rd millennium BC in Egypt, Iraq, and Iran; and also the most widely dispersed: "all cultures that have games at all have race games". Race games often use dice to decide game options and how far to move pieces.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Game</span> Structured form of play

A game is a structured form of play, usually undertaken for entertainment or fun, and sometimes used as an educational tool. Many games are also considered to be work or art.

Robert Charles Bell (1917–2002) was the author of several books on board games, most importantly Board and Table Games 1 & 2. This work won the Premier Award of the Doctors' Hobbies Exhibition, London. He was instrumental in popularizing traditional games, and is acknowledged as one of 11 "principal sources" in David Parlett's The Oxford History of Board Games.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of games</span>

The history of games dates to the ancient human past. Games are an integral part of all cultures and are one of the oldest forms of human social interaction. Games are formalized expressions of play which allow people to go beyond immediate imagination and direct physical activity. Common features of games include uncertainty of outcome, agreed upon rules, competition, separate place and time, elements of fiction, elements of chance, prescribed goals and personal enjoyment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Game design</span> Game development process of designing the content and rules of a game

Game design is the process of creating and shaping the mechanics, systems, and rules of a game. Games can be created for entertainment, education, exercise, or experimental purposes. Increasingly, elements and principles of game design are also applied to other interactions, in the form of gamification. Game designer and developer Robert Zubek defines game design by breaking it down into its elements, which he says are the following:

This glossary of board games explains commonly used terms in board games, in alphabetical order. For a list of board games, see List of board games; for terms specific to chess, see Glossary of chess; for terms specific to chess problems, see Glossary of chess problems.

The tabletop game industry is the economic sector involved in the development, marketing, and monetization of games that fall within the scope of tabletop games, which includes dice and card games. According to Statista, the tabletop game industry had an estimated market of approximately 7.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2017 and is expected to increase by 4.8 billion U.S. dollars within the next 6 years.


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Further reading