Board game taxonomies

I am a huge fan of board games, as I am sure my readers have realised. So today, I would like to introduce a simple taxonomy.

Abstract combat games

For the moment, I will focus attention on 2-player abstract combat games like Chess (rather than games which are primarily race games, like Backgammon). I include games based on blocking as well as games based on capture, but not games played with dice, such as Daldøs or Chaturaji.

The first question is: are the pieces of one player all the same at the start of play? For games in the top half of the chart, like Checkers (Draughts), the answer is Yes; for games in the bottom half (like Chess), the answer is No.

A slightly different question is: is the collection of initial pieces of one player identical to that of the other player? For most games (in the left half), the answer is Yes; for games in the right half, like Fox & Geese or the obscure Nosferatu (where one side has “pawns” and a “king”), the answer is No.

A third question is: do the initial pieces remain the same during play? For games in the outer columns, like Go, the answer is Yes; for games in the centre half (games with piece promotion, like Checkers and Chess), the answer is No.

For games not illustrated, one can add Alquerque or Surakarta or Five Field Kono or Gomoku to Mū Tōrere and Go; Chaturanga to Chess; Tiger & Goats (Bagh-Chal) or Asalto or Hnefatafl to Fox & Geese; and the rather odd Owlman to Nosferatu.

Race Games

I now turn to race games, played on a track with dice and/or cards as a random element, where players race to reach the end. The game of Chaturaji has sometimes been seen as an intermediate between race games and the abstract combat games we have just looked at.

The first question is: how many pieces does a player have? For games in the top half of the second chart (like Backgammon or Ludo), the answer is Several; for games in the bottom half (like Snakes & Ladders), the answer is Only one (in which case the sole piece is really a token or meeple). This last category is really boring, unless it is supplemented with other game elements, such as the question cards of Trivial Pursuit.

A rather different question is: are pieces captured during play? For most games (in the left half), the answer is No; for running-fight games in the right half (like Daldøs or Fang den Hut), the answer is Yes.

A third question is: how many players are there? For games in the outer columns, like Backgammon, the answer is Two; for games in the centre half (like Snakes & Ladders or Ludo), the answer is Several.

For games not illustrated, one can add the Royal Game of Ur or Ludus duodecim scriptorum to Backgammon and Senet. As in the previous chart, the top left corner is the most popular.


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