Words and Phrases Our Hobby Needs To Stop Using

Our hobby, like many others, has developed its own vocabulary.  For better or worse, there are words that have passed into our lexicon that we throw around without really thinking about them.  Today, I’d like to present some of the words and phrases that, in my opinion, we need to stop using.

image from deckanddockboxes.com
image from deckanddockboxes.com

-Building: When Dominion came out in 2008, it was hailed as the world’s first deckbuilding game (DBG).  It did not invent deckbuilding, but it was the first game to use it as a central mechanism in gameplay.  This mechanism was then included in a ton of other games, including some that didn’t use cards.  The publishers of these games decided to piggyback on the genre by calling themselves -Building Games.  For example, Quarriors is known as a “dice-building game” and Orléans is called a “bag-building game”.  And they are not.  In Dominion and other DBGs, you are building a deck.  You are adding cards to your deck in order to use them later in conjunction with other cards.  In Quarriors, you are not building dice.  You are adding dice to a pool of dice that you will draw from later.  If you want a real dice building game, look at Rattlebones.  In Orléans, you are not building a bag.  You are adding worker tiles to a pool of works that you will draw from later.

If your game has some similarities to deck building but doesn’t use cards, don’t just add “-building” to the main component.  That’s like the media automatically adding “-gate” to every scandal.  Watergate was not a scandal about water.

image from wikipedia.com
image from wikipedia.com

Dripping With Theme: I don’t know exactly why people want to use this one. It’s a term that is intended to convey that the theme is prevalent, and that their game is soggy because of it?  I don’t want a soggy game!  I want a dry, non-mildewy game!

I’m exaggerating a little bit.  I understand that it’s a metaphor.  But it’s a bad one.  And it’s one that gets used way too often for it to really mean anything.  I remember hearing a review about Abyss that said it was dripping with theme, and it’s really not.  There is a theme, and the art is very evocative of that theme.  But the gameplay is quite disconnected from that theme, and I think that the theme really needs to be synonymous with the gameplay for a game to be “dripping”, if we’re going to insist on using that term.  Fantastic art is not theme.

Unless that reviewer was referring to the fact that the underwater theme was being taken a little too literally and his game was ACTUALLY dripping, in which case I take it all back.

image from projects.handsupfortrad.scot
image from projects. handsupfortrad.scot

Fiddly: I don’t remember exactly when I first heard this term.  But I have never liked it.  It doesn’t really mean anything.  What people are trying to say is that there are lots of bits, and you have to keep track of a bunch of different things with them.  But for me, I play physical games BECAUSE I like bits.  I like having a bunch of stuff laid out on the table in front of me, and I like having to figure out how to put it all together.  But that’s an opinion, and I respect that others don’t necessarily share it.  I just hate the term “fiddly”.  I particularly dislike it when people use it and give no context.  I remember seeing a BGG comment once where the user had given it a 4 and just said “Fiddly.”  Like that tells anyone anything.  It’s non-descriptive, and it’s an annoying word.  If you want to complain that something has too many little bits, please do, but please do it with more description than just saying “fiddly”.

image from geekyrant.com
image from geektyrant.com

Gamer’s Game: This is a term that people use to refer to an advanced strategy game that is probably too complex for your average Muggle.  But to me, what it says is that this game is for our people, and you are not welcome.  And it doesn’t really make any sense – aren’t ALL games for gamers?  I mean, to me, if you’re playing games at all, you’re a gamer (see my rant on the term “non-gamer” later in the post).  I don’t think anyone would argue that a game like Ticket to Ride is a gamer’s game, but does that mean gamers can’t enjoy it?  Or, if Five Tribes IS a gamer’s game and I’d rather stick with Ticket to Ride, does that mean I’m not a gamer?

I tend to prefer using the term “Advanced Strategy Game” rather than “Gamer’s Game”.  I think it’s more descriptive, and I think it gets the point across without alienating anyone.

image from nbcnews.com
image from nbcnews.com

Impressions: I don’t know what it is, but every time I hear someone talk about their impressions of a game, I actually want to hear them doing impressions of the game.  Maybe an Andy Kaufman thing where you say, “Here is my impression of Twilight Struggle.  Hello, I am Twilight Struggle.  Thank you very much.”  I really want to hear someone do that on a podcast sometime.  Until then, let’s stop using that term, if only for my own sanity.

image from etsy.com
image from etsy.com

Microgame: The first game to be called a microgame was Ogre, in 1977.  That’s irony for you, considering how big the most recent edition was, but the term quickly got applied to a whole bunch of other wargames that were printed on single sheets of paper with counters and chits you needed to cut out.  The term mostly stayed in that niche for a while, but when Love Letter came out in 2012, it ushered in a new era of games with higher production qualities that were small, and thus were called microgames.

These days, there are still a lot of “microgames” being pushed out, but it’s been four years, and there still isn’t a coherent definition of what a microgame is.  Some people seem to think that any game that fits in a smaller box than, say, a KOSMOS two-player game is a microgame.  And it’s not.  Every time I hear someone say that they consider No Thanks to be a microgame, I shake my head.  That game has 33 cards and 55 plastic chips.  There’s no standard of size for a microgame, but 88 components seems like too many to me.

So stop using the term microgame to describe your small game.  A game like Tiny Epic Kingdoms does not fit into the same shell as something like Coin Age.  I say we should call them Pocket Games, and if a game is too big to fit into your pocket, you really shouldn’t be calling it a microgame.

image from gameguidedog.com
image from gameguidedog.com

Non-Gamer: This one is tangentially related to Gamer’s Game above.  We have to stop calling people who are not involved in our hobby “non-gamers”.  It’s elitist, and it’s judgmental, and it’s not true.  Your brother-in-law, who only plays poker, is a gamer.  Your younger cousin, who only knows how to play Go Fish and Old Maid, is a gamer.  And your father, whose eyes crosses every time you try to teach him even the simplest of gateway games, is a whiz at Cribbage, and thus is a gamer.  Start calling them non-hobbyists, or even potential gamers.  Don’t call them non-gamers – it excludes them before you even start.

image by BGG user rootdarkarchon
image by BGG user rootdarkarchon

OCD: Some of the items on this list have been presented slightly tongue-in-cheek.  That is not the case here.  I know it’s trendy to call your love of keeping your games neat and tidy OCD.  It is not.  Unless your obsession with keeping your board games completely consumes your life, you do not have OCD.  And when I say consumes your life, I mean that your relationships suffer, you can’t sleep, and you find yourself redoing even the most menial of tasks over and over.  Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder.  The National Institute of Mental Health provides this definition:

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.

NIMH also notes that “not all rituals or habits are compulsions. Everyone double checks things sometimes.  But a person with OCD generally can’t control his or her thoughts or behaviors, even when those thoughts or behaviors are recognized as excessive; spends at least 1 hour a day on these thoughts or behaviors; doesn’t get pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals, but may feel brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause; and experiences significant problems in their daily life due to these thoughts or behaviors.”

The point here is that your desire to bag all of your components and sleeve all of your cards is NOT OCD.  Nor is your desire to have boxes of the same size on your shelf.  Nor is your desire to own every title in a series that some publisher was smart enough to put a number on.  I myself have a thing with keeping all the cards facing the same way – I don’t want to have to flip over some cards when I get them in my hand, so I’ll frequently fix the cards that get thrown haphazardly into the discard pile so that they’ll all be in the same direction.  This is not OCD, this is just me being weird.

PLEASE STOP SAYING THAT YOU HAVE OCD.  Maybe you do, but unless you’ve been diagnosed by a professional, you’re just marginalizing a serious disorder.  It’s like calling someone a retard.  Just don’t do it.

OK, end of soap box post.  Back to the games next time – thanks for reading!



  1. Fantastic post. I especially loved what you had to say about “fiddly”, a word I CAN’T STAND that is used all the time and means NOTHING. In fact, I keep thinking they actually mean that there were parts of the game that didn’t seem quite right to them. But then they used the term “broken”, which I also hate.

    Probably the most important one on your list, however, is non-gamer. It’s terrible, and yes, it is elitist. I hate to think that I may have used this term myself once or twice, but never again.

    • Broken is a term I don’t mind so much, but in the right context. It does get used a bit too much.

      Thanks for the comment! Good to know that it’s not just me!

  2. Any group of people will create a jargon, this is the one used by the board gaming crowd. Yes it’s somewhat opaque to outsiders (like all jargon), but I’ve never met anybody in the hobby not happy to explain what something meant.

    And you would seriously prefer someone to say / write every time: “with lots of pieces that are difficult to keep track of” instead of simply “fiddly?

    • Let’s see.

      “This game has lots of pieces that are difficult to keep track of.”


      “This game is fiddly.”

      One is descriptive, the other is not. One is easier for the reader to understand, one is easier for the writer to write. I just tend to come down on the side of the reader – I’d rather they understand than I save a few keystrokes. And if you’re going to have to explain what you mean anyway, you might as well do it the first time.

      I don’t have a problem with gamer jargon in general. There’s plenty of stuff that I use in conversation all the time. This is just some of the stuff that bothers me. I don’t expect everyone to agree, but I would like to open some conversation. And in that respect, thanks for contributing your opinion!

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