Thanks to the games I’ve been playing and the publishing projects I’ve been working on lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the weaknesses of board game genres. It’s common to hear hobbyist gamers say things like “I’m tired of roll & writes” or “spatial puzzles are not my forte” or “dungeon crawlers are not for me.”

While dropping different games into various genre buckets is helpful in many ways, I’ve found that some designs manage to subvert their genre’s expectations. These exceptions to the rule are quite interesting to me, and today I’d like to explore them further.

In today’s post, we’ll be perusing 10 different board game genres, identifying their common weaknesses and complaints, and then highlighting certain games that go against the flow. I’ll warn you straightaway that one of the roughly dozen games mentioned below (the last one) is published by us here at Bitewing Games, so take that as you will.

Roll & Writes

A bingo-style experience of rolling some dice (or flipping a card) and then all players fill in their sheets accordingly.

I’ve been known to complain about roll & writes (flip & writes, etc.) in the past, mostly because the industry saw the success of titles like Welcome To and That’s Pretty Clever and decided to dump a million more on us at the same time. Plus roll & writes tend to be multiplayer solitaire experiences that rarely give you a reason to look up from your own sheet. And if you’re using the same sheet and facing the same non-human challenge from one play to the next, things can quickly grow stale.

That’s why Long Shot: The Dice Game stands out for feeling more like a betting/racing game with a sprinkling of roll & write goodness attached to it. Folks who want more interaction in their roll & writes can’t go wrong here. But if you’re simply looking for more variety in this type of game (because there normally isn’t player input that changes the game state), then My City: Roll & Build was an extremely addicting game for us that had us playing it a dozen times in two weeks. That’s because My City features a legacy campaign that spans across 12 unique sheets that evolve in their map layout and objectives over time.

Deck Building

Players cycle through a personal deck of cards while they permanently add to or take away from it.

 Deck Building is the youngest mechanism on this list, dating its beginnings back to 2008’s Dominion. But in only 15 years, it has triggered a phenomenon of over 4000 different board and card games. Dominion still reigns supreme for many fans thanks to its clean system and endless supply of expansions. But one common complaint from its detractors is in regard to the game’s challenge. The rigid and computable market is fully laid out for all to see, and much of the game is won or lost based on who can identify the best synergies between the available cards and chart a deck building path to victory right at setup. There is of course nuance to the turn-by-turn tactics (based on what enters your hand from your deck), but it’s certainly not as alive as a game where the players dictate an evolving game state.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum you have thrilling games like Clank where the card market is ever changing thanks to a huge deck of cards that fill a row of limited options. The complaint surrounding this setup is that sometimes the card market is simply too swingy — where certain players have more or less opportunities to snatch up useful cards.

Whether you dislike the static market style of Dominion or the swingy market style of Clank, there are two killer deck builders that help address these issues. The Quest for El Dorado features a brilliant solution that utilizes an open and closed card market. The open market features a handful of card options (and 3 cards of each type), and any time a card slot is empty, any player can purchase a card from the closed market to pull its stack into the open market slot. Nobody is victim to luck of the market draw, yet players have a meaningful impact on the shape that the game takes (aside from the fact that they are physically racing and blocking each other across a map).

Another great option is the Undaunted series. Your full market of cards is available to you straight from turn one, but you are playing out a war game against one opponent in a tense battle of wits and gambles. So you will need to adapt your strategy on the fly.

Dungeon Crawlers

Tactical, combat-driven, cooperative adventure.

If you’re anything like me, then you might have bounced off of meaty dungeon crawlers such as Gloomhaven and the like. Not because they aren’t good games (Gloomhaven is one of the highest rated board games, ever), but rather because they demand an investment and keen interest that I don’t possess. The set up alone is enough to keep me from coming back. Not to mention the requirements for a huge table and some serious shelf space. I simply don’t want to spend that much time, space, and energy on an adventure game when something more convenient like The Legend of Zelda can scratch that itch for me.

To my delight, I did eventually found a dungeon crawler that hits the sweet spot and is a good fit for my table. It comes in a standard deck of cards and goes by the name Regicide. Condense the tension, cooperation, and challenge of dungeon crawling down to a classic deck of cards in a 20 minute game and I couldn’t be happier.

Worker Placement

Players take turns drafting actions or bonuses by claiming spaces with their figures.

One of the great pillars of modern board gaming is that of worker placement. I call dibs on this spot, which means nobody but me gets this action or benefit or resource. Of course, we’ve now seen every variant under the sun on this concept — anybody can go to the same space for free, or it’ll cost extra to go to an occupied space, and so on and so forth.

One feeling that is difficult to escape within this genre is that of rote, transactional gameplay. I place my worker here to receive three wood. I place my worker here to convert two wood and a stone into four points. I place my worker here to unlock an extra worker for next round. This style of gameplay can easily feel… well, wooden.

Enter one of the OG worker placement games: Bus. Bus doesn’t have time for rote transactions or dry exchanges. It’s far too preoccupied with giving its participants knives so they can have at each other’s throats. In this mad scramble of a game, players are competing to build the best transportation network and whisk away passengers from their rivals for precious points. And if it seems that everyone but you is set up for a huge round, then you can sacrifice a point to stop time and throw a wrench in their plans. It’s mean, clean, and delightfully interactive. And the worker placement is more about reserving actions and later deciding what to do with those actions rather than executing simple transactions.

Closed Drafting

Simultaneously select one or more cards from your hand, then pass your hand to one neighbor, receive a new hand from the other neighbor, and do it again.

Speaking of interaction, closed drafting tends to be a mechanism that doesn’t see much of it. That’s because the nature of drafting lends itself to simultaneous play where participants are mostly concerned about what they are building in front of themselves and occasionally what their adjacent opponents are doing. Sure, there is often room for hate drafting (e.g. I’m keeping this card to make sure it doesn’t enter your hand), but games like 7 Wonders, Sushi Go, and even our own Trailblazers can be a double-edged sword in that they play fast yet are light on the interaction. You’re not usually spending energy trying to outwit your opponents because you are always preoccupied with your next hand of options.

For those who are sickened by this aspect of closed drafting, Inis is the best antidote. Inis is a closed drafting game just like the others mentioned above, but the decision of what to draft stems entirely from the interactions on the shared game board. With less than 20 cards in the entire deck and 4 cards per player being drafted each round, players quickly learn the ins and outs of the deck. Inis is an area control game that presents a beautiful tension between tempo (affecting the board early and quickly) and hand power (holding back your cards for late-round momentum swings). Every single decision of what to draft, what to play, when to pass, and when to pull the trigger must take into account the schemes of your opponents.

Area Control

Competing for influence, majority, or exclusive control over various regions of a map.

Continuing the subject of area control, I’ve always been a big fan of this genre thanks to its inherently interactive traits. Games like El Grande, Eclipse, and Root are some of my absolute favorites to play. But they also tend to eat up a lot of playtime, often lasting 90 minutes or multiple hours. For those who want that same level of tension in a shorter experience, you can find it in games like Rumble Nation and Municipium. Both of these games hit that super filler sweet spot of only lasting 30 or 60 minutes, yet they still manage to pack a huge punch with juicy strategery.

The other complaint you’ll hear of some area control games is that of “turtling.” Where one or more players will hide in a corner of the map and avoid conflict as much as possible, instead seeking to milk the game for easy/overlooked points. Such a strategy is not possible with games like Kemet or Tigris & Euphrates. In Kemet, every region of the board is only two spaces away from every other region (thanks to the use of river ports and obelisks). There is no escaping the wrath of your ferocious opponents. Also, players are incentivized to be aggressive because victorious attackers gain permanent points. With Tigris & Euphrates, you can certainly start out building up a peaceful kingdom in a corner of the map. But the moment you make your kingdom too enticing is the moment you’ll have revolts and wars knocking at your door.


First to reach the finish line wins!

Quest for El Dorado - Greek Edition with standard sized cards, custom meeples for each player and Vincent Dutrait's artwork!

Racing in a game is just plain fun. Whether it’s the adrenaline rush of rocketing past your opponent at the last second in Mario Kart, or the thrill of reaching the city of gold first in Quest for El Dorado, a good racing game tends to resonate with a wide spectrum of gamers. The only time it’s not all that fun is when your group sees a runaway leader long before the game is over, or when one player falls hopelessly far behind the pack.

One game that seems to overcome these common issues, at least from my 8 plays of it, is Heat: Pedal to the Metal. It’s not so easy to remain a runaway leader here when the players behind you can slipstream off of each other for bonus movement. Plus while you are comfortably and safely decelerating for each sharp turn, the folks behind you are pushing their vehicles to the limit by speeding through turns to catch up. Sometimes those risks pay off.

Additionally, if one or two players fall behind the pack, it’s not the end of the game for them. I’ve seen people spin out, end up way behind, and still make a huge comeback. If you’re in last place (or second to last, in a 5-6 player game), then you get bonus adrenaline to help you catch up. It’s not as rubber bandy as the Bullet Bill in Mario Kart, but it is just enough to give you hope for a victory, assuming you play your cards well through the rest of the race.

Heat: Pedal to the Metal, Days of Wonder, 2022 — components (image provided by the publisher)


Highest bidder gets the biggest prize.

Full table

Auctions are one of the most prevalent mechanisms in board games, even if they don’t outwardly appear as such. You could go so far as to call other mechanisms like area majority an auction. But your classic auction game consists of players taking turns to bid higher or pass until one bidder remains. Or it’s cousin is the “once around” auction where players get one chance to make a higher bid or pass, and the last player has the biggest advantage of guaranteeing themself the prize if they are willing to outbid the group. Or another common one is the “sealed bid” where players make secret, simultaneous bids and then reveal.

Many of my favorite experiences in board games feature these kinds of auctions. But the mechanism is not without its flaws. Most notably, it can be hard for some players (especially newcomers) to understand the value of the reward that is up for auction. If its value was crystal clear, then the game wouldn’t be any fun at all because the group would know the perfect bid. But when its value is too opaque, then it can be easy for people to drastically overpay or let an opponent underpay for an item, which usually dampens the fun of the competition.

This is why I’ve begun to gravitate toward auction games like Ra, where there are more guard rails on the auctions without sacrificing the spicy decision making. In Ra, players only have 3 or 4 “sun disks” to bid with. These disks range in value from 1 all the way up to 16. Any time an auction takes place, you get one turn to put out one of your disks, and it must be higher than any previous bid. That means you can only win 3 or 4 auctions in a round. And you play 3 rounds total. These 3 rounds give players a sense of how to bid well over the course of the game, and it’s not uncommon to see newcomers catch on quickly and excel. Plus there is just the right amount of dramatic opacity to the auctions thanks to the push-your-luck structure of not knowing when a round will end.

Trick Taking

One player leads by playing a card of a suit, all other players must follow suit if they can. The highest card of the lead suit (or trump suit) wins the trick.

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Trick taking is a classic as mechanisms get. It’s a second language that nearly everybody is familiar with, at least everybody who played a few card games growing up. Despite the fact that many of us understand this language, few are expertly fluent. That especially becomes an issue in team-based trick takers where you feel the pressure to perform well for your teammate. Flubbing your card play decisions brings shame on yourself and ire from your teammate.

This problem is transformed into a feature with the game Inside Job. Everybody is on the same team cooperating together, yet one person is secretly a traitor. Thus, a bad card coming from a teammate’s hand draws suspicion rather than ire. But the limits of trick taking also allow them to feign innocence. Secrets are so much more fun than shame.

The other issue you’ll find in many trick takers is luck of the deal. Sometimes you get dealt a garbage hand, and the game doesn’t equip you with any resources or flexibility to deal with it. Players who are easily frustrated by such states will find much to appreciate in Cat in the Box: Deluxe Edition. This trick taker deals you a blank canvas of cards. Choose your own suit… make your own luck. Just don’t abuse that freedom so hard that you trigger a penalizing paradox.

Logic Deduction

Puzzling out the truth by piecing together the information and clues.

While many of us grew up playing Clue (it was Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick!), we’ve been blessed with wealth of recent deduction games that have taken the genre even further. Games like Cryptid and Search for Planet X have been some of our household favorites. Yet they still don’t tend to hit our table as much as games from other genres. I’ve attributed a few reasons to this.

For one thing, games like Cryptid can be fragile. When players are publicly sharing hidden information, it can be easy for somebody to accidentally give the wrong information and thus break the entire puzzle for everyone. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s something to at least be cautious of. Fortunately, Search for Planet X eliminates this problem with the use of an app that always provides accurate information to its participants. But Search for Planet X is not a game that I tend to break out at game night (unless it’s just my wife and I) because the experience is very quiet and solitaire. If I’m inviting people over to play games, be it friends or family, then I prefer to interact with them rather than give them homework. Furthermore, it can be difficult to excite your guests with a deduction game when so many of them are dry and abstract.

That’s why I’m so excited about our upcoming publication, Spectral. Somehow, designer Ryan Courtney managed to concoct a deduction game that is non-fragile, interactive, and dramatic. It keeps all the things I love about a good deduction game (piecing together information, taking risks based on incomplete facts), and builds upon them with a thrillingly competitive treasure hunt in a haunted manor. Players peek into rooms and inspect glyphs to deduce the locations of treasures and curses, stake out valuable hallways with bidding, and try to both read their opponents plans and bluff their own knowledge. All of this leads to an epic climax when the treasures and curses are revealed and players claim their bounty or suffer a spectral fate.

I’m excited to share more about Spectral leading up to its Kickstarter launch in August. This will include a post titled “Spectral Publisher Diary: How I ended up publishing something that I initially had zero interest in publishing — a deduction game.” In fact, that diary is what inspired this list. If you’d like to follow Spectral and read the diary when it goes live, then be sure to subscribe to the Kickstarter pre-launch page.

A big thanks goes out to all of our Kickstarter backers. We wouldn’t be able to write these posts and highlight so many great games without your support. Between the research and writing and posting, it simply takes too much time sustain this level of content on our own.

What other games can you think of that defy their genre’s weaknesses? Share with us below!

Article written by Nick Murray. Outside of practicing dentistry part-time, Nick has devoted his remaining work-time to collaborating with the world’s best designers, illustrators, and creators in producing classy board games that bite, including the critically acclaimed Trailblazers by Ryan Courtney and upcoming Zoo Vadis by Reiner Knizia. He hopes you’ll join Bitewing Games in their quest to create and share classy board games with a bite.

Disclaimer: When Bitewing Games finds a designer or artist or publisher that we like, we sometimes try to collaborate with these creators on our own publishing projects. We work with these folks because we like their work, and it is natural and predictable that we will continue to praise and enjoy their work. Any opinions shared are subject to biases including business relationships, personal acquaintances, gaming preferences, and more. That said, our intent is to help grow the hobby, share our gaming experiences, and find folks with similar tastes. Please take any and all of our opinions with a hearty grain of salt as you partake in this tabletop hobby feast.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Chris S

    Another deck builder that I think threads the needle between open and closed markets is Core Worlds. It has 5 decks available as you progress through the game, so the powerful cards are not available, but also not clogging the market, as you start the game.

  2. Peter

    What about route building, like ticket to ride? Where do you put them?
    What about tile laying games like Carcassonne?

    1. Nick Murray

      Ooo, route building is a tough one. I can’t think of an obvious weakness that immediately comes to mind. I’d have to ponder on that one… But I do like the genre. Games like Brass: Birmingham, Age of Steam, Bus, Hansa Teutonica, and our own Trailblazers have some zesty route-building to them. Although one shameless plug does come to mind: Most route building games don’t let you fix or edit your route after the fact. But Trailblazers lets you overlap your trail cards so you can pull this off (which adds another layer of flexibility to your decision making).

      A for the tile laying genre, I’m a huge fan of this one. I think a more recent trend that can be seen as a weakness is tile laying games that have very little interaction (because everybody is building their own solitaire tile area). But they’re a loads of tile-laying games that feature strong interaction on a shared board… Reiner Knizia is the king of this genre (check out Babylonia, Tigris & Euphrates, Blue Lagoon, etc.).

  3. Porter J.

    First of all, this has been one of the best lists of board games of different types I’ve seen in a long while. Thanks for giving me some new games to look into! As far as deck builders go, I love games like Marvel Legendary, but I feel that Splendor’s simplicity and wealth of strategies available throughout the entire game help people to get into it more. I love watching the light go on in first-timers’ heads when they realize the cards you buy stack up to let you buy more expensive cards forever!

    1. Nick Murray

      Thanks for the compliment, Porter!

      I haven’t played Marvel Legendary in ages… maybe 6 years or more. But I remember enjoying it.

      Splendor is a classic! Definitely a good one to introduce to folks.

      1. Jeremy

        Fantastic post Nick! I just added some new games to the list. Thank you!

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