How would you categorize gaming skill, based on your own talents, or those of people you know? And what makes certain people good at those categories?

For one example, I've noticed I tend to win most games that involve a long series of calculations or tactical decisions, like Carcassonne and Bohnanza, but get beaten much more often at strategic games that require having firm goals in mind and lots of planning, like Puerto Rico and Race for the Galaxy - and I know people who are phenomenal at those games, and often, the same people are great at both.

Perhaps that qualifies me as a Tactician but not a Strategist?

Trading, psychology, and speed are other possible categories I can think of off the top of my head.

  • I would actually claim that Puerto Rico-type games require having not-too-firm goals in mind: you need to balance what you want to achieve, with playing with what the game plays into your hands. I have often lost because of having too rigid goals in mind :) Interesting question, by the way.
    – Erik P.
    Nov 3, 2010 at 21:34
  • Not sure what the question here and whether it meets the idea behind "good subjective"
    – anon77
    Nov 3, 2010 at 22:24
  • 1
    Voting to close this as primarily opinion based, since it does not meet the guidelines of good subjective questions. To paraphrase don't ask, the question as asked is not "a practical, answerable question based on actual problems that the asker faces" - it's just polling for extra views, with no specific correct answer possible. One of the types of questions to avoid is: "your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers". Jan 28, 2014 at 4:32

4 Answers 4


A list of categories of board game skills isn't something I've ever seen. To actually come up with one, I think you have to first start by looking at research from the psychology field in relation to the different forms of IQ. The theory of multiple intelligences that was created in 1983 by Howard Gardner breaks out different types of intelligence. Gardner lists 8 different types of intelligence.

Depending on the type of game, I would say some of those intelligences come into play. Certainly if you have bodily-kinesthetic intelligence and interpersonal intelligence, you would be more likely to be a shrewd trader in games like Settlers of Catan. If you can read people's body language to tell they're bluffing, this is a huge leg in games like Poker. On the other end of the spectrum, spatial intelligence would be incredibly important for games where board position is important.

There is also how much planning people do to consider. Good chess players, look ahead at more possible moves then weaker chess players, and a similar ability to analyze future events would be a good thing to look at. This gets into game theory and prefect play. A players ability to practice this would be another big skill.

Speed would be another topic to consider. Players who arrive at decisions faster would also be better at games where timing matters. This could also affect games where timing may not immediately be apparent. Being able to realize any deal another player is offering before the others players accept, would usually be beneficial.

Since research on psychology and artificial intelligence should also be considered, I personally don't feel qualified to give you an exhaustive list. There is a book, Moves in Mind: The Psychology of Board Games you might be interested in if you really want to delve deeply into this topic. There is current active research by psychologist and programmers for using games to develop different skills in participants that looks at this question from a different angle.


There are likely to be several sophisticated models postulated here for categorizing gamers' attributes, but I've found a comically simple model that's proven accurate across a variety of games.

My model has two axes. The first is how quickly someone can learn a new game and rule set to become a competent player, where competent means they understand basic strategies, have discovered the obvious themes/patterns of successful game play, and don't make newbie blunders. The second is to what extent they are inwardly focused, where they spend their energy thinking about their moves and how to optimize them, versus outwardly focused, where they observe the play of others and actively tailor their strategy to exploit others weaknesses.

Let's examine each of the four extremes.

  • Quick-learning and inwardly focused I start here because this is my self-identified type. This person will often dominate whenever a new game is introduced to a group. They get the basics before anyone else and rip off a string of wins while everyone else is climbing up the learning curve. But then, as people become familiar with the game they'll slowly start winning less and less. Ultimately perhaps not winning very often at all in games that reward careful observation of other players (e.g. poker, chess, Dominion).

  • Slow-learning and inwardly focused this player is doomed to mediocrity. While they are still trying to grasp the rules and basic strategy the rest of their group has mastered the basics and is well into fine tuning and optimization. Early on, this player is at the mercy of the quick learners; later on they're at the mercy of everyone else, who have now not only learned how to play but have an edge because they adapt their play as the game unfolds.

  • Slow-learning and outwardly focused this player takes longer to come up to speed on a new game because they don't learn by trying to scheme based on the rules; this player spends their early games attempting to determine winning strategies by observing the play of others. They take a practical approach to learning, which results in early losses as they fumble for the winning formula but serves them well in the long run.

  • Fast-learning and outwardly focused good luck beating this person. They learn new games quickly and can scheme based on theory and observation. They start with a lead and adapt their play continuously to always stay one step ahead of the competition.

Importantly, I don't consider these traits immutable descriptions of a player. For example, I consider myself a fast learning and outwardly focused Axis and Allies player, but quick-learning and inwardly focused at Dominion. I'm always competitive at A&A, but after our third time playing have only sporadically won at Dominion. A&A has a static setup, fully public knowledge, and rewards good math skills and spatial reasoning. Dominion has reams of private knowledge and rewards understanding combinations and tailoring play to the random setup.

ICodeForCoffee's description of intelligence types and game genres is useful in understanding how this is possible; a person's innate learning type may enable them to quickly learn the rules to a counting and pattern recognition game like cribbage but prevent them from ever really being able to perform the mental probability calculations required by Axis and Allies. Or someone might dominate at chess, where all knowledge is public, but be unable to deal with the implications of private knowledge and encoded communication in a game like Hearts, Spades, or Bridge.


Something I think is important, mainly because I think it's the reason why I win more games than I lose, is adaptability.

The first, basic step in being good at boardgames is being able to get on top of, and not be confused by, the rules. But just because you know all the rules doesn't mean you're out of the woods yet! In my experience, a lot of players, having comprehended the rules, will locate what they think is a strong strategy and then repeatedly play that strategy. And at first this will probably pay off.

A good boardgame, though, doesn't have a completely dominant strategy. Any strategy should fall when met with an appropriately strong counter-strategy. A bad player, when their strategy starts getting repeatedly thwarted, may blame bad luck for the sudden downturn in their fortunes. (Actually, let me add this to my list of prime indicators of boardgaming talent: never blaming bad luck for a loss. Always looking back for a way you could have turned the game in your favour is a much better sign.)

A great boardgames player not only quickly understands what is likely to be a strong strategy in a game, he is also able to see numerous other strong or potentially strong strategies at once. When he loses, he will be able to understand what weaknesses of his strategy permitted it to be undermined; he will refactor his strategy accordingly or try out a new one in the next game.

A really strong player can see his strategy starting to be undermined as it happens and be able to switch to a different strategy mid-stream. When you have a counter-strategy planned, or can quickly create one, for any possible counter-strategy to your strategy adopted by your opponent, then you are what I'd call truly "adaptable". And I'm a little bit scared about the possibility of you joining my group and beating me lots!


To me there are two basic kinds (levels) of game-playing skill.

The first is what I call "technical" ability, that is a mastery of the rules, techniques, and principles of the game. A person high on this measure will be a "good" player that's hard to beat.

The second level is what I call "playing ability," the ability to study the play of one's opponents, relate it to "technical ability" (or lack thereof, as the case may be), and then devise strategies that will work particularly well against the other player. This is sometimes referred to as the ability to "play the (wo)man, and not the game." It is the "great" players that fall into this category.

The "late" World Chess Champion Jose R Capablanca had a habit of asking himself, "if I were my opponent, what plan would I adopt against [Capablanca]?" He would then devise a plan to quash his opponent's opportunities before the opponent himself knew they existed. Samuel Reshevsky apparently had the same talent.

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