We like categorizing things, as a species. Every culture does it a little different, as shown by, most prominently, its language--grammatical gender is the most obvious example, dividing nouns semi-arbitrarily into masculine, feminine, neuter, and (rarely) other categories. Most Indo-European natural languages do this except, oddly, English. While it can be taken far too far, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis at least suggests that the way we think and the way we speak feed back in on each other.
These categories generally do not have any objective objective meaning; they exist, in theory, to help us navigate the world. Nothing is intrinsically a "boat;" "boat" is a word that English speakers have found useful to describe a certain set of objects in our world. Other people, with other languages, might divide the world of vehicles, or seaborne craft, differently to put our "boats" in different categories.
"Alfred, where are you going with this."
I'm intrigued by boardgame categories. I'm not as intrigued as most wargamers, who have been arguing what a wargame is like mad recently. But in general, I'm interested in how people think about games, which involves how they are categorized.
Part of this is that how I categorize games changes, unconsciously, fairly often and from situation to situation.
To my non-gaming friends, whose interest in the world of games is nonzero but not vast, they like the idea of "Euros" and "Wargames," so I stick with that. I say that my collection is about half and half. Of course, that involves calling a lot of games "Euros" that I probably wouldn't in other contexts.
One of those is Boardgamegeek, which offers a number of categories to slot your games into. These categories are extremely confusing. You have subdomain, which is eight categories. You also have "categories"--eighty-four of them. Then there's the fact that many people don't know what these terms mean, and confusion of what "category" means, which is probably part of the reason there is an Abstract Strategy subdomain and category.
So my games are all slotted into various subdomains and categories, usually into more than one of each. This is basically for Boardgamegeek purposes.
As a working matter, I perceive my collection as having wargames, abstracts, Euros, and...other games. I don't perceive myself as a "Thematic" gamer--no plastic spiders here--so I don't like the idea that I have such games. But I have all these games that don't fit my mental slots--Clash of Cultures, Age of Renaissance, History of the World, Kremlin, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective...
The alert reader will note that except for Clash of Cultures, all those games came out before these categories we use existed, or anyway a market where German games were little-known. What's a "Euro" in 1985?
Sapir-Whorf in action, right here. We want categories for these games, but those categories meant nothing to the games' creators or initial audience. I forget what kind of game I thought these games were. I first played them in Austin, but I wasn't a "Eurogamer" yet, in my mind. But now we're the audience, and we have the categories, so we need to match them up. So they tend to get sent randomly to the Wargame, Strategy, and Thematic subdomains.
(And then there's Top Race, which I consider a Euro, and Daytona 500, which I don't, even though they're the same basic game by the same designer, only the latter was released in the 1980s by Milton Bradley.)
But there are categories I like, and are valuable to me--and not the regular lot at BGG--because I like the games a lot and most BGGers don't consider them important enough to give their own categories. Dexterity games is prominent here. I don't have as many dex games as I used to, but I still have five, I follow the dex game situation pretty closely, and I'm at least interested in every new one that comes out, even if I don't have my wallet at the ready.
I category I ponder sometimes as a potential subdomain would be "card games," but considering how much trouble we have defining the subdomains and categories we have now, it seems like a sure road to chaos. The hardass wargamers would gang up to put Twilight Struggle and Paths of Glory into "Card Games," and it seems (to me) like there's an important difference even between Res Publica and Spades, even though they both have cards. (Granted that half the Res Publica ones never get shuffled into a real deck.) But that's how I'd divide them.
But when I talk about these categories I use, once again they're ones I devised for my own purposes. It's a useful way to think about my collection, even if there are a few strays I can't answer for.
The trouble comes when one tries to really reify these categories in our minds into something objective one can hold everyone else to. Abstract gamers are the furthest along, as the most dedicated abstract gamers have 98% agreed (some have wiggle room in a practical sense) that an abstract game is a two-player game of no luck and no hidden information. It helps that this is awfully close to a strictly-defined mathematical term. Still, there are a lot of people who think four-player Blokus, Can't Stop, and Backgammon are abstract games. (Such as the editors of Spielbox.)
I mentioned the wargame arguments. I'm pretty sure no single wargamer has a definition of wargame they use that includes only things they consider wargames and excludes only things they do not consider wargamers, when you get right down to it. I have a very broad notion of wargame, and I still get itchy when I realize that it means I have to think Wallenstein is a wargame. (I mean, it kind of is? And kind of is not.) This does not stop wargamers from believing very strongly in the correctness of their definition. And caring, a lot, about whether something is a wargame or not.
But then there are wargames, and miniatures wargames. I divide them. Does anybody else?
Anyway, you see category arguments all the time on the Geek. "What is Ameritrash?" "What is a Euro?" They come up a fair bit. "Is this game a strategy game, a wargame, or a thematic game?" I'm trying to decide what to do. A couple of months ago another hoary old BGG Speak question came up, "Do solitaire plays of a game count as a play?" I was first on the scene with "If you think you're playing a game, then you are." Others chimed in.
The conclusion was that categories were made for games, not games for categories.