While the above picture is not from a gaming convention, and is actually from the Indiana Comic-Con, many of the people attending would totally get this post.
While writing the article On Scale, I realized there is a long list of terms and ideas and concepts in the gaming world that are quite foreign to non-gamers. Each sub-genre of gaming has an even more specific vocabulary that is common language to the players and hobbyists in that particular genre, but distinct from other game areas. Spend enough time with gamers, and you might come away with a headache trying to understand the game cant, as I like to call it, unique to each game or genre.
This isn’t usual about any hobby or career or field of study. Each has many words, phrases and concepts used by the practitioners of each area. If we listen in to a group of computer programmers, or scuba divers, or theoretical physicists, we will come away quite confused. In that respect, gamers are no different.
My convoluted and winding hobby path has allowed me to gain an understanding of multiple ‘languages’ or gamer-speak, or game cant or whatever you call it. Even with a wide range of knowledge, I often find myself on a forum looking for information and find myself lost in yet another world. Each game can have such a unique language as to leave newcomers confused, lost, and frustrated. If it is too steep of a learning curve, I suppose some just leave, losing interest in their frustration and never give a game or the hobby a chance.
I will give a specific example. A couple years ago I learned about a new game coming out from Fantasy Flight Games. This particular game is called Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game. It is exactly what the name says, a miniatures game with X-Wings. And TIE fighters. And YT-1300s. And Y-Wings. And… You get the picture.
The game has pre-painted miniatures, which is great thing for new players. There are other games with pre-painted miniatures, though often the painted jobs are terrible. Not X-Wing, the models look fantastic. Even experienced hobbyists love the idea that they can buy a new miniature, open the package, and have it on the table ready to play with no effort. The barrier to this game, from a miniatures standpoint, is very low. I started expanding my collection. If you ask my wife, this comic is appropriate for how far I expanded my collection:
Ok. I have at least one of every ship in the game (except for the Resistance era ships. I haven’t bought in yet). Multiples of the nearly all of the small ships. Multiples of more than a few of the large ships. I have specific paint jobs of certain key ships in the canon. I painted Red Five, Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing from Star Wars: A New Hope. I will probably paint Red Two, Wedge Antilles’ X-wing and Red Three, Biggs Darklighter’s X-Wing. I have painted Green Squadron A-Wings, because a red paint job on a Green Squadron fighter bothers me. And Kath Scarlett’s Firespray. Well, because it’s Kath Scarlett. And since I had Kath, I had to paint some Z-95s in Binyare pirate paint. So I have a few ships. I don’t think mistakes were made.
Wow, side track. Where was I? Oh, right. As I played more X-Wing and had questions or wanted to learn more about the game and tactics, I wandered onto the FFG forums. And promptly got lost. I thought I knew the game and the concepts and key words. Which I sort of did, because I had the rules and the cards and understood all of that. What I didn’t know was that the gaming community had created an X-Wing Cant of words, phrases, abbreviations and acronyms to describe game play and card combinations. They freely used all of this with little thought to new players, or non-players checking out the forums to see if X-Wing is a good game. (It is. Don’t ask, just go out and buy the core box and your favorite ships from the Star Wars universe and start playing. You won’t regret it. Here is a link to help you out: https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/products/x-wing/)
I was very lost when I read terms like Fat Han and PTL, EU and Stresshog. The list was endless. I figured out some, then got lucky and found a forum article that listed many others. Just for full disclosure, Fat Han is Han Solo flying the Millennium Falcon loaded with every upgrade he can take. EU is either Expanded Universe (in this regard referencing all the movies, cartoons, comics and books related to Star Wars) or Engine Upgrade, an upgrade card. Of course, EU as Expanded Universe is not restricted to Star Wars games. There is an EU for pretty much every fantasy and science fiction and even regular fiction universe. Stresshog is a variant of Warthog (I KNOW what a Warthog is, it is an A-10 tank killer the USAF flies, how did it get into X-Wing?) which deals lots of stress tokens. PTL is Push The Limit, another upgrade card. Rereading this paragraph, there are a couple more references that need explaining, but that is best left to an article on the X-Wing game. Gamers create vocabularies and phrases for specific games that are often confusing to newcomers.
Can we change it? Probably not. Use of many of the acronyms for X-Wing only occur on the forums, mostly to save time when typing. It is no faster to say PTL than Push The Limit, but it does save time when typing. Other things come out naturally and are harder to change into easy references.
Another for instance. If you go onto certain forums or are familiar with World War Three gaming you probably have seen the letters TY. Just like that. Capital T and capital Y together. TY. It stands for, at least in the gaming world, Team Yankee. Team Yankee is two things. First it was a fiction book by Harold Coyle about World War Three and a Soviet invasion of Germany. More recently, it is the title of a miniatures game from Battlefront Miniatures based in part on Coyle’s book. If I see TY, I assume the reference is to the game, because, well, I am a gamer.
The list is pretty endless. Many words have other meanings, but for gamers they have a very specific meaning per game. Initiative, stat, armor class, hull points, shields, range, save, power weapon, charge distance, monster, maneuver template, and action dice are not unfamiliar words. In fact, most everyone reading this knows the definition of each of these words, and even the basic definition of the phrases. But do you know what they mean for gaming?
In reality, unless you game, you can’t. The dictionary definition of initiative is this:
- 1. the ability to assess and initiate things independently.
“use your initiative, imagination, and common sense”
||self-motivation, resourcefulness, inventiveness, imagination, ingenuity, originality, creativity, enterprise
- 2. the power or opportunity to act or take charge before others do.
“we have lost the initiative and allowed our opponents to dictate the subject”
 Taken from Google
In many war games, initiative is more or less the second definition. However, if you say initiative to a gamer, it means something slightly different. Initiative is a dice role for turn order. Everyone playing roles one die, and the highest goes first, and so one. If I am reading an article on gaming, or listening to a podcast, and see or hear ‘initiative’ I instantly think of the die role. And in a role-playing game it usually means combat is starting. Most other gamers do too. Everyone else thinks of one of the two definitions above. We are speaking a common language, with different dictionaries.
Again, who can we change this and help newcomers? There really isn’t an easy fix. All the abbreviations and acronyms are useful in print, so it would be hard to convince anyone to give them up. Like the FFG forum, the players and forum users of any new system need to quickly recognize the new definitions and abbreviations and create a document prominently displayed for newcomers to find. Yes, many forums have a search feature. No, the search feature doesn’t always work. It took me several days to actually find the definition list on the FFG forum, and I feel like I know what I am doing.
Even going back, it didn’t seem like it was a sticky topic. See? There is another one. A sticky topic is a forum thread that has been made sticky, meaning it stays at the top of a forum area. If you are not a forum user, you might not know that when you start a new forum thread, it starts out at the top of the list. As newer threads are started, a thread gets bumped down. Eventually it will be pushed to page two, or beyond if it is an active forum. An old thread, no matter how useful, might be pushed all the way to say page 1236 of the general pages on the FFG X-Wing forum. Go look, they have that many pages under ONE section.
Unless a forum moderator takes the appropriate steps, even if a thread or article is created to help newcomers (noobs, newbies, neeb among others) is quickly lost in the dark holes of forums, rarely to be seen again. Speaking of forum dark holes, every time I try to write an article, my search for links, pictures and references leads me to fall in rabbit holes and forget what I am doing. Squirrel!
What else can be done? We need to recognize when a new player is present and stop using acronyms and abbreviations. It doesn’t take much longer to say the phrase or call an upgrade card by its proper name. Online, article writers and game reviewers and especially game companies need to make sure things are spelled out and described. Gamers and game designers need to take special care so that anyone happening across or searching out something isn’t pushed away by too much game cant. In your Thursday night D&D game, feel free to use all the game cant you want. In a forum thread discussing Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, just don’t.
War abbreviations. This is one that just came to me while writing this article. Gamers, again, mostly online and in articles, refer to the many wars by abbreviations. ACW is American Civil War. Here in the USA, we usually just call it the Civil War. Well, guess what, it wasn’t the only Civil War. Not that war is very civil. There is also the ECW and SCW. WSS, 7YW, or FIW, HYW, WW1, WW2 and many others. The list is endless.
What can I do? I am going to define some common words I use a lot. I might even update this list from time to time. Especially if I start playing a new game and discover new definitions. Just remember, these are the most common definitions I use in my gaming. Many have other uses in other games, and in the case of some U.S. tank names, are the surnames of American Civil War generals. A lengthy list of military abbreviations can be found here on a wiki page.
Might it be the end-all-be-all of gaming helps? It just might.
This list is mine.
General combat/ modern war
AAA- Anti-aircraft artillery. Traditionally used to define surface guns of various calibers used to shoot down aircraft. Can also include surface to air missiles. Somewhat superseded by ADA.
Achilles- WW2 British conversion of the US M10 tank destroyer. The British had the fantastic OQF 17 pounder gun, and put it to good use.
ADA- Air Defense Artillery. All guns and missiles used to shoot down hostile aircraft.
APC- Armored Personnel Carrier. Also known as a Battle Taxi. A wheeled or tracked vehicle
Assault gun- generally referring to one of the German or Soviet armored vehicles in WW2 carrying a medium to large caliber cannon mounted in the hull or fighting compartment versus a turret. This simplified construction, but reduced effectiveness somewhat.
Breech loader- Any cannon, rifle, or musket loaded from the breech, or closed end of the barrel. Early attempts at breech-loading weapons were less-than-successful due to problems sealing the breech from gas escape. More exploding gas out the breech means less out the muzzle and that lowers ammo velocity.
Challenger- WW2 British tank, Tank, Cruiser, Challenger (A30). Carried the OQF 17 pounder. Not to be confused with the Challenger 1 or Challenger 2.
Challenger 1- British tank in service from 1983 to mid-90s. Introduced Chobham armour, a layered armor superior to rolled plate.
Challenger 2- Newer design British tank replacing the Challenger 1. According to my readings, the better armor has led to a single time a Challenger 2 has been damaged in combat. In a Blue on Blue incident with another Challenger 2. Impressive stuff.
Chieftain- Cold War British tank. Served in 60s, 70s and 80s. Introduced the 120mm gun.
Comet- or Tank, Cruiser, Comet I (A34). A British tank used in WW2. Carried a newly designed 77mm HV gun that was effective against the Panther, and at close range, the Tiger tanks.
Cromwell- officially Tank, Cruiser, Mk VIII, Cromwell (A27M). I won’t even begin to pretend to understand British tank nomenclature in WW2. It had a 75mm gun. And a good engine. Sue me, I don’t play the Brits in WW2 games. Yet.
Lee- M-3 series of tanks used in early WW2.
IFV- Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Similar to an APC, but general has a light caliber cannon giving the vehicle some fighting ability.
Muzzle loader- any musket, rifle, or cannon loaded from the muzzle. The muzzle is where the hurty parts fly out of when you shoot the weapon, or the open end of the barrel.
Sherman- The M-4 series of tanks used in WW2. The use of ACW names was applied initially by the British.
Sherman Firefly- In WW2 the British converted some Sherman tanks they received to carry the excellent OQF 17 pounder gun. A gun that could effectively penetrate Tiger tank armor.
Panther- Panzer Mk V. A WW2 German tank. One of the most successful tanks of the war with a effective gun and sloped armor.
Pershing- Name applied to the M-26 medium/heavy tank in WW2
Tiger- Panzer Mk VI. German heavy tank in WW2. Carried a dread 88mm gun and could kill most Allied tanks at any range.
Abbreviated war names
ACW- American Civil War. The war fought between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America between April 12, 1860 and May 13, 1865.
AWI- American War for Independence. Also known as the American Revolutionary War. Colonial America’s fight to win independence from Great Britain.
ECW- English Civil War. The conflicts fought between Aug 22, 1642 – Sep 3, 1651 pitting the Roundheads versus the Cavaliers to decide the government of England.
FIW- French and Indian War. A name primarily used in the USA. Fought 1754-1763 in North America. Protagonists were the French and their Native American allies versus British troops augmented by colonial American troops and far fewer Native American allies. A part of the Seven Years War.
7YW- Seven Years War. Fought 1756-1763 between most of the European great powers and the first truly global conflict. Battles were fought in Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines.
HYW- Hundred Years War. A long series of battles from 1337 to 1453 between two royal dynasties, the Plantagenets of England and the Valois of France, for the throne of France.
TYW- Thirty Years War. Fought primarily in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. Started as a religious conflict then became a general war.
WSS- War of the Spanish Succession. Fought 1701-1714 between Habsburg Austria and France for control of Spain.
WW1- The First World War.
WW2- World War Two. Did you really need that explained?
WW3- A war that never happened. It was a hot topic in gaming during the actual Cold War. Revelations after the fall of the USSR made it less so due to discoveries about the actual capabilities of much of the Soviet era tanks, APCs and aircraft.
WotR- War of the Ring. The final war in Tolkien’s epic.
General gaming words and abbreviations
A&A- Axis and Allies. A series of board games originally published by Milton Bradley. It is a WW2 board game that can be one battle or theatre, or as in the original game, include the entire globe on the game board.
AC- Armor class. Used in a variety of games, but most often used in RPGs to denote how heavy the armor is a character is wearing.
AP- Armor Penetration. A number in a particular game indicating how well a gun penetrates armor, or kills tanks. Light auto cannons might be a 1, while heavy, dedicated anti-tank guns might be a 20. Varies by game system.
Armada– On my blog this word will usually refer to the FFG game Star Wars: Armada. A space combat game based on capital ships like Star Destroyers and Mon Calamari cruisers. It is a scale up from X-Wing. In Armada the players have large ships and can deploy whole squadrons of X-Wing and TiE fighters.
Black Library- Two meanings. The publish arm of GW, and a place lost in the eldar webway, a repository of fantastic and forbidden knowledge.
C&C- Command and Colours. A series of games based on Richard Borg’s design. Games exist for ancients (CC:A) through WW2 (Memoir’44).
D&D– Dungeons and Dragons. One of the first RPGs created, way back in 1974. The granddaddy of RPGs. Heavily influenced by Tolkien. In D&D each player isa fantasy character like a fighter or wizard or barbarian. Now in its 5th edition. I skipped 3rd Ed. and 3.5, and 4th Ed. 5th Ed. makes me want to play again.
DBA- De Bellis Antiquitatis. Relatively simple set of wargames rules for ancients gaming.
DBM- De Bellis Multitudinis Bigger brother of DBA
DnD- See D&D
Dungeon Master- The person running a Dungeons and Dragons (or other fantasy based) game. That person creates the scene, controls the monsters, and creates mayhem for the players to enjoy.
Fall In!- Gaming convention pit on by HMGS in Lancaster, PA, USA. I have attended the previous three and plan to continue to attend.
FFG– Fantasy Flight Games. A game company that produces a huge range of board, card, and miniatures games. They produce Star Wars games like Armada and X-Wing and therefor consume an unholy amount of my gaming budget.
Flashlight- In some Sci-Fi games, especially W40K it is slang for the lasguns, or laser rifles, that common grunts carry. It is from the fact that have a very low armor penetration and just light up the enemy they are shooting versus actually causing casualties.
Gaming Convention- A gathering of miniatures and war games enthusiasts. From one day to three or more, a convention includes dozens to 100s of games brought by GMs. In the UK the games are generally display games. The GM and couple friends set them up and play them to display the game to others. In the USA they are participation games. You preregister, or sign up at the table, to play in a game. These games run across the entire genre form light RPGs to space combat. There is generally a vendor area and often a bring-n-buy or boot sale area. Gamers do not discuss how much money is spent at a convention with their spouse. Fellow attendees play dumb if asked by a mate’s spouse, often pretending to be hard of hearing or claiming the vendor hall was closed every day.
Game Master- The person controlling a game. Generally is someone controlling a multi-player game with some elements outside the players’ control. Convention games also have GM since players may not be familiar with the rules.
GW– Games Workshop. A UK-based gaming company that produced or produces the WFB, W40K, Inquisitor, Blood Bowl, BFG and other games.
HMGS– Historical Miniatures Gaming Society. A group dedicated to promoting miniatures gaming through some of the biggest gaming conventions around.
Initiative- Usually a die roll to determine play order in a turn. Sometimes initiative passes back and forth based on other factors.
Inquisitor- In the gaming world this word has two meanings. One, Inquisitor was a skirmish game produced by GW that used large scale models in small war bands. It also refers to a particular individual in the W40K universe tasked with hunting threats to the Imperium of Man, the main human governmental entity in the galaxy.
LOTR-Lord of the Rings. The book (now a trilogy of books and a trilogy of movies) written by J.R.R. Tolkien that influences much of fantasy writing. He created a fantastic and well-detailed fantasy world, codified some of the fantasy races of myth, and gave us such enduring characters as Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Frodo, Gandalf, and Sauron. Read it if you haven’t. Watch it if you haven’t. Fantastic stuff. The story of Gimli and Legolas after the War of the Ring brings tears to my ears. Poetry.
M&T– Muskets & Tomahawks. Skirmish gaming in North America from the FIW to the AWI. Adds a narrative element to the game that is very cool.
MDF- Medium Density Fiberboard. A type of manufactured material useful for producing model kits. With laser cutters coming down in price, many small companies have begun producing terrain kits for war gaming made of MDF. It is dimensionally stable, takes most types of glues, and paints well. It is especially useful for buildings in larger scales where resin cost and weight is prohibitive.
Morale- In gaming it refers to how resilient a unit or character is to wounds and losses. A unit might need to start rolling to see if it stays on table at say, 50% casualties. Reflects the fact that units disappeared from a battlefield long before they were wiped out. Last-man stands are actually quite rare.
MSU- Multiple Small Units. A gaming tactic to maximize the number of units, and hence the number of actions, a player has on a table. Individual units might be more fragile than larger units, but you have lots of them!
NPC- Non-player Character. Any character in a RPG controlled by the DM or GM
PC- Player Character. The players in an RPG. Can also mean Perception Check. Context and game matters!
RPG- A type of game that includes a DM or GM and any number of other players. They exist for most any genre, from fantasy to science fiction to gothic horror to James Bond-like spy worlds. Players create a character they play the game with stats for characteristics like strength, intelligence, shooting ability, morale and others. Another genre of gaming you should check out.
SAGA– Another game from Studio Tomahawk. It is skirmish gaming in the dark ages. Fantastic game that using unique dice to power abilities.
Saving Throw- a dice mechanic where a player being attacked by a game opponent has a chance to ‘save’, or avoid some or all the damage being inflicted. It is common in RPGs and all GW games.
Triumph!– Reworking of DBA/DBM by the Washington Grand Company. Ancients rules.
Turn- A turn is a sequence of events that each player goes through, usually in a specific order. Other words are used such as phase, round, player turn, or game turn. Many games have a set number of turns before the game ends. Others are open ended, having victory conditions and allowing for unlimited play.
W40K- Warhammer 40,000. A dark, gothic, science fiction game set in the 40th Millennium. Some of the fantasy races exist, such as space elves (elder), space orks, and space swadrves (squats), as well as alien species.
WFB- Warhammer Fantasy Battles. A table-top game produced by GW. A two or more player game that pits armies of fantasy miniatures in combat. The main fantasy races of orcs, dwarves, elves, and undead, as well as armies of men, man-sized rats, lizardmen and others are included. Magic, infantry, cavalry and war machines are main elements.
X-Wing– The standard snub fighter of the Rebellion and Resistance. A great miniatures game from FFG.
X-Wing specific terms
Barrel roll- A type of maneuver in aerial combat. In game terms it often refers to the action in X-Wing that is an avoidance maneuver that allows a player to ‘roll’ his ship to the side avoiding opposing players’ fire arc.
Boost- an action in X-Wing that allows an extra movement after all ships have moved.
Evade- An action in X-Wing that allows the player to avoid being hit. It adds one evade to the defense roll. Evade is also the desired icon on defense dice.
Fire arc- An area where a given unit can fire its guns. For instance, a tank turret usually has 360 degree arc, while a hull machine gun has a narrow arc only to the front of the tank. In X-Wing most ships shot in a cone to the front, while a turret upgrade allows a 360 degree arc for a secondary weapon.
Focus- An action that allows an X-Wing player to change all the focus (eyeballs) icons on either attack or defense dice to hit or evade icons.
Maneuver template- cardboard or acrylic templates used to simplify movement of game units. X-Wing uses turns, banks and straights to maneuver each ship. Star Wars: Armada uses a three part plastic tool that has three segments that can be adjusted for each maneuver. Various games use different shapes and tools to speed up measuring and maneuvering.
Target Lock- In X-Wing specifically it is an action that ‘locks’ an opposing ship to allow ‘spending’ the target lock to reroll attack dice or use other card actions such as shooting torpedoes or missiles. Is also used in other space combat games to signify an advantage situation during the fire portion of combat. Usually it allows for more accurate weapons fire.
After typing this, and having major brain block on terms i commonly use, I realized this list will HAVE to be revised. So keep coming back for new stuff.
 For some good laughs go here LINK. There is some language, and some bizarre references, but most are pretty hilarious.