What is Abstract Games?

Abstract Strategy Games are a genre of board games such as Go, Shogi, Chess, and Othello. Generally, they are games that have no element of luck and where the value of the game does not depend on reliving the theme.

Many ancient and medieval board games were abstract games and developed along the spiritual history of mankind as entertainment or competition/ mind sports. In modern times, they are also associated with the study of information theory and closely related to the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI).



Abstract strategy games are thought to be so called because they usually do not use figurative equipment. However, the origin of the term is ambiguous, and its scope is not necessarily definitive.

J. Mark Thompson, "Defining the Abstract" (2000) lists the following characteristics of abstract strategy games:

  • (usually) no theme
  • no hidden information
  • no elements of luck 
  • turn-based
  • (mostly) for two players

It should be noted that in some cases it allows for some luck or hidden information, or is simply used to refer to non-themed games in general.



Types of abstract strategy games are generally classified based on winning conditions. Although there is no fixed theory, I present here six types based on "Mathematical Games, Abstract Games" (Joao Pedro Neto, Jorge Nuno Silva, 2013)

Capture - Win by capturing a specific, or a certain number of pieces. Chess, Checkers, etc.
Position - Win by moving pieces to a specific space or area. Halma, Chinese checkers, etc.
Pattern - Win by arranging pieces in a specific pattern. Tic-Tac-Toe, Gomoku, etc.
Connection - Win by creating groups of pieces meet specific conditions. Hex, TwixT, etc.
Territory - Win by occupying larger areas. Go, Othello, etc.
Blocking - Win (or lose) by making the opponent unable to action. Nim, Pentominoes, etc.

Not all games can be neatly categorized according to the above, as some games have more than one winning condition.


Art Source: Ajax and Achilles gaming, ca.490 BCE from Wikimedekia Commons