The meeple is the iconic symbol of board games everywhere. Countless tabletop shops and cafes have meeples on their swinging signs, signifying one thing only – board games inside. But what are meeples, exactly? Where did they come from? And which tabletop games can they be found in?
Meeples actually have a decades-long history, and they’re included in some of the best board games ever made. Whether you’re a fan of kids’ board games or board games for adults, chances are you’ve seen a few mini wooden people grace your gaming tables. Below you’ll find a definitive description of the mighty meeple – as well as our recommendations for the best meeple games.
Here’s all you need to know when it comes to meeples:
What are meeples?
According to legend, the term ‘meeple’ is a combination of the words ‘my’ and ‘people’. The term was first coined by a woman named Alison Hansel, who came up with the phrase during a game of Carcassonne in 2000. Her creation spread like wildfire through the board game community after Alison’s friend Dave Bernazzani shared it in a Session Report on BoardGameGeek.
The specifics of what a meeple actually is are a little hazy. Officially, a meeple is considered a person-shaped token used in a board game. However, there are many board game tokens that depict nature, animals, and vehicles that are also considered meeples. These look very similar to the classic Carcassonne counters – small, brightly-coloured wooden shapes.
There’s also the question of whether miniatures found in games like Warhammer 40k and Zombicide are considered meeples. They are usually person-shaped, but they’re not made from the same wood or simplified shapes as the traditional meeple.
Best meeple games
Today’s tabletop gaming world is a colourful and diverse place, and there are more varieties of meeple than you could shake a dice cup at. We’ve collated a list of the very best meeple games for you to enjoy in the good year 2022.
Bear in mind the criteria we’ve used for this list. Firstly, we’ve chosen only traditional, wooden meeples – there will be no Age of Sigmar armies here. We’ve also chosen games for their overall quality as well as the niceness of their meeple collection.
Here are the best meeple games:
- Camel Up
We had to include the game that kickstarted the meeple revolution – Carcassonne. The Carcassonne meeples may not look particularly unique by today’s standards, but these stout little people were the template for many a meeple to come.
Not only that; Carcassonne keeps on innovating the meeple experience with spin-offs and expansions. Carcassonne: Under the Big Top adds circus tents and top-hat-wearing ringleaders to your meeple collection; the Princess and the Dragon summons a mini firebreather; and the 2022 release Mists over Carcassonne introduces spooky little ghosts.
The classic 2007 eurogame Agricola tasks you with building a successful farmstead. Naturally, this means it’s stuffed to the brim with animal meeples. The Agricola meeples on offer include plump pigs, brown cows, and fluffy sheep. Human meeples also make an appearance, along with important resources like hay and vegetables.
Along with its twee miniature farmyard, Agricola is a genuinely compelling game of resource management and worker placement. You only have two actions a turn to advance your farmstead, so you’ll need to plan carefully to end up with the top score.
Root is one of our favourite strategy board games of all time. It’s an asymmetric wargame that sees various factions of cuddly woodland creatures vie for control of a forest. Each has its method of attack, and no two factions play the same. This means there’s plenty to think about when plotting turns – and plenty of replay value.
Plus, the meeples in this game are gorgeous. Each animal meeple has been painted with an expressive face. The Marquise de Cat faction looks sly and determined; the Eyrie birds are aggressive and focused; the racoon Vagabond looks suspicious; and the mice in the Woodland alliance look surprisingly innocent given their tendency for guerilla warfare. Expansions offer even more colourful Root meeples for added variety.
Another worker placement game, Everdell has a lot of visual wow-factor. Your meeples are tiny woodland squirrels, and they’ll be scampering up and down a 3D tree as you assign them to gather resources and take actions. The aim of the game is to score the most points by building a woodland city. Your final tableau of city cards will determine your score.
Winning Everdell requires careful hand management, resource management, and meeple management, so there’s plenty to chew on in this sweet-looking board game.
There aren’t many games that offer camel meeples. One place you will find them is in Camel Up, a betting board game that asks players to predict which camel will finish the chaotic race first.
Camel Up doesn’t have many meeples to offer, but the few it does are unique. Its light-hearted, luck-based gameplay also makes it an ideal pick for fans of family board games.