Many modern board games throw around the term “Meeple” as if every one is supposed to understand exactly what that is. But what is a Meeple and where did they originate?
Nowadays most modern board game players will recognize the iconic 5 pointed player piece that loosely resembles a person as a Meeple. One way or another they’ve made their way into board game history as the standard for player pieces.
Which is the First Game to Use Meeples?
Although the idea of a wooden player piece dates back much further, the first board game to come up with the term Meeple was Klaus-Jürgen Wrede’s Carcassonne.
In Carcassonne players used their invidual Meeples to claim plots of land, roads or cities. Although the original rulebook of the game referred to them as Followers and never used the term Meeple.
Why are they called Meeples?
According to one account, the term Meeple was derived when Alison Hansel combined the words “my” and “people” during a game of Carcassonne. Soon after the term was officially adopted by the game.
[I] started calling the little people “meeples” in Carcasonne on Saturday (eg- “If I place this here, I would get two points and my meeple back”) and they really did remind me of the totally cool pieces in Sumera and Europa 1945-2030.Alison Hansel, 2000
What Board Games Use Meeples?
Since it’s inception there has been a number of games to use the iconic 5 pronged wooden Meeple shape in their game. Some of the more notable games include;
- Die Dolmengötter
- If Wishes Were Fishes
- Wits and Wagers
- Mutant Meeples
- Meeple Fling
- Terror in Meeple City
- Tiny Epic Kingdoms
- Terra Mystica
- And many more…
What Exactly Defines a Meeple?
According to a poll run on BoardGameGeek.com, there isn’t exactly a consensus on what defines a Meeple. Even though Carcassonne was the first game to officially coin the term, the idea of a wooden player piece dates back even further. Blurring the lines of when the first official Meeple-like figurine hit store shelves. So, who exactly can claim to have invented this iconic shape?
- First Game to Use the Term Meeple: Carcassonne (2000)
In Carcassonne, Meeples are used to claim plots of land, roads, and cities. They represent the followers of the kingdom.
- First Game to Use Pieces Resembling the Modern Meeple Shape: Europa 1945-2030 (1998)
In Europa, these people tokens are used to represent delegates in a post World War 2 landscape.
- First Game to Use Silhouette People Shaped Pieces: Survive! Escape From Atlantis (1982)
In Survive, the wooden player tokens were used to represent the villagers from an Atlantean tribe.
- First Game to Use Pieces Resembling People: Hnefatafl – Ancient Viking Chess (400AD)
- Read more about the complete history of board games (opens in a new tab), and learn more about worker placement games here.
In this ancient game of Viking Chess, hand carved wooden play pieces were used to represent an attacking and defending tribe of vikings.
Although everyone’s definition of what is a Meeple is is a bit different, most people will recognize the iconic shape when they see it and they will know it’s a Meeple. In 2017, Hans im Glück trademarked the term “Meeple”. What do you think about a company trademarking something that has become synonymous with our hobby like a Meeple has? Should anyone be able to mention Meeples in their games, or should they have to ask permission and pay up?