A meeple is a playing piece used in board games to represent a player, kind of like a pawn. Each player usually gets a few meeples to use per game. Meeples started off looking just like people, but now they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. They can be animals, robots, trains – anything really.
What is a meeple? A meeple is a small person-shaped token used in some board games to represent a player’s units. ‘meeple’ was originally said in 2010 in reference to the wooden follower tokens used in the board game Carcassonne. The word is said to be a combination of the words ‘my’ and ‘people’.
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The original meeples
In Carcassonne, meeples are little wooden people shaped tokens that come in several different colours.
Each player has a set of eight meeples in the same colour. The meeples represent followers that the player places on the game tiles. Depending on where and how they are placed, each meeple becomes a knight, monk, farmer or thief.
Meeples are small, cute and fun to play with while you’re waiting for your turn.
Are meeples copyrighted?
It would be pretty difficult to copyright a people shape because it is considered a familiar shape and may not be considered an ‘original’ work.
It would be like trying to copyright a gingerbread man.
Having said that, if I were designing a game, I don’t think using exactly the same meeples that are used in Carcassonne would be a good idea.
Instead, I would put my own spin on the meeples in a game. Change the dimensions of their arms, give them little hats, give them a different pose. Then I would be sure they are unique to my game.
Meeples in other games
The shape of Carcassonne meeples is specific to Carcassonne, but there are similarly shaped people tokens used in lots of other games.
Meeples are more common in Eurogames.
Eurogames generally focus on players strategically managing their resources and economy.
In Charterstone, meeples are workers who help to build up a new village.
Tiny Epic Quest
These special meeples from Tiny Epic Quest are called ITEMeeples(™) and they can hold tiny items! They are little heroes.
Games about meeples
You’re in charge of the Meeple Circus and you need to entertain the crowd! Use your dexterity to stack up the meeples and animals to wow everyone!
The meeple evolution
While meeples began their lives as little wooden people shapes, they evolved into lots of different kinds of shapes.
Although there is a slight problem with the name. Anything non-people-shaped isn’t technically a person and maybe shouldn’t be called a meeple (my people). That’s why people come up with new names for non-people meeples.
Animal Upon Animal
Animal Upon Animal contains loads of
In a Euro game, it is common to build settlements and trade resources with other players. While most games come with card tokens, these tokens can be upgraded to wooden ones. And so,
Traineeples? (The name doesn’t always work!)
Ticket to Ride
Tiny little trains which you use to connect cities. Can’t help but feel like a big kid when I line up another train set in Ticket to Ride.
Where can you buy meeples?
If you want standard meeples that look very close to Carcassonne meeples, then you can a set of 100 meeples in bright colours from Amazon. If you want hundreds or thousands of meeples, you can get them from most board game component manufacturers.
Some shops are doing really cool things with meeple design
Meeple Source has some great custom meeples. Meeples in all kinds of colours and sizes. Sets are available for different games. Some are printed with particular characters from games too.
How are meeples made?
It depends on what they are made from. Plastic meeples are becoming more popular and are probably made using
Wood is the classic meeple material, so I’m just going to look at that.
Wooden meeples could be made one of two ways.
- Shaping a long piece of wood on a lathe and then slicing it into smaller meeples.
- Cut from a board using a laser cutter.
Painting and varnishing
The meeple is painted to give it its colour and then a layer of varnish is added. The varnish ensures your meeple survives if you spill a drink on it or drop it on the floor a few times.
Like any wooden product, meeples are dried and then packed up. Especially because they end up in plastic packets where any residual moisture can’t escape very easily.
You wouldn’t want to open your new board game and find your meeples sweating in a little plastic sauna!
(If you’re interested in how meeples are made, you may also be interested in this post: What are board game boards made of?)
Meeples and tabletop gaming culture
The humble meeple has become an icon of tabletop gaming culture.
Mention the word ‘meeple’ to another person. If they’re a tabletop gamer they’ll know what it means and they’ll know that you do too.
Don’t fancy talking to another person? Then wear a meeple about your person to tell others that you’re a tabletop gamer. There are some pretty cool looking t-shirts, badges and stickers out now. Even Amazon has meeple accessories now.
Another good indication of the meeple’s rise to fame is that as of August 2015, meeple was added to the Oxford Dictionaries!
A small figure used as a playing piece in certain board games, having a stylized human form.Oxford Dictionaries
The meeple emoji is used on the Board Game Geek forums.
If you’re a Slack user and really want a meeple emoji, search online you’ll quickly find a custom one for Slack that you can download for free and upload to your account.
But there isn’t a meeple emoji available as standard on phones and tablets. It would be great if there was!
On the website Happy Meeple where people can play board games online, the meeple is used as a badge to show a user’s experience and skill at gaming.
Is ‘meeple’ singular or plural?
Meeple is singular. In Carcassonne, one meeple represents one follower. The confusion arises because ‘meeple’ sounds like ‘people’ which represents more than one ‘person’. But a singular meeple is not a ‘merson’.
So now you know all about meeples!
There are other cool names for board game components too like chits and standees. For more about board game pieces check out my article, Board Game Pieces – Names, Examples and Uses.
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