Meeple are a standardized form of player pieces used in board games. They are short, squat, star-shaped wooden people, usually painted in bright colors. By tradition they are solid colors, with no eyes or clothes painted on, and are generally primary colors. They are a staple of games that just need a cheap drop-in player marker, which makes them ubiquitous in the board game industry.
Meeple -- or meeples, there is some variation in the plural form -- were popularized in the board game Carcassonne, one of the first really popular games to use them. However, the word is not French (nor German), but an English portmanteau of 'my' and 'people.
In recent years meeple have become a symbol of board gaming, and the term has both solidified to mean the traditional meeple as an icon and expanded to included any simple game piece, including animals (the term animeeple is sometimes used).