Collecting them, reading articles and watching videos about them, but most of all playing them. That’s what we do. We, board gamers. That’s our hobby, that’s our passion as you could say. And what is more fun than to share that enjoyment with other people? Well, it’s the best, but as you might know, it is not always easy. There are rules to learn, there are new mechanisms to discover and not every game is as well-known as Monopoly or Risk. There are many other games to explore and we are thankful for that, but it can be daunting for new players. In this list I would like to give you my top ten games to ease new gamers into playing board games other than the two above. Which games can become a Gateway into the gaming world?
Top 10 Gateway Games
First, I’d like to give you my opinion about what a good Gateway game should be. You might wonder: ‘What is the difference between a Family game and a Gateway game?’. Well, that’s a good question and I’d like to answer it with this: every Gateway game is a Family game, but not every Family game is a Gateway game.
Games like Bruges or La Isla (coincidentally they are both fun games from Stephen Feld) can be considered Family games, but wont be good Gateway games in my opinion, because the cards give non-gamers too many options, so they might feel a bit overwhelmed when you explain it all. And that’s not what we want.
What are the characteristics of a Gateway game? Well, most importantly, it must have a simple rule-set. If your explanation takes half an hour or more, you already lost the interest of many new players.
Secondly, the game has to focus on one or two mechanisms. Everything is new, so one or two new ideas, other than role and move, are probably enough, right?
I also think that it’s a good thing if players feel like they are in the game the whole time. If it’s a longer game then player elimination is definitely out of the question in my book.
What I really want to say is that, although the new players might not do everything as efficiently as possible, they should always feel like they have a chance to win or at least not have feeling they are excluded from the game. They will remember that feeling when they just sit there, watching other people have fun for half an hour or more.
Those are a couple of things that I think are necessary to create a nice first gaming experience. The only goal this game should have is that the players have a real good time. And when they immediately want to play again, you and the game did a good job.
So, here’s the list. Ten games I would use as a Gateway game to teach other people. Ten games I recommend as a first step into board gaming.
10: Las Vegas
It’s probably the lightest games of this list, but Las Vegas might be the game to pull out when you have some people around who like to gamble, but never play board games. It definitely has the right theme: Casinos.
Every round an amount of money is placed at a casino. A casino has a number from one to six. The only thing that everybody needs to do is to roll their eight dice and place all the dice of one number that they’ve rolled on the corresponding casino. Place three two’s at casino number two. At the end of the round, after all the players who have the same amount of dice on a casino removed their dice from that casino, the player with the most dice on a casino gets first pick in choosing a dollar bill. He or she picks the highest value of course. At the end of the game the player with the most money wins.
That’s the whole idea of the game. Try to gain majorities, but be sure to be the only player with that amount of dice on a specific casino or otherwise you won’t get anything at all. Because of this mechanism there’s quite a lot of tension in this game. Is it worth to place this many dice on one casino? What are other players planning?
Las Vegas is very nice filler or a fun, short gateway game. My number ten.
Abstract games can be very fun too. They are mostly very simple games in terms of rules, but offer a lot of strategy. A drawback, if you want to play with more, is that many of them are often only playable with two players.
Well, Ingenious is a lovely abstract game from Reiner Knizia that you can play with more than two players. You try to connect tiles (two connected hexagons, see the picture above) with two symbols to other tiles on the board to get points per symbol. The funny thing is, at the end of the game, the symbol with the lowest point value counts as your score. So, if you have the best worst score, you win the game. Interesting, right?
It’s a quick game and I find this typically a game where you say ‘Lets play again. I can do better than that’ afterwards.
8: Saint Petersburg (1st or 2nd edition)
This game isn’t especially a looker. I found that both the first and second edition are very boring looking. However the gameplay is very fun and easy. The second edition is slightly more complicated than the first, because it adds a market phase to the four existing phases.
In every phase you buy cards from the game board and at the end of a phase you get income from the cards belonging to that particular phase. During the first phase new worker cards are available. They give you money. In the next phase you can buy buildings, which give you, mostly, points. During the third phase you can hire aristocrats, they might give you points and money. During the last phase you can buy upgrades for cards from all other phases.
The basic concepts of this game are really simple. Some cards give you money to buy other cards, some cards give you points and some both. Easy. The seconds edition adds some commodity tracks and if you have the most of that commodity, you get points during the market phase. A little more complicated, but still easy enough and, most importantly, very fun to play with non-gamers.
7: Airlines Europe
Airlines Europe is a wonderful game from the same designer as Ticket to Ride, a game you might be familiar with. It is more complicated than that game, but it’s still very suitable as an introductory game when you play with people who are interested in the stock market.
Don’t worry. It’s also a wonderful game when you don’t care for stocks at all.
The concept of the game is probably a bit difficult to understand at first, the gameplay itself, however, is very simple. The idea is that there are all these different airlines with their headquarters in cities around Europe and you buy stocks from these companies and play them in front of you. These stocks give you income. However, you also have to invest in the airlines you have stocks from, create new flight-routes throughout Europe, so the value of the stocks go up. At three, sort of random, moments players score points according to how many stocks they have of an airline and the value of that company itself.
Unlike many other games, you don’t play with a certain colour, but you have to manipulate all the airlines on the board to get what you want.
I really like this game, probably even more than some others that are higher on this list, but the reason that it’s number seven, what is still pretty high, is that I found that some new players found the idea of manipulating multiple airlines instead of doing the best with your own airline difficult to understand the first time they’ve played it.
It could be that you want to play a game with players who have never played a modern board game, but have played some classic card games, like Hearts. Then Diamonds is the perfect fit.
A trick taking game with a twist.
You are collecting diamonds behind and in front of your player screen, or safe as it is called in this game. Diamonds behind your screen are worth more points than those in front of it and the player with the most points in the end wins. There are four suits, with cards from one to fifteen, and every suit has a special action. Namely, place a diamond in front of your screen, place one behind your screen, transfer a diamond from the front to behind your screen and take a diamond from another player. The player who wins a trick can do a suit action.
Well, the fun and different aspect of this game is that if you can’t follow suit, you have to play another card and immediately you can do the action belonging to that suit.
So, you can always do something.
Players who are familiar with the game, like in many other classic card games, will probably still win, but the new players can, because there’s always a way to collect diamonds, still be competitive or just steal diamond for the fun of it.
A modern classic (is it not?) set in Medieval times. You start with a basic deck of money and victory point cards and during the game you going to buy and add cards to your deck that make your deck better and better. Some card have a special action, like draw an extra card from your deck, and others just give you more money or points. Easy, straightforward, but very fun.
The base game already gives you a lot of options to make the game as difficult or as interactive as you want.
They have put many card types in the box and you won’t use all them every game, so you’ll get al lot enjoyment and variety out of the base game only. However, if you and your fellow players like the game, you can add expansion after expansion to make the game more different, but, it has to be said, also slightly more complex.
My number five: Dominion.
4: Sushi Go!
Sushi Go! is the smallest game from this list, but I like it a lot. Initially, I only had a print and play version of the game, because it wasn’t readily available in the Netherlands, but now it is and it is a perfect little gateway game. You can take it everywhere you want and people will love it.
You collect sets of different types of sushi cards. These different types score in different ways. Some are only worth points, others give you points if you have the most of them and yet another type only gives you points if you have three of them. You collect these cards by drafting. You pick the card you want, place it on the table and give the rest of the stack to your neighbour. You continue doing this until there are no cards left in your hand and then you calculate your score for that round. After three rounds, the player with the most points wins.
It’s really simple and quick, but the drafting makes it exciting. This small little box just packs a lot of fun! And that’s why Sushi Go! is my number four.
3: Aladdin’s Dragons
Bidding is not something I’m very good at and it is not a mechanism I’m particularly fond of (probably because I’m not good at it). However, there’s one type of bidding I do like and that is blind bidding. Aladdin’s Dragons combines blind bidding with worker placement, which means that you have to place a player piece on a certain spot to claim and do an action.
Your worker tokens, in this game, also have value on one side and you can place one or more, face-down, workers in the caves to steal treasures from the dragon, in the village to do special actions and in the sultan’s palace to deliver the treasure in exchange of precious artefacts. These artefacts give you a benefit, but also, and more importantly, the player with the most artefacts at the end of the game is the winner.
The blind bidding mechanism is very fun in this game, because you can all place tokens on the same spot, but only the player with highest value can do the action. So, there’s a lot of bluffing in this game and bluffing is fun.
The worker placement mechanism is quite easy to explain and the blind bidding element is also a something people quickly understand.
So, when they do understand the rules and the gameplay quite easily, you can add magic cards to the mix. Players can acquire them in the village and these cards add a ‘take that’ element to the game. You can surprise your opponents by making an action spot unavailable during a round, or making workers with a value of nine, suddenly only worth one. These cards make the game not a lot more difficult, but not every player likes a screwage in a game, so you’ll have to be careful with these cards.
Overall, I really like this as a gateway game, because it has easy mechanism, the blind bidding and the bluffing makes it exciting and the little plastic treasures look cool too. A fantastic game, but I’m not sure if it’s readily available. Sorry.
2: 7 Wonders
Another drafting game, but in a bigger box than that of Sushi Go!. Bigger doesn’t always mean better, but in this case it does. Sushi Go! is easier to explain, that has to be said, but 7 Wonders just has a little more to it.
In this game you try to build a wonder of the world and every round, or age, you pass cards around and pick one you want to use. You need resources to play or build cards, so first you need to collect those resource cards, but later on you can pick all sort of cards that give you points at the end of the game. You can also go to war against the players next to you to gain even more points or remain peaceful and use your opponents resources in exchange for a little money.
There is interaction in this game, but only with both your neighbours, which is fine, because it’s easier to watch only two people than all (possibly seven) players around the table.
Like in Sushi Go!, the drafting mechanism makes this game very exciting. What do I need? What does my opponent want? Do I take one for the team and pick a card that my neighbour wants badly, but is just OK for me? Or do I only grab the cards that give me points? Those choices make 7 Wonders very fun. Every card is OK, but some are just a bit better for you than for others.
This makes it more accessible to new players, everything you do is fine, but some things are a little better.
They might be a bit overwhelmed by the rules at first, but after one test round, they’ll get it and will have loads of fun with 7 Wonders; my number two Gateway Game.
1: Ticket to Ride (Europe)
It might be an obvious choice, but I don’t care: Ticket to Ride still is my favourite Gateway Game. People find maps intriguing for some reason and building train-routes on a map, where they can spot cities they’ve been to or know from geography class, is just something that people are attracted to.
The mechanisms are incredibly easy. You collect sets of coloured cards to place your trains on different coloured routes on the map to, eventually, get from city A to city B as pointed out on the ticket(s) that you’ve received at the beginning of the game or have drawn during the game.
Individual routes give you points, completed tickets give you points and incomplete tickets will lose you points at the end of the game. There is really not much else to explain, so players can dive right in.
For a first game I would recommend Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride: Europe, because they are the easiest versions around. However, if there’s a version of your own country, you might want to consider that version.
This game is fun, firstly, because it’s easy and still offers enough strategy. You can plan ahead by grabbing card in specific colours, but you’ll have to be able to adjust, because there’s a good chance that your opponent will build a route before you can, so you’ll have to work your way around that. The fact that this can happen makes that you’ll have to push your luck and it adds a nice bit of tension to the game. Do I wait for more good cards to add to my hand or I build that route right now, so that I know my opponent can’t? Do I choose to draw new tickets? But what if I’m not able to complete them? These small choices makes Ticket to Ride very fun and make this my number one Gateway Game.