Welcome to a new series of articles from us at Board Game Quest, which we are calling the Quest List. Similar to our traditional Top 10 lists, we as a writing staff are picking games which we think best fit the featured category. As opposed to one writer giving ten different options, this is a chance to hear from the wide range of tastes that the Board Game Quest staff share.
Today, we are looking at gateway games. These are the games that people use to start a collection. Gateway games are easy for families to play together who are moving on from mass-market games. Gateway Games aren’t necessarily our favorite games of all time, but the games we enjoy introducing to non-gamers while still having fun ourselves. And to keep some variety in the choices, we’ve avoided any of the traditional gateway games such as Ticket to Ride, Catan, or Pandemic.
Gateway Board Game Recommendations
Recommended by Dylan
Bluffing is not normally considered a go-to mechanic for a family game. But when the game is made up of five cards for six players and simple enough to teach in minutes, you have a winner. Like the most famous bluffing game, Poker, the depth comes from the yes-or-no question: are they lying to me? Each round is filled with mind games, presenting players with sneaky opportunities to score a point or make an opponent one step closer to losing. Once the bidding begins, tensions hit a peak and the stress persists until the revealing has finished with shouts over the table. Skull is simple, yet fun and a hit with all gamers, no matter the experience level.
Recommended by Tahsin
I know I’m playing to the stereotype when the Egyptian guy recommends a game with an Egyptian theme. The truth is when it comes to games that are easy to teach while sporting tactile, strategic, and variability in gameplay, you can’t do much better than Imhotep. With only a small number of actions, each game welcomes players to think about their turns and the consequences for other players. On top of that, the simple act of placing cubes fires up the mental furnaces of new players who may have never seen wood cubes as resources since they were in diapers. All in all, it’s got an elegant simplicity combined with a higher level of thinking that represents the best of what modern board gaming has to offer.
Recommended by Andrew
Gateway games obviously need to be easy to learn and not take all night. PARKS fits both of those criteria. But perhaps more importantly, its gorgeous production will get anyone interested quite quickly. Each card illustration is of a national park from the fifty-nine Parks print series. On top of that, there are wonderful branch-shaped GameTrayz for storing all of the wooden resources. And luckily the fun isn’t just with your eyes—the gameplay is engaging as well. PARKS uses a Tokaido-like action selection as you’ll be trying to collect the correct resources to be able to visit the available national parks. There is enough depth for experienced gamers to revisit this one multiple times.
Harvest Dice (review)
Recommended by Tony
If I’m looking for a fun and accessible game to enjoy with new players (or even just as a filler game), often I’ll gravitate to Harvest Dice. This simple roll-and-write game has players drafting dice (of three different vegetable types) and “planting” them in their garden. While the placement rules are easy to understand, they still allow for some great decision making during the game. This also holds true of the dice drafting, as the unchosen die each round is sent to the market, making all veggies of that type worth more points. Harvest Dice packs a lot of punch in its small box, making it an excellent choice for new gamers, especially ones that are fans of Yahtzee-style gameplay.
Sushi Go Party
Recommended by Michelle
I have successfully used Sushi Go Party to get non-gamers (i.e. not into board games or video games), mass-market gamers (i.e. experience with Monopoly), and video gamers into hobby games. The art is cute, the colors are vibrant, the set collection aspect encourages high player interaction, and the card drafting keeps it fast-paced. With more variety in sushi behavior than the Sushi Go base game, there is also room for growth in understanding and exploring strategy. This encourages long-time board gamers to still feel challenged while playing with their newbie friends. Mass market board games contain quite a bit of dice rolling and arguably not that much room for strategy, so giving new players the taste of autonomy without being overwhelming with rules is key to a great gateway game. Sushi Go Party does just that!
Recommended by Jason
Most lists featuring gateway games include Pandemic, but not this one! Forbidden Island is a wonderful distillation and introduction to cooperative games. It’s great for families of different ages, easy to teach, and a fun way to learn how to work together. The variable powers allow players to have fun in unique ways while contributing in situations others can’t. The game is a heart-pumping pursuit to collect treasures while an island sinks under your feet. That’ll make for an entertaining game night. With simple turns, variable player abilities, and helpful player aids to keep everyone on task, accessibility to this satisfying game experience remains high and one I recommend for newcomers and families.
Recommended by Jon
I fatefully introduced Hanabi to my family of non-gamers ranging in ages 10 to 70 during a lull in holiday cheer several years ago. It was a massive hit and changed my opinion of the game. The rules are silly and there will be folks who keep flipping their cards around, but the comradery, strategy, and team speak that evolves makes this co-op game shine. In an acknowledgment of its complexity, instead of just being a difficult win-lose co-op, Hanabi uses difficulty levels and scoring tiers to remain accessible and replayable. Hanabi underscores the fact that even though you may not outright win a game, you can still have fun and build some great memories.
Recommended by AnnaMaria
Roll-and-writes are a nice entry point for new gamers. Mechanics are generally simple—roll some dice and decide what it affects on your game sheet. Welcome To… is my favorite roll-and-write for a couple of reasons. For starters, taking out the randomness of dice helps ensure that no one gets affected by bad rolls. The fill-in sheet is terrific, not only pertaining to the play area but offering a visual guide for symbology and scoring. And the basic overview is simple—place the numbers in ascending order to create street numbers. I’ve introduced this one to many groups of mixed ages and gameplay experience. I’ve even played this long distance with a large group. The positive reactions I’ve had with Welcome To… cement it as a fantastic way to introduce friends to the hobby!
Recommended by Brian W.
Karuba was a review copy that I made my family play back in 2016. My kids never had played a tile-placement game before but enjoyed racing games like Pitch Car and Camel Up. This was an instant hit with my family, especially for my son. Since then, we’ve introduced this game to many non-gamers and extended family and all have enjoyed it. Karuba is very accessible as a gateway game because the rules are straight-forward and it’s quick to the table. Players start with identical boards and one player draws a tile that all players will place. Each player is trying to be the first to have all their explorers reach the corresponding temples. When this occurs, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.