If you are reading this blog, then you probably already love board games (or are looking more into the hobby). However, the blessing and curse of any board gamer, is the need for other players. While the video gamer can just power up their Xbox and start playing, board gamers need other people in the same location to play.
So one of the best ways to increase your pool of available players is by introducing your friends and family to your board gaming hobby. Everyone has played a board game growing up, but most people don’t realize there is a many games out there that involve more strategy than “roll and move” or “draw and play”.
Once you’ve got a prospective new recruit, your first decision is deciding what game to teach them first, their gateway game. You dot’ want to start them out with heavy games like Arkham Horror or Twilight Imperium. You need games that are fun, easy to learn, and have a play time of around an hour or so. It also helps to have a game where no one is eliminated until the end. While Bang! is a great game, if your friend gets killed in the first round and has to spend the next 45 minutes watching TV, your gateway attempt will most likely fail. Keep all those factors in mind when making your selection.
Here are my Top Ten Gateway Game choices. This list will be, of course, highly subjective. But these are the games that I will reach for first when it’s time to introduce a new person to my board gaming world.
10) Zombie Dice
I’m starting off with something simple. This one made the list because of how accessible it is. It makes a really good filler game, and it’s different than traditional dice games. If you asked your non-gamer friend what their favorite dice game is, chances are they will say the only one they know: Yahtzee. There is nothing wrong with Yahtzee, it wouldn’t still be selling after all these years if there was. However, it’s time to make a new introduction. Zombie dice will introduce them to a dice game that isn’t about math or numbers. It’s fun, its quick, it has a trendy theme and it’s very easy to learn. Zombie Dice is a great game for those casual nights when you needs something quick and easy to pick up.
»Click here to find out more about Zombie Dice.
Guillotine (full review) is one of the few card games to make the list and another “filler game”. This game is probably the least “gateway” of the bunch because it’s the game most like something they’ve played before. The draw a card, play a card mechanic will be nothing new to them. However, the theme and the use of 2 different card decks will help introduce them to a new type of card game that doesn’t involve abstract numbers as the main focus. It’s easy to learn, has a quick play time, and has a quirky theme. It also has a fair amount of player interaction to help keep things interesting, as long as your group is OK with occasionally attacking each other.
»Click here to find out more about Guillotine.
8) Lords of Waterdeep
Now we start getting into the meatier games. Make no mistake, I love Lords of Waterdeep (full review). It was my favorite game to debut in 2012. Lords of Waterdeep is probably one of the more complicated games to make this list. At its heart, it’s a worker placement game with a tacked on fantasy theme. However, I haven’t found the light theme to diminish peoples enjoyment of the game in the slightest.
As a gateway game, Lords of Waterdeep is great for introducing your friends to the worker placement mechanic. I wouldn’t recommend it as their first game, as it’s probably the most rule heavy of the group, but after a few of the other games on the list, this game would be a great next step. The game mechanics are not very heard. There is a decent amount of player interaction and the down time is minimal. Of course, some non-gamers might be turned off by the Dungeons and Dragons theme, but assure them that its geekyness is only skin deep.
»Click here to find out more about Lords of Waterdeep.
7) Kingdom Builder
Kingdom Builder (full review) is a somewhat new board game that’s starting to make the rounds in the gaming community. When I first read about the game, it seemed almost too simple. I was apprehensive at first by the 1 card mechanic, but found it to not be a detraction in the slightest. In fact, it helped stave off any possible ‘analysis paralysis’ that might have plagued this game.
As a gateway game, it will introduce your friends to the area control mechanic. Also, you’ll be hard pressed to find a game with an easier turn. Draw a card and play three settlements on that location is about all you need to explain. You can breeze through the rules in a few minutes and after a few turns, your friends will get it. It’s light, its casual and a fun euro game. Player interaction is somewhat minimal, but the quick turn and game length should make that a non-issue.
»Click here to find out more about Kingdom Builder.
6) Ticket to Ride
Honestly, I had a little internal debate about where to put Ticket to Ride on this list. Personally, it wouldn’t be the first game I’d reach for on game night. I played a lot of this game when it first came out and I quickly got burned out playing it. Unless you pick up some of the expansions, games will start to feel the same rather quickly. I think Ticket to Ride is a fun game, however it can quickly overstay its welcome.
That being said, it still makes a great gateway game for new players. The rules are very simple. The components are nice and the play time is right about where you need to be. It’s not the most exciting of games, but your friends should have no issues figuring out what needs to be done on their turn. Draw cards or play trains keeps the game light and easy to pickup.
»Click here to find out more about Ticket to Ride.
5) 7 Wonders
I really wanted to put 7 Wonders (full review) higher on this list. It’s one of my favorite all time games and it does a lot of things right. It has a lot of variety, a quick play time, is expandable up to 7 players and has some beautiful artwork. As a gateway game, I’m sure your friends will not have played a game like it. However the heavy use of symbols will add a bit to the learning curve. In my experience, it takes about 1 full age (round), before new players will understand what’s going on in the game, and about 1 full game before they stop asking questions. However, after that first “learning game” is over, they almost always want to play it again. 7 Wonders is very unique with its game mechanics, so it should provide a new experience for most players. It also plays in around 30-45 minutes, so you will be able to play multiple games of it in one session.
»Click here to find out more about 7 Wonders.
Cooperative games are probably a new type of board game to most of your friends. Most American games are heavily competitive, so a game where everyone works together can be something new to try. The cooperative element is one of the things that makes Pandemic a great gateway game. Much like how the game of Craps is the most fun you’ll have in a casino, because everyone wins or loses together (except those jerks betting the don’t pass line). Not having to directly oppose one of your friends can help keep the game night fun and lively.
The rules for Pandemic are somewhat harder to teach than other games on this list, but after a few turns, everyone should know what needs to be done. Turns are quick, and once a player understands what each of the action option are, downtime should be minimal. Pandemic has a great theme, good components and its difficulty adds to its replay value. It’s probably my favorite game in the cooperative genre and the first one I’ll teach to my friends.
»Click here to find out more about Pandemic.
I’ll start off with the caveat that when I say Dominion, I mean only the base game (or possibly the Intrigue expansion). Some of the later expansions add too much complexity for first time players. But that said, Dominion was the game that started the card drafting genre and still is one of the best out there.
As a gateway game, the rules are easy to explain (ABC – Action, Buy, Cleanup). The playtime is right about where it needs to be and the turns are quick enough, that any player should be able to pick up the game after a few rounds. I was able to play this game with my 55 year old father and after a few turns, he was right in the middle of things. While player interaction is somewhat limited in the base game, Dominion has a quick play time, low downtime and a lot of variety. It’s a perfect introduction to the card drafting genre.
»Click here to find out more about Dominion.
Carcassonne was a very close contender for the number one spot. I thought long and hard about where this game should fall. Its rules are very easy to learn (although you might want to play without the farmer for your first game) and setup time is almost non-existant. The game play is also about as easy as it gets: draw a tile, play the tile. Carcassonne’s main downside is that there is minimal player interaction. Unless two players are battling for the same city or road, it’s borders on multiplayer solitaire. Other games on this list probably could also fall into that category, but Carcassonne is the simplest of the group.
That being said, Carcassonne is a great choice for a gateway game. The rules are easy to teach, downtime is minimal and a game doesn’t take very long to play. Carcassonne probably not hit the table very much with your gamer friends, but it makes a great introduction to the eurogame for your non-gamer friends.
»Click here to find out more about Carcassonne.
1) The Settlers of Catan
The Settler of Catan is a game most gamers have probably heard of by now. No one can argue its place in gaming history. The Settlers of Catan has been around for almost 20 years now, believe it or not. I’d argue that it was one of the first games to introduce America to the “eurogame”.
Catan will always have a special place in my heart because it was my gateway game all those years ago. I’ll admit, it probably got a bumped a few notches in this list because of that. If The Settlers of Catan were to debut today, it probably wouldn’t be with as much critical acclaim, but that’s partially because so many games have built off the groundwork Catan laid out back in the ’90s.
As a gateway game, Catan is usually one of the first games I turn too. With easy to learn rules, heavy player interaction, a play time of about 60-90 minutes, and non-confrontational gameplay, it hits all the rights spots for a good gateway game. For me, the player interaction is one of the things that I really love about Catan. While some games on this list could be considered “multiplayer solitaire”, Catan really does demand player interaction, which is something you want for a gateway game. Player interaction is always a good key to fun in a game. It’s also important to note that Catan will introduce these new players to hand and resource management, trading, and the ever important victory point mechanic that they will see in many games going forward.
When used as a gateway game, I’d recommend going with the suggested board layout for a first game. As if a new player makes poor choices for their starting settlements, the game could quickly be a losing battle for them. No one wants to sit around for an hour on some numbers that never get rolled.
So while The Settlers of Catan isn’t the best game in the genre anymore, it still a superb game to introduce your non-gamer friends to the larger world of board gaming. Catan wouldn’t still be hitting tables almost 2 decades later if it wasn’t am amazing game.
»Click here to find out more about The Settlers of Catan.
So that’s my list for the Top 10 Gateway Board Games. It may not be the same ones you would chose, but that’s ok. The important thing is you find the game that works for your group of friends.
Think I missed one? Post your favorite gateway games in the comments below.
Cheat Sheet for the Lazy:
10. Zombie Dice
8. Lords of Waterdeep
7. Kingdom Builder
6. Ticket to Ride
5. 7 Wonders
1. The Settlers of Catan
What? No monopoly? year before internet invented, I thought only board game there was monopoly. Then I visited USA…
Monopoly is a terrible game compared to modern board games. Somebody goes broke first, then what? They sit there for another hour doing nothing? Then somebody makes a stupid trade that ruins any equality in the game? Brilliant
Awesome post! A person’s first strategy game experience will either start them on their path to becoming one of us, or will confuse them enough that they will stay away from them for the rest of their lives. Settlers and Ticket to Ride are my two favorite gateway games by far. Ra and Shadows Over Camelot are pretty good too, or really any cooperative game. I think 7 Wonders and Dominions are a little too complicated where a first timer will leave the game confused and frustrated. Thanks again!! GREAT read!!
Absolutely perfect list. You really nailed it. And the great thing about many of these games is that as a hard-core gamer, I still love playing these “gateway” games.
What about king of tokyo?
you say that Catan is not the best in genre anymore… what game would you say has replaced it?
If we are just talking eurogames in general, there are a plethora of great games that I’d much rather play. Terra Mystica, Puerto Rico, Viticulture, Caverna, and Roll for the Galaxy just to name a few. That’s not a knock against Catan, but after a few decades, better games will come along.
I think its time to update the list. Games like splendor and probably even suburbia should be also be considered and at the very least get honorable mentions.
You’re right, we could probably do a part 2 of this list. Splendor is definitely a great gateway game. I’m not sure I would include suburbia though. That’s better suited as a “next step” game.