A Gateway to Board Games

I’ve got a writing deadline this week which means I don’t have a whole lot of spare time. I wrote this post for a board game blog I had conceived a couple of years ago but never actually created. Enjoy!

When you’re new to the board gaming hobby you might spend a lot of time playing or hearing about “gateway” games, or “casual” games, or even “family” games. Although I would argue that each of those have slightly different connotations, the main idea is to identify games that someone who is new to the hobby can jump into and enjoy quickly and easily, but which is still rewarding to play many times over.

My personal feeling is that a gateway game can be anything. If you peruse the forum threads and geeklists on Boardgamegeek.com pertaining to gateway games, you’ll see answers ranging from Risk, to Axis & Allies, to The Settlers of Catan, or even Apples to Apples. Simply put, a gateway game is a game that causes you to become more interested in the board gaming hobby.

A game of Settlers of Catan in action

However, much of the discussion about gateway games today involves the theory that certain games work better than others as that first step into the hobby. A list of games commonly suggested as good gateway games can frequently double as a list of Spiel des Jahres winers. The Settlers of Catan (SdJ 1995), Carcassonne (SdJ 2002), Ticket to Ride (SdJ 2005), and Dominion (SdJ 2009) all regularly appear on gateway game lists.

I agree that these are all good games and they make a good introduction to the hobby, but what is it about these particular games that make them a good beginning place for a new boardgamer?

Although it may seem superficial, I think one of the first factors is simply the way the game looks. Many of these games have beautiful artwork and well designed components–ie, the cards, boards, box, and playing pieces. Although you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and a game may be excellent even though it is not beautiful, it is undeniable that part of the appeal for some games is that they’re nice to look at–which simultaneously dispels any preconceived notions about board games being dark and obscure things that belong in somebody’s basement!

I love the graphic design of Ticket to Ride!

Another key factor is that the rules are short and easy to understand. Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride both have 4 page rulebooks, and Settlers of Catan and Dominion’s rules aren’t much longer. This allows the game to be accessible for someone who is not used to reading and comprehending a 30-page rulebook for a complex, 4 hour game. Of course, the fact that the rules are short also indicates that the game itself is short, and these four games all generally run from about 30-90 minutes.

However, in my opinion, the most important factor in these games is that not only are you having fun, but you are having fun building something.

There is an undeniable appeal to creating something from scratch that you can be proud of later. All four of these games involve the action of building. Whether it is a colony, a kingdom, a railroad network, or even the landscape of the French countryside–and the board itself!

In Carcassonne, players build the game board–depicting the titular French countryside–in the course of the game

This is what I think draws people to these games more than anything else, and is the biggest connection between the games. Although they vary by designer, publisher, mechanics, and theme, all good gateway games tend to give people the sense of accomplishment that only comes through building something from your own plans and with your own actions.

Of course, as I said at the beginning, a gateway game can be anything, and what drew you into gaming could be completely different. If it was not this desire to build or one of these four games, what brought you into the hobby? Comment below with your thoughts!

Recommended Game:  Ticket to Ride, designed by Alan Moon, published by Days of Wonder.

The Ticket to Ride game box.

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8 thoughts on “A Gateway to Board Games

  1. Caleb says:

    For me, game simplicity means a lot. There are times when I like complex “marathon” games. But usually, about an hour and a half is the most I like. I usually prefer less than that even. If I still want to play more after a short game, I can always play again.

    • Absolutely! I think that’s another key feature. These games you can learn and then play in less than the amount of time it would take to watch an average movie. Good thoughts, thanks for sharing!

  2. Val says:

    A wonderful gateway game that we recently discovered is Tsuro. There’s basically 3 rules, and it plays in about 30 minutes. I appreciate games with simple (or at least intuitive) rules; that way it feels less overwhelming to try something new.

  3. Aaron Gilley says:

    Curses is a fun game. As if Fluxx. Fluxx is a very fun, fast paced card game. Curses is a good way to make your friends hate you!

  4. Andrew Reed says:

    I love the point about building something. That to me is a very understated point. I am never as happy as I am when I am building something, and board games are an almost immediate gratification. They also allow me to build something quickly with other people, and that can not be over stated for me. I love working with people and the processes of cooperation and competition are inherently part of the human experience. Well written article BJ!

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