Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan are iconic games for transporting those unfortunate souls stuck in the clutches of Monopoly to a realm of games filled with meeples, beautiful cardboard, and role playing. These so-called “gateway games” are ideal for gradually convincing friends and family to join in on the hobby. In this article, I will discuss games that have been the most successful at introducing my friends to board gaming.
The best gateway games have simple rules that are easy to explain and remember, are aesthetically pleasing, and promote a social atmosphere. When introducing someone to a game for the first time, a short list of rules is ideal. Though some rules recur across games, new board gamers will not be familiar with these themes, so each rule becomes a new detail that the person has to remember. Furthermore, though aesthetics are not what makes or breaks a game, it can really help convince a tentative player to try out a game. Also, new board gamers will have many questions and will probably want to talk through some of their logic. This is why playing a game that promotes social atmospheres is important. Some people are more comfortable at bluffing/acting, so playing a game such as The Resistance could be a better pick versus a card-drafting game where you don’t want the other players to know what you have in your hand. If you have a friend that really likes to speak through their thoughts out loud and receive feedback, cooperative games are a great choice.
Below I have described a few recommendations for gateway games based on my own personal experiences.
Dixit – A Game for Large Groups
Number of Players: 3-6 (though we have played this with 12 people in teams of 2)
Playtime: 30 minutes
Level Up: Mysterium
Dixit is a beautiful picture game where players tell stores using the artful cards in their hand. A player takes on the role of a storyteller and provides a hint for a card in their hand with one phrase or sentence. Once this phrase has been stated, the other players must play a card from their own hand that they think matches the phrase. These cards are mixed up and placed face up on the table, and the players vote on which card they think was played by the storyteller. If everyone or no one manages to guess the correct card, the storyteller gets no points and the other players gain additional points. However, if at least one player does not guess correctly and another player does guess correctly, the storyteller gains full points for that round. The trick is to choose a title that is specific enough to allude to your card but not so specific that everyone knows what it is. All of the players also receive points for each vote their submission received and if they selected the correct card.
The stunning artwork on Dixit’s beautiful cards are usually enough to convince my friends to play, and its unique storytelling mechanic makes it a compelling game. It is usually one of the most requested games at our parties with friends who aren’t gamers. Though the box says 3-6 players, we have played this game with up to 12 people in teams of 2. This takes the pressure off of one individual being in the spotlight. It is also a great “ice breaker” if you are hosting a party with many people who don’t know each other.
Carcassonne – An Introduction to Tile Placement and Area Control
Number of Players: 2-5
Playtime: 30 – 45 minutes
Level Up: Smallworld and Kemet
In Carcassonne, players claim land and build towns by placing tiles one at a time. Players draw tiles that depict farmland, towns, roads, chapels, or a combination of these. These tiles must be placed next to an already laid out tile in a way that fits the landscape. For example, a piece of a town must be connected to another piece of town in a way that is intuitive. Meeple “followers” are used to claim areas and structures that the player has built. All of the players are sharing the land, so multiple followers can claim parts of the same area. These followers take on different roles, such as farmers, thieves, knights, and monks. Different followers receive a different amount of points.
This was the game that introduced me to the board gaming hobby. Though the theme of the game sounds a bit dull, this intuitive game is fantastic for friends who love puzzles. It is also a great gateway game for area control games, such as Smallworld and Kemet.
Betrayal at House on the Hill – An Introduction to Thematic, Role Playing Games and Cooperative Games
Number of Players: 3-6
Playtime: 60 minutes
Level Up: Letters from Whitechapel, Pandemic, and Mansions of Madness
In Betrayal, players take on the role of a character from a B-rated 80s horror film. These characters can include a reverend, a small girl, a middle-aged gypsy woman, and Ox Bellows. For reasons described in detail in the manual, players become trapped in and explore a house… on a hill… The game takes place in two phases: the exploration phase and the haunt phase. During exploration, players lay tiles that represent different rooms of the house. Each room can contain an event, item, or an omen. These events can be terrible or they can be helpful. Each time an omen occurs, players roll die and if the result is less than the number of omens that have occurred in the game, the haunt phase begins. During the haunt phase, a betrayer in the group is revealed (but there are also scenarios where there is no betrayer).
If I had written this article three years ago, I would not have included this game in this list. The game basically breaks the rules that I listed above: it is not the most beautiful game, it is not entirely social (especially if you are the betrayer), and it can sometimes be boring if the wrong people are playing the game. However, since moving and meeting new people who do not play board games, this has been the gateway game to get my friends to continue trying new board games. It provides stories that people like to laugh about afterwards and tell their friends. Once those friends hear about how much fun their story was, I usually get a request to teach them this game. Cooperative games can be good and bad at introducing new people to gaming. The good: working together as a team allows for actions to be discussed and everyone can openly explain the best course of action, providing a mechanism for which new players can learn the logic behind in-game decisions. The bad: sometimes those who have mastered cooperative game mechanics unintentionally prevent new players from participating and it can lead to the new players getting bossed around. So if utilizing this game as a gateway game, be mindful of how everyone is participating.
There are many more options in addition to the ones I mentioned above. Please share some of your ideas and experiences in the comments below!