25 June 2021
Chosen by Thomas Pike
Here at Tabletop Gaming, we believe there is a game for everyone. When it comes to finding suitable games for newcomers to the hobby, for someone who has perhaps played monopoly or trivial pursuit but little more, the go-to products are known as Gateway Games.
These are the games which open your eyes, blow your mind and usher you in to the wider world of tabletop gaming. They are generally quick to learn, don’t take hours to play, show you something truly original and leave you wanting more. Without them, our hobby would be a really hard sell to friends and loved ones. This is never more apparent than at Christmas, when the eclectic mix of personalities and preferences of our extended families get together for the annual mingle, so we thought this was the perfect time to guide you through 10 of the best gateway games. Chosen by Thomas Pike.
It is hard to name another game with so few rules and such broad appeal. Players are given a hand of four picture cards - from historical events, to inventions, to hit singles depending on which decks you choose to play with. On your turn, place one of your cards on the table in the correct chronological positon, relative to the cards already down. This is also a rare example of an easy, fun game with direct educational value. I have yet to find someone who didn’t immediately ask to play again.
This is the game with possibly the fewest components on the list, meaning it is extremely portable and can be played almost anywhere. It is a bluffing game and perfect for the pub. Each player starts with a hand of 4 beermat-like discs: three flowers and one skull. After a few rounds of playing discs face down, players try to out-bid each other over how many flower discs they think they can overturn, starting with their own. Get it right twice and you win, but hit a devilishly placed skull and you lose a disc at random.
For those who are put off the by strategy or mathematics required to win the majority of board games, this is the one to win them over. Selecting one card from your hand of weird and wonderful pictures each round, you must give a creative clue to the group - a word, a sound or an action, which points to it. The hope is that some of them can identify which picture you are indicating, choosing from a shortlist of images that includes crafty red herrings played by other players.
4. The Settlers of Catan
Of all of the games in this list, Settlers has had the greatest impact on the board game market. It was one of the first hobby market games to transcend geekdom and gain a mainstream following. There are many discussions about why Settlers is such a good gateway game. Perhaps one reason the mechanics ‘click’ so well for many people is the fact that when your turn comes you start by simply taking the dice and rolling them. But it’s more than that – Settlers is an elegant, accessible and replayable gateway into light strategy games.
This is a good example of a game with very simple rules that allow for really tough decisions. You build the board as you play, by placing only one single tile on your turn, connected to what has already been played and thus building up the ancient city with its fields and roads and castles. After placing a tile, you get the option of putting one of your finite markers down (the now famous ‘meeples’) to claim that area and score points. But should you wait a little longer to score more points, risking that another player might claim it? Timing is everything.
6. Ticket to Ride
Like many of the great gateway games, Ticket to Ride has at its core an intuitive mechanic most are familiar with – in this case, set collecting. It is very simple to learn, bright and colourful and suitable for all the family. It does take a little longer to play than some of the other games on this list, but it is highly rewarding, building to a tense conclusion as you try to complete your rail-routes before it’s too late. This is a true classic that has really stood the test of time.
Working together is not a common concept for newcomers to board gaming, and it might come as a welcome surprise to those who take no pleasure in collecting rent from poor old granny in the annual game of Monopoly. Pandemic is a very fine example of how good it feels to play and win together. There is a modicum of complexity to get over if you are introducing totally new players to this game, but hey, it’s a co-op game so you can all learn together and it is well worth the effort. What’s more, the difficulty can be adjusted to suit your level.
8. The Resistance
It is quite an exciting moment when you first play a game in which not everyone has the same information. Resistance is a stand-out game in this category, calling on your best deduction skills to work out who among your number is secretly a saboteur, and then convince the other players to stop sending them on vital missions! This is a great party game and you’ll usually end up playing it over and over again in a single evening. A good warm-up before longer, more involved games.
If you really want to show new players something they have never seen before, this is the one. Hanabi has you holding your hand of cards facing outward so that the other players can see them but you cannot! It is then a co-operative effort to play cards ‘blind’, trying to make numerical sets in a very specific colour order. This is done by giving the other players clues about which cards they are holding, and vice versa, then hoping everyone remembers what they have been told when their turn comes around. Much more challenging than it sounds!
A barrier into gaming for many people is the subject matter. Many of the better gateway games, you will notice, steer clear of the all too common themes of war and conquest, money-making and violence. Takenoko might just be the cutest game out there. It looks beautiful on the table and it’s a great deal of fun growing towers of bamboo for the roaming Panda to chomp on! It’s not as simple as it looks though, and it is a great example of light strategy with an appealing theme.
This article originally appeared in the third issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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