We all have different games that brought us “into the fold”, so to speak. I personally still like gateway games for the gems they are: quick setup and play, and honestly, I really need a bit of a light, in-between game when you’re doing some heavier games back to back.
I honestly don’t remember what my first boardgame (modern or otherwise) was, other than it’s probably either Ticket to Ride or Catan (as those are some of the first modern games my parents brought home)1. Dan’s first was Flip City, followed quickly after by crushing defeat at Kemet, which ironically made him fall in love with boardgames.
In no particular order:
Pandemic, where you race to save the world from four deadly diseases. This is always the first game that comes to my mind when talking about gateway games. I love cooperative games and think that they are a good way to ease people into modern boardgames. Pandemic is probably not the easiest coop out there, but I find the theme more accessible than something like Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert and gives players more choices and agency.
Azul, for the pretty pattern-matching tiles. Azul is such a pretty game. The components are pretty, they feel great when you handle them and put them together, the gameplay fairly simple. But this prettiness is not just tile-deep: there is quite a bit of strategy in which tiles to get and keep from other players, that this seemingly peaceful game can be quite competitive after all.
Coloretto for the beautiful rainbow of colors you try to collect. I know it looks like I’m just moving into colors at this point, but Coloretto is such a hidden, understated gem. It’s a good intro to set collection, and comes in such an amazingly small package that it’s definitely one you can whip out at a moment’s notice because you had it on you all along! It’s easy to explain and plays out quickly, and once they’ve got the hang of it you can very easily do another round of the more complicated side. Win!
Werewords, where you try to find the secret word from the Mayor who suddenly has super limited speech. Another recent addition to our roster of games, I love Werewords ever since the first time I’ve played it with friends. I loved it so much I got my own copy as soon as I could. We could play this game endlessly, over and over. I personally love this over the more ubiquitous Werewolf, because there isn’t any player elimination, and you don’t have the whole awkward silence when playing with a group who don’t know each other2.
Dixit, for pretty cards and knowing what weird things your friends fixate on in pictures. An older game, and one that admittedly doesn’t get played as much as it used to with my groups, but I think it’s one of the best games to introduce to a family or group of established friends who hasn’t really started playing boardgames yet. It’s like in any game of charades where people who know each other so well would have an advantage–most groups I’ve played this with, they usually feel so awesome and get so invested in the game because of this, that it’s so fun to watch.
Clank! A Deck Building Adventure scratches that deck-building and dungeon-delving itch. This interestingly high-action deck building game has such a cool premise: steal the best treasure from the dragon and become the Master Thief. Dan’s family loved this game so much when he taught it to them that he almost missed a plane flight trying to finish a game!
Lords of Waterdeep, the classic fantasy worker placement game. Dan swears by this game, having easily taught this to his family and it does remain a classic there and elsewhere. There may be simpler worker placement games out there, but this strikes a good balance, and the theme is fairly accessible with even just a little fantasy exposure.
Potion Explosion, an analog Candy Crush. Don’t lose your marbles! This game feels so good to play with. And the theme? Teach it to anyone, and thanks to the popularity of games like Candy Crush, they get it immediately. So much that Dan has played with kids who have totally destroyed him in this game.
Century: Spice Road has merchant players plying the road to finish the most lucrative spice orders the fastest. The first Century game by Plan B Games is also the simplest and most accessible of the trilogy, and is good as a first peek for the kind of players who may really get into engine-building as a mechanic. It’s simple and satisfying enough as a deck- and engine-builder game that Dan’s mom immediately wanted to have another round as soon as she finished her first game of it!
Hardback, a new and modern twist on Scrabble. It’s a really easy game to get into since games such as Scrabble has been in circulation for a very long time, and in a way, it is a bit more forgiving because you can use any letter as a wildcard as well in lieu of points. The deck-building aspect also makes it more engaging than just drawing tiles in Scrabble.
So there’s our five. It was so difficult picking out just five, and no doubt after this is posted, we’ll end up thinking of other games that we should have put into the list instead. How about you, what’s your favorite gateway game to introduce to new people into the hobby?