First, let me start by explaining what I mean by a Gateway game. For me, Gateway games do what it says in the name; they provide an entry point (gateway) for new players to join the hobby. Since starting tabletop gaming as a hobby, I have been amazed by how subjective the term ‘Gateway’ can be.
Some Gateway recommendations I have experienced have been intense games with lots of rules to digest and certainly not suitable for entry-level gamers. All of the games featured in this article are light, entry-level games with simple instructions. For me, the term Gateway should be applied to games which; are easy to learn and teach (5-15 mins), use a few core mechanics and have quick turn-taking and overall game length.
My first game on the list is one step beyond Ticket to Ride. The Ticket to Ride franchise has managed to bring heaps of new gamers into the hobby with its brilliant hybridisation of set-collection and area control. However, it is now so famous that I feel it needs no further promotion from me. It’s great and you should definitely give it a go.
Ethnos (a lesser-known CMON game released in 2017) features the same core mechanics as Ticket to Ride, however it comes with a fantasy theme. Ethnos is built around the set-collection of an array of fantasy creatures. With the sets of cards you gradually gain more control of the different regions of Ethnos, much like gaining control of a train line in Ticket to Ride.
Whilst similarities exist, Ethnos is certainly a step up from Ticket to Ride in terms of complexity. From creature special abilities to additional player mats which change from game to game, Ethnos adds a variety of new dynamics to the Ticket to Ride formula and each addition is simply fantastic.
Despite the added complexity with Ethnos, the gameplay is still quick, very streamlined and thus incredibly easy to learn. If you prefer Trolls, Giants and Dragons over trains, then definitely give this game a go.
2) Escape: The Curse of the Temple
My second game is honed towards people who prefer to work together in a cooperative setting. Whilst Pandemic, by Z-Man games, is a fantastic (yet obvious) choice for many people, I am providing an alternative. Pandemic has a brilliant theme and is thrilling if you experience it with other new players. However, in my experience, a seasoned player can sometimes dominate and dictate to a less-experienced player which can somewhat taint the cooperative experience.
To combat the issue of ‘dominant player dictation’, I recommend playing Escape: The Curse of the Temple. The gameplay is simply too quick and manic for any dominant player to take control.
Like Pandemic, Escape: The Curse of the Temple also has a great theme. You are an explorer trapped in a temple desperately trying to get out before the exit is sealed…FOREVER. You work collaboratively with the other explorers to discover new rooms, place magical gems, find treasures and ultimately, escape.
The game is extremely simple and all of the actions are dictated by the roll of several dice. The sense of camaraderie is electric whilst playing and you are constantly checking on how your fellow players are faring in their temple conquests. What makes Escape: The Curse of the Temple a super Gateway experience is that a single game lasts no longer than 11 minutes. It is all done in real-time with its own atmospheric soundtrack and as such the gameplay is frantic and quick.
3) King of Tokyo/King of New York
If, like my significant other, you are not too keen on co-operating with your fellow gamers, then my third recommendation gives you the opportunity to throw some punches. King of Tokyo or King of New York are a must-have for any Gateway game collection. They are quick to learn, quick to play and they accommodate up to six players.
Both games pit you as a giant monster trying to defeat your fellow monsters in paw-to-claw combat. In both games, actions are dictated by the roll of several dice: claws allow you to attack, hearts allow you to heal and other rolls allow you to gain energy to spend on upgrades. The winner is the monster who has beaten all others, or (more difficultly) accumulated 20 points.
King of Tokyo is the simpler of the two games and is largely based around one monster fighting the rest of the monsters and vice versa. If you want to add a little more complexity, then King of New York maintains the same original premise but also allows you to destroy buildings and military units providing a few more routes to victory.
My favourite racing game of all time also happens to be one of the best Gateway recommendations I can make. Every new gamer I have played this with has immediately purchased it simply due to how fun it is to play. Donne your pirate hat and parrot, my fourth recommendation is Jamaica.
Jamaica can be played with up to six people and due to the simultaneous actions, the turn-taking and overall gameplay is really quick. It is incredibly simple to learn and teaches a few mechanisms like roll and move and resource management.
The aim of Jamaica is to be the pirate crew with the most gold by the end of the race. With Jamaica you take turns at being the ‘Captain’ and roll two dice which then get allocated to a morning action and an evening action. The actions will either be gaining food, gold or gunpowder, or moving forwards and backwards.
For each round, you only have three action cards to choose from and whilst your selection requires some thought to determine the costs and benefits, the overall choice is pretty simple. Each board space has some cost or reward attached to it, so working out when is best to consolidate a lead and when is best to stock up on food to pay for certain spaces is really good fun.
Jamaica has a brilliant theme and the artwork really manages to immerse players in the pirate experience. It is a brilliant romp with the perfect amount of racing, resource management and conflict.
5) Bunny Kingdom
A relative new-comer to the tabletop world, my fifth recommendation, Bunny Kingdom has received much high praise from reviewers, including a Seal of Excellence from Tom Vasel at the Dice Tower. Since purchasing this game, I too have fallen in love with it. It is simple to learn and teach and yet manages to offer highly strategic choices which require lots of engaging decision making for up to four players.
Bunny Kingdom sees you trying to expand your territories by farming the resources of the land and building structures to strengthen your dominance. Bunny Kingdom is an area control game which is driven by card drafting. Drafting is where you start with a hand of cards and select the ones you want to keep, passing the rest on to your opponents and so on. Card drafting is one of my favourite game mechanisms and experiencing it in Bunny Kingdom will set you up well for enjoying games like Blood Rage further down the line.
Each card that you draft provides you with a variety of options, like giving you a useful structure to increase your resources, claiming a territory space, or giving you a secret objective which grants you some bonus points at the end of the game. Whilst the decision making in Bunny Kingdom is deeply thoughtful and requires careful strategic planning, the actual game phases are incredibly simple.
First you select some cards, and then you play the cards. Next, you select some new cards and play the new cards. Finally when all of the cards are depleted you total up your score for the phase. After four of these phases any secret objectives you acquired during the game are resolved and the player with the most ‘golden carrots’ wins.
From its name and box artwork, Bunny Kingdom may appear very cutesy, immature and light and in terms of gameplay simplicity I suppose it is, however the strategic thoughts experienced in this game make it the perfect Gateway game for those seeking some brain-burning and wise decision making.
Gateway Games - Closing Thoughts
As previously mentioned, this collection of Gateway Games has been compiled to allow new gamers the opportunity to experience a range of genres and mechanics. These five games provide a starting point from where emerging gamers can pursue a mechanic or genre which they have enjoyed and grown in confidence with.
Where I can, I have deliberately steered clear of very renowned games which frequently occur in Gateway game recommendations (e.g. Pandemic, Catan and Ticket to Ride) in an attempt to offer some fantastic diverse options which I am certain will draw new people into the hobby.