Although the term has become extremely common in the boardgaming world, a gateway boardgame may need a bit of a definition for this list to make much sense. To me, a gateway game is a boardgame that teaches some of core mechanisms of modern gaming in a relatively light, easy-to-teach package. But these aren’t only gateway games. They’re also some of the best designed boardgames of all time—ones that have proven their quality over the years.
So whether you’re looking to get your friends into boardgames or just seeking some timeless classics to add to your shelf, here are the 10 essential gateway boardgames:
This is the game you want to pull out if your friends are the kind that can swayed by beautiful art and cutesy charm. Takenoko has a unique theme, too: players must care for a panda and cultivate bamboo in the Imperial court of a Japanese emperor. The good news is that the mechanisms of the game are as friendly and accessible as the premise. On your turn, you just roll the dice to check the weather, then choose two of five actions to perform. It’s a great family game and one that you can depend on to succeed with people new to the hobby.
Castles of Burgundy doesn’t have the charm of Takenoko, but it uses a similar combination of modular set-up, dice rolling, dice placement, and set collection to make for a more advanced, strategic version of Takenoko.
This simple tile-laying game was one of the original gateway Euro games—one so elegantly designed that people who’ve only played Clue and Monopoly should have no problem picking it up. In Carcassonne, players place various tiles on the table according to certain rules in order to build castles, claim land, and score points.
Tigris and Euphrates is another classic tile-laying game, but one that requires mind-boggling amounts of strategic thought.
Citadels is a card game about building up. It plays up to seven players, and it’s perfect for a group who can handle a little more confrontation in their games. In each round of Citadels, players select from a number of role cards that give them a special ability that round. The true fun is in how these roles interact and play off one another. It’s a great introduction to the role selection mechanism, which you’ll find in all sorts of modern boardgames.
Going deeper: If you want to go a bit deeper with role section and social deduction, a good choice is Libertalia, a game about competing pirate ships and collecting booty.
7. King of Tokyo
King of Tokyo is a “take that” game—essentially, a game about beating up on your friends all in good fun. Fortunately, King of Tokyo is as simple as these kinds of games get. Each player gets a cardboard monster to take turns with terrorizing the city, and each get to roll a handful of chunky dice to see what kind of damage they can do to their opponents. It’s about as simple a dice-rolling Ameritrash conflict game as they come, and it’s a ton of fun regardless of who you’re playing with.
Kemet might be a big strategic jump from something like King of Tokyo, but it’s ultimately it’s a game about taking your big monsters to war against your friends—and fans of King of Tokyo will at least be interested in like Kemet.
6. 7 Wonders
7 Wonders is a game about building up your ancient empire, constructing your wonder, and scoring as many victory points as possible. The primary mechanism in 7 Wonders is what is known as card drafting. Players take a card from the pile and pass it around the group until all the piles are depleted—and that’s it! Most of the cards don’t do much more than just score points or modify other cards, making it a concise game with many strategies to take and multiple paths to victory.
Seasons takes the simple card drafting of 7 Wonders and puts a heavier game of dice rolling and resource management on the other side of all the card drafting.