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.
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.
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.
Stone Age is one of the more complicated games on this list, but it introduces a very important mechanism of modern boardgaming in a streamlined way: worker placement. Stone Age has players sending out workers from their tribes to gather resources and food, take actions, and expand their families in a prehistoric setting. Once you get through a couple of rounds and players get familiar with the different actions, Stone Age becomes a very digestible little game that is perfect for families and people new to Euro games.
Agricola is one of the most popular Euro games of all time, using the worker placement in Stone Age and implementing it in an unforgiving, but incredibly rewarding game of farming and family.
Dominion isn’t technically a boardgame, but it’s an excellent card game that feels as deep and strategic as any game with a big board to put on the table. Dominion features a mechanism called “deck-building” that the game made popular in modern boardgames. It’s simple to learn: just draw five cards from the top of your deck, play cards, and purchase ones from the shared piles to go into your deck. It’s had a huge impact on boardgame design, now being implemented in all games from all kinds of genres.
Race For The Galaxy is also a card game, but a much more complex one where each of the cards has a variety of functions and abilities.
In some ways, cooperative games are the ultimate gateway games because of the way you can teach the game as you go. In competitive games, I’ve had very few gateway gaming experiences as memorable and successful as those I’ve had with Pandemic. The simple mechanisms combined with the accessible theme of saving the world from outbreaking diseases make it a boardgame tailored for non-gamers and people new to the hobby. The best part is the challenge makes it a difficult puzzle to solve even with the most experienced players!
Robinson Crusoe takes the co-op experience to the next level with an extremely challenging game about surviving on an island in a number of various scenarios.
I’ve always loved Ticket to Ride, but I knew it was one of the most important modern gateway games once I introduced it to my dad. For someone who had only played Monopoly and Scrabble in the past, I could see the fascination grow when he realized what kinds of decisions he had to make to balance long term strategy with short term tactics. This simple game of set collection and laying of routes has the perfect amount of player confrontation. It’s incredibly easy to teach, yet the depth of strategy is enough to appease more advanced players too.
Railways of the World is a deep, deep train game that uses card drafting and auctions to make for a heavy game about being a railroad tycoon in the age of steam.
No other game has had a larger impact on the resurgence of the modern boardgaming movement than Settlers of Catan. This German game was first published in 1995, but reached the climax of its popularity in 2008, leading the pack of new Euro games that found an audience in American gamers and families. The variable set-up, negotiation, resource management, multiple paths to victory, and strategic planning required in Catan make it the ideal gateway game for introducing some of the core mechanisms of modern gaming. The fact that you can pick this one up at Costco or Toys ‘R’ Us means its rise in mainstream popularity will only increase.
Deus has some of the familiar aspects of Catan, such as resource management and area control, but it ups the complexity level and adds some deep card play to make for a great next step for lovers of Catan.