Are you a fan of board games but have had trouble getting your friends and family hooked? Lucky for you, gateway games are here to save the day. Find the Best Gateway Board Games for beginners and new players below.
What is a Gateway Game?
A gateway game is a board game that is accessible for players who know little to nothing about the modern board game world that can easily spark their interest in the hobby. These games introduce mechanics and concepts in simple ways and are typically the games that you’ll get first when building your collection.
Soon, when you’ve graduated to heftier and more complex games, these first ones will be what you pull out to encourage new players to join the cult— I mean, game night.
With these fun and easy-to-learn gateway games, you too can turn your group of jocks and hipsters into dice-rolling, meeple-placing board gamers in no time at all.
Our Top Picks for Best Gateway Games
Catan is a modern-day classic. It can be easily explained in about 15 minutes and there’s always something for players to be looking at and analyzing between turns, keeping all players engaged and cell phones off the table.
On top of all of that, it has variable board setups and a ton of different approaches a player can take throughout the game.
Catan is credited as being responsible for pulling gaming out of the clutches of Parker Bros’ Monopoly and into the Renaissance of board gaming that we now enjoy.
If you’re looking for a gateway game and haven’t heard about or played Catan you can read my full review here or about all of Catan’s amazing expansions here.
Dominion is the best game to introduce players to deck-building games and mechanics. Not only is it one of the best deck-builders out there but it also has the distinction of being the first.
Deck-builders are for those friends who are analytical, like to look at a problem from multiple angles, or who like to come up with weird solutions to problems.
In Dominion, each player starts with an identical set of 10 cards and as the game progresses, players add or remove cards to create a more powerful deck.
The beauty of Dominion and deck-builders is that no matter who you play with, every player will have a completely different deck by the end of the game. Two players could be going for the same strategy but how they go about it might be completely different.
I’m a huge Dominion fan, and it was one of the first games I played when I started getting into board games. You can check out my in-depth review here and about all of Dominion’s exciting expansions here.
Do you have those friends that play a ton of civ-builder video games? Whenever you play, do you get excited to have your first gunpowder units only to find that they’ve already built their 10th nuclear reactor and are sending an A-Bomb your way?
7 Wonders is one of the easiest civ-building board games out there. There are quite a few and even a Sid Meier‘s version of Civilization. They’re all great, but 7 Wonders has the cleanest UI (User Interface) and the tightest ruleset. It’s one of the easier games to jump into and always leaves players wanting more.
There’s even a 2-player version called 7 Wonders: Duel that’s great for a cozy couples game night.
If you’re looking to convince some buddies to get into wargaming it’s probably best not to bury them in your collection of half-finished Warhammer 40k miniatures that cost more than a month’s rent. You have to ease them into it.
Memoir ’44 is a nice stepping-stone to give your friends before you try to get them to play some hardcore war games.
The map and battlefield are broken down into 3 sections: left, right, and center. The actions and movements are all card-based, and they do a really good job simulating the chaos of war. It’s a tight ruleset and a fantastic 2-player game, so you won’t need to convince a bunch of friends to join the dark side at once. You can just do it one at a time… MWAHAHA.
Pandemic introduces cooperative play and getting your butt handed to you by an opponent that you can’t scream at after the game is over.
Pandemic is almost everyone’s first experience with a purely cooperative game. Players take on the various roles of the CDC’s crisis response team as 4 separate disease outbreaks simultaneously hit the world.
Players all work together against the board to cure all 4 diseases before they get out of control and wipe out humanity (too soon, 2020).
This means that each player wins or loses together; it’s an all-or-nothing situation. I really enjoy playing with gamers who are a little shy at the table and with ultra-competitive players. The shy players tend to really get into the role and the ultra-competitive players get to learn to work together for the common good.
Cooperative games are some of my favorite and Pandemic is by far the best introduction to the genre.
Stone Age is one of my favorite worker placement games. I’ve played it hundreds of times and introduced countless players to it.
Each player takes control of a tribe of prehistoric meeple people. What you do with them is completely up to you. Each player starts with 5 meeples (workers) and takes turns placing them at a location. Each location represents an action that players can take and there’s always going to be more things you want to do, but never enough workers to do it.
Another reason I like Stone Age as a gateway game is there’s no direct conflict involved. Players can block off locations from other players but there are no direct attacks or “gotcha” moments in the game. It’s about as pure a worker placement game as you can find.
If you discover that placing meeples on a board is your jam and are looking for something a bit more exciting, you can check out Lords of Waterdeep, which is a D&D-inspired worker placement board game.
Before dropping hundreds of dollars on booster packs trying to get your buddies into tournament-level Magic: The Gathering or a collectible card game (CCG), it’s a good idea to see if they’re even into the game.
Star Realms is a space-themed dueling card game that gets rid of the “collectible” bit. Everything you need to play the game comes in a single box for under $20.
It’s another amazing example of a deck-building game and quite possibly easier to explain and learn than Dominion.
Star Realms pits players against each other as each player drafts cards from a common pool of 4 distinct races that offer completely different play styles. The game offers a ton of variety and the opportunity for different strategies that can keep you playing a long time to come.
Splendor has probably some of the easiest engine-building mechanics I’ve ever seen and it’s the perfect way to introduce more advanced games like Scythe or Terraforming Mars.
The core of Splendor is a very simple engine-building mechanic, which means you buy stuff that gives you resources to buy bigger things. It helps that the components and artwork are very pretty. You won’t find a lot of story here but you will find a fascinating game for new players and hours of entertainment.
It’s the perfect introduction and despite the box size, it can be broken down into an extremely small travel-sized packet if you want to take it with you.
I was never really a big fan of Dominos for the longest time. They were usually something I just stacked as a kid and then knocked over. It was only much later in life that I played a real game with them and it was a great way to unwind.
Kingdomino is a game that uses the same mechanics as Dominoes but introduces it in a bright and colorful way. Domino tiles become pieces of your kingdom and need to be matched and set in order to grow your score.
It’s actually a really cool way to be introduced to the classic game if you’ve never played and a great way to get the older generations into newer games. By connecting a classic mechanic in a new way it bridges the gap between both generations of games.
Ticket to Ride
I got my brother to play a game of Ticket to Ride and I know you don’t know him, but that says something about the power of this game as a gateway game.
Ticket to Ride has hidden objectives, strategic blocking, and simple rules. It’s the perfect combination for a gateway game. It’s technically a Euro-style game but I honestly like it just to showcase the potential of board games.
Most new players will have a very limited gaming background and Ticket to Ride gives a glimpse into the world of board games in a very comfortable setting. If you went straight from Monopoly to Twilight Imperium, they would run away screaming.
It looks pretty on the table, has a constant flow of action, and anyone can learn it quickly.
If the last game your non-gaming friend played was Risk, it’s time to step it up a notch and bust out Small World.
Small World is a ridiculous fantasy cartoony game that does press-your-luck and area control right. No longer will that guy hole up in Australia waiting for the end of the game but rather you’ll get wacky combinations of fantasy racial abilities and superpowers that allow players to smash through the map and reign supreme. That is, until they die out and have to start a new race.
It’s a very forgiving game that doesn’t take itself seriously. Soon, you’ll find yourself and your new players skipping over tactically-sound choices for the dumb, fun ones. Why would you pick fortified trolls, when you could be hobbits with a dragon? Always be a dragon.
Carcassonne is a very simple tile-laying game that still manages to be fresh every time I pull it off the shelf. It probably helps that there are about a million expansions for it but even without them, I play a ton of Carcassonne.
Carcassonne is a game that can introduce players to a much wider world of games without being scary or overwhelming. It shows how something simple like dropping a tile on a map can have numerous outcomes which force players to look at not only their actions but everyone at the table as well.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying “gotcha” or “take that” games but if you’re looking to introduce players to the wide world of Eurogames, then Carcassonne is what you’re looking for.
With concepts like victory points, non-confrontational strategy/blocking, and game-wide planning, after a few games of Carcassonne, your friends will be asking, “What’s next?” And then you can smash them with Agricola or Power Grid.
Takenoko is great for players who are interesting in board games but don’t really know where to start.
At first glance, it’s not that complicated. You place some tiles, tend your garden, and watch a panda eat everything. Simple, right?
What makes this game a great gateway is that it can be just as simple as that… but it can also grow with the players. Once they have the basic rules down and a playthrough or two under their belts, the world starts to open up. It’s like Neo in the Matrix the first time he sees the source code. Players will be able to start planning turns ahead and calculating moves based on the board, and on their opponents.
It’s a skill a lot of gamers have that they take for granted. Looking ahead at the overall game is just something we pick up over time and Takenoko is actually very well-designed to have new players learn that kind of skill from the start.
It’s off to the races with this next one… the camel races, that is.
Camel Up is a competitive racing game in which players are spectators at a desert camel race. It’s a press-your-luck board game with very little skill involved but the beautiful artwork, easy-to-learn mechanics, and dice-spitting pyramid are sure to make it a family favorite.
So grab your lucky dice and place your bets on the fastest camel in the land. Just beware of the two Crazy Camels — these lunatics run backward around the track, adding a whole new level of hilarity to the game.
King of Tokyo
This is an excellent gateway game for kids. In King of Tokyo, each player transforms into a giant monster that punches and kicks their opponents in order to become the King of Tokyo.
Players roll a series of dice that either allows them to attack other players, gain energy (currency), or score victory points. It’s very quick to learn and the artwork and silly theme are great for some fun dice-throwing action.
It has press-your-luck elements and introduces roll and score/lock mechanics. It’s ultra-competitive and a good game to help teach the younger crowd how to win and lose gracefully.
Honestly though, who hasn’t wanted to be a 50-foot monster rampaging through a city?
A fun, simple, and inexpensive game, Sushi Go! might actually be the most adorable game in existence today.
You and your friends are grabbing dinner at one of the trendiest new conveyor-belt sushi restaurants in town. You all skipped lunch, so you’re racing to grab the best combination of sushi plates as they pass by.
With delightful artwork and simple mechanics like set collection and card drafting, Sushi Go! is sure to become a new game night favorite.
But be warned… these cards are so cute, you may never be able to eat sushi again.
Your helicopter crashed in the middle of a barren desert and somehow your only hope is to find a legendary flying machine that’s buried in the dunes. Good luck!
Forbidden Desert is a cooperative board game in which players work together against the clock to make decisions (and not die of thirst) before the encroaching sand storm wipes everyone out. The Forbidden series (Island, Desert, Sky) are all fantastic and truly-cooperative games that really make it easy to introduce new players into board games.
Prepare to dig your friends out of the sand (a lot), share your water, and somehow attempt to find the pieces of the flying machine before time and your water runs out!
Everyone loves a fireworks show! Except if you’re one of the incompetent pyrotechnicians that have completely mismanaged the setup of the display. Now it’s time to get your act together and make sure the audience gets the show they came for.
Hanabi is a deduction and memory card game that is also cooperative. As a small deck of cards, this game is sure to appeal to new players who want to dip a toe into gaming with a quick, 20-minute game. Cooperative games are also a perfect way to introduce players to board games who might not like the idea of fierce competition.
Hanabi ticks all of the boxes. Race the clock, Build the Fireworks, and Launch your rockets!
When the government becomes overrun with corruption what do you do?
Stage a coup, of course!
Coup is an elimination bluffing game in which players use their cards’ special abilities to gain coins (called isk) and to wipe out their opponents’ influence. Influence comes in the form of 2 cards that each player is dealt. As you lose influence, your options and abilities decrease.
Card games make ideal gateway games because they’re small, compact, and won’t overwhelm new players with tons of bells and whistles. Coup is a short and sweet game in which you get to lie to your friends, kill them off one by one, and reap the rewards. What could be better?
Betrayal at House on the Hill
We saved one of our favorites for last. Betrayal is not necessarily what comes to mind when you think of a ‘gateway game’ but it’s actually the perfect mid-size game to go to, once you’ve worked your way through this list. Mid-size? Wow, I sound like a car salesman.
Betrayal at House on the Hill is a semi-cooperative/hidden traitor board game in which players get to dive into a B-movie horror flick in which a group of Scooby-Doo-esque characters wanders into a haunted house together.
There are 50 scenarios that come with the base game and each one is completely different.
Betrayal weaves a story in 2 parts. In the first, players wander through the house looking around and exploring. The second is triggered by the Haunt. Players will read a scenario that depends on the rooms and items revealed.
It jams every single horror trope you can think of into those 50 scenarios. Think ax-wielding maniac, creepy children, and even evil cat ladies.
Betrayal is a little more complicated at first but I’ve had players who flat-out say they hate board games and when they walked away from the table, they couldn’t stop talking about how awesome it was.
Playing board games is such a fun activity and a wonderful means of social interaction. Thinking about strategy, discussing options, and just spending quality time together.
Getting your family and closest friends into casual board gaming can sometimes seem like an impossible task. With some cleverly chosen gateway games, however, you’ll all be having a great time together in no time at all.
What are your gateway gaming success stories? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.