Gateway Board Games: A Definition & A List of the Best


One of my friends recently asked me what board game I recommend them to buy. They were new to modern board gaming, so I knew that it’d be best for them to start with a gateway board game.

But what are gateway board games? Gateway board games are games that are meant to introduce new gamers to the world of modern board gaming. The games are simple and easy to both learn and teach, but fun and engaging as well.

In this post, I’ll dive into more detail about what makes a board game a gateway game, and I’ll also discuss selecting a gateway game to play.

Then I’ll cover a list of some of the top gateway board games for new gamers to start with. (There are also a few that will always be on my favorites list!)

Gateway Games: A Further Explanation

Gateway games are games for new board gamers, who are starting to enter the world of modern board gaming. These games are typically easy to learn (accessible), simple, not too long, but engaging and fun. They’re replayable and provide a gentle introduction to a whole new world of board games.

The key to gateway board games, though, is to select one that fits the player that you’d like to share modern board gaming with.

Selecting Gateway Board Games to Play

Selecting the right gateway board game to play with one of your friends who is new to board gaming is the key to gateway board games. You must think about the player and what is a good fit for them.

You want to make sure they have the best experience possible. There are a few questions you can ask to help you figure out what games might be a good fit:

  • What’s the last board game that they played?
  • Are there games that they already like playing? If so, which ones?
  • What are some of their hobbies?
  • How competitive are they?
  • Would they prefer to be more social then to beat someone in a game?

Think about who you might be picking out a gateway board game for, and keep that in mind as you read through the list of gateway board games that I’ll provide below. (Also, if you yourself are trying to find a board game that might be a good pick for you, asking the same questions above can help you as well.)

The Best Gateway Board Games to Start With

Let’s take a look at some of the top gateway games new modern board gamers can start with.

1. King of Tokyo

King of Tokyo is a great gateway board game to play. We’ve used this game to introduce several friends to modern board games, and we’re so glad that we did.

In this game, you’re a monster trying to become the King of Tokyo. The first player to destroy Tokyo by gaining 20 victory points or the last player standing (read: they attacked other players until they died) wins.

There are so many things I love about this game, but some of them include the dice, and the fact that there is more than one way to win. I also like that the creators of the game introduced other components like energy cubes (the game’s resource), and cards as well.

King of Tokyo has a pretty short playing time, and with all of the excitement it provides, it’s a game that your friends are sure to love.

2. Pandemic

This is a cooperative gateway game where you and the other players are trying to save the world from diseases that have broken out. You’re treating and finding cures before time runs out. If you’re able to cure all four diseases, then you win!

This is a great game to help players become accustomed to playing cooperatively. As I’ve talked about before, when playing cooperatively, the alpha player problem can arise, so be aware of that and check out these tips ahead of time.

The great thing about this game is that once you’ve played it a few times and feel comfortable with it, the next natural game you can play is Pandemic Legacy Season 1. My husband and I are actually playing through this right now, and we love it!

It starts out like Pandemic, but it has a story to it, and you play it in 12-24 sessions. Several new components are introduced throughout the game, you have different objectives, and you even get to use stickers!

3. Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is a very simple board game that I usually recommend to very new board gamers (think: they have only played monopoly and classics like it before). We played this game with my in-laws as their introduction to modern board games.

In this game, you’re trying to claim railway routes based off of your destination tickets, and you get points for the routes you claim. As written on BoardGameGeek,

Ticket to Ride has become the BoardGameGeek epitome of a “gateway game”
—simple enough to be taught in a few minutes, and with enough action and tension to keep new players involved and in the game for the duration.”

BoardGameGeek

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

4. Deep Sea Adventure

This is an incredibly simple and short game that I’d recommend as an “appetizer” before you and your group plays one of the others on this list. I had to include it because it’s a great family game, and it usually ends up being a lot of fun for groups.

In this game, all of the players are sharing an oxygen tank and you have to go “diving” for treasure and make it back to the top before the oxygen runs out.

If you don’t make it to the top with your treasure before the oxygen runs out, then you don’t get to score any points for that round. Whoever has the most points worth of treasure at the end of the three rounds wins.

This is a great game to keep in your purse or vehicle so that you have it to play at coffee shops for a very chill afternoon. It’s totally worth it!

5. 7 Wonders

7 Wonders is one of my favorite gateway games because it’s one of the very first modern board games that I played. It’s a card development game where you’re the leader of your city. And you’re building your city as you gather resources, grow your military supremacy, and develop routes.

This game can seem a little bit complex at first. While I now know and see it as a very simple board game, I remember being a little overwhelmed the first time I played. For someone who is fresh off of monopoly or chess, playing 7 wonders can be a bit of a big step. But, once you commit to learning and playing this game, it’s a blast!

This game includes coins, cards, several boards (civilizations) to choose from, rounds, different strategies, etc. Even though my husband and I have “graduated” from this game, it’s such a great one that we’ll still take it off the shelf to play every now and again.

6. Century: Spice Road

This is another game that is easy to teach and learn, but involves enough strategy to make it fun and engaging. It’s also very well-timed.

In this game, you’re a caravan leader, and you work to fulfill demand with the spices you’re working to collect. Whenever a player has claimed their 5th card, then everyone counts up their points and whoever has the most, wins. Throughout the game, you manage the cards in your hand, as well as the spices in your caravan.

While I have the spice road version, the creators have come out with another Century game with a different theme that’s titled Century: Eastern Wonders.

7. Lords of Waterdeep

Lords of Waterdeep is a great strategy game that uses card drafting and worker placement. In this game, you gain resources or points by completing quests, constructing buildings, or by having other people use the buildings you built.

It’s well-timed at eight rounds and is a great game to play as an introduction to worker placement games. If you enjoy this game, and after you’ve played and mastered it, you should check out Agricola!

8. Age of War

Age of War, much like Deep Sea Adventure, is a great game to play as a precursor or “appetizer” to other games on your board game night list.

In this game, you’re working to conquer the cards (called castles) that are laid out in the middle of the table at the start of play. You do this by conquering lines on the cards that match up with the corresponding symbols found on the dice.

Three are 14 castles, and once all of them have been conquered, the game is over and each player counts up his points to see who wins.

This game comes in a small box and fits really well in a purse or the glove box of your vehicle. Perfect for rainy coffee shop kind of days!

9. Kingdomino

This is a very simple game that’s also family-friendly. In this game, you’re looking for land to expand your kingdom. On your turn, you select dominos to attach to your “kingdom” where there’s already another of the same type of land to connect it to.

Once everyone has completed a 5×5 grid, then you count up points to see who won. This is a very chill game that’s great for kids (age 8 and up). This was one of the first modern board games that my dad played, and it provided a great experience for him!

10. Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure

I’m so excited to talk about Clank because while I was introduced to modern board gaming through 7 Wonders, this was the first game that truly made me fall in love with the hobby.

In this exciting and well-timed game, you adventure down into a dragon’s lair to steal artifacts (that are worth points at the end of the game). There are also several other ways to gather points—through cards and other items you can pick up. At the end of the game, whoever has the most points (and who made it out alive), wins!

Every time I play this game I feel nostalgic, and I always have fun. While this is a great gateway game, no matter where you’re at on your modern board game journey, this is one game that I very highly recommend that you play. (Especially if you like deck-building!)

11. Hero Realms

This is another great gateway game that you don’t want to miss out on. It’s a fantastic fantasy-themed deck-building game that’s always refreshing to bring to the table.

The deck you start with contains some gold (to buy other cards with) and weapons that you use to fight with. You then continue building your deck to obtain better weapons and cards to fight with.

You fight your opponent, and when your opponent’s health is down to zero, you win. If your health is reduced to zero, then your opponent wins. So simple and yet so fun!

This is still one of my favorite games to this day, and I’ve played so many at this point. It’s very affordable, and a great way to start your board game collection.

12. Azul

Azul is yet another great gateway board game that’s bright and fun to play. The pieces remind me of candy, and the game itself is great quality (especially for the low cost).

In this game, you draft tiles to fill your player board. It’s a strategic game, and you score points for how you place your tiles. You score extra points for specific patterns you create or sets you’ve completed.

We’ve used this game to introduce many of our friends and family members to modern board gaming!

13. Catan

You might be surprised to find this game as the very last one listed since this is probably the most well-known game on the list. It’s brought so many people into the world of modern board gaming (and for that I’m so grateful)!

However, when I heard of its existence, I was already so far into modern board gaming and much more complex games. To play it would have kind of felt like going backwards to me, so I haven’t ever played it myself.

It’s the only board game on this list that I haven’t actually played myself, but it’s so popular and has helped so many others start their board game journey, that I just had to include it. It’s definitely worth checking out!

Here’s more information about it, as found on Wikipedia, and BoardGameGeek.

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