In the first of our new regular feature, n3rdabl3’s Top Five Board Games, we’re looking at our top five gateway games. They’re all really accessible, with simple rules and mechanics to help you start your new venture into this hobby.
Making the leap into board gaming is more difficult than it first seems. There are hundreds to sift through and no real way of telling how deep they are just by looking at the box.
These top five have been picked with a few things in mind. They’re relatively easy to pick up and play compared to some more complex games, the idea here is to not scare off anyone you try and play with. But on the other hand, these gateway games aren’t going to be thrown to the wayside once you get into board gaming, they’re shelf essentials that aren’t just good for bringing new players into the hobby, they’re also classics that more experienced players return to again and again – there’s a reason that any board gamer will recommend these classics.
5 – Dixit
A game about matching words to pictures, Dixit can be taught in about as much time as it takes to deal out the cards and is suitable for anyone who wants to try board games, regardless of their age.
Each turn one player becomes the storyteller and makes up a sentence. All players, including the storyteller, choose a card from their hand that matches the sentence best and these cards are shuffled before being shown face up. Every player then guesses which card was the storyteller’s, if no-one picks the storyteller’s card then all players apart from the storyteller get two points – the same goes if everyone picks the storyteller’s card – if it’s not a unanimous vote the storyteller and everyone who guessed correctly gets three points. The player with the most points when the deck runs out or the first player to 30 points wins.
The beautiful artwork combined with the incredibly simple premise make this game a must-play for anyone wanting to try a less digital way to play games.
4 – Catan
Catan, or as it was once called, The Settlers of Catan, is widely regarded as the game that spearheaded the new wave of board game popularity. In Catan players try to outmanoeuvre each other to become the most dominant player on the island by building settlements, roads and cities. Players start with one settlement on the hexagonal island of Catan and are able to gather resources produced on tiles next to their starting settlement. As the game progresses players will trade resources or use them to build new roads and settlements or upgrade existing settlements to improve resource gathering capabilities – collecting these resources is key to winning.
Resource management, player negotiation and strategy mean that no two games of Catan will be the same and most board game mechanics can be seen in one form or another in Catan, making it a great game to use as a springboard to deeper, more complex games.
3 – Ticket To Ride
Just edging into our top three for gateway board games is Ticket to Ride. A game about claiming cross-country railway routes, Ticket To Ride is, at it’s heart, a hand management game. By playing cards of different colours you can place train carriages to claim routes between cities, with longer routes costing more cards. Another deck will give you routes you can claim for extra points.
It’s an incredibly simple game that you can learn in minutes, but when you scratch the surface more strategic layers unfold. Do you wait and hope your opponents don’t claim routes you want, then claim some interconnected routes to complete a Destination Ticket in one go, or do you grab any route you need as soon as you can and hope the other players don’t figure out what you need and take it to deny you the points?
Do you draw some more Destination Tickets and risk not finishing them and losing points at the end of the game, or do you work on claiming anything, hoping that you’ll claim enough to not need the bonus you could have gotten from another ticket. Ticket to Ride is one of the few games that can be played by both newbies and beginners without one becoming frustrated by the other towards the end of the game.
As an added bonus, Days of Wonder have published a whole host of Ticket to Ride games, with all sorts of maps available if you start to get tired of the original USA map. There’s also a new game around the corner, Rails and Sails which will see you completing routes over the open ocean, too.
2 – Carcassonne
Carcassonne is comfortably in our top three here for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s got basically no set up time. Dump all the tiles onto a table, give each player their Meeples and you’re good to go. Secondly, there aren’t any complicated rules to learn apart from maybe how to score points by playing farmers. Finally, the main interaction with the game is pick a tile, put it down and place a worker.
But not only is Carcassonne incredibly easy to pick up and play, it also opens the door for so many other games in the future. Carcassonne will break you into the mechanics of tile placement, area control and worker placement – easing you into a huge amount of games that use these mechanics. Carcassonne also has nine full expansions and six stand-alone mini expansions along with several other mid-sized expansions so the game can grow and expand as you and your play group get more comfortable with it.
If you need a bit more of a hand to sell this to your potential game buddies, you can always try Star Wars Carcassone. It’s essentially the same as the original, but looks like a Star Wars convention was sick on it.
1 – Pandemic
Taking the top spot for this list of Gateway Games is Pandemic. Well-loved and an all-round classic, Pandemic is a co-op strategy game where you and your friends will try to stop four diseases from spreading across the globe and wiping out humanity. Each armed with a special ability, you’ll work together to research cures for these diseases whilst an AI deck stacks the odds higher and higher against you as the game goes on. It might take a bit longer than some games on this list to get from the shelf to actually playing, but the pay-off is always worth the wait.
Not only do you have the excellent vanilla game, but Pandemic now has three expansions to get more out of your game as well as a Legacy version and an upcoming Cthulu edition. In Legacy you play a campaign of consecutive games, with permanent changes being made after each game so you’ll all experience something different to any other game group.
A pitfall you’ll need to avoid when you have a few games under your belt and you’re introducing the game to new players is taking control and telling everyone what moves to make or “quarterbacking”. But we’re sure you won’t do anything like that. Played with a little patience, we think that Pandemic is the best game to introduce a new player to board games. The tension as the cities get close to having outbreaks of disease is fantastic, especially when you can guide a couple of newbies into saving the world by the skin of your teeth. If a new gamer’s first time is a good game of Pandemic it’s almost a guarantee they’ll become a new regular player in your game group.