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My Top 10 Gateway Games – Chris Dunnings

And a gateway game is…

Anyone in the board gaming community knows that this hobby can be terribly addictive and also terribly expensive if you really get in to it. This is why we all go on the quest for gateway games. These are the simple, easy to pick up games which we use to introduce non-gamer people to the glory of the hobby. All done in the hope that they’ll start to buy some and then lighten the burden on your own wallet. Not only that, it also means that games with necessary higher player counts are more accessible to you as your gaming group grows.

One of my friends recently asked me for some recommendations for gateway games to hook in other people for the same reasons I have already mentioned. So, here is my own personal top 10 gateway games. Please let me know in the comments if you feel there are any glaring omissions. You never know, it might even introduce me to something fantastic too!

Before I get into the top 10 I have some honourable mentions for gateway games which were close, but didn’t make the list:

Cards against humanity: A definite adult only party game. Great fun; especially with beer!


Gloom: A card game where you need to inflict misery on a family and kill them off while telling stories about how. Exceptionally unique.


Smash Up: Take 2 decks of different factions, mix them together and score points against friends. Bring on Alien Ninjas!


Boss Monster: Reverse dungeon crawling. As the Boss Monster, kill hapless heroes… in pixel graphics!


On with my top 10 Gateway Games!

10: Roll for The Galaxy

Quite likely a controversial first choice for anyone who has played the game, and I promise I have not completely taken leave of my senses in suggesting it. OK, maybe a little, but hear me out. When you first see it, with it’s mountain of dice and cheat sheets on the player privacy shields it is exceptionally daunting, but, at the core of it, it is really easy to play. You start with a set amount of dice, you get some bonus dice, you use those dice to conquer planets or you can “sell” your dice to raise victory points. Easy peasy! A must for someone who you think might be into the madness of random rolling games.

It is worth a mention that if you’re using this as a gateway game, you need to be able to play it first as this will be able to take the scary look out of the game for anyone new to it.


9: Fluxx

This gateway game starts off as the easiest card game in the world. The starting rules are draw 1 card and play 1 card, but the game was created by a couple of people from Mensa, so it doesn’t stay that way for very long. That doesn’t mean that it’s not enjoyable though. You start with a hand of 3 cards. These cards can be new rules, goals which change or implement the game winning conditions, “keepers” which are mostly cards which help you towards the goal and actions. So, when you start with your first draw 1 and play 1 you could play a rule which says that you can now have a hand limit of 5 cards or that you’re only allowed to keep 2 keepers. Or you could play a goal which says the first person with 10 cards in their hand is the winner.

The simple game goes out of the window very quickly but it is a fantastic game to play, and truly is different with every play. Not only that, anyone can pick it up and be as confused as the rest of you so it doesn’t really need someone to have played it first to explain it. It’s all part of the fun winging it. One thing worth a mention is that there are many (many) different types of Fluxx including Cthulhu Fluxx, Christmas Fluxx and even Monty Python Fluxx but, it’s probably best to play Fluxx prime before anything else as the others have complications which change the game even more.

p.s: please don’t hate me if you pick it up and it makes you flip the table and rage quit because someone stole the win with a sneaky goal change… you bought it!


8: Ticket To Ride

Ticket to Ride was the first game which I played by employing the nefarious means I mentioned at the beginning. I hooked someone in with another gateway game on this list and this was the first game he bought. The game is so simple to play that you can learn the rules in 5 minutes and it’s good for younger gamers too. At the beginning you receive a couple of ticket cards telling to complete a train route from one station in America to another somewhere else in the country which will give you victory points at the end of the game, an added bonus is that this will give you focus as you play. You receive different coloured cards and use them to place trains across the board to lay claim to your train route. This gateway game has everything you could need; it’s easy to learn, it’s easy to play and it can also be as laid back or cut-throat as you like. It’s a fantastic family game and will likely see a lot of table time if it’s picked up.


7: Paperback

I love deckbuilding games and have hooked in a few people with this one (including someone’s Grandma… no, really). If you don’t know what a deck building game is, you start with a certain amount of cards in-hand and use them to purchase stronger cards or to deal negative effects to your opponents. In the case of paperback you start with 10 cards, 5 wild cards which can be used as any letter (but do not earn you any money) and also T,R,S,L and N. You shuffle the 10 together and use them to make words, which in turn make you money that you can use to buy other letters. Some of the more “expensive” letters have other bonus effects too such as doubling the money your earn from a word or to give you 2 extra cards to make your next word with. The way to win is by having the most victory points at the end of the game. The game officially ends when someone has spelt a 10 letter word.

Victory points can be gained by being the first to get a 7 letter word, 8 letter word, 9 letter word and 10 letter word, but can also be bought with other wild cards of varying cost.

This gateway game is a bit hard to find at the moment, but I know that a reprint is due very very soon. It’s immensely easy to pick up and easy to play. I do have 2 issues with it though. First, there’s not enough “money” supplied with the game so I use my copper jar for it. Second, I have never completed the game by actually spelling a 10 letter word. We house rule it so that we count up the victory points once we have all had enough of playing.


6: Escape: The Curse Of The Temple

This is by far the speediest gateway game on the list, but also the first co-operative one. The game comes with a massive pile of tiles, some gems and 25 dice. The idea is that you have run into a temple Indiana Jones style and taken some of the gems, and as the title may give away, it’s all gone terribly wrong and now you have to escape. You have 5 dice each and all have to roll dice to lay down tiles to explore the rest of the temple and hope to find your way out. On your way around the temple you will likely find some rooms where you can exchange gems in turn for an easier exit. Once the exit has been found you then have to roll a set amount of dice between you onto specific faces to get out. The amount of dice depends on how many jewels you still have. You can also end up “stuck” by rolling black masks on your dice and locking them, which can only be unlocked by rolling a gold mask on a different die.

The reason this gateway game makes the list is it’s easy to learn but speedy because it comes with a soundtrack CD which is 10 minutes long. That’s it! That’s all the time you have to get in and get out again. Also, if that wasn’t challenge enough you set off an in-game trap a couple of times in the soundtrack so you all have to return to the room you started in or you could permanently lose a die. The game has a lot of replay value since if you find it too easy you can introduce curses where you can’t speak or have to spend your time with one of your hands on your head. Great if you maybe have a couple of drinks with it…


5: Munchkin

This is one of the meanest games I have ever played, but its still an excellent gateway game in it’s own right. The idea is that you start with a human character with no class (sounds like most of my gaming group really) and you have to “level up” to level 10 by fighting monsters. It’s a bit like a dungeon crawler where you kick the door in, rush in and fight any monsters which may be lurking inside, preferably kill them and then raid the loot pile after you’re done. If you defeat a monster you level up and there are some loot cards which also level you up, but, and this is a bigger but than something from Sir Mixalot; your “friends” can mess with you every step of the way. You work out your level by the actual level you are plus modifiers of any weapons and armour that you have. So, imagine you kick the door down and come up against a low level pot plant (it’s really in there) so you start rubbing your hands together thinking it’s a really easy fight… Then, someone plays a card which levels up the pot plant by 10 levels! At this point you can ask for help in exchange for a share of the loot, and then cry because they decide to let you suffer and lose your loot and a level anyway.

This is the gateway game for that friend of yours that you’d either like to teach a lesson, or that friend which likes stabbing people in the back with no consequences. A fantastic game.


4: World of Yo-Ho

This was a big surprise for me as I have only played this game recently. I have reviewed it (coming soon – watch this blog) and was really surprised at how much I liked it. The reason this game has made my list of gateway games is because whilst it is played on a board, it’s more of a hybrid board game. You’re a pirate vying with 1-3 of your friends to gain the worst reputation, but the whole game is played on a smart phone. I won’t go into loads of detail here (Go on, read the review) but this is a gateway game for the technology obsessed among your friends. I used it to get my teenage daughter into playing board games and I’d definitely count that as a win.

Yo ho

3: Titan Race

I have made no secret of how much I love this game. In case you’re wondering how much, have a look at the review I did for it here:

This gateway game is highly accessible for people of all ages and is amazing fun. It’s also cheap and easy to store, which means you can take it with you pretty much anywhere.

The reason I have recommended it so highly as a gateway game is because EVERYONE, and I mean everyone, that I have introduced this to have loved it. In case you don’t want to read the review (and if you don’t then shame on you. I am now crying into my pillow tonight because of you) the idea is that you are a Titan Rider who is riding a mythical beast and are racing against up to 5 other riders in a race to complete 3 laps of the circuit. You can also attack each other and leave traps to screw over the other riders. Its probably not a gateway game to help make friends and influence people, but a fantastic game to get people into gaming.


2: Pandemic

The first hobby board game I ever played. It was spotted by my wife because she thought it was a video game and that’s how it all started. My own personal gateway game, but an amazing game in it’s own right. You’re a member of a co-operative team trying to stop 4 diseases from taking over the planet. You swan around the world trying to save the day while eradicating disease; how could you go wrong? This gateway game comes with a caveat though. It is really addictive to play and it starts with chunks of 45-60 minutes you lose that suddenly turn into entire nights. Pandemic is also brutally difficult. I have a win ratio against this game of 1-36. That’s right, 36 losses and one solitary utterly fantastic win, but even with 36 losses under my belt I still keep playing. I think that’s advert enough for why it’s on this list.


1: Exploding Kittens

This gateway game is top of my list because it is the most accessible. It’s exceptionally easy to play and also has a funny rules explanation video. A normal deck has support for 5 players and you can buy additional decks for more. It also comes in a standard and a “NSFW”(Not Safe For Work) edition so that if you want your kittens a little more risqué then you can have them that way. This game is the most backed card game in Kickstarter history with 219,382 backers. I have hooked in a lot of people with this game and rightly so. It has a great light tone and the artwork is unusual but really easy on the eyes. The idea is that you are the last person to stay alive by not drawing the exploding kitten card. If you do draw one you can play a defuse card which can delay the exploding kitten with catnip sandwiches or even kitten therapy. Once they’re defused you can put the kitten back in the deck wherever you like, which adds a nice layer of strategy. There are also attack cards which means whoever you attack has to take 2 turns instead of you taking yours. Simple gaming made into a fantastic game. Feel the kitten love!


 So that’s my Top 10 Gateway Games. Don’t forget to let me know in the comments if you feel like I’ve missed anything. I’d love to see some new games!

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Chris Dunnings

I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.

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