Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Gateway Games

There are hundreds and hundreds of GeekLists over on BoardGameGeek about so-called "Gateway Games."  That is, "games which can draw more non-gamers into the hobby."

These are all German-style board games, because that is what I tend to prefer.  If there are questions, I can discuss Eurogames vs. American-style boardgames at some point in the future.

There are a few games which appear on nearly all of these lists, and with good reason.  There are games which regularly appear and probably shouldn't.  And then there are the games which are not regularly on these lists, but probably should be.

This week, I'm going to talk about two of the old standbys - games that appear on nearly all of these lists.

For each game below, I'll list the game, say a bit about it, give a brief overview of the rules, why it's a good gateway game, and what issues new players seem to have with the rules.

Settlers of Catan

For many eurogamers, Settlers of Catan was our gateway game.  It wasn't the first German import game to hit the US, but it was the first to hit big.  It is or has been available online via BSW, Xbox Live (under the name Catan), and is coming for the Nintendo DS.

The game itself is pretty simple - three or four players earn victory points by building settlements and upgrading those settlements into cities.  Each turn, the dice are rolled.  The results of the dice cause spaces on the board to generate resources.  Then the player whose turn it is can trade resources with other players and spend those resources to build more roads and settlements.  You can also spend resources to buy special cards (which do a variety of things) or upgrade your settlements to cities.

There are bonus points available for having the longest continuous road and for having the largest army.

The first player to ten points wins the game.

It's a good gateway game because it's very simple to learn, encourages player interaction, and is easy to find an opponent for. 

Non-gamers who are curious about this game can visit nearly any game store and find a store copy which is used for demoing the game. Ask the person behind the counter if they can give you a demo - the same goes for many other games as well.

The game is also expandable - there is an expansion which allows up to six players to play.

There are only a few rules points which tend to cause confusion, too. Ports are a bit troublesome, as is the bandit.


Carcassonne is another regular on the lists. Aside from one of the scoring details, it's a very clear game of tile-laying, and its worker figures ("meeples") have become emblematic of eurogaming in general. It's also available on XBox Live.

Every turn, you draw a tile from the bag. Tiles have roads, cities, fields, and a few other elements on them. You just need to match tile edges - roads have to match roads, and so on. After playing a tile, you may place one of your workers on that tile (with a few restrictions).

The basic rules are simple and very clear, and the game has a number of expansions of varying quality. I do highly recommend the first expansion, which allows for a sixth player and introduces a larger meeple.

The only trouble spot rules-wise is scoring the fields - even the publisher(s) haven't entirely made up their minds on that one, as the rules keep changing. It seems like every printing includes a new method of scoring the fields.

In a few weeks, I'll be talking about games that I think are good gateway games - games which don't appear on as many of the geeklists as, perhaps, they should.


  1. Cool. I love settlers, don't play it as often as I'd like... don't play _anything_ at all for the most part. Haven't played Carcassonne, but I recognize it.

    Very interested in what you'd have to say about Eurogames vs. Amerigames :)

  2. Anonymous7:25 AM

    I think Carcassonne is way overrated. I also don't see it as much of a gateway game due to the quirky scoring that is involved. And don't get me started with the field scoring issue... what a joke.


  3. Brian,

    I both agree and disagree. Carcassonne is overrated, I'll grant you - but it's an excellent gateway. It's colorful, simple to learn and play, and (other than the field scoring issue) the scoring is straightforward until you start adding expansions, at which point all bets are off.