Top 10 Gateway Board Games for Families & Friends
Board games have existed for thousands of years. Yet, most people only know about the super deep and complex strategy games like Chess, or the shallow, big-box games like Uno and Monopoly. In this modern age, board gaming exploded in popularity. Friends and families are moving away from virtual video games and instead spending more time face-to-face playing modern board games. This time, we are going to look at gateway board games. These games strike the perfect balance of being easy to learn and play, but also offer just enough for the deep critical thinkers out there too. Gateway board games are ideal for families and friends looking to start or expand their board game collection. These games are all easy to learn, easy to teach, and a lot of fun. So let’s take a look at these ten great games, in no particular order.
Sushi Go Party
Sushi Go Party is an expanded version of the original game, Sushi Go. This is a card drafting game, where players pick one card at a time from a limited set in order to gain victory points and win the game. It sounds simple at first, but is actually incredibly deep. Players will need to deduce what strategies are possible based on what cards are available. Risky cards like Tofu grant tons of points, but collecting too many make them worthless. Do you instead go for Green Tea, knowing that you need four of them to make it worthwhile? What do you do when another person at the table reveals that he or she is also collecting Green Tea? That is what makes Sushi Go so fun and interesting.
The Party edition expands upon the original game by adding more card types. Since each game is played with a limited set of cards, Party further expands on the game’s replay-ability. Players will often find that their strategy that worked last time might not work on the next one, forcing them to quickly adapt to the new situation. All of the cards contained inside of the Party tin box are high quality standard cards. The art and characters are also ridiculously cute and memorable. Sushi Go Party is great light strategy game for all ages, and is best played with 4-6 people. Light and hardcore board gamers will all find something to love about Sushi Go.
Junk Art is a really unique game. It is definitely the most unique game in this list. Players in Junk Art use plastic or wooden pieces to construct different kinds of sculptures. And those pieces are, well, junk. Curved pieces, doughnuts, and awkward angles all make the construction super fun, challenging, and interesting. There are actually 15 different City cards which represent different game modes. Some of these cities have players building the tallest structure in fastest time, others have players cooperating on the same structure, and even a few where players choose what pieces the others need to use. The game can suddenly switch from a slow, methodical pace to a frantic rush out of nowhere.
The game actually has two versions, a more affordable, plastic version, and the original wooden piece version. Both version have the exact same number of colors and pieces, and the pieces even have the same weight distribution across versions. All in all, Junk Art is just clean quality fun for all ages. Younger players will enjoy trying to build the weirdest, wildest, and tallest sculptures. Older players will enjoy strategically picking and placing certain pieces to subtly attack the other players and eek out a victory. Junk Art is an amazing game that makes players think about shapes in many different ways. But at the end of each round, everyone will (hopefully) have their own little sculpture to admire.
Catan, if you haven’t heard of it, is the one of the most well-known gateway board games. Also known as “The Settlers of Catan,” Catan is a game about controlling territory, trading, and collecting resources. Players compete for tiles on the board, which in turn generate resources. Those resources are then used to buy and control more tiles, or traded off to other players. Players can elect different strategies depending on the current board position. They may even use their negotiation skills to secure great trades with other players. Planning, strategy, diplomacy, and a little bit of luck are key to winning any game of Catan.
The Catan board itself is modular and can be randomized between games, further adding replay-ability. However, two alternate versions of Catan exist. Catan: Family Edition is the exact same as the original Catan game, except the game board less is modular and thus easy to get playing out of the box. Because of this, the family edition will have issues adding on some expansions, and offers slightly less customization. Catan Junior a modified game that is intended for a younger audience. It has better child-friendly art and more streamlined, less punishing mechanics. Catan Junior plays well with children as young as five or six years old.
Dominion is an outstanding deck-builder, and another one of the top gateway board games. In Dominion, the players take turns playing and buying cards from the central market to advance their strategy and gain victory points. Each card bought is added to the player’s deck and can be used later. Players each start with the same simple starting deck, and then slowly improve and upgrade it throughout the game. It’s both really fun and satisfying to slowly grow and customize your deck as the game progresses. Because the market changes from game to game, players will need to be quick to identify what cards when used together produce the best results.
Dominion is a long running game with numerous expansion sets. As of 2018, there are 12 expansions in total. Don’t worry though, because the base game itself is all you need to get started. And even by itself the base game offers a ton of depth. Beginner players will naturally gravitate to simple but effective strategies. Intermediate players will start to identify supply and demand of cards in the market to not be pushed out of their strategy. Advanced players will know how to read the flow of other player’s decks and push towards ending the game when it is beneficial for them. Deck building games are awesome gateway games, and Dominion is one of the best of the best.
Codenames is a great cooperative and competitive party game. Cooperative because players work together in teams. Competitive because those teams are trying to out-think and out-maneuver each other. In Codenames, one member of a team says a word and a number. Then, the other team members need to select the number of cards that best match that word. Correct guesses progress the team towards the goal. Incorrect guesses, like selecting the other team’s card, or the assassin card, are bad. Remarkably simple and elegant. So the spymaster says “Hot, 2,” and your options are cat, code, helicopter, dog, honey, turkey, and fire. Which two do you choose?
While Codenames may not be strategically deep, it’s a very engaging social experience perfect for close friends, families, and even newer acquaintances too. Knowing how your teammates think are key to success. Are they literal thinkers? Creative? After every game of Codenames, each player will learn something about their teammates and opponents. Codenames is best played with at least four people (up to eight). Additionally, a two-player version, Codenames: Duet, is available. All Codenames expansions (Pictures, Harry Potter, Disney, Marvel, and Deep Undercover 1 & 2.0) work with the base game or as a fully standalone game.
Pandemic is a completely cooperative game where players take on the role of specialists trying to stop the spread of a global pandemic. As another one of the highly recommended gateway board games, Pandemic uses a some game mechanics that are popular in more serious, heavier games. The game presents mechanics like unique player abilities, limited actions, and collecting card sets, in an easy to understand manner. Of course, players will need to communicate, plan ahead, and prioritize tasks as the diseases spread. Every turn in Pandemic is tense and exciting. Flipping over safe cards always induces sighs of relief, but each card revealed also brings the game one step closer to the dread epidemic card.
Pandemic plays surprisingly well with just two players, but goes up to four. The game is also notoriously difficult, but thankfully the instruction booklet provides multiple levels of difficulty. Each game also begins from a completely different starting point, ensuring that every game of Pandemic is different from the last. Pandemic is a game that a wide range of players will enjoy. Hardcore board gamers will want to try out the hardest difficulty, while newer players will instinctively flock to the easier settings. Don’t expect to win every game though. If Pandemic becomes a huge hit at your table, consider the campaign game, Pandemic: Legacy for the collection.
Ticket to Ride
Ticket To Ride is another one of the highly recommended gateway board games. In this game, players pick and draw cards of matching colors to build train routes and connect cities. Players also have secret route cards, which grant extra bonus victory points at the end of the game. However, each route only supports a small number of tracks, so land is very scarce. Do you build long routes to connect your destination cards, while putting yourself at risk of being blocked by other players? Or do you divide your tracks across the continent in hopes of patching together a complex transit web of routes? All is possible in Ticket To Ride’s easy to learn, hard to master game play.
Ticket To Ride also has a couple different versions for players looking to better find the perfect match. Ticket To Ride: Europe, is the squeal to the original. It features European cities and a few more mechanics like stations. The Europe version, while slightly more complex, is also less punishing when it comes to interacting with other players. Blocking and cutting off opponents can be quite prominent in the original Ticket To Ride. Alternatively, two junior versions of the game are also available which mimic their bigger brothers. Ticket To Ride: First Journey is the junior version featuring a North America map, and Ticket To Ride Europe: First Journey respectively covers a European map.
Machi Koro is a quirky game from Japan. In Machi Koro, players build a city by rolling dice and buying cards from the central market. The game is actually very simple and quick to get rolling (heh) from the get go. Every turn, players roll one or two dice, and gain coins based on that roll. Afterwards, they can purchase one card in exchange for coins. The amount of coins they gain are based on their town, composed of all of the cards they purchased. Each card generates coins in different ways. Some cards generate coins on each player’s turn, while others only on your or your opponents turns. There are even a few nasty cards that steal coins from your friends.
Machi Koro is definitely on the lighter side of strategy, but that doesn’t mean it has none. There is a lot of luck involved, but correctly analyzing the market along with other player’s towns will always push the odds in your favor. For example, coin stealing cards are great – but if the other players always spend their money quickly, they are useless. On the contrary, if no player is opting for stealing cards, saving up money for big purchases becomes a strong strategy. This kind of rock-paper-scissors style of game play keeps Machi Koro light and interesting. There are also a few expansions to help expand Machi Koro’s already lovable game play: Harbor, Millionaires Row, and Bright Lights, Big City.
Love Letter a great little card and social deduction game. Playing a single round of Love Letter only takes about two minutes, and a full game is composed of multiple rounds. Each turn, a player draws a card, then plays a card. Some cards have a chance of eliminating other players, until the last one standing wins. Or, if multiple players remain, each player reveals their card and the highest number wins. Deceptively simple, Love Letter really picks up after all players have learned the ebb and flow of the game. By watching what cards your opponents play, and who they attack with their cards, always reveals a small fragment if information which could knock them out next turn.
But sometimes, players purposely make seemingly bad decisions to throw off the other players. As stated previously, Love Letter is a social deduction game: you are trying to figure out the other player’s identities. There’s tons of bluffing, mind-games, and trickery at every stage of every round. All of that excitement comes in a tiny, 16-card package which can be played for a few minutes to a few hours at a time. Love Letter is a masterpiece of a board game, and really shows that simple and elegant design can produce hours upon hours of enjoyment.
King of Tokyo & King of New York
King of Tokyo is designed by the legendary game designer Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering. In King of Tokyo, players take on the role of quirky giant monsters, aliens, or robots. They rampage and wreck havoc in the city of Tokyo. Of course, the other monsters also want to be the King and will attack, scratch, and stomp all over each other. Players roll dice to gain energy, buy upgrades, heal, and attack other monsters. Luck has some importance in King of Tokyo, but some light strategy elements and calculated risk taking keep the game interesting from beginning to end.
King of New York is the sequel to King of Tokyo, featuring the same basic game play and mechanics as the original. However, King of New York adds more mechanics resulting in more strategy and deeper game play. That isn’t to say that King of New York is strictly better, though. If you think your play group would enjoy a more strategic game, then King of New York is the better option. However, a more casual or younger group would probably prefer the original and lighter game, King of Tokyo. Of course, they both make great gateway games. King of Tokyo: Power Up and King of New York: Power Up expansions are also available.
But the list goes on…
In this current generation, there really are too many great board games. Each of these games are great gateway board games. They all make great gifts for young avid board gamers looking to start a collection. Yet all still make ideal additions to any seasoned board gamers current collection too. What makes gateway games so great is how really anyone, regardless of their experience in board gaming, can play and compete with one another. All of the games on this list are easy to learn and easy to teach too. In reality, the best board game is the one that gets played most. But we promise that each of these games will provide hours and hours of entertainment for any level of gamer.
Are you instead looking for some great two-player games? Check out our other article Top 5 Board Games for Couples.