Gateway Games

It all started with chess. My father loves chess and my mother either hates chess, or hates playing chess with my father. Either way, as the oldest child, dad taught me early so he’d have somebody to play with. I later graduated to Risk, Dungeons and Dragons, Axis and Allies – games like that.

I love tabletop games of all kinds. I personally have a soft spot for the outrageously complex strategy games with hundreds of little plastic figures, and rules books that look like technical manuals. Dad and I still get together regularly to cover his pool table with miniature multitudes of murderous militias.

However, as a dad myself now, I appreciate what I’ve come to call “gateway games.” Gateway games are games robustly complex enough to keep me interested, yet simple enough my son can play it – and easy enough to whip out in a holiday get together without scaring off any aunts.

For my money, the two best gateway games on the market today are Scrabble and Ticket to Ride.

Most people are familiar with Scrabble. You make words with randomly drawn tiles, taking advantage of bonus squares to accumulate as many points as possible.

Fewer folks know from Ticket to Ride. In Ticket to Ride, you attempt to complete train routes across the continent by matching sets of cards you draw from a deck. The basic mechanic is a lot like rummy.

Why do these two disparate games both rate the designation of “best gateway game?” Although they play experiences are different, they share important similarities.

  • You can explain the basic mechanic of play in a single sentence.
  • Both allow for a complete game in under one hour.
  • Individual turns pass quickly.*
  • Quick score upsets are possible, meaning the people trailing on the scoreboard don’t stop having fun.
  • Winning comes from playing well, not by making others lose.

This doesn’t make either the perfect game – my favorite game ever remains chess – but it does make both excellent choices for parties. They’re also great for introducing younger kids to the concept of playing board games. We have to train up the next generation of board game geeks somehow.

Thanks for listening.


*Unless you get that one Scrabble geek who won’t pull his head out of the dictionary until he’s found the perfect word. I hate that.

3 thoughts on “Gateway Games

  1. I totally agree about Ticket to Ride. I generally don’t like tabletop or video games. I don’t entirely know why. Maybe things would’ve be different if I’d had sisters. But TTR is fun even fit me.

    • Doom, the board game. 2-4 players, co-op and copietmtive play. Both scenario and campaign mode, great playing pieces. 2-4 hour game time.Arkham Horror. 1-8 players, co-op play. Based off of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, lots of replayability. 2-5 hour game time. Dragonstrike, 1-6 players, co-op play. A fantasy game, similar to Dungeons and Dragons but easier to learn. Lots of pre-set scenarios. 1-2 hour game time. Comes with a hilarious VHS tape that demonstrates game play.Heroquest is also good, but I haven’t played it since I was young and don’t remember the stats for it. Also, The Tower of the Wizard King, The Key to the Kingdom, Battlemaster, It from the Pit, and Fireball Island.

  2. Jason, if you haven’t already, you need to check out Wil Wheaton’s YouTube show TableTop. It is awesome. It’s where I first heard of TTR. As a writer, you should also check out a game called Fiasco. The episode about this game remains one of my favorite, and I really wish we could play it together! 🙂

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