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Before joining the B&CG community, I had never heard the phrase "Gateway Game." The quintessential examples of Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne gives me a rough idea but Googling did not yield a more precise definition. So:

What is a Gateway Game? To help refine the definition: Why are (or are not) the following borderline cases considered Gateway games:

  • Monopoly
  • Race for the Galaxy
  • Spades (a card game which is a Gateway to Bridge, for some).
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The term can be understood by analogy to "gateway drug". –  Karl Knechtel May 18 '12 at 19:59
    
Don't move the goal posts arbitrarily. Better make it a separate question. Also, we usually don't do lists here, as they can typically not be complete, and with not totally clear-cut questions like this, there will be lots of debate whether this or that game belongs on the list or not. –  Hackworth Jun 14 '12 at 23:32
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@Hackworth I opened a hornet's nest today when I attempted to ask a question in answers-as-items-in-a-list form today and after lots of discussion (both Q and Meta), two people suggested I go back to this question and revise it to get a more precise answer. In retrospect I made an error by accepting your answer which was pretty good but still left me wondering about some games. Note that my (quickly closed) question did suggest two additions to the definition: (1) easy to explain and apply the rules and (2) doesn't take long to play (< 2 hours?). Maybe adding these 2 is enough? –  Joe Golton Jun 14 '12 at 23:48

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

BGG has this definition in their glossary:

A game with simple rules that is easy to teach to non-gamers in order to attract new players into boardgaming as a hobby.

Usually people will say that a Gateway Game must have at least these qualities:

  • Simple (so you can explain the rules to them quickly).

  • Fun (fun games will attract repeat plays).

  • Short (short hits can be played again, misses gives you time to play something else).

The real problem with this definition is that the focus is on the game, and not the goal. If your goal is to attract new players to boardgaming as a hobby, the focus should be on the player. There is no silver bullet with a Gateway Game. The game needs to match the player that you are trying to convert. If you know the new player or can get to know them, you can make better decisions about what games they might be interested in. Speaking in just generalities though:

Are you trying to convert a brand new player who has never played any games?

This kind of player doesn't have any background in any sort of game mechanics. It would be best to focus on a game that has only one or a couple game mechanics so that they don't have to learn too many new things all at once. For Sale/No Thanks have just a bidding mechanic. Can't Stop has a push your luck mechanic. Blokus has an area control mechanic. Cash n' Guns has a hidden selection mechanic. The shorter the game, the better, since you can try many different games until you find one that clicks. Then stick with that game for a while until that player becomes comfortable with the game mechanics and understands that strategies in the game.

Are you trying to convert a Monopoly, Risk, Trivial Pursuit, kids board game player?

Nothing wrong with suggesting something that might be already familiar. Settlers of Catan has pieces like houses and hotels, and resources (goods instead of cash) are collected based upon what players roll. If they like Risk, there is Risk Legacy, and for Trivia buffs there is Wits and Wagers.

Are you trying to convert a Party Game player?

Games with lots of player interaction, or cooperative in nature, since they focus on the social aspect of games. Forbidden Island/Pandemic

Are you trying to convert a Chess, Go, Bridge, Poker, or other classic game player?

This person is already a gamer, so you are half way there. They know how to play by the rules and they probably have a good grasp on probability or board position. You probably want to focus on a games that have less luck, and more skill.

Are you trying to convert a MtG/Yugioh/Pokemon/CCG player?

This person probably already is a gamer by most people's definition. If your goal is to open their mind up to the rest of the board gaming world, you might want to focus on card games so that they are playing a familiar game, Dominion/Resident Evil: the Deck Building Game. Nothing wrong with stretching out to something completely different though. Something themed and less abstract might be more to their liking Gears of War/Shadows over Camelot/Battlestar Galactica.

As to the question, why or why not are certain games are considered gateway games, it usually comes down to not meeting one of the criteria above.

  • Monopoly: Isn't fun. Players have very few interesting decisions to make that will have any impact on the outcome of the game.

  • Race for the Galaxy: Isn't simple. I think that mostly it is the iconography that trips everyone up here. The rules themselves are fairly simple to explain (choose an action for the turn, all players perform all actions with bonuses for selecting that action, pay cards to play cards unless military, repeat), but the total number of icons and choices per turn is probably overwhelming for most players.

  • Spades: Not a Hobby/Designer Game. Most "gamers" do not consider classic games like Chess, Checkers, Go, Hearts, Poker, etc. to be hobby games. Teaching someone to play these types of games will not usually get them any closer to being interested in playing designer games that you would find in your friendly local gaming store.

  • Settlers of Catan: A Gateway Game. One of the quintessential gateway games. Simple rules (roll dice, distribute goods, trade/build, repeat), fun to play, somewhat short (1-1.5 hours) if you use the City/Settlement starting rule. A little bit for every type of player, lots of player interaction through trading, a screw you over mechanic, some luck so the first game isn't a complete blowout, limited options per turn so tactical decisions are easier, and clear VP point system so you know how well you are doing (mini goals).

  • Ticket to Ride: A Gateway Game. Simple rules (play sets of colored cars, draw cards, link cities to complete tickets), fun game play, and relatively short duration.

You are not going to find a definitive definition of what is or isn't a Gateway Game. The idea behind it though is to find a game (theme, mechanic) that the new gamer might be interested in so that they become interested in the wealth of games that are available in the hobby.

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"Monopoly isn't fun" - hah! (+1) for that, though the rest of that line is hard to parse. –  The Chaz 2.0 Jun 15 '12 at 2:51
    
ps where else would one "Google"...? –  The Chaz 2.0 Jun 15 '12 at 2:53
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+1 Nice expansion of the answer, and good highlighting that gateway games are dependent on the audience and what you're looking for a Gateway to. –  Gregor Jun 15 '12 at 18:35
    
Thanks for such a thoughtful answer. Interestingly, using your way of thinking about it, I'd have to say that my top two gateway games for getting other people to advance to a more complex world of gaming have been Spades (gateway to Bridge) and Cosmic Encounter (to all kinds of games), yet neither is typically considered a Gateway game. That may just be a reflection of the fact that it's been many years since I've converted non-gamers into (more complex) gamers. –  Joe Golton Jun 17 '12 at 3:32
    
I would consider Cosmic Encounter a GG, and Spades is similar enough to Bridge to act as a GG for it (I only have limited experience playing bridge though). CE has luck, limited decisions, and somewhat simple rules (the only complications would be the Race Powers, Flares, and Artifacts. Though no more so than deck building games or Dominion clones.) –  user1873 Jun 17 '12 at 3:59

A little googling brought up this definition, paraphrased:

A gateway game is a game that you can use to introduce non-gamers to the world of 'real', i.e. complex games.

A gateway game

  1. has good replay value
  2. has nice game components
  3. is good for mixed age groups
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1  
I would also add that a Gateway Game is one that is relatively easy to learn how to play. i.e. the game mechanics and concepts are accessible to completely new players. –  Tapan Zee May 18 '12 at 17:38
    
@GregDemetrick True, and I guess that's implicitly stated by "good for mixed age groups", i.e. both young and old. –  Hackworth May 18 '12 at 17:53
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I think "mixed age groups" should really just be reformulated as "varying levels of skill and experience". The important thing is to make sure that everyone can learn the game reasonably quickly and have a shot at doing well, for players who might have trouble with that in some games. It doesn't really matter why they might have trouble - it could be age, it could be experience. –  Jefromi May 18 '12 at 22:47
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This definition is a great start but I'm wondering if you can make it more precise, perhaps by adding examples. Of the following games, which are Gateway games, which not: Monopoly, Poker, Spades, Blackjack, Rat-a-tat-cat, Cosmic Encounter, Labyrinth, Race for the Galaxy? –  Joe Golton May 21 '12 at 23:03
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Monopoly is not generally considered a gateway game because it's not a "gateway" to anything; most people have at least heard of it, if not played it, and introducing people to it won't result in their becoming interested in hobby gaming. From your list, for example, Race for the Galaxy is also not considered a gateway game because the iconography is notoriously tough for people who don't have a frame of reference to grasp (e.g., the difference between military and non-military worlds being an easy to overlook red border), so it's not a good "introduction" to hobby games for most people. –  VolcanoLotus May 23 '12 at 17:30

The term Gateway game comes from Gateway drug.

A gateway game is like a gateway drug. It's what you give to somebody in hopes of them enjoying it and trying harder more intense variations.

For instance, I want to get my non nerdy friends to play Pandemic with me (a cooperative game) but it looks too fiddly for them and the theme has too much science for my friends' tastes.

So I bust out Forbidden Island which is easier to win and has very similar mechanics and rules. They enjoy it so I can suggest Pandemic next time and they will be much more likely to play it.

Race for the Galaxy and Twilight Imperium have a similar relationship.

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The second part might be. Better fit as an answer to this related question. –  The Chaz 2.0 Jun 15 '12 at 0:30
    
While it is true that Gateway Game comes from the term gateway drug, it gives the impression that there is such a thing as a gateway drug (I should post that to Skeptics.SE) –  user1873 Jun 15 '12 at 14:58

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