So, you’ve played Monopoly, Cluedo, Connect four, and all the other games that we get introduced to whilst young, and now you feel it’s time to expand fully into the realm of tabletop games. Where do you start? Let’s see what I can come up with!
Gateway games, as they are commonly known, are those that offer a good introduction into the world of tabletop gaming. They are easy to learn and play, yet offer a greater depth than the types of game mentioned above. There are card games, board games, skirmish and miniatures games, dexterity games, war games, co-operative games, abstract games… the list goes on!
I’ve come up with a shortlist of some of the best, at least in my humble opinion. I’ve tried to include games that each offer a different experience, and hopefully, if you’re new to the hobby, you’ll find something here that appeals to you.
In making my list I have tried to choose games according to the following criteria:
- Not too complicated – There’s nothing worse than been thrown in at the deep end; having a rulebook the size of a small novel, and so complicated you need more than a degree in an ‘ology’ to figure out! So all the games should be relatively easy to learn and teach to others, as well as play.
- Affordable – You don’t want to be shelling out your hard earned cash on something you’re not yet sure about. You wouldn’t go and buy an expensive tennis racket if you had yet to try the sport now, would you? Obviously, some types of game are going to be more expensive than others, skirmish and war-games especially, as miniatures don’t come cheap. But let me put it in to perspective; if you pay £40 for a family game, it can bring you endless hours of family entertainment – all for the price of taking them to the cinema to watch one film!
- Enjoyable – You have to enjoy your first purchase right out of the box, you don’t want to have to work at it, or you could be put off. This is why it pays to do a little research before you buy, and the best way to get a feel for the game is to watch others play it through. There is plenty of play through videos on BoardGameGeek, and it’s a great place to start.
- Available – They have to be readily available to buy, right now. It’s no good me harping on about how good a game is, if you can’t get a copy of it!
- And of course, it has to be good! By that I mean it has to be tried and tested, have sound game mechanisms, and provide the players with an entertaining experience.
Ticket to ride is probably the most influential game of the last decade or so when it comes to introducing people to the hobby.
Game play is simple – join together cities using your little plastic train carriages, and complete the routes you have on your objective cards – and yet there is far more to it than meets the eye. You’ll be trying to thwart your opponent’s plans, and at the same time try to confuse them as to where your route is actually heading.
At its heart it is a simple set collecting game – collect the right coloured carriage cards to match the routes you wish to claim – the longer the route the more points you score, and connect the cities on your objective cards to score even more.
The more you play the more strategic and intense the games become, as you discover the games intricacies and how to make the best of them. There are also lots of different variants and expansion maps, so there’s something for everyone.
It takes less than 15 minutes to learn and about an hour to play, but it will keep making regular appearances at the table; this one’s not just for Christmas!
Ideal for: 2-5 players; Families; ages 8+; train lovers!
Main Mechanisms: Set collecting; Route building
How much?: (Ticket to ride Europe) RRP £37.99 expect to pay >£30
Since its launch in 2008, and especially since its 2nd Edition release in 2013, this game has almost single handedly been responsible for the surge in co-operative games – co-op games that don’t need someone to play the bad guy!
Designed by Matt Leacock, Pandemic sees the players taking on the game, teaming up to take on four diseases, which are spreading across the globe. Each player selects a character with their own unique skill; the medic can treat diseases more effectively, whilst the scientist can find a cure that little bit easier. They then set forth from their research station to save the world, but how do they do this?
The players have to move around the board treating diseases as they spread, and trying to anticipate where the next outbreak will occur. Small cubes, each disease a different colour, represent the diseases, and they spread by the turn of a card. That’s the clever bit – you turn over the top card of the infection deck and place a cube in that location, simple. Simple that is until an epidemic card is revealed whilst drawing city cards for your hand. Epidemic cards cause the player to draw the bottom card of the infection deck and place 3 cubes of its colour there (if you have to put one more on that city then an outbreak happens instead, and the disease spreads). Then, the infection discard pile is shuffled, including the card you just drew, and placed back on top. So, as you start drawing them again, you know there’s a good chance that they could already be infected!
To cure a disease you need to collect city cards in your hand – 4 for the scientist, 5 for everyone else – all of the same colour. Get to a research station and discard them to cure the disease. Cure all four to win the game.
Its a game that promotes discussion and teamwork as you plan out your moves, and gets pretty intense as things start to go wrong – outbreaks happening here there and everywhere! The rules are very well presented, enabling you to be up and playing in just a few minutes. It’s also highly addictive; you won’t want to put it away until you’ve beaten it, and then you just increase the difficulty.
Ideal for: 2-4 players – best with 4, though you can also play it solo; Families; ages 10+; playing together; world savers!
Main Mechanisms: Co-operative play; Set collecting; Hand management.
How much? RRP £36.99 expect to pay >£28
Ever wondered what it would be like to be Luke Skywalker, flying around in an X-Wing, Tie fighters swooping down on you whilst you home in on the Deathstar? Well, why not play it out on the tabletop!
Star Wars X-wing is a miniatures game involving ship-to-ship tactical warfare. Firstly, the miniatures are every boy’s (and maybe the odd girl’s) dreams come true. They are highly detailed and come pre-painted. The starter set comes with an X-wing, two Tie fighters, and everything else you need to engage in battle.
When it first hit the scene X-wing used a unique dial system and movement templates, something that has now cropped up in one form or another across a few more of Fantasy Flight Games’. Each player dials in the movement for each of their ships; the dials are then simultaneously revealed, and players move and attack with their ships depending upon the pilot’s skill.
This is a great system, and one where you have to try and second guess your opponent, or else bluff them into making a mistake. Game play mirrors the epic battles that were centre screen of the films, fast and furious, especially as you add more ships to your fleet.
It is simple to play, hard to master, and devilishly rewarding. Putting fleets together and working out ship points can be an equally fun part of the game. There is a small selection of cards that come with the starter set, which can be used to upgrade the ships – secondary weapons, bombs, droids, etc. – and working out what fits your style of play can engross you for hours!
The starter set is an ideal way to see if this is for you, and if it isn’t – pop the miniatures on a shelf, they’re that good!
The second Edition is just about hitting the shelves, and it incorporates some changes over the original, but conversion kits will be available… for a price!
Warning! – This can become an expensive addiction!
Ideal for: 2 players; ages 10+; Tournament play; Miniature figure lovers; Spacemen; Star wars fans (don’t worry you Trekkies, Star Trek Attack wing is also available!).
Main Mechanisms: Squad building; Action/movement programming.
How much? (1st/2nd Edition Starter Set) RRP £36.99 expect to pay >£28
There can be only one King of Tokyo; make sure it’s you!
Take that games are all about beating up your friends, and that’s never more true than here. Each player takes the role of a monster, robot, alien, thing… and attempts to destroy Tokyo, or be the last man standing.
Each monster has a counter for hit points and victory points, and of course, a large standee representing the character itself. On your go you simply roll the 6 dice, keeping any that you wish before rolling them again. You get three rolls, deciding to keep what matters to you most – victory points, energy, healing, or attack.
You need a total of 20 victory points to destroy Tokyo and win the game; Energy enables you to buy special ability cards from the market; healing, does just that; and attack enables you to either – move into Tokyo (if it’s vacant, nobody is in there at the start of the game), attack the person in Tokyo, or, if you’re already in Tokyo, attack everyone else. You start with ten hit points; lose ’em all, and your dead!
Game play is fast and furious as you push your luck rolling those dice. Banter makes the game come alive, and it is especially good when played at the maximum player count of 6. Simple to learn, 2 minutes is all it takes, and lots, and lots, of fun to play.
Ideal for: 2-6 players; ages 8+; beating your mates; beating your chest!
Main Mechanisms: Push your luck; Dice rolling.
How much? RRP £29.95 expect to pay >£25
I wanted to include a card game in my selection, and though there is a vast amount out there, the choice of which one to choose was a simple one – Dominion.
Dominion is the granddad of Deck Builders, the original, the first. It paved the way for a plethora of Deck Building games, all stemming from the building blocks set in place by this game.
What makes this stand out from all the others is its simplicity. A lot of Deck Building games around today (Dominion was originally released in 2008), have a greater complexity, both in their rules and their game play.
Basically, you are a monarch, trying to rule your kingdom, and ideally expanding to become the biggest and most dominant kingdom in the area – you want a Dominion.
Each player starts with a small, identical, deck of cards. In the centre of the play area are several decks, which can be chosen from the multitude available in the box. On their turn a player plays one action card from his hand, he then gets to purchase one card from the decks in the centre using whatever money he may wish to play from his hand. The action card though, may enable you to do several other things – play another action card, buy more than one card, provide more funds, or even attack other players.
Once you can no longer play a card, all those remaining in your hand go in your discard pile, then you draw another hand of cards. When your draw deck is empty you shuffle your discard pile and use that.
As I said, it really is a simple game to play. But it leads to a very strategic game. You see, to win, you need to have collected, the otherwise useless, Victory Point cards (VP’s). Start collecting them too early and you clog your deck up, finding that you can do very little on your turn because you keep drawing the VP cards. Start collecting them too late and you’ll lose, simple as that.
The art of the game is getting your deck running smoothly, so that on your turn you play a card, which enables you to play more cards, which enable you too buy more, and so on. It’s a very satisfying feeling when it all goes right!
There’s loads of replayability, with the different decks to select for set-up, and can play very quickly once you get the hang of it. It’s entertaining, competitive, and actually quite skilful. Plus there are lots of expansions readily available.
Ideal for: 2-4 players; ages 12+; Family and friends; filling half an hour; Dominating your loved ones!
Main Mechanisms: Deck Building; Hand Management.
How much? (2nd Edition) RRP £34.99 expect to pay >£30
Okay, no list of gateway games would be complete without Catan, or Settlers of Catan, as it was originally known. This game that led to the explosion of the Euro game around the world, especially America, and is still a highly popular game even now.
Released in 1995, it went on to win a multitude of awards, including the big one – the Spiel des Jahres. If your thinking of hitting out into the Euro game world, then this is where you should start. Catan sees you building settlements, roads, and cities; collecting resources, wood, grain, sheep, brick, and stone, and trying to get 10 VP’s to win the game.
The game is set up by randomly placing the hexagonal tiles in a honeycomb pattern, and each tile is given a random number 2 to 12 (numbers do occur more than once). Each type of tile produces a different type of resource – woods produce… wood! – Players start with two settlements, which are placed on an intersection of the hexes, and then they attach a road to each settlement. 2 dice (D6’d and that’s important to remember) are rolled to determine which tiles produce resources, and any player adjacent to one of these hexes collects that tiles resource. As you gain resources you can trade them in to build more things – roads, settlements, or cities. There are various rules on how and where you can place these things on the board, but it’s all fairly simple stuff.
Getting back to the dice – obviously, rolling two D6 will produce certain results more often than others, and one of the skills of the game is in trying to claim those tiles that have the common numbers. However, there is no number 7 on the board. When a 7 is rolled the the player moves the robber’s pawn to a tile of his choice, preventing resources from being collected there. As you can only have seven cards in your hand at any time, you will have to try and trade resources with other players, or the bank – 4 of a kind to get 1 of what you want with the bank, a raw deal as they say!
VP’s are earned by: building things, from development cards, by gaining the largest army, or building the longest road. First to 10 VP’s wins the game.
The components are great, all those little wooden settlements and cities, and even by todays standards, it still has a presence on the tabletop. There’s a lot of player interaction as you try to do some dodgy bartering, and it does take a little bit of though when playing. A vast array of expansions have been release, possibly more than any other game, offering an increase in strategy, number of players, and, well, you name it! So this game could keep you going for a long, long, time.
An excellent game to gently ease you into the world of Euro games, with the only down side being you need a minimum of three players.
Ideal for: 3-4 players; ages 8+; spending a couple of hours trying to get wood for sheep!
Main Mechanisms: Trading; Hand Management; Route building.
How much? RRP £39.99 expect to pay >£34
I wanted to include a dungeon crawler type game, and wanted one that could be played co-operatively. There are many games of this genre that require one person to play the ‘bad’ guy, or essentially to run the game. Descent: Journeys in the dark (2nd Edition) being one of the best. But, some of these can get quite complex, and I think a shared experience gives a better introduction into gaming.
There are several in the D&D board game series, and they all play along the same lines; some have a few rule tweaks, but all offer the same experience. I have The Temple of Elemental Evil, which was released in 2015, and this is the game I will refer to.
Game play is kept simple right from the start. You each choose a character and starting skills; these are fairly limited so aren’t going to take any length of time to decide on. You have a nice miniature to represent your character, and these offer a good place to start if you’re considering having a go at painting. There is a good range of miniatures included with the game, and some are better than others – The Ettin paints up quite nicely as do the characters.
The characters are reasonably varied; each with strengths and weaknesses, and they all have something to offer during game play. You can cast spells, use ranged weapons, or simply go in hard waving your axe around!
There is only one die to roll, and you don’t have to keep consulting tables for results, as combat is kept nice and simple. There are traps to avoid, and are randomly decided upon, as are what monsters appear. The monsters themselves often have special behaviour patterns, so that keeps things interesting, and the campaign increases in difficulty as you progress.
The game is best played as a campaign, and each scenario describes your objectives and shows how to set up the tiles, which are placed in a random(ish) stack. As you go along you draw tiles, some of which spawn monsters to fight, and you draw cards that usually cause something bad to happen. The results of these cards can be offset by experience you gain through defeating monsters. You hack and slash your way through the dungeon (some adventures do take part outside), gaining treasure as you go.
Once you twig on how to overcome the one stumbling block – being overcome by monsters – then the game plays at pace, with a good deal of excitement. Throw in a dash of character role-playing, and you have yourself a dungeon crawler that offers a thrilling, and often dramatic game. It’s simple, and is often looked down on because of this, but its great for the newbie, as well as those just wanting to enjoy an hour of hack and slashing!
It also plays well solitaire; you just run as many characters as you feel necessary, the fewer you play, the harder the game.
Ideal for: 1-5 players; ages 10+; Campaign play; Crawling around dungeons; Monster hacking; Fantasy fans.
Main Mechanisms: Co-operative play; Grid movement; Role-playing; Dice rolling.
How much? RRP £59.99 expect to pay >£50. This is a little more expensive than the other games as it contains over 40 miniatures!
A quick look at a few others worth considering.
Award winning card drafting game – Ancient city building with lots of player interaction.
Ideal for: 3-7 players; ages 10+; Simultaneous play; Wannabe Rulers!
Main Mechanisms: Card drafting; hand management; simultaneous play.
How much? RRP £37.99 expect to pay >£30
This has been on the scene for nearly 20 years now and has a lot of expansions. At the end of the day you have to ask yourself, ‘Where do I really want to put my meeple?’
Ideal for: 3-5 players; ages 8+; Less than hour; simple and fast fun; Knights and Robbers!
Main Mechanisms: Tile Laying; Area control.
How much? RRP £32.99 expect to pay >£26
At 15 minute a game, Sushi Go is rapid. It’s a cheap, take anywhere, extremely simple, card drafting game. Grab the best combination sushi to win the game.
Ideal for: 2-5 players; ages 6+; in the pub; people in a rush!
Main Mechanisms: Card drafting; set collecting.
How much? RRP £9.99
Says; Codenames; Agents; Who? Two teams try to figure it all out in this award winning ‘Guess the word’ game.
Ideal for: 2-8 players; ages 12+; playing with friends; James Bond!
Main Mechanisms: Memory; press your luck.
How much? RRP £16.99 expect to pay >£15
This game contains possibly the cutest meeple – a Panda! Cultivate your land, irrigate it, and grow some bamboo – but watch out for the hungry panda. A great introduction for children and adults alike.
Ideal for: 3-4 players; ages 8+; playing with the family; going, ‘aaah, isn’t that cute’!
Main Mechanisms: Tile laying; set collecting.
How much? RRP £29.99 expect to pay >£26
A simple game of risk and deduction – Draw a card, play a card, and try to get your letter through to the princess. It’s amazing what can be done with just 16 cards, and with its tight design and fast play, this is a great little game.
Ideal for: 3-4 players; ages 10+; carrying it around with you; budding Romeos!
Main Mechanisms: Hand management; player elimination.
How much? RRP £7.99
Something a little different – this one is played in real time! Players simultaneously roll dice, trying to roll the correct symbols to advance, and players have to work together as it’s all out or all OUT! The game comes with its own soundtrack that indicates when the players must head to the safe room. Play is fast and frantic, and is huge laugh.
Ideal for: 1-5 players; ages 8+; Simultaneous play; Indiana Jones!
Main Mechanisms: Co-operative play; dice rolling; simultaneous play.
How much? RRP £34.99 expect to pay >£28
You play the role of a merchant aiming to get one over The Sheriff – sneaking illegal goods past him, or getting him to wrongly accuse you of smuggling. And the best bit – you all get to play The Sheriff!
Ideal for: 3-5 players; ages 8+; family play; compulsive liars!
Main Mechanisms: Card drafting; hand management; bluffing.
How much? RRP £32.99 expect to pay >£30
2010 Speil Des Jahres winner, Dixit, is a nice storytelling game, ideal to play with the family. The players take it in turns to play the storyteller, who, by looking at the cards in their hand, selects one and makes up a sentence about it. The other players select a card from their hand that best matches the sentence – they all get shuffled together and players vote, trying to decide on the original card.
Ideal for: 3-6 players; ages 8+; family play; Bards!
Main Mechanisms: Story telling; voting.
How much? RRP £29.99 expect to pay >£25
No list is complete without a racing game, and this is one of the best. Despite being easy to learn and play, it holds a hidden depth of strategy, which will keep you coming back to it for more. Play your cards, move your cyclists, slipstream those in front, it doesn’t get any easier than that!
Ideal for: 2-4 players; ages 8+; playing with friends and family; making up your own course; Indoor fitness!
Main Mechanisms: Hand management.
How much? RRP £35.99 expect to pay >£30
Remember when you were an eight year old, trying to untangle the path that lead from the rabbit to the carrot, the one that looked like a jumble of sting? Well, Tsuro is the grown up version of that! Try to send your opponents crashing off the board, or better still, into each other, before they get you.
Ideal for: 2-8 players; ages 6+; Fast play; spaghetti lovers!
Main Mechanisms: Tile laying; player elimination.
How much? RRP £29.99 expect to pay >£23
Well, hopefully I’ve managed to include something for everyone. There are a lot more really good gateway games out there, and any game-store worth their salt will give you advice, and hopefully allow you to try some before you buy.
A gateway game isn’t just for the newbie; gamers everywhere play them, as they are nearly all great family games in their own right. They can be especially good at the start of a gaming session, to warm everyone up and get them going. Equally, many make good filler games, those that get played between the hefty longer games, making a nice break to the pace.
Get the first games you buy right, and you’ve got a hobby for life; one that you can share with those close to you. Games are great for bringing people together, something that the digital age is often remarked to have killed.
So, on a final note, let’s take a quick look at the big Bugbear of the eighties. Something that was considered unhealthy to get into, but has now grown into a maturity that attracts an ever-increasing following, from the lad next door, to some major celebrities…
For those wishing to start their venture into the realm of Role-playing games, what can I suggest?
This isn’t the easiest of genres to get started in, especially without knowing someone who already plays. Thinking about trying it with friends and family, who have no previous experience, can be a daunting, and possibly overwhelming – not to mention expensive!
You see, to play an RPG usually requires the purchasing of at least two books – a Player’s Handbook, and a Dungeon Master’s (Games Master’s) Guide. If you intend to play within your family then this could easily set you back £60+, depending upon which system you choose. Playing with friends is cheaper, as they each buy the book they require.
Then you’ll need someone to take on the responsibility of becoming the Games Master (GM), and they will have a spot of reading to do – ideally they need to read both the GM’s guide, and the player’s handbook. GM’ing is a task of grand proportions for a beginner, though it can be done; it takes a special kind of person to GM effectively, and is usually taken on by someone who has previous experience playing a character. It is possible to do it with no experience, it just takes a lot of time and patience, on both the GM’s, and the players side; I know, I got pushed into the role of GM after only playing twice!
Reading the books for the first time usually has one of two effects: Either it draws you in with excitement, and you become engrossed in trying to learn and remember every little rule; or you become quickly disillusioned by it all, as you cast your eye over endless tables and rules for things like spell components, or travelling speeds (I was one of the former!). You see, you don’t need to know all the rules, a good GM can practically wing an entire session knowing just the basics, but this in-itself, is an art form!
But how do you get to this stage, of knowing what is actually required and what isn’t?
Joining a club is the best way to dip your toe in, but it can be difficult finding one that is ready and willing to take on a newbie; they’re often in the middle of a campaign, and though many will let an experienced player into the midst of their adventures, a newbie coming in, and probably having to create and play a higher level character, often makes them nervous. That makes them sound a bit ‘up themselves’, but they’re certainly not, they just don’t want to risk changing the dynamic of the group, or having the way they play disrupted.
Most clubs will simply let you know when they have a group ready to start up from scratch, but till then it’s often worth tagging along to watch others play; it can be a highly entertaining time – take a look at the many Dungeons and Dragons streams available over the net and you’ll get some idea of what it’s all about.
You’ll also have to consider what game you want to play, and there really is something for everyone. Obviously, the most popular theme is Fantasy, with the big one being D&D, but horror, with Call of Cthulhu, is also quite common. There are also RPG’s that include space, Victorian Steam Punk, Teens, Robots and Cyborgs; you name it, you’ll probably find it!
The systems also vary quite considerably – some are very skill heavy with lots of dice rolling; others concentrate on the role-playing aspects; the best ones though, can be tailored to meet the demands of the players.
Take D&D’s latest 5th Edition, arguably the best release to date; it seamlessly allows DM’s to tailor the campaigns to their players – role-playing heavy, combat heavy, lot’s of skill checking, or a greater free flowing feel; it is by far the biggest supported, and most popular, of all role playing games.
If you do decide to go down the RPG route, then you’ll find it can be one of the most rewarding forms of entertainment you can have with your friends. Playing a character that bears no resemblance to yourself isn’t easy (most beginners tend towards a character that reflects their own personality), but once you lose your inhibitions, and really get into character, it can be a big thrill.
Ideal for: 3+ (some systems possibly 2) players; all ages; budding actors; walking in someone else’s shoes; Dragon slayers!
Main Mechanisms: Role-playing; dice rolling; consulting tables!
How much? Expect a minimum of around £20, but can spiral up, and up!