By definition a ‘gateway’ is a means of access or entry to a place. The term ‘gateway’ has also been adopted when referring to particular addictive substances. The science behind addiction is a simple one. I’m by no means a scholarly individual, but I’m going to try my best to help this make the most sense possible.
The word addiction is derived from latin meaning ‘enslaved to’ or ‘bound to.’ So, what causes one to be ‘enslaved to’ an inanimate object? In order to understand that we need to head to the other side of campus for our anatomy lesson. The brain is a remarkable piece of hardware. Deep inside our brain is a section where a chemical substance called dopamine is created. Dopamine, when released, results in one’s immediate pleasure. Through repeated releases of dopamine, and increased intensities the brain learns to recognize the source activity or substance and marks it as highly desirable. It turns out board gaming can most definitely fit this description.
I remember hearing the term “gateway game” fairly early in my gaming exploits. What I didn’t understand was how accurate and integral that term is to the hobby as a whole. For new comers to the world of board gaming it all can seem quite daunting. New strange new concepts and awkward social interactions seem to lurk just around every corner, just waiting to drive you away. You can’t blame others for being tentative. I was. What the individual needs is a transition point that is both new and exciting while remaining comfortable and familiar. That’s where a good gateway game steps in. What it does is grab you by the hand and gently pull you a little deeper, coaxing you saying, “Stay a while longer. Kick off your shoes. There’s plenty more where that came from.”
For example, Sushi Go is a lovely and highly approachable card drafting game. But after playing a number of times, I can promise you that the rush of dopamine present while playing will begin to dissipate. You’re going to need something ‘harder’. So you do a little research and discover 7 Wonders. And when that no longer does it for you, that’s ok, cause there will always be something else out there for you to try next.
Below is a list of some of my favorite gateway games and a brief description. Whether you are new to the hobby or looking for something to help ease your friends and family into board gaming, I think these are definitely worth a closer look.
What happens when you cross bingo with a race for exotic treasure? You get get a game that’s simple enough for your grandma to play, but exciting enough for any gamer to enjoy.
In Karuba 2-4 players start with explorers and temple in identical spots on their player boards. One player reveals tiles from a stack, calling out the number of each tile. Other players find the matching tile and all players may place it onto their board trying create paths for each explorer to get to their corresponding temple. Players also have to option to discard the tile to move either 2,3, or 4 spaces, depending on the tile. Players will receive points for collecting diamonds and gold with their explorers, as well as for getting their explorers to their corresponding temples, with more points going to the explorers that arrive quicker than the others.
The game plays in around 30 minutes. And while everyone is faced with the same puzzle, it is exciting to see players decisions branch out into very different outcomes. Simple rules and meaningful decisions make this a game that I feel comfortable teaching to anyone.
Sheriff of Nottingham
There are few things as rewarding as catching you buddy lying to your face with a bag full of crossbows. Sheriff of Nottingham allows players to do just that. Players take turns as either humble merchants or the big bad sheriff, with merchants loading bags with goods and the sheriff responsible for controlling the inspection of contraband. Player have the opportunity to ly to the sheriff but if cost are forced to pay a price, but if given any trouble after an honest declaration the sheriff will be forced to compensate them for the inconvenience. The game really shines when players start offering bribes and playing mind games with each other.
I love social deduction games but it is no fun to always be stuck being a plain old villager, other times I’m just not in the mood to be the bad guy with no other option but to lie. Sheriff of Nottingham allows players to all fill the role of both the bad guy and the good guy. And for the first time being honest might just be a winning strategy.
King of Tokyo
Dice. Everyone loves dice. Monsters. Everyone loves monsters. King of Tokyo is the perfect paring of the two. Players assume the role of gigantic monster trying to gain the most fame as they vie to destroy the city of Tokyo. This is done each turn with players rolling dice to acquire the necessary symbols to gain fame, attack other players, recover health, and gain energy to acquire unique abilities. Only one player can occupy Tokyo at a time though, and while in the city they will be vulnerable to attacks of all the other players. But the reward for maintaining control of the city is extra fame and your attacks are directed at all other players.
It’s always fun to push your luck, the opportunity to beat up on your friends is just a bonus in the game. The Yahtzee mechanic of rolling and rerolling dice with be familiar to older gamers and simplistic enough for newer ones. The large engraved dice included in the game definitely make the experience extra enjoyable.
What if the world was beset with a serious of deadly pathogens, each with a distinct cure needing to be discovered? Would you be ready to answer to call for help? Pandemic allows you and your friends to work together to save the world. Each player will receive an important role such as Researcher, Quarantine Specialist, or Dispatcher, each with a unique ability. Using these abilities players will need to traverse the map fighting back the infectious diseases, all the while collecting the sets of cards needed to discover the cures.
There are few gaming experiences as unique and memorable as those spent working together towards a common goal. I love the camaraderie players will feel as they carefully coordinate their actions and then watch as things perfectly work out in their favor. If you are like me and play games for the social experience, Pandemic will not disappoint. It also doesn’t hurt that there are multiple expansion to freshen the game and and new and exciting challenges.
Gateway games serve an important function in the hobby. And although I at times feel I have completely out grown them, I look back on them with fond memories and a grateful heart. I can only do my best to get them into the hands of others in an effort that they can continue to pull even more unsuspecting bystanders into the exciting and ever-growing world of board games.