The Top Gateway Board Games of the Last Three Years – Ask The Bellhop

When people mention gateway games everyone thinks of Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and maybe Ticket To Ride. The thing is, these games are all over 15 years old! Surely there must be some gateway games that are more modern, games that have come out recently that make for great introductions to the world of hobby board games.

This post is inspired by a question by MrUncleAwesome, who contacted me on Twitch, to write:

What is your favorite newish game to play with people just getting into the hobby, after games like catan, and ticket to ride?

Whenever people talk about gateway board games, the same old classics keep coming up.

Back in May, I wrote up an article talking about some great next step games from Catan. That’s where I sent MrUncleAwesome to in response to his question. At the time I didn’t think it really deserved a separate article, but I continued to think about it. One part of their question stuck with me. The term “newish.” I kept thinking about how most of the gateway games everyone talks about are actually quite old. Catan has been around since 1995. That’s almost a quarter of a century ago! Survive: Escape from Atlantis is even older, coming out in 1982. Carcassonne is from 2000 and Ticket To Ride is one of the newest games usually mentioned and it came out in 2004.

I know there are great modern games out there that are just as good, if not better, than the classics for introducing new gamers to our wonderful hobby. Now that’s not to knock the classics, many of those older games are still excellent games that I still own and still enjoy playing. but I thought it might be time to consider a new, more modern set of gateway games.

Here are some great more modern gateway games.

What follows is going to be a list of games that have come out in the last three years that I think are excellent gateway games, a.k.a. great games for introducing people to the world of hobby board games.

Azul (2017) – Anyone who’s been following my content for even a short amount of time should have expected this one to be at the top of the list. Azul is a fantastic, easy to teach, tile-laying game that has a lot more going on than pretty pieces and bright colours. I’ve found very few people who don’t enjoy Azul, that includes gamers and non-gamers alike. I find the abstract nature of the game makes it more approachable to non-gamers who are often scared off by highly thematic and seemingly complex games.

Sagrada (2017) – This is another abstract drafting game that I would say is just a small step up from Azul in complexity and difficulty to learn. Sagrada has players drafting dice and using them to build a stained glass window. Dice need to be placed so that no dice of the same colour or number are next to each other. In addition, players are trying to match a specific pattern which is unique to each player and determined at the start of the game. The one thing Sagrada has over Azul to me is replayability. There are more random elements in Sagrada including selecting starting patterns, which tools are in play and which scoring cards come up. A strategy that works in one game may not work at all in the next.

Go Cuckoo (2016) – I can honestly say I’ve yet to find a person who did not enjoy this great dexterity game from Haba. I’ve played it with kids. I’ve played it with adults. I’ve played it with gamers, and I’ve played it with people who “don’t like board games.” As I wrote in my review, Go Cuckoo has proven to have pretty much universal appeal. Another aspect that I like about Go Cuckoo is that it’s great for showing people that Board Games aren’t all about dice, cubes and cards. It’s a great example to show off the genre of Dexterity games to players who may not even know they exist.

Gizmos (2018) – This is a fantastic game to introduce a new gamer to the concept of engine building. The entire point of Gizmos is to build up a point scoring engine, one gizmo card at a time. It also shows off tableau building, a popular mechanic in much more complicated games. Not only that but everyone I have taught this game really latches on to the science fair theme. All of that says nothing about the table presence of Gizmos. The marble filled Energy Dispenser always catches people’s eyes and every time I have the game out, someone comes over to ask what we are playing.

Kingdomino (2016) – Pretty much everyone gets the concept behind dominos, two part tiles that when you play them you have to match one side to one of the tiles already in play. Kingdomino takes this basic concept and adds in drafting and area scoring. Players take turns drafting landscape tiles and putting them into their kingdom. At the end of the game, after the last tile is drafted, players score their kingdom. Points are awarded for having like terrain types grouped together. Kingdomino is dead simple to teach and plays in under 15 minutes.

The Mind (2018) – This is simply a deck of cards numbered 1 to 100. Each player gets a hand of cards. Players can play cards at any time. The goal is to play all of the cards in everyone’s hand in order. Sounds really simple right? Well, there’s a trick: you cannot communicate with one another in any way as to which cards you hold. Okay sure, there are a few more rules than that, like rules for throwing stars but that’s the basic concept behind The Mind. People don’t understand how fun The Mind is until they try it. Toss out the debate over whether it’s a game or an activity and just have fun playing The Mind.

Robo Rally (2016) – While I usually recommend the earlier editions of Robo Rally, the newest, 2016 edition is the most accessible and easy to teach. In this version of the classic programming game, every player has their own deck of cards. Upgrades are bought from a central market with power points similar to King of Tokyo. Damage counters and tracking is replaced by adding bug cards to a players deck and timing is now all about board position. I’m a huge fan of this series of games and I think this edition is a great introduction to programmed movement games.

Lotus (2016) – Every player gets their own deck of cards, each of which represents a flower petal from one of five flowers. Each turn players play one or two petals from their hand trying to complete full flowers. Each flower type requires a different set of petals, starting at three petals for an Iris up to seven petals for a Lotus. In addition, players play “guardians” onto the developing flowers, scoring points when flowers are completed in an area majority based scoring system. Lotus is also one of the most beautiful games in my collection.

Chocolatiers (2019) – This card drafting, tile-laying, game just came out at Origins, where I was given a copy for review purposes. So far Chocolatiers has proven to be an excellent, easy to teach, filler game with a deceptive level of depth. It’s from the designer of Valeria Card Kingdoms and despite being a very different game, in both style and gameplay, it’s just as excellent. Players are chocolatiers using chocolate cards and reserving boxes of chocolates trying to produce the best chocolate sampler they can.

Copenhagen (2019) – This was another game released at Origins 2019 and while I didn’t bother picking it up myself as I found it too light for my personal tastes I did think it would be an awesome gateway game. In Copenhagen, players are drafting cards which they are going to use to collect polyominoes. Those polyominoes are used to build apartment buildings Tetris style. Points are awarded for completing rows and columns, with bonus points awarded if that row or column is full of windows. There are some bonus tiles and actions that can be gained as well. I’ve seen this game go over really well with a wide mix of players. Well enough that I somewhat regret not pickup up a copy just to bring out to local public game nights.

Planet (2018) – Despite coming out in 2018, I still haven’t personally been able to get my hands on a copy of Planet. The fact that it keeps selling out is a good indicator of how good this game is. In Planet each player is building their own planet. This is represented by a large magnetic twelve sided die (D12). Each turn players are going to draft tiles with various terrain features on them. Mountains, ice, forest, desert and/or water terrain can be found on each tile which has room for up to five types of terrain. Players are doing this to attract various animal species to their planet and players score points for each species they attract. Points are also scored for each terrain type, with each player trying to collect a different type than their opponents. This is another game that seems very simple at first but once you start playing, hidden depth is revealed. Planet is way more of a thinker than it seems at first.

Kodama The Tree Spirits (2016) – In Kodama players are building a tree. This tree will be a home for the tree spirits, the Kodama. The goal is to build a tree that is the most healthy, lush and appealing to the tree spirits. Players do this by drafting cards that represent branches of the tree. Each card is going to have three features on it, these could be the same or different. They include things like stars, clouds, worms, mushrooms and flowers. At the start of the game, players are given a random set of Kodama cards, these tell the players what their personal tree spirits want to see and determine how the player’s tree will score. One player may be trying to grow a tree with lots of branches having a ton of mushrooms while another may be trying to build a tree with as many flowers as close to the trunk as possible. Kodama is another game that just looks gorgeous on the table and I’ve found the theme to be very appealing to non-gamers, especially gamers who dig Miyazaki movies.

So there you have what I consider to be twelve of the best gateway games to have come out in the last three years. Are there any games I missed? Is there something you consider a great modern gateway game that’s not on my list? Let me know in the comments!

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