The 5 Best Games to Introduce to Non-Gamers

Gateway Games: The 5 Best Games To Introduce To Non-Gamers

If you’re looking for the best games to introduce to your non-gamer friends, or are new to gaming and need to decide which game should be the first in your collection, these gateway games feature five of the best picks!

5 Games That Can Turn a Non-Gamer into a Gamer

This post contains affiliate links. However: all games in this post are games that I have personally played and probably own. I will never recommend a game without having first hand game play experience. Read my full disclosure policy here.

Except for the few lucky ones who grew up in eurogaming families, anyone who is a gamer has a story of when they first learned of a game that forever changed their view of cardboard.

For me it was a church game night when I was in my teens. A young adult named Matt brought Ticket to Ride, and I was instantly drawn to this game I had never seen before. Up until that night I thought I enjoyed “games.” I liked Master Detective Clue on occasion, there was Pit if the family wanted a night of thrills and sometimes literal spills (ask my brother about falling out of his chair), and there was the occasional friendly battle that took place on a Risk board. But when Matt opened the box and laid Ticket to Ride in front of me for the first time… it was all over for me… I became a lover of eurogames.

Now that I am approaching nearly twenty years of being an official board game geek, I’m excited to see that the enthusiasm for strategic games is on the increase! In fact, that may be what brought you to this site in the first place.

Maybe you are a new gamer looking for your first couple of purchases or you’ve been playing for a while and are looking for advice on how to evangelize your family and friends. Well, I won’t hold back any further. Here are my top 5 games you should use to bring people to the Geek Side!

Wait… I will make you wait. One quick side-note before I launch into the top 5 list: Many times you will hear games referred to as “Gateway Games” like you see in the title of this post. The inference is that strategy games are like illicit drugs and that such games will lead you into a downward spiral of addiction, leaving you constantly seeking your next “hit” from newer, better, more powerful piece of cardboard. That reference… is accurate. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you). Ok… ON TO THE LIST!

1. Ticket To Ride – The King of all Gateway Games

Summary: Ticket to Ride gets a 10 out of 10 for ease of teaching / learning. Whether you are learning this on your own or teaching others, you’ll be up and playing before you can say Monopoly.

About the Game

One of the reasons that Ticket to Ride sits at the top of the gateway games list is because it is one of the absolute easiest games to teach. With simple choices each turn and no complicated rounds and phases to keep track of, this game is learned very quickly – but don’t let that deceive you into thinking that the game is light on strategy, player interaction, and excitement.

TTR creator, Alan R. Moon describes his creation perfectly:

“The tension comes from being forced to balance greed – adding more cards to your hand, and fear – losing a critical route to a competitor.”

This game takes very little set-up time so you can play a few of fake turns with everyone seeing all the hands and cards of other players which will allow you to show all the action choices. Then all you have to do is remove the trains you placed, deal out new cards and start your first real game!

Ticket to Ride is the quintessential Gateway Game! One of the first games to hit big box stores it remains a hit in the gaming community!
My Thoughts

Ticket To Ride was one of the first eurogames to break the barrier of the “Big Box Store.” Most great strategy games you have to find at a local game store or an online retailer… no more for this Days of Wonder game. You can buy this one at your local Target, Walmart, Toys R Us, and more.

Now, some may tell you that big box stores are a bad thing for games because it will hurt the business of your local game store. At this point in time, I doubt it’s true. Having TTR in Big box stores means that the game is getting into the hands of people that would have never imagined darkening the door of the local game emporium… and after a few rounds, they may just start looking for their next purchase.

But big box stores run out of good options, fast. This leaves the budding addict no choice but to look for a reliable dealer (See what I did there? Gateway Games… addict… dealer….) Who better to fill that role than their local game store… and the internet.

2. Kingdom Builder

Summary: I score Kingdom Builder with a solid 9 out of 10 for ease of teaching / learning. There is a little trickiness to the game objectives and special abilities, but once players understand the “adjacent” rule they will have the basic mechanics of this game mastered.

About the Game

The time it takes to play this game is very quick which makes it easy to play multiple rounds in one sitting allowing new players to quickly master the game-play and start experimenting with strategy.

One of Kingdom Builders best features, and what puts it into the category of gateway games, is that the during game setup, different victory objectives and special ability tiles are chosen. This gives each play different player strategies and varying victory point objectives, which is something that sets this game apart from a simple roll and move game.

While this is going to be one of the things that will intrigue a beginner, it also can be  tricky – so for the first couple plays you may want to keep your initial set up the same. The main thing that is likely to trip a lot of new players up is the adjacent rule – so play special attention in explaining that. Once everyone has that rule down the rest will be gravy!

Queen Games made a quick game with nearly endless possibilities when they designed Kindom Builder.
My Thoughts

Kingdom Builder gets far too little press in my opinion. I really can’t figure out why it hasn’t made a bigger splash in the marketplace. It has simple mechanics, but nearly endless combinations of special placement abilities and end-of-game goals. Queen Games made a quick eurogame (in strategy game standards) that is easy to learn, but stays fresh even after dozens of plays.

3. Carcassonne

Summary: I give this game an 9 out of 10 in ease of teaching / learning. Players turns are straightforward enough but some scoring situations, particularly farms can be a little tricky to understand the first couple of times you play and they can play a huge role in the outcome.

Carcassonne is a tile placement game with simple components and pretty simple rules... but endless map building variations.

About the Game

When it comes to mechanics, simple turn decisions make this a game you can almost teach as you play. Pick a tile, place a tile, and if you want to… place a meeple on the tile you just placed. Just learn how to score and boom – you’ve just learned how to have hours and hours of fun.

I really suggest playing learning the base game before adding any of the expansions. I know if you just purchased the Carcassonne Big Box that your going to want to rip into everything all at once. Be patient and add each expansion one at a time once everyone is familiar with the base game! Remember, as you add the expansions you have hours and hours of new challenges ahead!

My Thoughts

Carcassonne is the tile placement game that all other tile placement games are compared to. As you progress through your years of gaming I guarantee that you will at least once find yourself saying: “It’s like Carcassonne but… different” and that’s a good thing, because that shows you just how great this entry on my gateway games list is.

4. Pandemic

Summary: A solid 8 out of 10 for ease of teaching/learning. This game has a few rules that the person who has only played “roll and move” games will find a little tricky but the beauty of it is that you are all on the same team which makes it a lot easier to train your new medical team.

About the Game

This game is the perfect game to teach while playing. Give players a quick overview of the goal and actions they can preform on a turn and then start playing. You can then explain various elements of the game as they occur (like epidemics and outbreaks.)

Don’t focus too hard on winning that first game! Feel free to explain options players have but allow them to make their own decisions and to make mistakes. If you bulldoze over them with your strategies because you’ve played the game a few times, they won’t feel like they are actually playing and will probably have a worse experience winning they game than they would losing the game while maintaining a sense of ownership of their moves.

(Quick note: A legacy version of Pandemic came out in 2015. While I have not yet had the privilege to play the Legacy version yet I highly recommend that you get used to the mechanics of the game in the NON-legacy version first.)

Introduce your non-gamer friends to collaborative gaming with this classic from z-man: Pandemic.
My Thoughts

I love Pandemic. When I first learned that collaborative games were a thing… my jaw may have dropped a little. I was a little skeptical that you could have fun playing against a piece of cardboard but when we lost our first game, it became very clear… we had to play again. And again. If Ticket to Ride is the King of all gateway games, Pandemic is the President of collaborative gateway games.

5. Bang

Summary: Bang scores a 7 out of 10 for ease of teaching/learning. The secret roles of players and the distance rules are the things that are the most important to understanding how to play this game.

About the Game

The game needs a quick overview of roles and card action explanation. This shouldn’t take too awefully long if you are well versed in the rules. Once everyone knows how player distance works, their role, how their role wins, and the basic card functions you are all set to go! All other questions can be figured out during game play.

Bang is a little more complex when it comes to gateway games, but if you have a strong handle on the rules, it won't take you too long to teach and it's barrels of fun!

I highly suggest (as usual) that you learn the base game before adding an expansion pack to this game. Expansions add new rules which are easy to understand once you know the basic mechanics but harder to understand if you are learning the base game as well.

It may also be smart for your first game to start each player off with a role card but WITHOUT the Character cards. This removes special abilities that are assigned to individual players. Then give each player the same number of life points (either 3 or 4). This puts all players on a more level playing field for their first game. Oh… and if you are a deputy… Don’t shoot the Sheriff.
My Thoughts

I debated whether or not to include Bang on my list of gateway gamest. This game is a little more complex with each player having special abilities, potential different life points, distance from other players depending on where you are sitting, not to mention that players have different game objectives depending on their role.

But then I remembered that I learned this game as a teenager… in one play. (I was the Sheriff and killed by my own deputy… who was also teaching the game, but that’s a story for another time.) For all it’s complexities, Bang really is quite simple at it’s core… and loads of fun!

Bonus Tips

If you are a gamer and you have just purchased a new game, I highly recommend:

  • You either learn it with other gamers,
  • Or (if you are like me) set it up for a few players and play all players yourself before you try to teach it to strategy game newbies.

Even though these gateway games were chosen in part for their simplicity, they do not have one-page rule books. Watching someone wade through a the rules for an hour while they try to explain a game they have never played can be a HUGE turn off for potential players.

The last thing you want to do is ruin a shot at bringing someone to the geek side because you don’t have a good working knowledge of the game.

You can also do a quick Youtube search for the game. There are several geeks out there who explain the rules of games to you! Rodney Smith is my go-to video guy. If I want to get a solid overview of how a game works. You can see him over at Watch-It-Played.

If this is one of your first strategy games and you don’t have a gamer friend to invite over, unless you have a group of friends that really enjoys learning new things together, it’s a good idea to at least read through the rule book a couple of times before having a game night. Having one person at the table who understands the rules will up the fun factor of any game night (at least in the mind of this “rules police” gamer).

And there is one thing that is most important: Games are supposed to be fun… let’s keep them that way!

What Gateway Games Got You Hooked?

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. That aside, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

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10 thoughts on “Gateway Games: The 5 Best Games To Introduce To Non-Gamers

  1. Good article, Joe. I would suggest Forbidden Desert as a cheaper alternative to Pandemic and Bang! The Dice Game as a lighter (as well as being more fun and cheaper) alternative to Bang!

    • Thanks for your comment, Johan! I haven’t played Forbidden Dessert yet so I’ll have to be sure to check it out. I’ve seen Bang! the Dice Game… but dice and I have a bit of a, shall we say, hate/hate relationship 🙂

  2. To intro Carcassone to friends or family, I leave out the farmer for the first playthrough. Then when the whole map is out that role is a lot easier to explain and therefore use in the next game.

  3. I’d also recommend Splendor, as well as Forbidden Island, Coloretto, Jaipur, Catan and Machi Koro. I would also recommend 7 Wonders, though maybe Between Two Cities may be a better gateway game towards the former.

    I can’t for the life of me wrap my brain around Carcassone. Sure, the tile laying rules are simple to follow, but the placement+orientation of it and placing any meeples in trying to benefiting yourself while avoiding inadvertently aiding your opponents while hindering yourself unable to get any meeples back. All while looking at your opponents’ progress which ends up with me having no effective strategy to work with.
    I find Cacao and Lanterns more simplified and playable tile-placing games.

  4. That wouldn’t happen to be me in the intro would it? And now I’m checking out your post to see what you’ve listed…the student has become the master.

    Great list by the way. I’ve used all of these to rope people into playing, except Kingdom Builder, but that’s because I don’t own it. A couple other ones that have been successful for me are: Bohnanza and Dragon Delta (which has been reprinted as River Dragons).

    Keep up the great work!

    • Oh of course!

      Not sure I’m much of a master of playing, (my win loss record isn’t that stellar on any particular game) but it is a lot of fun to see some people that I’ve introduced to the hobby buying games and introducing gaming to others…. You know that feeling. 🙂

      Bohnanza is a good one. I actually pull that one out when we have people over that want to play a game but not “one of Joseph’s big strategy games.”

      Now I’m going to go take a look at River Dragons.

  5. Great list! I think you really nailed the best examples of games that shine for newbie-friendly, stand up to repeated plays, and have stood the test of time.

    I’m a +1 for “Bang! dice” being better than “Bang!”, especially for new players. Bang! can be a blast, but I’ve also had flops, like player eliminated before their first turn and then game totally stalls with no one shooting (afraid to become a target, lacking cards, lacking range). Bang! dice keeps it moving; less analysis-paralysis, you must shoot someone when the pips come up, and game durations are more consistent and shorter on average.

    In the same vein as Bang!; Cash n’ Guns and King of Tokyo have also been very popular with my casual-gamer friends. And Dominion has been a hit if they grock the deck-building concept.

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