Today I’d like to discuss gateway games. But what are they? The most simplistic definition I’ve seen is that gateway games are games that draw in non-gamers. That’s a very specific definition, though, and gateway games can do a lot more than that.
At their most basic, gateway games can attract people that are new to hobby gaming, but they can also allow you to switch genres or types of games as well. If you’re used to deck builders then a wargame could be a gateway game for you. If you like tile-laying games then something that adds to that could be a gateway for you into other mechanics and styles.
I like to think of gateway games as experiences that bring you along for the ride while showcasing the strengths of hobby gaming. This can be accomplished by anything from a game that focuses and excels at one specific mechanic or type to one that features several mechanics all blending together into a well-oiled machine. If it entices the player to play again or to find similar games, then it’s succeeded at being a gateway.
The Monopoly Assumption
Person: So what do you do in your spare time?
You: I play board/tabletop games.
Person: Oh, I love Monopoly!
I’m sure most everyone in the hobby game industry has had this conversation in some form at least once, if not dozens of times. To the unenlightened, any mention of board or tabletop games conjures up nothing more than images of mass-produced cardboard and plastic packaged in brightly-colored boxes that sell for $20 or less and possibly cause arguments in families that don’t take kindly to competition.
In reality, tabletop games are so much more than Monopoly, Sorry, Yahtzee, or Clue. But at the same time, these games are a form of gateway game to the hobby at large. Clue is a great introduction to social deduction games. Yahtzee gets you rarin’ to go for anything that has dice rolls. Sorry and Monopoly both have elements of direct competition with your opponents, the ability to foil their plans while advancing yours as well as interactions like running out of buildings if enough are built (in Monopoly).
So while it’s fun to sigh and roll your eyes when people reply with games like Monopoly to your discussion of board games, instead take it as a sign that they may be interested in more. Introduce them to one of the games I’ll talk about further down. See what other kinds of things they are interested in. You might just find yourself with an eager new participant in your board game days.
Importance of Gateway Games
So now that we’ve looked at what gateway games are (both general and specific) and also touched on how some overlooked games are gateways in disguise, it’s time to talk about why this matters. Why should we care about gateway games as a classification of an industry already filled with genres, combinations, and, sometimes, confusion?
I’ve touched on some of this already, but the main importance of gateway games is the ability to teach people by feeding them small doses. If you take someone brand new to gaming and drop them into a heavy euro, they’re not very likely to have fun and it may turn them off to board games completely. Whereas, if you start with an easy to pick up game that introduces a few mechanics/themes but has a deeper complexity that you grasp and get better at over time, it just might whet their appetite and keep them coming back for more.
Another great thing about gateways is the ability to find ones of pretty much any topic/genre/mechanics you can think of. Have a new player that has learned Catan and wants more? There’s plenty of games you can pick up from there that will either lead you further in the mechanics Catan uses, or even break off into new mechanics as well. You never know when the resource management player at your table is secretly or unknowingly a wargame master. Play more games to find out!
Whether you are a veteran of the table top or a newbie playing your first game, gateway games can be a great tool for you. I’ve been playing games for years and I’m still finding games that act as gateways for me into mechanics or themes I hadn’t tried before. I was completely tired of zombies until Dead of Winter showed how to make a great zombie game. Star Realms not only acted as a gateway into deck builders for me, it helped me get my sister into tabletop gaming and now we play games together all the time.
Whatever your opinion of the definition of what makes a gateway game, their importance can’t be overstated. I love when established companies come out with a gateway-type game, and when new companies start out with them it makes me excited for their future projects as well. Introducing new players to the worlds and stories of tabletop games and watching their eyes light up as the pieces click into place and they see how the strategy fits together is one of the greatest experiences you can have in gaming.
Scott – The Solitary Meeple