Strategy Board Games - Gateway Games Are A Great Introduction to This Hobby

What Do These Gateway Games Look Like?

Sample Settlers of Catan board
Sample Settlers of Catan board
Sample Carcassonne game with "Meeples"
Sample Carcassonne game with "Meeples"
Ticket to Ride game board
Ticket to Ride game board

You may have heard of a new type of board game that is sweeping across the United States. These games are called "strategy board games". They also go by "family board games" or "modern board games." No matter what you call them, they are a very interesting new style of board game that is addictive and fun - and you can bet that you will be the first to introduce most of your friends to them.

Types of Adult Board Games

When you look at this genre of gaming, you need to understand that there are literally hundreds of games in this style of gaming. How is it possible you missed this? Don't feel bad about it. I was 37 when I learned about them. Also, you cannot just go to your local WalMart, Target, or Toy's R Us and pick up an adult board game. Nope - you need to go to a hobby shop or buy them online. And, when was the last time you were in a hobby shop?

So, when I say lots of these types of games, what do I mean? Well, there are civilization building games, war games, fantasy games, tile-laying games, train games, zombie or horror based games, role playing games, card games, expansion games, and the list can go on. Where do you start?

Introducing Gateway Games

It seems that there is a fairly universal truth when it comes to these adult board games. Most anyone who gets hooked on this hobby has started by playing one of a small quantity of games. We call these "gateway games". The other thing that is good about these gateway games is that if you want to introduce some new friends to these games, you do it with a gateway game. Then, you know you will have the best success at converting some new designer game addicts.

There are three games I am going to point out as part of this group of gateway games. There may be a few others, but I don't plan to focus on them right now.

The three games are:

  • Settlers of Catan
  • Carcassonne
  • Ticket to Ride

At some point in time, all three of these games have been recognize internationally as the BEST game in the world. Yes, "world" means the entire planet! Both Settlers and Carcassonne did not originate in the United States - they came from Europe and are part of the genre called Eurogames.

All three of these games can be set up quickly and played in about an hour.

Settlers of Catan

This game is the granddaddy of all European games and came over to the United States in 1995. It is published by Mayfair Games. Right now (early 2008) there are over 200 reviews of the third edition of this game on Amazon.com. In comparison, Monopoly has 124. My understanding is that it is also the most searched for game on Amazon.com as well.

The goal of this game is simple. You need to get 10 victory points. You do this by building roads and villages. Then you upgrade your villages to cities. This game has no "money" or violence. Also, as with the other gateway games, nobody gets eliminated. You succeed in this game by mastering your resources. You see, on every turn, someone rolls the die. This determines which parts of the island give resources. If you are on that part of the island, you get the resource. Then, your skill becomes negotiating with the other players to get the resources you need to buy or upgrade your villages and cities.

Beware the robber! This is the tool you use to fuel competition. At different points in the game, you get to "rob" other players of resources for a period of time. This allows you to control the flow of resources on the island, as well as steal some of the other players' resources. No whining allowed!

This game is excellent for the 10-14 crowd because they will learn some very valuable skills as well as have fun. It teaches about management of scarce resources and thinking ahead about two to three moves. It is great for the adults because you are always doing something and every roll of the die could impact you in some way. This game provides an hour or so that is worth your time.

By the way, if you really enjoy this game, there are currently two direct expansions that enhance the 2-4 player game. There are also expansions that allow for 5-6 players. There is a travel version of the game and a card game version. There are also other variations on the theme, but have the same gameplay style.

Carcassonne

This game's name comes from the French city. It is pronounced "car-ka-so-n". This game was introduced to the United States around 2001. It is published by Rio Grande Games. The premise of this game is simplistic, but yet the strategy can run very deep. Your goal is to build the landscape of the area around the French city of Carcassonne. You then populate the castles, churches, farms, and roads with your game pieces to accumulate points. When the landscape tiles are all laid out, whoever has the most points wins.

One of the unique things that Carcassonne has brought to the world of gaming is the "meeple". This slang term stands for "my people". Meeples are the little wooden guys you use to fill up the landscape. Each player has a finite amount of them and you must decide when to use them for points and when to hold them.

The coolest thing about this game is that there is no board, technically. Because it is a tile-laying game, you are building the board as you go. There is an interesting level of satisfaction to see the finished layot and artwork the players created as they went.

Again, this game is suitable for the 10-14 year old crowd as well as adults. The price on this game is also fairly low - in the $20 - $30 range usually. It is also a good party game because there is a lot of "table talk" that usually happens around different strategies.

Like Settlers, if you really like this game, there are about six or seven different expansions for this game that all enhance the gameplay in some fashion.

Ticket to Ride

If you are a train buff, you should give this game a look. Ticket to Ride was introduced by Days of Wonder in 2005. This is a good strategy/puzzle game. Like the other two, the premise is simple, yet can get very strategic. Your mission is to link as many specific cities as you can and accumulate the most points by the time everyone runs out of train pieces.

The board is a really well drawn map of the United States with a bunch of primary cities on it. These cities are linked together with differing quantities of train links. These links are also of different colors. At the beginning of the game, you receive three cards with different routes. You need to complete these routes. This is easy until the other players start taking over your required paths - and you have to go the long way around.

The added kicker at the end is the person with the longest train (from end to end) gets a bonus card worth some extra points. This could turn the tide of the game unexpectedly. My wife is great at puzzles and this is where her skills seem to show. She always plays in a non-threatening way...and then, there it is...she has the longest train out of nowhere.

For the younger kids (again about 10-12) this game is educational as a way to learn the geography of the United States. By playing repeatedly, they learn where many of the key US cities are located.

There are three expansions for this game (Europe, Switzerland, and Marklin), a deck containing more route cards, and an upcoming full-on card game.

Beyond the Board Game

For you to understand how popular these games are (even though you have probably never heard of them), you need to look beyond the humble board game to the very enticing video game counsole. Specifically, the Xbox 360. They have an online arcade called Xbox Live. Within this arcade, you can play an internet-based version of both Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. Recently, they announced that there would be a version of Ticket to Ride, as well.

These Games Are Going Mainstream

Before you know it, these games will be available in common locations. I would expect to see these games at the large bookstores in the near future, as well as some of them appearing at Toys R Us in simplified formats. The bottom line here is that if you are interested in trying a new hobby the whole family can share with you, you should try one of these games. If they like it, and I expect they will, you can introduce the expansions, or move on to some of the more complex adult board games.

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Comments 8 comments

TKIMWRSVC profile image

TKIMWRSVC 8 years ago from United States

Being a long time gamer nice to such a good treatment of one segment of my hobby. Thanks


Play Risk Fan 7 years ago

Nice hub, thanks for the strategy games review.


deltamonk profile image

deltamonk 6 years ago from UK

Great idea - we all have to start somewhere and it's nice to see it broken down like this.


Christina A profile image

Christina A 6 years ago from Australia

good selection of "gateway games". I haven't tried Ticket to Ride but own the other two.


Ldrtchbrd profile image

Ldrtchbrd 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

Great descriptions on how to play these games! You do a very good job of explaining the game mechanics. :)


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RonH56 profile image

RonH56 4 years ago

I have played all three, but like settlers the best. I also have the settlers expansion, Traders and Barbarians. I would like to get ticket to ride because my wife likes building games. Which ticket to ride is best?


Caroline 21 months ago

We just purchased the Ticket to ride 10th edition and we love it.

Actually purchased the simple version, but returned to exchange for the more expensive 10th edition. The trains are very detailed and each come in their tin box, great for keeping things in place. The board game bigger and more appealing. The number of cards is that of 2 boards games. Well worth the money AND we all loved playing!!! Kids are 12 and 14, all 4 of us loved it and played it continuously. We also purchased in the past the game Takenoko by Bombyx/Matagot and still remains in our top 2!!! Takenoko has really nice pieces and the play seems similar to others described....it is about building land, growing crops for points.

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