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Gateway Board Games – How to Play Gateway Games

Updated on May 6, 2008

If you are considering trying out a designer board game, you are probably looking at playing one of the "gateway games". A gateway game is typically a simpler European-style board game. Simple does not mean the game is easy or lacking in fun or strategy. They are far from that.

The Three Gateway Games

There are three main gateway games you will probably experience.

  • Carcassonne
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Ticket to Ride

All three of these games have been awarded the internationally recognized Spiel Des Jahres award. Around the world they are recognized as some of the best games ever created.

None of these games include player elimination or direct violence against another player. These are two hallmarks of a modern European-style board game. They are suitable for ages 10 and up.

By the way, if you have an Xbox 360, both Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan have an online variant in the Live Arcade, so you can try them out. I hear rumor of Ticket to Ride getting the same treatment.

This Article's Mission

If we tried, in one article, to explain all the mechanics and rules of all these games, it would be a very long article. Instead, I will briefly explain how these games work, introduce the theme, and identify what the goal of the game is. There will be separate articles focusing on each of these games to cover the game in more detail.

Carcassonne Photos

Carcassonne - What's in the box?
Carcassonne - What's in the box?
Carcassonne - Game setup
Carcassonne - Game setup
Meeples on the Scorecard
Meeples on the Scorecard


This is a very unassuming game. It is the least expensive of the three. It rings in at about $30 or so. The box is small, and the game has a funny name (with a curse word in the middle). When you open the box, you get these little wooden pieces that look like people, a score card, and a bunch of tiles. You can play this game with up to five players. It should take about 45 minutes to play.

These tiles are what make the game unique. You build the game board as you go - which has a high satisfaction level when it is done. It is like a piece of art that gets created as you play - and it is different every time you play.

The little wooden people also have funny names. They are called "meeples". This is short for "my people". An interesting fun fact is that they have gone on to represent a European style board game within the gaming community. There are shirts, stickers, pillows, and a bunch of other novelty items with meeples on them.

The goal of the game is for you to get the most points, by using your meeples to their best affect. Essentially, they are your scarce resources.

On your turn, you will turn over a tile and attempt to match it next to another tile on the board. This is part 1 of your strategy. Place this tile in a position that is to your best advantage. If that is not possible, you definitely don't want to place it so your opponent has the advantage. Part 2 of your strategy is to place a meeple on that tile in a position that provides the best advantage for you.

Let' discuss meeple placement. There are several ways to use your meeples - each offering you different point quantities.

  • Thief - placing a meeple on a road allows you to get a point for each tile that makes up the road, once someone places two end points for the road. If the road is made up of five tiles, you get five points.
  • Knight - placing a meeple in a castle gives you two points for each tile of the completed castle. If there is a shield on any of the tiles, you get two extra points for the shield. Obviously, the larger the castle becomes, the better. Your concern is whether the castle actually gets finished or not.
  • Monk - placing a meeple on a church gives you nine points, once the church is completely surrounded by other tiles (one point for each tile).
  • Farmers - As the game progresses, you can place a meeple on the grassy area of a tile. It will remain there for the entire game. At the end of the game, you will receive points for each completed castle touching the grassy area. These farmers can be game-turners because it is possible to have many completed castles touching it.

Outside of the farmer, once your points are scored, you get your meeple back to use again. Once you place a farmer, they are gone for the rest of the game.

When you run out of tiles to turn over, the game is over. The player with the most points wins.

Settlers of Catan Photos

Settlers of Catan - What's in the Box?
Settlers of Catan - What's in the Box?
Settlers of Catan - Board Layout
Settlers of Catan - Board Layout
One Wood + One Brick = One Road
One Wood + One Brick = One Road

Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan, sometimes just referred to as Settlers, is the first European board game to really be successful in the United States. Many times, this is the first game new gamers come in contact with. Settlers usually runs about $35-40. Up to four players can play and it takes about an hour to an hour and a half to play.

This game comes with a board you build for each game. The board is made of a bunch of hexagonal spaces and a border for the hexes that represent the ocean. You also get wooden pieces that represent roads, settlements, and cities for each player. There are resource cards and event cards, as well. There is a basic board setup offered in the rules, but one of the cool features of the game is that you can change the board around each time you play.

Your goal is to effectively use your resources to build your civilization to the point where you get 10 victory points. You do this by gathering resources, buying or trading for resources, or gaining the appropriate event cards that gain you points in some manner.

There are several resources on the island of Catan. They are wood, rock, wheat, brick, and sheep. The importance of these different resources changes over the course of the game. Resources are paired to a dice roll number via numbered discs.

A player's turn consists of rolling a set of dice, harvesting resources for all players based on the dice roll, that player trading with other players for the needed resources, and eventually purchasing any civilization items they may want - roads, settlements, upgrades to cities, or event cards. Then, it becomes the next players turn. This pattern repeats for the rest of the game.

There is one variable built into the game. The robber (dum dum dum!). If someone rolls a seven, they get to move the robber to any hex space they want. They also get to steal a card from a player with a settlement or city along that hex. The evil part about the robber is that he stays on this space until another person rolls a seven. While the robber is on the hex, the players along this hex cannot harvest its resources. Also, if you have more than seven cards in your hand, you lose half of them. This can totally disrupt the Catan economy if played well.

By the way, if you are looking for a completely interactive game that will have lots of "table talk" and silly jokes, this is a good one. We still laugh about "wooden sheep" rather than "wood and sheep". And, "wood for sheep" just sounds wrong (wink).

Ticket To RIde Photos

Ticket To Ride - What's in the Box?
Ticket To Ride - What's in the Box?
Ticket to Ride - Game Board
Ticket to Ride - Game Board
Train cards and train pieces
Train cards and train pieces

Ticket To Ride

The last game we are going to introduce is Ticket to Ride. This is the most expensive of the three games. It usually costs about $45. Like the others, it can also be played in about an hour or so. It is designed for 2-5 players.

The premise is that several friends make a wager to see which of them could travel, by rail, to the most cities in North America in seven days. Your job is to connect different cities by claiming the railway routes on a map of the United States. Pretty simple and straight forward, right? It's more complex than it sounds.

Each player gets a bunch of train pieces, four train cards and three destination cards. When the train pieces run out, you are done. There is a similar management of scarce resources theme here, like the other two games. What you need to do is identify the routes that connect the cities on your cards and match the train cards for those routes.

Each route has a color and a quantity. If you wanted to go from one city to another and there were four orange spaces, you need four orange cards in your hand. If you claim the route, you get points based on how many spaces you claim. In this example, four spaces gets you 7 points. Obviously, longer routes provide more points. If that route completes your destination requirement, you win the destination points also.

As the game wears on, you can select more destination cards or cards from the discard pile. But, beware the destination cards... If you don't complete a route, those points count against you at the end of the game. So, lots of destinations gives you options, but could turn a winning game into a losing game really quick.

Because of the nature of the game and the scarce resources, as the game goes on, the strategy requirements go up and the supply of available routes goes down. This creates a tense end game.

There is a twist to the end of the game. To explain it, here's a personal story you might enjoy. My wife loves to do those puzzle books and such. She is very sneaky and never says a word about what she is doing. Every time we play this game, she gets me with this. Once all the trains are played and points are calculated, examine the board. Whoever has the longest continuous train gets the Longest Continuous Path card. This carries with it 10 points. So, what happens is my wife will work from three different directions and before you know it, she has turned a disconnected mess around and connected all three of her paths and there is no way to compete.

A special bonus about Ticket to Ride is that Days of Wonder, the game publisher, has created an online version of the game. With the board game, you get an online code that allows you to start and play games whenever you want. If you don't have an online code, you cannot start a new game, but you can still join an existing game to try it out.

Give One A Try

If you are still reading this article, you are probably trying to determine which game to try. Here's my suggestion - just pick one. You can't really go wrong with any of them. They are all great games, they all have about the same time limits, and they all generate a great game night. Honestly, I have not had one person disapprove of any of these games - all have been hits on game night.


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    • warboardgames profile image


      8 years ago

      I'd like to read more on a ticket to ride.. as I've already tried the other games you introduced here. How long does it usually take to play and how does it compare to the other games (Settlers & Carcassonne)?


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