Beyond the Gateway
There is a term in the board game hobby for games that introduce new players to the wonderful world of modern board games: gateway game.
Gateway games are accessible examples of Euro-style games that are frequently used by gamers to convince their non-gamer friends and families that the modern board game movement has created a lot of interesting games that go well beyond what the average person thinks of when you say board game (“you mean like Monopoly and stuff?”).
There is a sacred trinity of gateway games. Most gamers played these games early on in their gaming lives and even many non-gamers will have heard of at least one of these titles: Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride. Many gamers who joined the hobby ten to twenty years ago, may find that these games do not do it for them any more (although that certainly isn’t the case for all gamers – I play Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne on my tablet quite a bit), but they likely were part of their first steps into the world of gaming. And if you’re just getting into the hobby yourself, you should definitely pay these games a visit; they aren’t that complicated but they allow for a variety of play styles, and they introduce you to a variety of game mechanics that will lay the foundation for your comprehension of more challenging games down the road. The trinity are by no means the only gateway games, but they are some of the earliest modern games to achieve mainstream success.
But what if you have played the gateway games? What’s next? There are a lot of steps to take between Ticket to Ride and the seriously heavy games like Agricola, Game of Thrones, or Caylus. Not everybody wants to take the journey all the way. You might find that gateway games satisfy your gaming needs completely. But then again, you may find that they don’t. You may find yourself yearning for something deeper.
When you are ready to move beyond the gateway, what should you be looking for? That all depends on you. Some players will be ready to plunge right into the deep end of gaming after they've had a little exposure, but this article is not for them. This article is for you. You are unsure of what to play next; you want to avoid having a bad gaming experience or getting in over your head. One of the best ways to avoid getting out of your depths is to look for games that provide a sense of familiarity in some respect - theme, mechanics or designer can all offer a through line that will allow you to expand your comfort zone without ever leaving it.
If you enjoyed Ticket to Ride, there are a number of train games you could try that will likely entertain you. Trains by Hisashi Hayashi and AEG games takes the trains on a board aspect of Ticket to Ride and pairs it with a deck building mechanic that will prepare you to play games like Dominion or Thunderstone in the future. Trains & Stations by Eric Lang and Whizkids combines train building with a push your luck dice mechanic that prepares you to play other games that ask the question: should you be happy with what you have or risk losing it to get something better?
Carcassonne's tile placement and area control mechanics open the door to tons of other games. Qin, one of Reiner Knizia's recent games from Gigamic games, is a gateway game in its own right, but is also a good next step from Carcassonne because it builds on the ideas of growing the board with tiles and claiming areas of the board with your pieces and adds a more direct sense of conflict that is harder to come by in Carcassone. Another good next step from Carcassonne is Vegas Showdown from Hasbro's Avalon Hill line. It uses tile placement to build casinos but it adds an auction mechanic that will prepare you for other auction games like Ra, For Sale, and Modern Art. Jonathan, our senior Game Guru and host of the SnakesCast, says that once you've played Carcassonne, you're ready for Suburbia (which is basically like SimCity the board game) because "each player lays down their own tiles, building their own little borough with its own distinct personality."
After playing The Settlers of Catan, you are prepared for any number of "modular board" games, such as Nexus Ops, Last Night on Earth, or Kulami. These are games where the board will be different every time you play and, like Settlers, you will have to adjust your strategies to adapt to that.
Other games with an agricultural or colonial theme may also appeal to someone looking to go beyond Settlers. Santiago from Z-Man Games is a great agricultural game that adds auctioning and bribery to your skill set. Puerto Rico and Stone Age are both agricultural worker placement games that rely on gathering resources to build your empire. Puerto Rico has a lot more moving parts and substantially deeper strategies than Settlers, so it isn't the next step for every gamer, but it should definitely be on your radar if you've developed a taste for good Euro games.
To hear Jonathan and some of our other staff talk further on the subject of Beyond the Gateway, listen to the episode of the SnakesCast of the same name.
In addition to being a Game Guru at Snakes & Lattes, Steve Tassie is an actor, comedian, certified English & drama teacher, writer and game designer. Follow him on Twitter @RealSteveTassie or read the blog he shares with his wife, novelist Christina Upton onesfunnytheothersinsane.wordpress.com.