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Why We Need Gateway Games

Gateway games are games that connect with a player and open that player’s eyes to a whole new world of board gaming. Gateway games are what lead a player to seek out new games and expand on that new found exposure. Experiences are a big part of the gateway game too. The people we share that experience with can heavily influence how we accept or reject that shared moment. For example, If a player is introduced to a game that has a heavy “take that” mechanic, in even a simple game, it can be a very adverse experience. Let’s look at a game like Balloon Cup. Players are competing on opposing sides of four separate fields. Each field has hot air balloons. In two of those fields players will need the lowest total value in cards, while in the other two fields players are trying to play the highest total value in cards. Each turn the active player will play a card to any field, and then play goes to the other player. However, players can place cards on the opponent's side of the field too. This game play can lead to players playing very aggressively while fighting over position in each of the four fields. If our new player does not have an aggressive mindset, that game can be very off putting and the exposure to a simple but highly strategic game becomes damaging rather than encouraging. Their interest in gaming now becomes highly influenced with a negative experience, and the desire to try and play more games will become withered. Our budding gamer’s willingness to dive into other games is now tinged with a lack of trust. Which brings me back to that need of having a great gateway game.

I played several board games as a child, but it wasn’t until I played my “gateway” game that I can say that I really jumped into the board game hobby with both feet. Looking back at that moment, I would now consider my younger self a non-board gamer. I base that terminology on looking at my understanding of the board game hobby then versus my understanding of it now. Today, I would personally define the term board gamer as someone who actively seeks out and looks for new games to play and experience. Also, in my opinion, a boardgamer is someone who actively seeks out people to game with, and seeks opportunities to play board games. A board gamer has less to do with the number of games in your personal collection and more to do with the attitude a person has to board games and boardgaming.

My wife will play board games with me, in fact, each year I set a gaming goal to play 150 games each year. We host and attend BBQs, social gatherings, New Year’s Eve parties, and even have some Christmas traditions that all revolve around and include board games. With all of this gaming that my wife is exposed to, I would still not consider her a board gamer. Yes, she plays games. Yes, she has games that she enjoys. However, she does not look for games to add to our collection, nor does she actively seek out opportunities to play board games. Her passions are found in other activities and interests. Although she has come close to crossing that line a couple of times.

Just this last year, she was exposed to Flyin’ Goblin a 2-4 player dexterity game in which players catapult goblins over the castle walls with the goal of landing in different rooms to collect gold and gems which pave the road to more options to win the game. To win, a player needs to collect 25 gems or have his or her tower survive a round. After playing this game a couple of times at my wife’s request Flyin’ Goblin was added to our collection. That is the closest she has gotten to becoming what I would classify as a “board gamer”.

Elements of a board gamer include researching game options. I do know that there are players who will play whatever is placed in front of them, but I would argue that many of us have looked into what a game provides before sitting at the table. For example, David and Andy do not care for social games like Ultimate Werewolf or Salem 1692 However, for my daughter, Salem 1692 was the game and the game experience that pulled her into the board game hobby.

Ashley was a reluctant attendant to SaltCon in Layton, Utah. But she was introduced to the game Salem 1692 while playing with me and several ladies from HUGG (Harriman Utah Gaming Group), a group of board gaming women who would all consider their husbands as non-gamers. But this gaming experience changed Ashley almost instantly. After that weekend she became actively involved with my weekly game night and seeking out opportunities to play board games. She loves games like Terraforming Mars, and Splendor.

After we experience our gateway game it generates that excitement about gaming. We research, discover, and seek out game mechanics that appeal to us. We learn about new games, new ways to play, and find ourselves seeking out people and opportunities to play games.We begin to build a circle of friends to play with. For me that game was Settlers of Catan. A game that I play very little of now, but still a game that introduced me to the amazing world of board gaming.

What was the game that changed your board gaming world? What was the moment that changed your board gaming world? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Until next time, we’ll see you at the game table.

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Douglas Stewart
Douglas Stewart
Jun 23, 2021

A number of years back, Amazon had a board game sale that included games like Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, & 7 Wonders. I wasn't into the hobby like I am now, and wasn't too familiar with the titles. However, I thought they would make good Christmas gifts, so I ordered a few for my kids. The games were great as gateway experiences, but it was the quality time I got to spend with my children that sold me on the hobby. Now I enjoy tabletop for a whole host of reasons, but it's the experience and memories I get to share with others at the table that keep me energized.

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