While in theme Acquire is similar to Monopoly in that both are about acquiring hotels to increase your wealth, the mechanics are very different.
Although it plays upto 6, I'd not want to play it with more than 4 because then the game can tend to drag on. The way the game is designed, it's hard to have a runaway leader and on that count, it beats Monopoly anyday. Keeping track of the size of each hotel is a bit of a chore and managing the payouts during an acquisition requires a good amount of mental math but the overall gameplay makes up for that.
However, the Avalon Hill edition is among the worst in production value and is a tad overpriced (a reasonable price would be around $25) for what's in the box.
Airlines Europe is a good gateway game. Similar (but not identical) in mechanics to its more famous cousin by the same game designer - Ticket to Ride - I think Airlines Europe has a more strategy element to it than TtR because a player is not representing any one airline company and trying to win by making that company the furthest along in terms of route coverage. Players are investors and to win requires wise investments in a portfolio of companies depending on cards drawn by a player as well as opponents.
While I think TtR is still the more accessible gateway game between the two, Airlines Europe is not that much more difficult and would be a good step up game for TtR fans.
Archaeology is a nice filler game wherein players are treasure hunters in the Egyptian desert, exploring ruins to discover treasures and making money by selling the treasures to the museum. However, thieves and sandstorms can put a spanner in the works.
Easy to teach and plays in about 20 minutes. Works best with 4 players and can serve as a good first level gateway game.
This is a 2 player only game, designed by Reiner Knizia.
Gameplay consists of two opponents who face off across a 'battle line' and attempt to win the battle by taking 5 of 9 flags or 3 adjacent flags. Winning a flag is decided by placing cards into 3 card poker-type hands on either side of the flag (similar to straight flush, 3 of a kind, straight, etc). The side with the highest 'formation' of cards wins the flag.
An abstract strategy game best played with 4 people. One of my favourite first-level gateway games. The simple to explain rules, easy to understand game mechanics with minimal luck, and short game duration (20-25 minutes) make it a memorable experience for newbie gamers. Of course, even seasoned gamers enjoy this.
Based on the short story by R L Stevenson, the Bottle Imp is a card game in which players aim to make the most points while ensuring that they are not stuck with the bottle at the end of the round. The player who has the bottle at the end of the round gets negative points.
The game mechanics, although simple, take a couple of rounds of getting used to. There is some amount of luck but having a strategy on which cards to play given the game situation is also required.
A nice second level gateway game that plays with 4 in about 30 minutes.
An abstract strategy game for 3-4 players. Keeping in line with the theme of a Shangri-la, the game is non-confrontational. Each player represents the leader of a separate tribe. Each tribe has 7 kinds of masters and students. The goal of the game is to have each master train a student, who in turn goes to a different village and becomes a master there. The player who has most masters at the end of the game wins.
It takes even veteran gamers at least one full game to fully appreciate this elegant game's depth.
The theme of Burrows is that you are a gopher rancher and tourists visit your ranch and if they don't see the gophers of their choice, you get complaints. At the end of the game, the rancher with the lowest number of complaints wins!
Burrows is a quick but intense game of building - what else - burrows. Whoever has the longest burrow of a certain color gets the corresponding gopher. Gophers are fewer than the number of players, so invariably every time tourists stop by, someone is sure to get one or more complaints. Player interaction is indirect in the sense that your burrows do not intersect those of others, but the tiles your competition takes from the draw pool determine your options.
Overall, a fun enough game. Can be a nice gateway or filler game. However, even playing 4 player requires somewhat more than the average amount of table space because of the ever growing size of burrows.
Caylus - the grandfather of all worker placement games and a brilliant Euro. I thoroughly enjoy Caylus - the theme of building a castle and what you do on each turn has a good tie-in, and given that there is no hidden information the game is pretty much all strategy and no luck. Caylus tests your ability to plan ahead, roll with the punches and rewards the one who makes the most optimal move each turn and is a genuine "gamer's game"
While I almost always want to play this game, finding other people who have the time + willingness + ability to learn to play Caylus (playing it well is a different thing) is no mean feat. Even so, I've no regrets about this purchase and expect it to have a long play life.
Another abstract strategy game for 2-4 players (plays best with 2 or 4 players). The game mechanics combine checkers and sudoku; the result is an interesting game - so long as no player suffers from Analysis Paralysis.
However, the below average production quality and the overall feel of a "congested" playing board is a bit of a dampener for me.
I consider Citadels a good second-level gateway game. I think it is best played with 4-6 players. It takes at least a few rounds at least (or a couple of games at worst) to get the hang of the gameplay.
In Citadels, you aim to be the first player to build 8 districts. To do so, in each round, you choose a certain character such as King, Magician, Thief etc. Each character comes with associated special powers and is useful at different stages / situations in the game. There is an element of luck, but knowing your fellow players and working out their strategy and tailoring yours appropriately plays a significant part in how well you do.
The first "Days of Wonder" game I purchased and undoubtedly the most visually stunning game in my collection.
In this game, players are architects who gain money from Cleopatra by building her palace (yes, there is a 3D palace in this game). In order to outmaneuver your opponents, you have to judiciously use substandard building material and/or gain the help of corrupt game characters. However, each time you do so, you gain a corruption point.
The twist in the game is that at the end, the most corrupt player is thrown to Cleopatra's crocodiles and is not eligible to win, no matter how rich. The way to win this game is to be the second-most corrupt of all players and richest among the remaining players (after the most corrupt has been eliminated)!
Yet another Reiner Knizia designed game with a slapped on theme.
8 monsters battle it out over 5 rounds and players bet on which ones will survive the carnage. The game art seems to invoke strong feelings. Some find it awesome but many seem turned off by the monsters and gruesome art. If you can look beyond the game art and are willing to read some (not overly heavy) in-game text, Colossal Arena is a fun game.
Just like Citadels, Colossal Arena is also a good second-level gateway game.
Condottiere is an area control game. While it plays upto 6, games with 6 can last quite a while - 75 mins or so and are too long for what the game offers. Games with 4 are much better paced.
The fact that hands are not refreshed after every battle adds a delicious tension of not giving away territories that you don't care about too cheaply balanced against prioritizing which battles to fight - literally.
Cornucopia is a push your luck game wherein you attempt to fill 5 baskets with 5 different / same agricultural goods. There isn't a great deal of strategy but it's a nice social game with easy to learn rules and the ability to bet on whether others will successfully complete a basket in a given round makes for some neat interaction. I'd recommend this as a gateway game.
If you like Charades, Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, and Word Games then Cranium WOW is the perfect party game. It combines elements from all these game genres to create a light, family-friendly, fun party game. Best played with 8+ players.
The only drawback is that some questions and tasks are too US centric. But overall, a fun game nonetheless.
"Without teamwork, you will never survive. Without betrayal, you’ll never win."
That sums up Cutthroat Caverns perfectly. This is a Role Playing Game of slaying monsters, while helping or backstabbing your fellow treasure hunters as per the game situation, all while ensuring that you stay alive and land the fatal blow on most monsters.
Newbies are likely to be intimidated by this game. It will definitely take 2-3 games to understand all the action, item, and special power cards and how to best use them.
A Spiel de Jahres (Game of the Year) award winner, Dominion is a deck building card game. Non-confrontational (at least to a large extent) in nature, Dominion seems to be either a "love it" or "hate it" game. I personally love it.
An excellent second-level gateway game that plays 4 players. Although many people rate it as a first-level gateway game, I consider it a second-level because to play effectively, one needs to read the special power of each card and understand the interaction capability between cards to build an effective deck. This typically requires more effort and willingness than to play a series of defined turns as present in a first-level gateway game such as Forbidden Island.
To keep Dominion fresh requires either getting the expansions or giving sufficient time between plays. I am not a fan of buying expansions and hence, Dominion gets a 7 from me.
Dragon's Gold is a very interesting medium weight game. Although the theme of killing dragons by playing adventurers whose combined strike value should be greater than the dragons' life points is somewhat pasted on, the true meat of the game lies in the negotiation to divide the dragon's treasure.
If even one party does not agree to the negotiation terms when the timer (1 minute) runs out, the entire treasure is lost! Magic cards add an element of twists to the whole mechanic.
The negotiations can be fairly cut throat and brutal and players must be able to play in the spirit of the game. With the right group, Dragon's Gold is a fantastic game.
Dragonheart is the perfect couple's game when 2 people want to play a game but without having to devote significant mindshare to the game. The rules are simple and the game is pretty much luck driven with some level of point counting. There is no great depth to the game and neither is there a clearly superior strategy (or at least none that I've figured out after 5 plays). The real upside to this is that it facilitates conversations over the game and that is sometimes a good enough reason to have a game in the collection.
The girlfriend has been super lucky, what with me managing just three (albeit consecutive) victories in about forty. Sigh.
Dutch blitz is a fast paced card game, best played with 4. The rules are quite easy and the mechanics of having three piles to manipulate as well as a central tableau to play into takes some getting used to. However, after one round most people understand how it works but it takes a good bit of mental gymnastics to keep an eye on the ever changing central tableau and play off cards into it first.
The one downside to the game is that there is no way to play the game carefully enough to avoid wear and tear to the cards. Speed is of essence and I expect that Dutch Blitz cards will wear out the fastest for a given number of games. Sleeving is unlikely to help as sleeving will make handling the cards unwieldy.
I've played this a couple of times and I think it packs a good bit of interesting decision choices in each turn and yet plays quickly enough. The mechanics are simple to teach and learn and that there are 2 maps plus variants through the goods tokens makes Eight-Minute Empire have a high replayability.
However, one factor of concern is that the board is quite small and that in 5 player games it can get very crowded with the army and city tokens. Even with the current box size, it would've been possible to fit in a bigger board easily so I wish the publishers had done that.
I think Fairy Tale has some unique mechanics that make it an interesting game. The strategy is a mix of collecting cards you want, using them in the right sequence, while also picking up cards your opponent wants and discarding them at the end of each round. Of course, like with most card games, there is an element of luck in getting cards you want with each draw. The "expert rules" are not that much more complex and we picked them up fairly quickly after playing 2 basic games.
I'd really not prefer to play at any other player count other than 5 simply because only at 5 will all cards at least come into play, even if not into your hand. In a 2 or 3 player game only 40 and 60 cards (out of 100) respectively will come into play. Unless a player suffers from AP, Fairy Tale moves along fairly quickly (25-30 mins per game) and is a good fun game.
A good 2 player game. I don't find Famiglia as intuitive as Battle Line and it's probably not a great gateway 2 player game, but if your opponent is already familiar with some games and enjoys gaming, this might be a good game.
The theme - of hiring gangsters to build up the more powerful gang - is a bit stretched (after all, in real life gangs, the small timers are hired by the big bosses, not the other way around), but it doesn't matter as far as gameplay goes.
Based on hand management and card collection, this game takes a bit of getting used to. A few games in, I still don't feel completely comfortable with the strategies required to effectively deploy the special powers of the various cards, but that's probably a good thing.
For Sale combines the mechanics of No Thanks and Archaeology in an interesting way to create a fast-paced auction game where the aim is to buy properties at the least price in the first phase and sell them for the highest price during the second phase.
The game rules are very easy to explain and a 3-4 player game takes about 15-20 minutes. For Sale is a fun filler game.
My favourite first-level gateway game that is a much lighter version of its famous cousin, Pandemic.
Forbidden Island serves as a good introduction to the cooperative games genre and the easy to understand rules, interesting theme (treasure hunters who have to steal 4 priceless artifacts from an ancient, mysterious island before it sinks), and never a dull moment during play make this a lovely game.
Some people say it lacks replayability, but I disagree. One just has to find (or devise) variant tile layouts (which represent the Island's shape) and each game is new with a different set of challenges.
The only solo player game I own. Having played a few games, I'm yet to win but I really like this game because while the basic mechanics of the game are easy, figuring out the optimal strategy is not. I can see myself making steady progress because the stage at which I lose the game is getting further with each game but the day I eke out my first victory will likely be very memorable.
A strategy packed card game. Each card has multiple uses and every turn requires trade off decisions. A geek game and requires 2 "training" games just to get a hang of the mechanics and to develop a preliminary strategy.
The less said about game art, the better. For a game that has such a strong reputation and fan following among gamers who like strategy games, the game art is just atrocious and makes you feel like it is a children's game. But don't judge a game by its art.
Finding partners who can understand how to play and then devise strategies to play it well isn't the easiest thing given its learning curve in that each card can play several roles - possible building, role, or material. Additionally, there is some luck involved in the cards drawn - sometimes, you just won't get powerful enough buildings or those that pair well with other buildings you have.
The mother of all abstract strategy games. Long after every other game on this list is out of print and out of favour with gamers, Go is likely to be around. Go is an ancient oriental game. Although I've only played one game so far (and lost!), I hope to become a better Go player - this is one of my post-retirement goals!
Even though IBM developed, over a decade ago, a Chess playing computer (Deep Blue) that could defeat a human grand master, the development of a similar computer has proven elusive despite the simplicity of Go in terms of rules and concept.
This is a fun filler game. In this game, players control penguin teams and the objective is to collect maximum fish even as the ice floes on which the penguins are break up.
A 4 player game doesn't take more than 20 minutes and where there is some strategy, there is a good dose of luck stemming from the initial configuration and the starting point where you place your penguins. The game offers a number of "grrr! I wanted that fish" moments justifying the name.
In High Society, players are wealthy aristocrats vying to gain the most recognition by bidding for various prestigious items (paintings, mansions, sculptures etc.). However, there are special cards as well that can either be beneficial (doubling prestige points) or harmful (halving prestige points, deducting 5 from your score etc.)
While everyone starts with the same amount of money, it is important to bid judiciously because the player with the least amount of money isn't eligible to win - no matter how many prestige points s/he has.
This game is meatier than For Sale. Though both have bidding as the core game mechanic, High Society presents more interesting decision points.
Hive is a fun game for two. A bit like chess in that both players have identical pieces with similar movement powers. There is no luck in the game because all information is in the open. The learning curve isn't very steep although it can take a while to get a grip on the most optimal move and strategy.
Plus I've beaten my girlfriend in every game we have played thus far - 4, I think - so I have a soft spot for the game
I'm the Boss! is meant to be a fast paced game of opportunistic deal making using light negotiation. It takes a couple of rounds of play to get the hang of things but overall it is a fun game to play with the right company. Has a strong "screw your neighbour" mechanic and is best played with 5-6 which makes the game duration closer to 30 minutes.
Incan Gold is a classic filler game based on the "push your luck" mechanism. About the same level of complexity as For Sale, Incan Gold can also be a good gateway game provided there are at least 4-6 players. The game plays upto 8, but I suspect it may be a bit chaotic with 8 players. The game lasts about 20-25 minutes (if all players know the rules) and there isn't much scope for AP as the decision on each turn is limited to 2 simple options - either continue exploring the ruins or get out with whatever treasure you've already collected.
Intrigue is the "nastiest" game I have played. The rules explicitly allow for backstabbing and breaking of promises.
In Intrigue, you send out your workers to other people's palaces for employment and then negotiate with the palace owner to employ them. Thus, multiple workers may be sent to a palace to be employed.
What makes the game interesting is that each negotiation must be concluded and paid for before the next one begins. However, only one of the negotiations will be honored and everyone knows that. This leads to interesting mind games and creative deal making.
There is some strategy to the game about when and where to send out your workers but the key to winning is striking that delicate balance between diplomacy, tact, and timely betrayal.
You need a group with the right mindset and personality to play this because some of the backstabbing can be truly frustrating and annoying and can thwart even the best laid plans. That's what makes me give it a 6.
Isla Dorada is a "marooned on an island, explore for treasure" themed game for 3-6 players. Players bid resources - pack animals of different types - to explore jungle, mountain, sand, water pathways in their quest for treasure. Destiny cards that are kept hidden from other players can serve as point boosters if objectives on that card are met. Other cards add little twists to the overall game flow.
Isla Dorada is better played with the full complement of 5-6 players because that brings out more cards into play and allows for a more wild ride. Based on hand management and a good amount of luck, Isla Dorada is not heavy on strategy but the components are very vibrant and it is easy enough to be pulled into the theme.
Can serve as a second level gateway game; the various cards and the associated powers may turn off some newbies though. Having someone who has played the game teach through a round or two should go a long way in helping new players get a hang of the game.
Jaipur is a trading game for 2 players. You have to buy, trade, and sell at better rates than your opponent to win by becoming the Maharaja's personal trader. There isn't a great deal of strategy to Jaipur and play can become somewhat repetitive after a while.
A game based on the Indian legend of Mahabharata and the Kurukshetra war that was the culmination of the story. Plays 4 players and is heavy on theme. Designed, manufactured, and marketed by an Indian company, Kurukshetra blends resource management with die rolling (as the game of dice played a central role in Mahabharata)
Lifeboat has interesting concept. You are adrift on a boat and of your fellow characters, one is someone you hate and another is someone you love (one or both of them could be yourself!). You have to help guide the boat to land while ensuring that your loved one survives and your hated one dies.
Like many other RPG games, the cards have significant amount of in-game text and this game needs to be played with those who have the inclination to think and analyze how best to utilize the limited resources.
I rate this a 6 - the fun factor is heavily dependent on the group one plays with; I suspect that given the right group and familiarity with the game for everyone playing it, it can be fun enough. The player elimination possibility is quite real and it's not unusual that by end-game, the number of players in contention is just 2-3 (assuming 6 started out the game).
A co-operative game for 3-5 players. Each player represents a Hobbit and the game traces Frodo's journey in LOTR from Bag End to Mount Doom in his quest to destroy the One Ring. Some luck, hand management, cooperative planning, and foresight form the key game mechanics.
Just as in the books, the odds are stacked heavily against the players. Winning is going to be rare, but that is what makes the game memorable, and a victory doubly so. Most times, you will feel that you are confronting impossible odds, just as the Fellowship felt.
LOTR is unlikely to be enjoyed by those who have never read the books or seen the movies. While the game can feel repetitive if played multiple times within a short time span, as long as you let a few weeks pass between consecutive games, LOTR is an enjoyable game.
Love Letter is a really nice filler game. The strategy is fairly trivial and there is a substantial amount of luck in terms of the cards one draws. That said, games move along quickly (although I think the best thing is to decide beforehand that the winner is the person who gets 3 tokens of affection first) and is very easy to teach and learn.
For about $5 and with just 16 cards, Love Letter is a unique game and totally worth it.
Mascarade is a very good game for large(r) groups of 7-10 people. The game can play upto 13 but I've only tried it with upto 10.
The game combines bluffing and guessing in the quest to be the first person to earn 13 coins. The chaos ensuing from the possible swapping of cards among players makes for a social atmosphere during game play. The strategy element to Mascarade is quite thin but nonetheless, it is one of the few games that scales really well for large groups and can be a great ice-breaker given that the rules are fairly simple.
As of this writing, I've only played Meuterer one (half = 4 rounds) time. For a micro box game, it sure packs a punch in terms of interesting decisions in each turn.
While the game play is fairly easy, the continuous point tracking using pen-and-paper can be somewhat tedious and error-prone. In addition, it seems that the captain has an advantage especially if nobody initiates a mutiny because then he gets the docking points on every turn. However, this is more likely a deliberate design so as to motivate frequent mutinees. I will probably refine my opinion on the game as I play more but right off the bat, it is a 6, and is likely to go up marginally than down.
Monopoly in the 21st century! With inflation adjusted property values (you can't buy anything for $60 now!) and the ability to build not just houses and hotels, but also skyscrapers, industrial units, parks, stadiums etc. Monopoly city aims to give a new face to the classic game. However, I found the use of the randomizer (a piece of chrome), too chaotic and disruptive to game play. Also, the ability to build without necessarily having a Monopoly means that players can get rents more easily and that drags out the game since the aim of the game remains unchanged - to bankrupt your opponents.
Morels is a step-up from Jaipur in 2P games that uses hand management / set collection mechanics. The aim is to collect and cook mushrooms during a "walk in the forest". Morels has more strategy to it than Jaipur and while there is luck too, in terms of the order in which cards come onto the forest path, one can anticipate and collect foraging sticks so as to gain more control on the card collection sequence.
I'd place Morels between Jaipur and Targi in 2P games. It fits the bill when you want something that isn't as much of autopilot as a Jaipur but you don't have the time or inclination for something as deep as Targi.
Njet is a trick-taking game and in each round the team, starting player, cards cache, points, trump, and super trump changes. Depending on number of players playing, one team might be numerically stronger but the monster card balances things out. The rules and mechanics are easy enough but the strategy is not something I have fully figured out yet.
Ninjato is probably the game in my collection that best marries mechanics and theme. However, unless players have some knowledge of martial arts / medieval Japan, that aspect is likely to get lost. However, that doesn't take away from the gameplay.
You are a master ninja and you have to learn skills in a dojo, fight sentry and elite guards, steal treasure from noble houses, recruit envoys to your cause, and spread rumours favourable to you. All the components support the theme very well starting from the workers being shurikens (throwing stars) to the skill card benefits that have a very ninja-like feel to them.
The game is based on worker placement, but the presence of one worker on a spot does not prohibit others from keeping their workers on the same spot and deriving the action benefits. This makes the game more interesting than the usual worker placement games.
The theme in PoF, based on renaissance Italy, is not necessarily something that appeals to everyone. And while there is plenty of conflict in the game thanks to limited resources and an auction mechanism to get those resources, the conflict is also indirect.
You aim to create a palace and its associated landscapes, buildings etc. such that you maximize the "work value" of tasks completed by various illustrious professionals such as poets, artists etc. The game requires thinking ahead in terms of hand management to not just complete tasks in the current round, but also in future rounds.
Although it can play upto 5, I think the sweet spot is 3 because there is enough in-game text that can lead to some downtime between turns. (This may be somewhat lessened if all players are very familiar with every available card and how it can be best used.)
Quoridor is a strategy filler game. Although there are only 2 possible options on any turn - move or place a fence - one must think several turns ahead and keep track of the limited number of fences one's opponents have in order to win. Games are usually close with at 2-3 people (in a 4 player game) being just 1-2 steps away from winning.
Two player games are a lot more strategic and less chaotic as compared with 3-4 player games and hence I personally prefer Quoridor as a 2P game.
This edition of Risk adds some game mechanics (objectives and rewards) to prevent the game from dragging on forever. Played as per rules and with some decent strategy, few games, if any, should last longer than 90 minutes. Still a die fest though as the outcome of battles is decided by the rolling of dice.
An Israeli number game with mechanics similar to the card game of Rummy. Takes some getting used to in order to see the permutations and combinations that can be made from the numbered tiles on your rack and the tiles already in the pool, but once you get the hang of things, it has an extremely high replayability and is fun with even casual gamers.
Sail to India is a "pick up and deliver" game with a unique mechanic in that the same token, which needs to be brought into the game through payment, can be used either as a ship, as a trade good, as a building marker, or to track wealth / victory points. That you can lose accruable wealth or victory points if you haven't planned enough to have such a marker available when needed adds some depth to the game.
This game lasts only 25-30 minutes but packs quite a bit of punch for a game of that duration. Is there luck? Some, in terms of the order of cards that represent coastal cities discovered. But good strategy is at the heart of the game. I've not played enough to say what will happen if all players choose to follow the same strategy (for eg. if everyone upgrades ship speed to 3 as soon as possible) but I suspect it will only increase the planning element as then the path to victory will be more obscured and require some inspired thinking.
Another detective themed game with a "Us vs. Him" mechanic. One player plays the fugitive, Mr. X, on the run and aims to avoid the dragnet of the other players who are the 5 detectives who want to capture Mr. X.
Even though the game mechanics can make the detectives susceptible to Analysis Paralysis, just the fact that the detectives have to make their plans in full view (and hearing) of Mr. X means that there is never a dull moment and Mr. X can use the detectives' plans to his advantage. That said, the game is balanced enough for both, the detectives and Mr. X
Yet another classic crossword game. Scrabble is primarily a game of skill (knowing the obscure, but acceptable English words) and requires hours of study to get better at. Personally, I don't play with people who aren't familiar with at least the twos (as they are called in Scrabble), because restricting the game to commonly used words just makes it boring. I'd have given Scrabble a 9 instead of a 7 if only it were easier to find other players willing to play face to face.
Seven dragons is a simple enough filler game for 2-5 people. Everybody has a goal to accomplish - to get 7 dragons of their secret color in consecutive cards. The cards have various configurations of the dragon colors and players take turns to place cards such that it maximizes their chance of being the first to get 7 dragons. There are a few action cards that add twists such as changing hands, changing the color of the dragons etc.
Cooperative game with a possible traitor in the midst! Players take on the role of knights at the round table and aim to keep Camelot secure from the Pict and Saxon attacks while embarking on quests to defeat the Black Knight, capture Lancelot's armour, The Holy Grail, and Excalibur, all of which endow the knights with special powers.
Like other Days of Wonder productions, Shadows over Camelot has a high production value with a brilliant game board and detailed miniatures.
This is a game where you play a sophisticated crime lord out to steal information, gold, jewels, and artifacts while preventing rivals from stealing. The game is based on simultaneous action card drafting combined with double guessing your opponent's moves. Easy enough to explain and finishes in about 30 minutes. Sneaks & Snitches is a good gateway game.
However, to be really fun, play Sneaks & Snitches with people you know well and have an understanding of their personality - how much risk they take, their usual motivations etc.
Steam is a pick-up-and-deliver game with elements from economics, resource management, and network building. The game mechanics integrate wonderfully with the theme. It is somewhat involved in that each turn has multiple phases and it has a good bit of a learning curve. The downside is that the (English) rule book isn't the most well written and the searching for tiles in the tile pool can sometimes take a while. Also, while the game can play 5, it shines at 3 and 4. Games with 5 can get a tad long drawn. I expect this rating will improve as I play more games and appreciate the possible strategies more.
An introductory battle game for 2 players. Each player sets up an army formation to protect his flag while navigating his opponent's formation of bombs and ranked soldier to capture the opponent's flag. Not very deep although I've heard some variant rules can actually fix this. (Never tried those variants though.)
An excellent couple's game. Not as simple as say, Dragonheart, but has a some amount of luck and a good deal of strategy (in terms of collecting and using resources). The learning curve is very manageable even for beginning gamers and this might be a good gateway game for couples and more so if one of them is already a gamer who reads and explains the rules.
The theme and mechanics tie in quite well and given the card layout and the moving robber figure on every turn, you do feel that you are roaming the desert, collecting resources and trading them in your quest for victory.
Another Spiel de Jahres winner, T&T is a postal network building game for 3-4 players. With more to it than appears at first sight, you need at least 1 full game to be able to appreciate the elegant beauty of game mechanics and underlying strategy. Plays in about 1 hour (once you know the game) and has an undeserved reputation of being complex.
Although Tichu can take a wide range of number of players, I've only played Tichu Nanking for 4 players.
The rules read a lot harder than they are and it's best to learn this game from someone who already knows the rules. Plays in about 45 mins and given that the cards played to the trick are similar to other card games, this is a good gateway game to introduce people to card games not played using a standard card deck.
I'm still a long way off from figuring out the strategies though.
A large box game in every sense of the term. Tikal is a resource management game (the 10 action points used every turn are the resources) set in the jungles of Tikal.
The theme and mechanics integrate quite well and visually, the game is very appealing - the forest getting cleared with every turn, the growing size of the temples as more of it is uncovered, the different explorer teams having their own base camps etc.
The game box is also very well designed and the insert has a specific place for every component. The only downside is that the game can be a pain if a player has AP and ruminates endlessly over the most optimal play possible. The base version in which the tiles are not auctioned runs normally to about 90 minutes but the tile auction version, while reducing luck, tends to add a good 45-60 mins to the regular game duration.
Tzolk'in is one of those games that has a definite "aha" in its visual appeal. However, it is definitely not a gateway game because it has one of the steepest learning curves and it is very easy to miss a rule or to be overwhelmed by all the different moving parts.
That said, the theme and mechanics combine well together and creating an "engine" that gives you a good mix of victory points and resources is the rewarding challenge. The replayability factor is high because the best engine for a given game will depend on the monuments in play (these vary every game and only a subset of all the monuments are used in a single game; monuments per game are a limited supply and not refreshed when a player builds one) and the buildings that come into circulation during the game (buildings, unlike monuments, are refreshed when a player builds one but even so not all buildings will see the light of day during a single game).
A variant of Scrabble. Build words by stacking letter tiles over existing words in addition to building words in the standard crossword mode. I find this much lighter than scrabble (no double/triple letter/word scoring) and a good filler game.
Valley of the Kings is a deck builder game like Dominion but with a limited set of cards, all of which are used in every game. However, that doesn't diminish the replayability because the strategy you will have to use varies on what cards are picked by your opponents, what cards are discarded into the boneyard, and what cards you have (and plan to) entomb on your turn.
In terms of theme, it is a bit morbid - you are an Egyptian noble who is looking to stuff his tomb with treasures for the afterlife. The card art is appropriate for the theme and the short historical notes on each card serve for added general knowledge about Egyptian pyramid artifacts (if you ever get around to reading them).