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Craig Ninja
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I recently posted asking for thoughts on some "gateway games" that appeal to multiple audiences, and I wanted to start a discussion on what you think makes those games so appealing to so many people. Some of the most common games mentioned were Pandemic, Carcassone, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, etc.

I hesitate to use the phrase "gateway games" in this context, though I understand the difference is minimal. I'm not really talking about games that "convert" people into hardcore gamers. My wife loves a bunch of these games, but she will never be converted to many of the games I like to play. What I'm talking about are the games that appeal to both groups, even the type of people who will never be converted. What is it about these games that make them so appealing?

Some of my thoughts:

1. The right balance of strategy and luck. Casual gamers don't want to think too hard when it's time to have fun, and hardcore gamers don't want to play games that come down to a roll of the dice for victory. The games that appeal to both groups strike a good balance between these extremes.

2. Small Rulebooks. If I want to see my wife's eyes glaze over, all I have to do is pull out a 50-page rulebook for a new board game. If you have to consult the rules in order to figure out whether your next move is legal, then casual gamers are going to lose interest quickly.

3. Game Duration. Let's face it. A casual gamer is never going to sit down for a five-hour session of Mage Knight. If it takes more than 5 minutes to set up a board game, or more than an hour or two to play it, then don't even bother taking it off the shelf for a group of casual gamers.

The game duration question isn't as much of an issue for more hardcore gamers. The gameplay itself, and the mechanics involved, trump game duration every time.

4. Fun Factor. Casual gamers want to be entertained. So if there's a strong fun factor (due to humor, backstory, etc.), then the casual gamer is more likely to become involved. And even if the strategy involved in a game is minimal, if the fun factor is high enough (i.e., Exploding Kittens), then even hardcore gamers will enjoy themselves.

5. Nerd Factor. Discussing mages, hippogriffs, and armor classes will immediately turn a casual, "less nerdy", gamer away. There are few games in the fantasy genre, for example, that most casual gamers would be willing to play. The exceptions, in my experience, are usually the games with a high fun factor, like Munchkin.

What are your thoughts? What are some of the game mechanics or features that cause some games to be loved by all? And what are some of the features that will immediately turn away a casual OR a hardcore gamer?
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I think one of the key features is that they don't overwhelm players with unfamiliar mechanics. One of the appeals of Ticket to Rideis that, at its core, it has a mechanic that most new players are familiar with - set collection. That part of the game is not one that most people have to learn. They are likely already comfortable with it from playing rummy games. Then, the new mechanic to players is network building and new players can learn that. In addition, they can play the game at its most simple level by solely focusing on fulfilling their tickets and later, as they become more comfortable they can add in worrying about longest route or blocking other players routes.
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Joe Oppedisano
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I think two categories missing from your list are:

1. Text. In games I play with non-gamers, I have to be cautious about games that have a lot of text for players to read. I've played Fluxx with people (and I consider this game a step above Uno) who get flummoxed by the text on the cards. After one game I had someone declare, "I'm done. I don't want to have to think anymore."

2. Components. Bringing out a game where each player has to manage a lot of components (cards, miniatures, tokens, various shaped meeples, a turn sequence, VP chips, etc) is a sure fire way to lose someone new to gaming.

I agree with everything on your list with one caveat: regarding rule books, the book itself is only a limitation if the expectation is that the non-gamer is going to read it. Mostly I am the one who brings the game and has read the book. So the rule book is not an issue for them. BUT, the rules explanation based on the length and complexity of the rule book can be a factor in that case. My non-gamer friends and family definitely expect the explanation to take no more than 60 seconds. Coming from the world of Monopoly, Clue, Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit, where rules explanations take no more than a minute - going into a 5, 10, or 15 minute rules overview is shocking.
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Joe Oppedisano
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jhaimowitz wrote:
I think one of the key features is that they don't overwhelm players with unfamiliar mechanics. One of the appeals of Ticket to Rideis that, at its core, it has a mechanic that most new players are familiar with - set collection. That part of the game is not one that most people have to learn. They are likely already comfortable with it from playing rummy games. Then, the new mechanic to players is network building and new players can learn that. In addition, they can play the game at its most simple level by solely focusing on fulfilling their tickets and later, as they become more comfortable they can add in worrying about longest route or blocking other players routes.
Excellent point. It made my think of a somewhat recent podcast on Ludology by Geoff Engelstein about innovation in mechanisms that people can handle in a game. He stated that people can only handle 1-2 new mechanisms in a game. Trying to introduce too many innovations causes players to focus on mastering one or two (while ignoring others) until they master them before focusing on other innovations.

So this is right in line what you're saying.
 
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Jerry Schippa
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I have found the most success in playing any of "my games" with non-gamer family members with the following games in order from most successful to least: Ticket to Ride, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Carcassonne, and not far behind Dominion.

Of those games, I find Betrayal at House on the Hill to be the most interesting. I've asked family members to play games before and gotten a simple and polite "no" to "oh like dungeons and dragons, I'm not playing nerdy games like that." But for the most part they'll play Betrayal when I start talking about a haunted house. They'll read the text in a spooky voice without being told to do so. They'll get into character and laugh at other characters and situations.

Then when the game is all done and they say how much fun they had, or discuss a certain event...sometimes I slip up and tell them how it was sort of like we were exploring a dungeon and leveling up our characters in order to achieve a goal to win the game. whistle

But you're absolutely right. This specific game leans more on the luck side, but encourages teams to discuss what they should do in a hokey fun way but at the same time in a tense way. The "nerd factor" of tracking stats, items, and abilities disappears because the theme pulls the players in the game.

I agree with the points made, but would say that a thick rulebook doesn't necessarily have to kill a games potential as long as the host really knows the game and can quickly reference the rulebook.

I'm personally hoping to use this games success to justify buying Eldritch Horror as a 'If you liked Betrayal, we can try this' game.
 
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Daniel Valencia
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oppedj02 wrote:
I think two categories missing from your list are:

1. Text. In games I play with non-gamers, I have to be cautious about games that have a lot of text for players to read. I've played Fluxx with people (and I consider this game a step above Uno) who get flummoxed by the text on the cards. After one game I had someone declare, "I'm done. I don't want to have to think anymore."
+1.
This is one of the reasons that I really like games that are language independent or use iconography*

*Of course, for iconography it depends on the game. Even for me Race for the Galaxy is intimidating and I know that newer gamers struggle with the all the iconography in 7 Wonders.
 
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Adrian Hague
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Good visibility of the available decision tree.

It should be easy for the players to visualise/ comprehend the implications of any given action or move.
 
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Trevor Taylor
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I think downtime comes into it as well. We are much more likely to be happy watching other players take their turn so we can plan strategy to the nth degree. However, non-gamers usually don't want to become easily detached from the game. I find a game where everyone is always involved works much better and the times flies more for people.

My wife is unlikely to play BSG again as she realised while playing that she doesn't like blatant lying in games (it stressed her a little when she became a Cylon halfway through). However, she enjoyed the other aspects of the game and she usually doesn't like anything over an hour really, where this game took over 4 hours and she didn't notice until after we stopped. Also keeping non-gamers occupied more helps avoid mobile phone zombie syndrome zombie and passive aggressive fidgeting.
 
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craigsoup wrote:
I recently posted asking for thoughts on some "gateway games" that appeal to multiple audiences, and I wanted to start a discussion on what you think makes those games so appealing to so many people. Some of the most common games mentioned were Pandemic, Carcassone, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, etc.

I hesitate to use the phrase "gateway games" in this context, though I understand the difference is minimal. I'm not really talking about games that "convert" people into hardcore gamers. My wife loves a bunch of these games, but she will never be converted to many of the games I like to play. What I'm talking about are the games that appeal to both groups, even the type of people who will never be converted. What is it about these games that make them so appealing?
"Gateway game" isn't something that has an exact definition. However, "fun game" doesn't either, but that doesn't stop us from discussing such a topic to death either

craigsoup wrote:
1. The right balance of strategy and luck. Casual gamers don't want to think too hard when it's time to have fun, and hardcore gamers don't want to play games that come down to a roll of the dice for victory. The games that appeal to both groups strike a good balance between these extremes.
Dice are often a fun way to pile on the fun. Some newcomers just like rolling dice for the hell of it alone.

craigsoup wrote:
2. Small Rulebooks. If I want to see my wife's eyes glaze over, all I have to do is pull out a 50-page rulebook for a new board game. If you have to consult the rules in order to figure out whether your next move is legal, then casual gamers are going to lose interest quickly.
The game should be simple enough that I can explain everything within 15 minutes. 10 minutes would be better. Beyond that, eyes start glazing over, and you get diminishing returns on retained knowledge

craigsoup wrote:
3. Game Duration. Let's face it. A casual gamer is never going to sit down for a five-hour session of Mage Knight. If it takes more than 5 minutes to set up a board game, or more than an hour or two to play it, then don't even bother taking it off the shelf for a group of casual gamers.

The game duration question isn't as much of an issue for more hardcore gamers. The gameplay itself, and the mechanics involved, trump game duration every time.
I've had one of my nongamer groups quoted saying... "Let's play one of our games now. All of your games take over an hour to play! But then they were fine when 5p Ticket To Ride or 5p Kingsburg went 1.5 hours. The point is, duration shouldn't be everything, but still important

craigsoup wrote:
4. Fun Factor. Casual gamers want to be entertained. So if there's a strong fun factor (due to humor, backstory, etc.), then the casual gamer is more likely to become involved. And even if the strategy involved in a game is minimal, if the fun factor is high enough (i.e., Exploding Kittens), then even hardcore gamers will enjoy themselves.
Ticket To Ride's fun factor was there, as it certainly is casual, but has meaningful (enough) choices to get people sucked into the thing of completing routes and Destination tickets.

craigsoup wrote:
5. Nerd Factor. Discussing mages, hippogriffs, and armor classes will immediately turn a casual, "less nerdy", gamer away. There are few games in the fantasy genre, for example, that most casual gamers would be willing to play. The exceptions, in my experience, are usually the games with a high fun factor, like Munchkin.
After the nongaming group's first game of Kingsburg, they were into it, saying how they liked how there were many different strategies available.

craigsoup wrote:
What are your thoughts? What are some of the game mechanics or features that cause some games to be loved by all? And what are some of the features that will immediately turn away a casual OR a hardcore gamer?
#6) game has to be OOP
Aquadukt has been a prime example of a gateway game I've used.
 
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Mav
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A game with a strong theme like Betrayal can work,because what the players do makes sense.

A game that looks appealing and un complex will trump one that looks messy and fiddly IME.
 
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Good discussion here. But, every I look at the thread title, my brain reads it as "Moron Gateway Games".

 
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Quote:
I hesitate to use the phrase "gateway games" in this context, though I understand the difference is minimal. I'm not really talking about games that "convert" people into hardcore gamers. My wife loves a bunch of these games, but she will never be converted to many of the games I like to play. What I'm talking about are the games that appeal to both groups, even the type of people who will never be converted. What is it about these games that make them so appealing?
These would be your classic casual gamer's games or family games.
Or to be very specific "German school of desing":


sgosaric wrote:
german design ideas and goals:

theme as user interface
For me certainly something that didn't originate somewhere else (even if it's not a feature of all these games). Theme is not used as a goal (immersion, simulation) but as something to help people playing the game, either by creating a proper atmosphere and making the game inviting to new players (these were nongamer friendly games) or by making the connection between theme and mechanics intuitive, thus easing learning and playing the game.

A part of this is also use of theme to create a welcoming atmosphere (but not immersive atmosphere).

simplification
Probably the other side of previous issue. It's reducing everything to its essentials - which depends on your goals. The reason for it is probably the family market (simple to learn, plays in a short time). The consequence of it is why the theme is never more thoroughly developed.

keep them in the game
Something to do with the family market and shorter playing times. As was mentioned there's no player elimination, but mostly it's about keeping players constantly in the running (usually by a fair amount of luck). VP are also common precisely they run against the idea of zero-sum games which are much more definite and competitive.

Non-conflict competition
This has something to do with post ww2 Germany, but also with family market. There has been many strategies around this problem, one is trading (win-win negotiations), then auctions and then we're probably moving to the euro teritory.
Oliver's commentary.

Mezmorki wrote:
German Family games are largely designed to appeal to a broad audience, hence they need to be readily accessible and eliminate as many "barriers to entry" in their gameplay. The biggest barrier from a family game perspective is rule complexity. If its too complex your 10-year old nephew and your 80-year old grandmother aren't going to be interested in learning and playing the game. So great family games need to strike a compelling middle ground. Emphasis is placed on streamlining and focusing the gameplay around a core concept that is easy to teach and understand yet offers sufficient depth to keep the gameplay fresh and dynamic for years to go.
Mezmorki wrote:
Another aspect of Accessibility comes through having designs that keep players engaged throughout the game. Games are most engaging when everyone is in contention for the win, or has a chance at winning. If you know you are going to lose ahead of time, or there is a clear-cut winner, finishing out the rest of the game is considerably less satisfying.

Of course there is a delicate balance point between "keeping them in the running" and "making players accountable for good/bad play", but an appropriate amount of luck or player-driven balance, or hidden scoring can go a long way towards keeping everyone at least "feeling" like they have a shot at winning.

In contrast, many other schools of design, intended to appeal to more hardcore gamers, are less concerned with giving everyone a chance to catch up, because the desire is for player's strategic choices to have high bearing on their performance and the final outcome of the game.
Mezmorki wrote:
The theme of many family-games is of importance primarily as it is used to enhance the legibility and understanding of the game and also to make sure it doesn't turn people off. A term Lewis Pulsipher uses describe the theme of many German Family games is Pacific. This means that the themes tend to diminish or downplay conflict. Inside the game, this is often manifest as themes about "building up" as opposed to "tearing down."

On the outside, it also means themes are less likely to cause conflicts with the preferences of the intended audience. These are themes that are comfortable. Everyone can get behind (or at least tolerate) trains or medieval European farming. Zombies on the other hand, or other heavy conflict-based themes, are going to alienate a lot more people, which runs counter to the notion of engagement.
Mezmorki wrote:
This concept ties into the above discussion on theme, but it also translates into the actual gameplay mechanics. German Family games do have a fair amount of interaction, often of a very open and chaotic sort (auctions, bidding, etc.). Yet this interaction is almost always framed in a positive and constructive manner (e.g. mutually beneficial trading), not in a hostile manner.

Targeted interactions, where players can specifically affect/harm an opponent of their choosing is rare. Even when it occurs, it is often the result of a player being required to make such a move, as opposed to choosing to make such a move. For instance in Settlers of Catan, if you roll a 7 you HAVE to decide where to place the robber, and the logical response to place it where it improves your score the most relative to the lead player. By having the game force you to do this, it excuses players from having "hurt" another player, and maintains a more friendly and positive atmosphere (usually).
source: Schools of Design and Their Core Priorities

so to return to your question: "what you think makes those games so appealing to so many people"

The answer is blatantly simple: their design goal is exactly to create a game appealing to a variety of people, including different skill levels and different ages.

Then there's some fine tuning exactly how each games achieves this, but the point is other type of games don't even bother to achieve this as they have other goals in mind (challenge, competition, simulation, thematic experience).
 
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Kyle
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I am of the opinion that the term 'gateway game' is a fallacy and nothing else. Your best chance at intriguing people to spend their time is... Selecting something they are interested in.

What the often titled 'gateway games' have in common is they are lighter games with moderate chance elements, and nothing else. Many of them are also quite bland (in fact every one but Carcassonne you listed is a snorefest).Is that how you want to introduce someone to how you spend your time, or do you want to find a topic that generally interests that person. Is that person highly analytical? Do they like control? Will they appreciate a game that lacks autonomy, or will it hearken back to childhood games?

For Nerd factor, a lot of my gaming friends come from a D&D/roleplaying background, no issues there.

So the games you are looking for depends highly on audience, not 'the standards', for one I recommend Kingsburg for something light, easy, enjoyable, and containing significant autonomy. Almost everyone enjoys chucking dice, but you don't have the issues of a game like Catan (turns that can be entirely non-productive, namely). It is also a short game.
 
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oppedj02 wrote:
jhaimowitz wrote:
I think one of the key features is that they don't overwhelm players with unfamiliar mechanics. One of the appeals of Ticket to Rideis that, at its core, it has a mechanic that most new players are familiar with - set collection. That part of the game is not one that most people have to learn. They are likely already comfortable with it from playing rummy games. Then, the new mechanic to players is network building and new players can learn that. In addition, they can play the game at its most simple level by solely focusing on fulfilling their tickets and later, as they become more comfortable they can add in worrying about longest route or blocking other players routes.
Excellent point. It made my think of a somewhat recent podcast on Ludology by Geoff Engelstein about innovation in mechanisms that people can handle in a game. He stated that people can only handle 1-2 new mechanisms in a game. Trying to introduce too many innovations causes players to focus on mastering one or two (while ignoring others) until they master them before focusing on other innovations.

So this is right in line what you're saying.
Yes, that was the point made by Geoff Engelstein. I couldn't remember if I heard it on Ludology or an old Dice Tower GameTek segment. I always learn something interesting from Geoff.
 
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darthain wrote:
I am of the opinion that the term 'gateway game' is a fallacy and nothing else. Your best chance at intriguing people to spend their time is... Selecting something they are interested in.

What the often titled 'gateway games' have in common is they are lighter games with moderate chance elements, and nothing else. Many of them are also quite bland (in fact every one but Carcassonne you listed is a snorefest).Is that how you want to introduce someone to how you spend your time, or do you want to find a topic that generally interests that person. Is that person highly analytical? Do they like control? Will they appreciate a game that lacks autonomy, or will it hearken back to childhood games?

For Nerd factor, a lot of my gaming friends come from a D&D/roleplaying background, no issues there.

So the games you are looking for depends highly on audience, not 'the standards', for one I recommend Kingsburg for something light, easy, enjoyable, and containing significant autonomy. Almost everyone enjoys chucking dice, but you don't have the issues of a game like Catan (turns that can be entirely non-productive, namely). It is also a short game.
If it wasn't for TTR I would still be playing Candyland and Monopoly. Even after owning 70+ games we still enjoy TTR. I do agree though that trying to tailor the game choice to the new player is ideal.
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Re4isnumber1 wrote:

If it wasn't for TTR I would still be playing Candyland and Monopoly. Even after owning 70+ games we still enjoy TTR. I do agree though that trying to tailor the game choice to the new player is ideal.
That's all good and well, I understand that game had quite a following, fortunately for me I started before it. 2 games of TtR was enough for me. That is however not the point I was making.
 
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darthain wrote:
Re4isnumber1 wrote:

If it wasn't for TTR I would still be playing Candyland and Monopoly. Even after owning 70+ games we still enjoy TTR. I do agree though that trying to tailor the game choice to the new player is ideal.
That's all good and well, I understand that game had quite a following, fortunately for me I started before it. 2 games of TtR was enough for me. That is however not the point I was making.
I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm straw manning this but is your point something along the lines of:
I could get my non-gamer sister-in-law (to whom board games=Ludo, Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit) to sit down to play Game of Thrones as her first "modern" game because she already enjoys the show more so than I could get her to play Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne? If so, I have to call BS on that.
 
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DragonsDream wrote:
darthain wrote:
Re4isnumber1 wrote:

If it wasn't for TTR I would still be playing Candyland and Monopoly. Even after owning 70+ games we still enjoy TTR. I do agree though that trying to tailor the game choice to the new player is ideal.
That's all good and well, I understand that game had quite a following, fortunately for me I started before it. 2 games of TtR was enough for me. That is however not the point I was making.
I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm straw manning this but is your point something along the lines of:
I could get my non-gamer sister-in-law (to whom board games=Ludo, Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit) to sit down to play Game of Thrones as her first "modern" game because she already enjoys the show more so than I could get her to play Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne? If so, I have to call BS on that.
Not at all, the key here is finding people who are willing to put in the time and learn. It doesn't actually matter where you start, so long as they are willing to give the time. Someone is more likely to be willing to give time to something relating to their interests.

I started with chess and 3.5e D&D, everything else is very simple in comparison. I've never met a board game I couldn't grok easily, they are all relatively simple in execution. For most people you need to overcome societies unwillingness to think, and inability to think critically.
 
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darthain wrote:
DragonsDream wrote:
darthain wrote:
Re4isnumber1 wrote:

If it wasn't for TTR I would still be playing Candyland and Monopoly. Even after owning 70+ games we still enjoy TTR. I do agree though that trying to tailor the game choice to the new player is ideal.
That's all good and well, I understand that game had quite a following, fortunately for me I started before it. 2 games of TtR was enough for me. That is however not the point I was making.
I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm straw manning this but is your point something along the lines of:
I could get my non-gamer sister-in-law (to whom board games=Ludo, Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit) to sit down to play Game of Thrones as her first "modern" game because she already enjoys the show more so than I could get her to play Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne? If so, I have to call BS on that.
Not at all, the key here is finding people who are willing to put in the time and learn. It doesn't actually matter where you start, so long as they are willing to give the time. Someone is more likely to be willing to give time to something relating to their interests.

I started with chess and 3.5e D&D, everything else is very simple in comparison. I've never met a board game I couldn't grok easily, they are all relatively simple in execution. For most people you need to overcome societies unwillingness to think, and inability to think critically.
seems more like you need to get over the idea that everyone could be or should be a thinking gamer. The vast majority of people who play any board games at all just want to spend time in a social setting with family or friends. The reason that TtR or Carcassonne function well as "gateway" games isn't because they create future gamers, it's because your 8 year old cousin and you 65 year old grand mom can both play and both feel like they have a chance while enjoying time with you.

Game of Thrones is a huge phenomenon right now. By all accounts the board game is quite good and yet... only a tiny fraction of GoT fans play it and probably never more than a tiny fraction would even want to. It has nothing to do with matching their interest in the subject. It has to do with matching their level of interest in playing a game.

TtR, Catan, Carcassonne, et al. are low investments. They can be learned quickly, set up and played easily and can be played often enough such that losing isn't a big deal. That's what most people want - be it from Clue or Scrabble or even Monopoly. Gateway games are about sharing the activity is a quick way. When I take someone to their first baseball game, i don't break out the pitching charts and start explaining On Base Percentage. I talk about balls and strikes and hits and outs. The basics. Sure, a numbers oriented person may want more, but the majority of people don't, so giving them only the basics is fine.
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DragonsDream wrote:

TtR, Catan, Carcassonne, et al. are low investments. They can be learned quickly, set up and played easily and can be played often enough such that losing isn't a big deal.
I think this is key: "low investment".

Most people don't want to fail, so if they see 1,000 components or a 50 page rule book, they probably are thinking that their risk of failure is high and will be turned off by the game.

My gateway into this hobby just over a year ago was:
One Night Ultimate Werewolf - Fun, simple, social, quick (low fear of failure)

Then:
Carcassonne - Simple, quick, a bit more thinking (low fear of failure)

Then:
Stone Age - Relative to the first two, more complex, more "stuff going on" (gather resources then decide what to do with them), multiple ways to gain victory points, etc.
 
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Pete
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One of the things that makes a gateway game work is that a "gamer" will not automatically and thoroughly trounce the newbie. When playing gateway game, the better player should win, but the new player should not get totally and completely humiliated, as he would if playing a game like Russian Railroads, where it's possible for a good player to score hundreds of points to the newb's 25.

Pete (offers one counterexample)
 
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Freelance Police
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Familiar and simple. Tile games like Ingenious, Quirkle, and Blockus are good gateway games, because the pieces have only a small amount of information (color and shape), and tiles typically come in familiar shapes.
 
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