Thursday, December 17, 2015

Gateway Games Roundup - Family Favorites

Twice a month I host a Family Game Night at my FLGS (friendly local game store).  Plus I love playing games with my wife and sons.  We also get together regularly with other families that enjoy games.  So I get to play great family games quite often.  Here are 20 of my family's favorite gateway games that we love to use for introducing new players to modern board games.  They are great for family, new, and casual gamers.

Catan Junior – resource management – a very simple resource management game, best for younger players, under 7, but a great introduction to games beyond Snakes and Ladders and Candy Land.  This is the game that turned my family on to gaming.  After playing this my wife and I decided to try out 'adult' Catan and fell in love.  We haven't looked back since.

Splendor – engine building, resource management – a very fun engine building game where players collect gems that can be used to purchase gem mines, which in turn can be used to purchase gem traders, which can purchase gem merchants, which attract nobles.  More valuable cards are worth more points and the first to 15 points wins.

Takenoko looks great and the components
are very tactile and fun.
Takenoko – set collection, pattern matching, goal acquisition – this game has a great theme for families.  It is a simple tile laying, pattern matching game where players build a bamboo garden that a gardener tends to while a panda eats the bamboo.  Players score points by having the gardener grow bamboo, the panda eat bamboo, and constructing the garden to match certain patterns.

King of Tokyo – dice manipulation, player power enhancements, press your luck – a simple dice rolling game, with similarities to Yahtzee, where players are giant monsters battling each other in Tokyo.  This is one of the few games in this roundup that I don't own, however I've played it several times and it has an excellent reputation among kids and families.  Also check out King of New York for slightly more complex strategy.

Star Realms – deckbuilding, card based combat, faction abilities – this is a quick playing, small, deckbuilding game where players build fleets of space ships and bases in an attempt to attack an opponent while defending themselves.  The artwork is fantastic and combining the different ships abilities increases effectiveness as you have more of the same ship factions in your deck.  There are a few small expansions and a second version of the game that can be played stand alone or combined with the base game for more variety.

Survive! Escape from Atlantis is a game of carnage.
And it's a ton of fun!
Survive!  Escape from Atlantis – hidden information, movement distribution, take-that player interaction – this is an older game that still holds up well to modern board game standards.  Chaos ensues as each player tries to get a set of 10 survivos to escape a sinking island and avoid being eaten or destroyed by sharks, whales, and sea monsters before they arrive at a safe island.  Players are also trying to get sharks, whales, and sea monsters to eat their opponents’ survivors.

RoboRally – movement programming, simultaneous action resolution – another chaotically fun game where players program robots to navigate an obstacle course of conveyor belts, lasers, gears, walls, and pits to reach various goals.  Players program a series of movements for their robots in secret and then all movements are revealed, often resulting in robots colliding and causing programmed movements to do unexpected things.

Where could Mr. X be?  Scotland Yard is loads of fun.
Scotland Yard – hidden movement, semi-cooperative play – another classic that holds up well in today’s game market.  In Scotland Yard one player controls a hidden character on a map through secret movements while the other players try to track and capture the first player, all with limited information.

Nuns on the Run - hidden movement, competitive play, hidden goals - after mentioning Scotland Yard I had to include Nuns on the Run.  This takes the idea of Scotland Yard and flips it on its head.  Instead of everyone trying to find one player, in Nuns on the Run one player is trying to find everyone else.  Only one player's position is known and all the other players try to sneak around the abbey to accomplish their secret goals without getting caught.

Tsuro is fun for all ages!
Sheriff of Nottingham – bluffing, bargaining, social interaction – each round a player takes on the role of the sheriff while other players act as merchants trying to bring legal goods or contraband into the city.  They must bribe or bluff their way into the city, but if they are caught bringing contraband they have to pay a fine.  If they are caught telling the truth the sheriff pays them for their trouble.

Tsuro – tile laying, player elimination, abstract strategy – this game plays quickly (about 10 minutes) for 2 to 8 players.  Each player takes a turn playing a tile to a board.  The tile has paths drawn on it and the player’s pawn travels along the path laid out, however players must not crash or leave the board.  If they do they are out of the game. The last player remaining wins.  It’s a super simple concept that can be taught in five minutes and plays quickly with a wide range of player counts.

If you were a fisherman, would you rather have Lake Poison to
make your job a whole lot easier?  Or a Massage Pole to make
long hours of casting and reeling less stressful on your hands?
Snake Oil is full of tough choices!
Snake Oil – party style, social interaction, improvisation – most people are familiar with party games and Snake Oil is pretty generic in concept, but is one of the most fun to play.  In Snake Oil players create crazy products that they try to sell to another player, who is an equally crazy customer.

The Last Spike - route building, land speculation, economics - this is a light strategy game that plays quickly and is super easy to teach and learn.  Players work semi-cooperatively to build a railroad across the continental US, purchasing deeds to land in cities along the way.  As cities are connected to each other via tracks the land in those cities that players own pay out dividends.  The game takes the concepts of more complex games, like Acquire, and strips them down to their simplest form.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms – 4x, area control, variable player powers, resource management – a 4x game is a game about eXpanding, eXploring, eXploiting, and eXterminating.  In Tiny Epic Kingdoms players start with two meeples (pawns that look like little people) in one small area on a map.  Throughout the game the player manages resources collected to grow their population (eXpand), spread out to new areas (eXplore), collect resources from areas they control (eXploit), and battle opponents (eXterminate). (Currently unavailable, reprint is in process.)

Tiny Epic Galaxies – dice manipulation, action programming, worker placement, off turn activity – Tiny Epic Galaxies is another small box game by the same designer as Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Harbour (Scott Almes).  Players work to grow their galactic empire by colonizing various planets and using the planets’ abilities.  Depending on the size of the empire players will have more dice to roll giving them a variety of possible actions to take on their turn.  On an opponent’s turn a player can also spend a resource to copy the other player’s action.

Harbour is small enough to fit in a pocket, but packs a
ton of game in that small box.
Harbour – worker placement, fluctuating marketplace, resource management, engine building – Harbour is by the same designer as the Tiny Epic games(Scott Almes) and similarly packs a lot of game into a small box.  Players take turns moving their goblin worker to different buildings within a town to use the actions those buildings allow in an effort to purchase buildings for their own exclusive use, manage their resources, and sell resources for a profit.  Note that Stone Age and Lords of Waterdeep are also great introductions to Worker Placement mechanics, however I do not have those in my collection.

Zombie Dice – press your luck – this is a very simple game that really only teaches one thing, press your luck, but it does it super well.  It plays 2 to 10 or more players and can be played casually at family gatherings, restaurants or pubs, etc. It plays relatively quickly and is super quick to teach.

Bullfrogs – abstract strategy, area control – players are clashing tribes of frogs battling over sinking lily pads.  This straight forward strategy game plays great from two to four players, is simple to teach, has a lot of depth, a fun theme, great artwork, and plays fairly quickly.

Qwirkle creates gorgeous patterns!
Qwirkle – pattern matching, tile laying – a modern classic where players lie wooden tiles in a grid to create rows and columns of tiles with either the same symbol but different color, or same color but different symbol.  This is a great game for families that can be played almost anywhere there is a large enough table, including outside when it’s windy.

Five Tribes – puzzle solving, action selection, bidding – a little on the complex side, but still very accessible, Five Tribes lets players move pieces around the playing grid to select actions that will give them points, abilities, resources, or more.  The theme is fun and, while the mechanics appear a bit daunting at first, they are really simple once they are understood.

There are tons of other games that my family loves to play, and sometimes we'll pull out a more complex game at game night, but these get played a lot.  They're the games that we jump to when we want to show someone new to games one of our favorites.  You can't go wrong with any of these!

Happy gaming!

Gateway Game Roundup

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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