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Gateway Game

Entry updated 7 December 2020. Tagged: Game, Theme.

A gateway game is a term used in board, card and tabletop gaming (see Board Games; Card Games; Role Playing Games) to denote a Game that is easy to play and understand, and which is suitable for a player who may not be familiar with the above genres or a specific subgenre. Semiotically, the term implies that these games open the gates for novice players and allow them entry to the world of gaming.

Gateway games frequently present simplified versions of rules or concepts used in more complex games; for example Matt Leacock's games Pandemic, Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert introduce the player to the idea of cooperative and turn-based play, and Richard Garfield's King of Tokyo encourages players to experiment with combinations of dice-rolling and "powering up" their monster characters. Other games like Terror in Meeple City and Kling Klang Klunker (2012) employ more generic skills such as dexterity, and still others are variations on older and classic games: Dobble (2009) and Kabuki (2016) are memory games in the style of Snap!, King of Tokyo has its origins in Yahtzee! (1956) and Bananagrams (2006) is a sort of speedy version of Scrabble (1948).

Gateway games tend to be relatively quick to play, taking between 30 minutes and an hour to complete. While expansions and adaptations of these games exist, they do not rely on the elements seen in other games such as Collectible Card Games or Living Card Games, where a player must keep their collection up to date in order to participate in play. They are also often very clearly thematic, giving new players a strong frame of reference during play. Adventure, Lovecraftian horror (see Cthulhu Mythos), Monsters, Gods and Demons, Space Flight and Steampunk feature heavily in these titles, as do more mundane topics such as trains (see Transportation), medieval settings and farming.

Gateway games are easy to learn, but this does not necessarily mean they are easy to win. Similarly, they often contain levels of complexity within the modes of gameplay available that allow more experienced players to enjoy returning to them: Pandemic and Ticket to Ride are both regularly played at tournament level. The replayability of a gateway game is often high, whether through the addition of a difficulty setting for more experienced players, or simply because the game subscribes to a "minute to learn, lifetime to master" philosophy – usually a product of strong design, multiple ways to play or succeed at any given title, and consistently interesting gameplay. [EMS].

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