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Best gateway games for tabletop newbies

From Carcassonne to Pandemic, we recommend the best gateway games across plenty of genres to introduce new players to the board game hobby.

Cards from Pandemic, one of the best gateway games

If you want to get your loved ones into board games, choosing the right gateway games is a delicate task. You want to choose something that shows off the full potential of tabletop gaming. It can’t be so complex it scares newbies away, but if it’s overly simplistic, it might also convince someone that board gaming is boring. The best gateway board games are all about balance.

With many years of experience under our belts, we feel equipped to list the very best gateway games. Some of the best board games ever made are beginner-friendly, and our ultra-accesible picks will introduce you to a wide range of  titles, from strategy board games to coop adventures and hidden role party games.

Because we think board games are better in groups, most of these games can play with two, but work better with more – if you’re in the market for a two-player game, check out our list of the best board games for couples. For now, though, time to dive in…

These are the best gateway games:

  • Carcassonne
  • Codenames
  • Dominion
  • Kingdomino
  • Quacks of Quedlinburg
  • One Night Ultimate Werewolf
  • Pandemic

Meeples and scoring board from Carcassonne, one of the best gateway games


When introducing newcomers to board games, many reach for modern classics from the ‘90s and 2000s. Sure, these titles defined the hobby as we know it, but do they still hold up? We think Carcassonne definitely does. It’s a quick and simple way to familiarise yourself with many of tabletop gaming’s core tenets. Plus, who doesn’t love meeples?

Carcassonne is a tile game, which means players take turns laying a random tile, lining its roads and cities up to help create an expanding mediaeval city. As our review says, passive-aggression is the name of the game in Carcassonne. Playing strategically often involves cutting your friends off from points in very petty (and entertaining) ways.

Read our Carcassonne review.

Word and spy tiles from Codenames, one of the best gateway games


Codenames translates high-stakes espionage into a competitive word game, and the results are excellent. Your group plays as two opposing teams of spies, with one spymaster on each side. A grid of simple phrases is laid between you. Each of the word cards hides a spy from one of the teams, an innocent bystander, or a deadly assassin – and only the spymasters know who’s concealed where. The other spies must decipher their spymaster’s single-word clues to discover the locations of their ally spies.

Codenames presents an elegant puzzle, whatever role you play. It also offers something other simple word games don’t, and that’s plenty of laughs. The limited communication can often lead to confusion, desperation, and hilarity. Our review can tell you exactly why this is a great gateway game to get budding board gamers hooked on the hobby.

Read our Codenames review.

Cards from Dominion, one of the best gateway games


Another classic board game that still holds up is deck-building staple Dominion. Each player starts with an identical deck of cards. Most of these will represent money, which you’ll play to acquire more interesting cards, the kind that give you extra turns and resources, or throw a spanner in your opponent’s plans. Keep building your deck to hoover up victory points, end the game with the greatest kingdom at the table, and Bob’s your uncle.

Dominion is a beginner-friendly game with plenty of replayability. There’s a wide range of card types to mix and match in the core box, and expansions will keep die-hard Dominion-ers in business for quite some time. Gateway board games are sometimes only good for introducing you to tabletop games, but we’d understand if you started and stayed with Dominion for a good while.

Tiles and a meeple from Kingdomino, one of the best gateeway games


If you’re looking to introduce board games at an early age, Kingdomino is easily one of the best family board games and kids’ board games available. It’s essentially a more simple, colourful, and compelling version of dominoes. Players line up dominoes covered with bits of landscape, competing to create the highest-scoring kingdom possible within a five-by-five grid.

Kingdomino involves enough tactics to keep an adult engaged from turn to turn, but its rules are streamlined enough that all family members can take part without feeling overwhelmed. Cute and compact is the name of the game; check out our full Kingdomino review if you don’t believe us.

Quacks of Quedlinburg board game box, one of the best gateway games

Quacks of Quedlinburg

Quacks of Quedlinburg is a push-your-luck game that turns players into foolhardy quack doctors. You’ll each brew your dodgy elixirs by pulling tokens from a bag and adding them to your cauldron – but beware. If the numbers on your ingredients go past seven, the cauldron blows up in your face, and you can’t continue playing for the round.

Quacks is less about crafting clever strategies and more about how lucky you’re feeling. The state of the game changes constantly, and everyone gets to share the game’s chaotic highs and lows. If this sounds like your alchemical bag, our Quacks of Quedlinburg review can teach you more about how the game plays.

Werewolf cards from One Night Ultimate Werewolf, one of the best gateway games

One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Many board games include a social element, which means they involve a lot of talking, negotiation, and hidden information. The most approachable social deduction game by far is One Night Ultimate Werewolf, an intense game of murder and betrayal that can be played in less than ten minutes.

Each player is assigned a secret role at the start of a game. You might be an innocent villager, a villager with a unique power that awakens while everyone sleeps, or you might be a bloodthirsty werewolf. The werewolf team will devour a victim during the night, and then everyone has five minutes to discuss who they think the killer is. Villagers must use their powers to discover and execute a werewolf, while the werewolves must lie their way out of a hangman’s noose. It’s fast, it’s frantic, and as our One Night Ultimate Werewolf review says, it’s so much fun.

Pandemic, one of the best gateway games


If the word ‘pandemic’ doesn’t fill you with too much dread, the Pandemic board game is well worth playing. This is a cooperative experience where players must work together to thwart disease. You’ll need to travel the globe to research cures and fight outbreaks, and each player has a unique special ability that makes them an asset to the team.

Pandemic is a great introduction to ‘player versus the game’ titles, as it offers enough crunch to get your brain whirring without being overwhelming. A cooperative may also be the ideal gateway game for nervous beginners who are worried about losing to their more competitive or experienced friends.

We hope one of these gateway games will grip you and your pals so much you get more invested in the hobby. If that happens, and you start dipping into bigger, more cumbersome tabletop adventures, you should consider a dedicated play space – check our guide to the best gaming tables for our expert suggestions.

And we’ve got tons more guides to excellent games in different genres to help you find the next expansions to your collection – from the basic, to the advanced, and even (for 18s-and-over) the best sex board games to try. Tabletop games can do anything.