The Best Board Games to Hook Your Friends

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One of the most fun things to do in the world of tabletop is to introduce a friend or family member to the hobby of board games for the first time. Watching things “click” while the addiction takes hold can be quite exciting. It is actually one of the main reasons we started this website. 

I grew up playing “Traditional” board games like MonopolyRisk, and Battleship. Three years ago, my brother brought Pandemic to a family reunion, and after a couple of rounds, I was hooked. Soon after I bought CatanKing of TokyoTicket to Ride, and Pandemic, Villainous and the rest is history.

When I think of Gateway Games, those are four of the games that come to mind. They’re certainly the most popular, but are they the best board games to introduce to new players for the first time? With so many amazing new games coming out each year, we waded through the best and are proud to present Nonstop Tabletop’s Best Board Games to Get Your Friends Hooked.

The Best Gateway Board Games To Hook Your Friends

Just one game. Just give it a try; it won't hurt anything. All the cool kids are doing it...
Just one game. Just give it a try; it won’t hurt anything. All the cool kids are doing it…

All of Nonstop Tabletop’s Board Game Reviews feature a Gateway Game Score from 1-10 to help you find great games to expose your friends. But why waste all that time going through reviews? Here’s the only list you need to get your friends started:

Kingdomino

Have you friends over for beer and board games. If things go well, you'll soon be having coffee and board games.
Invite your friends over for beer and board games. If things go well, you’ll soon be having coffee and board games.

Released in 2016 by Blue Orange Games, Kingdomono is a quick, easy to learn game of Kingdom Building. Players take turns drawing tiles (which have two halves like a domino) and connecting them to their castle and connected lands. Each player builds a 5×5 tile grid, and the final scores are tallied based on your accumulated lands and crowns.

Kingdomino

Players take on the role of Lords seeking new lands to expand their kingdom. As with 'Dominoes', these new lands must match the landscape tiles that have already been played. 

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Why is Kingdomonio a good Gateway game? 

Kingdomino is easy to learn and play, yet somehow still has a lot of re-playability. The art is colorful and inviting, making this an easy sell to your most inexperienced gaming friend. ~Millhouse

Barenpark

Build a zoo. Just don't put the lions next to the gazelles. Or the playground.
Build a zoo. Just don’t put the lions next to the gazelles. Or the playground.

Released in 2017 by Mayfair Games, Barenpark is a tile laying game to build the greatest zoo. Players draft tiles by covering icons on their board with their current tile. The newly covered icons tell the player from which set of bank tiles they can choose from. Players continue filling their board until four zoo tiles are filled. Points are scored when one player fills their zoo completely. Each tile is scored by the number of points present on the tile.

Bärenpark

Barenpark is a quick, fun adventure game that takes players into the world of bears, challenging them to build their own bear park fit for animals and humans alike.

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Why is Barenpark a Good Gateway game?

Who doesn’t want to create their own zoo? You get to decide all of the important stuff, like how many bathrooms vs. how many bear exhibits. The tiles are colorful and fit together nicely creating a breezy, family-friendly game.  ~Annamous

Kodama: The Tree Spirits

Released in 2016 by Indie Boards & Cards, Kodama: The Tree Spirits is set-building card game. Players choose a sweet tree symbols (flowers, stars, caterpillars, fireflies, mushrooms, and clouds) to begin building their tree. As players build their tree, they try to make chains of matching symbols to gain more points while also trying to meet public and private decrees from the Kodamas (tree spirits).

Kodama Forest

In Kodama Forest, players are caretakers of the barren forest floor. Players must work together with their neighbors to cover as much of the bare ground as possible.

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Why is Kodama a good Gateway game?

This is game down right adorable. You are enticed to make tree spirits happy by forming your tree in specific ways. This game is great for artsy game players as it is both strategic and visually appealing.  ~Annamous

Sagrada

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. This game is beautiful. It’s the supermodel of board games and it’s ready for its closeup.

Released in 2017 by Floodgate Games, Sagrada is an elegant dice-rolling game. Players roll a set number of dice and take turns drafting dice to create a mezmerizing stained glass window. Players place their drafted die on their window based on specific shade and color limitations. Points are scored by filling the window, while fulfilling public and private objectives.

Sagrada

Sagrada is a dice-placement game where players draft dice, representing the color and shade of glass, placing them in their window -- carefully following the restrictions while adding their own artistic flair.

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Why is Sagrada a good Gateway Game?

Sagrada is one of the most visually spectacular games to be released in 2017. This game allows 1-4 players to build something beautiful while also playing a fairly challenging puzzle game. There is a bit of everything in this game, strategy, luck, puzzle solving and much more. ~Annamous

Smash Up

Anyone who saw  Cabin in the Woods  is dying for a Unicorns vs. Mermen match-up.
Anyone who saw Cabin in the Woods is dying for a Unicorns vs. Mermen match-up.

Released in 2012 be AEG Smash Up is a ”shuffle-building” game, where you pick two of a variety of factions to create your army. The base game comes with eight factions to choose from including Pirates, Aliens, Dinosaurs, and Ninjas, among others. Players combine two sets of 20 cards to give a 40-card deck for each player in the game. Minion cards are placed on different power bases to earn points, and play action cards to help boost each player and sabotage competitors. The first to 15 victory points is the winner.

Smash Up

The "shufflebuilding" game Smash Up starts with a simple premise: Take the twenty-card decks of two factions, shuffle them into a forty-card deck, then compete to smash more Bases than your opponents.

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Why is Smash Up a good Gateway Game? 

My favorite aspect of this game is the variety of factions. You can have a robot-dinosaur army, a pirate-wizard army, or even a princess-dragon army. AEG continues to release expansions that are interesting and hilarious. My daughter loves the Pretty Pretty Smashup expansion as it allows her to have Kittens in her army. Everyone will be able to find a faction that tickles their inner geek, which will help them get into the game.   ~Millhouse

Imhotep: Builder of Egypt

The mystery of the pyramids has been solved. It was just some pharaohs trying to win at board games.

Released in 2016 by KOSMOS Imhotep is a game where players are each an ancient Egyptian architect trying to earn points by building monuments, pyramids, and crypts. Players load their stones onto boats, and move them to different monuments over six rounds. At the end of the game, points are totaled up, and a winner is declared.

Imhotep Builder of Egypt

In Imhotep, you will need to transport stone blocks on ships from your quarry to different construction sites. 

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Why is Imhotep a good Gateway Game? 

The strategy is light enough to be easy to learn, while still being interesting enough to more experienced gamers. This is a great game to pull out if you have a variety of board gamers and newbies at your table. The blocks are bigger than expected, and you get to sail little boats! What more could you want? ~Millhouse

Mysterium

It's like  Dixit , but with a purpose!
It’s like Dixit, but with a purpose!

Released in 2015 by Asmodee, Mysterium is a thematic semi-cooperative game set in a haunted mansion. Mysterium is great for larger groups, as it can accommodate up to seven players. One player is the “ghost” giving visions to the remaining players who are all mediums who are in the house trying to solve a crime. Players need to have a little experience to be the ghost, but the most novice players could be one of the mediums.

Mysterium

A horrible crime was committed on the grounds of Warwick Manor thirty years ago. Now the mansion is haunted by the ghost of the murdered servant and it’s up to a group of psychic investigators to get to the bottom of the mystery.

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Why is Mysterium a good Gateway Game? 

Do you have a friend who loves mystery? This would be a great game for them! The “visions” given to the mediums are cards with all kinds of crazy pictures and colors, and it is a lot of fun for the mediums to talk and try to figure out what the ghost is trying to tell them. Since it is cooperative, it is also great for new gamers who might not like conflict and could be more interested in working together to accomplish a goal. ~Millhouse

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival

Dominoes with fire! Just don't burn down the house.
Dominoes with fire! Just don’t burn down the house.

Released in 2015 by Renegade Game Studios, Lanterns is a tile-laying game where players assume the role of an artist preparing for the lantern festival. Players take turns laying four-sided tiles and earning “Lantern cards” based on the direction of those tiles and the number of matching sides. Cards are then turned in in specific sets to earn victory points. The player with the most points after the tiles run out is the winner.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival

Place tiles, adorn the Palace lake, and dedicate lanterns in this beautiful, fast-paced board game set in Imperial China.

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Why is Lanterns a good Gateway Game? 

Lanterns is a light-hearted, easy-to-learn game. While it may not have a ton of depth, it is a great filler game that can be used to introduce even the most intimidated new players to tabletop gaming. ~Millhouse

Santorini

3-D gaming without the headache!

Released in 2016 by Roxley Game Laboratory, Santorini is an abstract strategy game with a fun Greek mythology theme. Easy to learn, players take turns moving their character and placing a building piece on the board. First to get their character to the third level is the winner, but the game can be more difficult than is seems, as others players are constantly trying to block each others’ path. 

Santorini

Do you have what it takes to join the pantheon of winners? Build like a mortal and win like a God in the game of Santorini!

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Why is Santorini a good Gateway Game? 

Santorini is a game than can be learned incredibly quickly. While it was recently funded on Kickstarter, it has earned enough recognition to be picked up by Big Box chains such as Target. The board is three-dimensional, adding a gaming aspect that could be new and exciting for players new to board gaming. ~Millhouse

Sheriff of Nottingham

Released in 2014 by Arcane Wonders, Sheriff of Nottingham is a game that allows even the youngest of players to be sneaky. Players try to pass goods and contraband items past the sheriff. The sheriff can decide whether to check each players bag or accept a bribe to let the bag pass without an inspection. Points are gained at the end by counting the value of each good passed by the sheriff and additional points are awarded for to each person with the most of each legal good.

Sheriff of Nottingham
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You have come to Nottingham with your Goods on market day, and the only thing standing between you and your hard-earned profits is the Sheriff. All you need to do is bluff or bribe your way past him. ..or maybe, tell the truth!

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11/26/2022 10:11 am GMT

Why is Sherrif of Nottingham a good Gateway Game?

Sheriff of Nottingham is a game loved by all ages. The game allows players to be sneaky or honest depending on the personality of the player. What child doesn’t love sneaking a lie past their parent, aka sheriff??  ~Annamous

Do your friends’ eyes glaze over when you try to explain victory points? What are your favorite Gateway Games to get your friends hooked on tabletop awesomeness? Let us know in the comments below.

If your friends are starting to get hooked, be sure to point them toward our article on the Types of Board Games Everyone Should Know.