The Best Board Games to Hook Your Friends

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 Monopoly, Risk, 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 Catan, King of Tokyo, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic, 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:


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

Have you 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 5x5 tile grid, and the final scores are tallied based on your accumulated lands and crowns.

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


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.

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).

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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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


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.

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 tiles run out is the winner.

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 which can be used to introduce even the most intimidated new players to tabletop gaming. ~Millhouse


3-D gaming without the headache!

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. 

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

Sherrif of Nottingham Board Game

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.

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 towards our article on the Types of Board Games Everyone Should Know.

Nonstop Tabletop's Gateway Game Score

We all have friends who have not played board games since they were kids. They have vague memories of Life, Monopoly and Checkers, but that's about it. We may have even been those friends at one point. Regardless, they are coming over and it is the perfect time to introduce them to the glorious word of tabletop gaming. But what game to choose?

That's where our Gateway Game Score comes into the picture. On a scale of 1 to 10, we rank how appropriate each game is for introducing first time players. The ideal game is simple, yet highly addictive with easily explainable rules and an appealing art style. It stays away from excessive jargon or themes that may be off-putting or intimidating to general audiences. In other words, no medieval mages or sci-fi terraforming resource management. It makes people laugh and pairs well with alcohol and never overstays its welcome.

Gateway Games are the best place to start for your novice or inexperienced friends. They are light, casual, fast, fun and avoid hardcore genre tropes. Everyone starts board gaming and tabletop somewhere. Gateway Games are that starting point.