GTM #217 - Gateway Games: Recruiting New Gamers!
by Mike Palmisano, Calliope Games

The most noble work and the highest calling of every gamer is recruiting new gamers. Yes, regardless of the other small obligations that we face, such as rent and marriage, creating a new gamer is our reason for being on this earth. But as mere mortals we ask, “How do we achieve this lofty and worthy goal?”

The answer lies in the underexposed but vital world of gateway games. These are games created by people who understand the path to enlightenment, and in almost any other field they would be banished for their quixotic crusade. On the surface they seem normal, fun and vivacious even, but they live to see you brought into the fold of gaming and fun.

Gateway games typically use one or two clever mechanisms wrapped up in an engaging theme.  As such, they are easy to learn and play in a reasonable amount of time. Done well, a newcomer is exposed to a rich gaming experience without being overwhelmed and will want to try games of increasing complexity. In other words, they’re hooked.

A great example of this concept is the game Roll For It!, a dice game where players are trying to roll the combination of dice shown on one of three cards. As they attempt to match one of the patterns they must commit dice to the goal, which over subsequent turns reduces the number of dice available to roll. And, of course, the harder the combination the higher the possible score. The game is simple to play, but the underlying dynamic pits greed against probability. It’s almost Greek tragedy in a box.

Another excellent example is the game Tsuro: The Game Of The Path. The object of the game is simple: travel a path and don’t go off of the board. Each tile, though, is an extension of your path and inevitably conflicts will arise causing one or more players to either collide or go off of the board, ending their game. The last player on the board wins. However, each path tile is unique and optimum placement is critical to success, so the game is endlessly replayable while remaining easy-to-play.

Pacing is very important to the newer gamer, so a game with constant engagement can be the perfect choice!  Ancestree, a new release from Calliope Games by famed designer Eric Lang, is a drafting game where each player draws and places a tile simultaneously into their family tree. Drafting is one of the most social of all game mechanics as it features fun interaction between players.  Competing directly with the players on the left and right only, the social interaction and multi-aspect scoring system is rich and interesting without being overwhelming. Played across three rounds, with each round more valuable than the last, the game builds interest and tension quickly. Scoring opportunities abound, there is no “downtime,” and the game finishes with a crescendo in less than an hour.

For many new gamers, the world of gateway games is an enjoyable plateau they reach during their climb up the mountain of the gaming hobby; they never feel the need to advance to the higher peaks of the board gaming butte. Most often they will face time constraints that limit gaming to an hour or so and this shuts out the multi-hour requirements that many hobby games may demand. Sometimes they have no one in their day-to-day life who has the passion to play at the higher levels of strategy and so they self-select to stop at the gateway games. For others, the feeling of being “lost” for multiple turns can be a downside when a person makes the leap into the stratosphere of the hobby game world. A healthy mix of gateway games keeps them happily in our world!

Take a look at your game mix and see if a couple of gateway games should be added. Even seasoned gamers enjoy a quick, clever game when warming up or cooling down! Browse the Calliope catalog, which is devoted solely to the gateway experience to get a feel for the flavor of great games that bridge the gap between novice and hobby gamer.  The offerings from Calliope Games can usher others into this fantastic realm, fulfilling every gamer’s greatest calling: recruiting new gamers!