There are hundreds of practically unknown board games available that are incredibly fun to play, but have fairly complex rules. I love playing them, but it’s hard to get my friends interested in playing.
However, there is another class of games with simple rules, short playing times and an emphasis on strategy rather than luck. I call these “Gateway Games” - just a bit more complicated than Chutes and Ladders or Candy Land, and a great way to familiarize your friends with the way some of these more complex games work. My favorite gateway game to introduce people to is called Carcassonne.
Carcassonne is a city-building game. The game pieces are small tiles, which may have city walls, roads, farmland or any combination of those printed on the piece.
The game starts with a single tile, face up. Once per turn, you draw a tile from a stack and play it adjacent to another tile. This tile must be placed in such a way that it is extending something that has already been played - a road must connect to a road, a city wall must connect to a city wall and so on.
After you place a tile, you can place another piece, called a “Follower”, on that tile, which allows you to score points. If you place a Follower on a road you are building, for example, you will receive points for the road once it has two end points. A city with a Follower nets you points when it has been completely surrounded with walls. However, you only have seven Followers, so you must place them strategically throughout the game, or you might find yourself without one when a great scoring opportunity comes up.
Carcassonne is also available as a tablet or smartphone app, is as fun to play with two players as it is with five, and even has rules for a solitaire game. Games are fairly short - they take half an hour or so.
I love this game because it’s hard to tell who is winning until the very end. Someone could have only a few points, but be working on a large city that will propel them to first place right before the end of the game. In that way, it encourages everyone to play for the entire time.
This commentary originally ran January 30, 2014