Gateway Games

It all started with chess. My father loves chess and my mother either hates chess, or hates playing chess with my father. Either way, as the oldest child, dad taught me early so he’d have somebody to play with. I later graduated to Risk, Dungeons and Dragons, Axis and Allies – games like that.

I love tabletop games of all kinds. I personally have a soft spot for the outrageously complex strategy games with hundreds of little plastic figures, and rules books that look like technical manuals. Dad and I still get together regularly to cover his pool table with miniature multitudes of murderous miliatias.

However, as a dad myself now, I appreciate what I’ve come to call “gateway games.”¬†Gateway games are games robustly complex enough to keep me interested, yet simple enough my son can play it – and easy enough to whip out in a holiday get together without scaring off any aunts.

For my money, the two best gateway games on the market today are Scrabble and Ticket to Ride.

Most people are familiar with Scrabble. You make words with randomly drawn tiles, taking advantage of bonus squares to accumulate as many points as possible.

Fewer folks know from Ticket to Ride. In Ticket to Ride, you attempt to complete train routes across the continent by matching sets of cards you draw from a deck. The basic mechanic is a lot like rummy.

Why do these two disparate games both rate the designation of “best gateway game?” Although they play experiences are different, they share important similarities.

  • You can explain the basic mechanic of play in a single sentence.
  • Both allow for a complete game in under one hour.
  • Individual turns pass quickly.*
  • Quick score upsets are possible, meaning the people trailing on the scoreboard don’t stop having fun.
  • Winning comes from playing well, not by making others lose.

This doesn’t make either the perfect game – my favorite game ever remains chess – but it does make both excellent choices for parties. They’re also great for introducing younger kids to the concept of playing board games. We have to train up the next generation of board game geeks somehow.

Thanks for listening.


*Unless you get that one Scrabble geek who won’t pull his head out of the dictionary until he’s found the perfect word. I hate that.

Why I Love Indiana Jones

It became evident recently that I was guilty of severe child neglect: my older son had reached his 10th birthday without seeing Raiders, Temple or Last Crusade. Naturally, we remedied this unacceptable situation as soon as possible.

So here’s the thing about Indy. They aren’t high art. They aren’t making deep statements. They’re not even ambitious for action movies. But the thing they are – fun, light-hearted pulp thrillers – they are perfectly.

As a reader, I appreciate this. As a writer, I need to learn how to hit a target with such flawless aim. Somebody could write (probably somebody has written) a thesis on why they do what they do so well. Me, I’m still thinking about it. For now, I’d like to identify a few more “lowbrow” works that are unabashedly – and brilliantly – ¬†just what they are.

Robert Parker’s Spenser novels.
Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazzell
The music of Korpiklaani and Jackyl
The Princess Bride
Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series

There are many more. Sadly, they are outnumbered by pretentious works by people who think they should do more with something that would have been fine just being entertaining.

Just my two cents. Thanks for listening.