The Anti-Gateway Game List
Or, I Don’t Care About Your First Time
Gateway game, gateway game, gateway game.
Lately, just about every gaming site – including The Cardboard Republic – has been talking about your gateway game. What was it? What did you like about it? Do you still play it? Have you gotten your friends to play it? Did it sparkle and smell like unicorns?
I’m here to tell you that, right now, I don’t care. I’m tired of gateway games. I don’t want to play Settlers; I’ve boxed up Ticket to Ride.
It’s a phase, I know. And I’ll come around the next time we capture a hostage invite a new player to our table.
But for right now, I don’t want to talk about simplicity and brevity and keeping people engaged. It’s a Gug-eat-Gug world out there, and I’m ready for something gritty, complicated, and potentially terrifying.
So, here are my top picks for Anti-Gateway Games:
Game of Thrones
Roll a d6. On a 1-6, you die.
Have you read GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire series? It’s gritty, painstaking, and detailed, not unlike the game that bears its name. Here, you play one of the great houses vying for control of the crown. Expand your territory, launch into battle, and balance your supply chain against your expansion. Remember – winter is coming.
The actual rules of this game aren’t going to break you. That’s left up to the other players.
So much of this game depends on diplomacy that any new player is at an automatic disadvantage. You have to know your enemy, and all of the other players are your enemies. When to play diplomat and when to play warlord is a tricky line to walk, and each house has its own separate advantages and disadvantages – though none are explicitly stated. House Stark, for instance, starts far up north with lots of territory and little competition. While this is perfect for early game expansion, the Starks can quickly find themselves forgotten in the shadow of the Wall. The game waits for no one; if a player falls behind, their defeat will be merciless. You’ve been warned.
The Lovecraftian version of Don’t Wake Daddy
Darkness is coming, and it’s bringing friends. Are you prepared to fight an Ancient One? Do you think that the Ancient One cares whether or not you’re prepared? (Spoiler: they don’t.)
Each player is a brave adventurer exploring Arkham, Massachusetts: a sleepy university town currently plagued by gruesome beasts, portals to other dimensions, and lots of trouble. Players must scamper around collecting clue tokens, fighting monsters, and closing portals – oh, and if they don’t do this fast enough, the Ancient One wakes up and invites them to tea tries to eat them.
I always get those confused . . .
Anyway, the rule book for the base game is 24 pages long, and the game now has eight expansions, including an expansion that adds on to each of the expansions. At any given time, the players are charged with managing over a dozen stacks of cards, and the game can last upwards of six hours. Not to mention that after playing for half a day, it’s still possible to lose based solely on a few shoddy rolls.
This isn’t a game you necessarily want to bring to family parties, but if you get the right crowd, it can be magnificent . . . malicious . . . lots of fun.
Again with the confusion . . .
Hey, you’re not doing anything for the next few days, right?
TI is infamous for the length of its play-throughs – which makes sense, considering that you’re representing an entire race of creatures who are vying with a handful of other races for control of an entire galaxy and the one delicious planet at its center.
Mechatol Rex, we’re coming for you.
Tasked with expanding a tech tree, building an army, engaging in warfare and diplomacy, and hatching a plan to conquer Mechatol Rex, players have a lot to keep their attention and it shouldn’t be surprising that each round can take an hour or more.
But wow. W-O-W. I love this game, but when you’re six hours in and up to your elbows in dreadnaughts, it takes a veteran’s skill, willpower, and endurance to survive those last few rounds, never mind to win. A game of TI can take longer to set up than a game of Pandemic can take to play, but it’s so worth it if you have the stamina to see it through to the end. Its complicated turn system and tech tree are likely enough to scare off most newbs, but if you’re willing to give it a chance, this is the analogue equivalent of the classic 4X computer games, where you have to explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate your way to victory.
So, there you are. Lock up your newbs and pull out the big boxes. You’re going to need a lot of time and skill, but the effort is worth it.
Erin Ryan is a regular contributor to the site. Do you have a particular anti-gateway favorite? Feel free to share them with us over on our forums!