5 Board Games For Beginners (That Aren’t Monopoly)

5 Board Games For Beginners (That Aren’t Monopoly)
Image: BoardGameGeek (Badass Vio)
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There are currently over 100,000 board games listed on Board Game Geek, the tabletop world’s equivalent of IMDB. That’s a lot to choose from. Wandering into your local department store is going to give your some truly disappointing choices and browsing your friendly local game store can be overwhelming. Here are some great board games that anyone from veteran to rookie can enjoy.

Gateway board games are most people’s first experience with hobbyist board games. These are games that help you explore some of the ideas seen in modern board games without getting too bogged down in the rules. Think of them as kicking a ball around in a park as opposed to trying to compete in a sporting league.

Anyone can – and should – enjoy these games no matter how invested they are in the hobby.

Image: Plan B Games

Century: Spice Road

Engine building is a core concept behind many board games. The idea is that you collect pieces that help fuel future actions, collect more pieces and eventually turn those into points. Everyone loves points.

Century: Spice Road is a remarkable implementation of that concept and is so simple that I was taught the game by a 10 year old. On your turn, you play cards that let you collect, trade or upgrade spices. These spices are used to buy more cards to give you more options or traded in for glorious points. That’s all there is to it and yet the engine building mechanic here is so well-implemented that I’ve met plenty of seasoned board gamers that relish the opportunity to play Century: Spice Road.

If you find the art or idea of trading spices to be a little too drab, there’s an alternative option. Century: Golem Edition is a reskin of Century: Spice Road that has the exact same gameplay but has replaced the spices with gems and the point cards with beautiful looking golems.


A wondrous combination of Minesweeper and Articulate, Codenames pits teams against each other in a race to discover all of their secret words from a grid laid out in front of them. They do this by having their team leader – or ‘spymaster’ – give out one word clues followed by a number about how many words relate to that clue.

It’s an incredibly simple game to learn to play and a complete riot as spymasters give clues ranging from magnificent to completely unhelpful. All the while, the opposite team can stress about choices they’ve made over the game, clues they’ve missed or they can heckle. At it’s heart, Codenames is a game about communication. About teams being on the same wavelength and piecing together clues. Messing with that makes it all the better.

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Codenames is available in a range of versions including: Codenames: Pictures, Codenames: Deep Undercover and Codenames: Disney Family Edition.

Image: Gamewright

Sushi Go!

Pick up a hand of cards, choose an adorable piece of sushi to play and then pass the remaining cards on to the next player. You’ve just learned how to play Sushi Go, a delightfully simple drafting game designed by Australian Phil Walker-Harding.

Different types of sushi are worth different points and as you pass cards around, the best pieces are going to be snatched up by other players. A recent update to the game, Sushi Go Party, includes even more types of sushi that you can mix and match into the deck to create even more option. Yet the heart of Sushi Go is its simplicity so if you’re looking for games with more depth that play very similarly, you can look at 7 Wonders or Between Two Cities which handle more complicated decision making a little better.

Image: Haoran Un/Kotaku

Pandemic Legacy: Season One

Try your best to find a cure while you contain the rampaging diseases that infect the world in this co-operative game.

Strictly speaking, Pandemic Legacy is not a gateway board game but a variation of Pandemic that has an on-going campaign that changes based on your successes and failures in previous games. It’s also a far better game and you can play Pandemic Legacy a few times to familiarise yourself with the rules (that are otherwise identical to Pandemic) before committing to the game-altering changes that occur during the legacy campaign.

Each player will have limited actions to travel around the board and treat diseases as they try to complete a series of objectives given out by the game. Unlike the original Pandemic – which only requires teams to cure all of the diseases – these goals can be quite difficult and build upon previous goals and new abilities and rules unveil themselves. Few games have managed to capture the lightning in the bottle that is Pandemic Legacy.

Image: BoardGameGeek (Badass Vio)


Winner of the coveted 2018 Spiel des Jahres, a German board game award that means copies of Azul are flooding department stores across Europe.

The aim of Azul is to build a magnificent tiled wall for a Portuguese king. The reality of that means you’ll be collecting delightful tiles and placing them on your board in preparation for moving them over to the ‘wall’ where they will be scored based on their placement. It doesn’t sound like the most exciting concept in the world yet it is very enjoyable for the spacial reasoning, planning and overall polish the game has.

Like most of the other games listed here, the simplicity of Azul is one of its main draws yet the way everything comes together is a unique gaming experience that is anyone can enjoy. Don’t be put off by the dull sounding story behind the game, instead embrace the Starburst-esque tiles and revel in the simple joy of creating something beautiful.

There are countless wonderful gateway board games out there for you to play with your friends. Give them a try and find out which ones you love.


  • The original ticket to ride was my gateway. Simple concept, bit of strategy but no back stabbing or hyper competitiveness. Plus it’s a cute design and approachable for anyone

    • You can backstab pretty well if you know the routes your opponents need to take, but for the most part you’re right. It’s a friendly game where you’re always doing something even if you’re new to board games.
      Too Awoo!

      • If you have Ticket to Ride 1910, you can choose the Big Cities subset of destination tickets–all tickets connect to at least one of the big 9 cities, so you can be much more strategic about blocking.

  • Azul and Codenames are the best options on this list. I’d avoid the others for various reasons. Some are superseded by other, just as beginner friendly, games. Pandemic Legacy is an odd choice altogether. It’s unlikely a beginner will be ready for it after using it to play a few normal Pandemic games. Sure you have team mates to help you but a relative beginner would be overwhelmed and likely just defer to more experienced players of Pandemic. I’d never choose it as a gateway game.

    • Totally agreed on Pandemic Legacy. A game which ties a player into a ~15 game campaign is in no way a beginner game. There is also a very real danger of quarterbacking if there is a imbalance of experience around the table. Vanilla Pandemic is probably a good option to move onto after the other options above, a next step game. THEN if they dig Pandemic, go nuts on Legacy.

    • Agreed. I like Pandemic but it’s definitely not one for beginners. The rules are straight forward but the core game is quite difficult. It’s also pretty expensive.

  • In my personal collection I like cheap, small board games that are easy to lug around.
    Gloom, Sushi Go, Love Letter, Zombie Dice. All really easy to get into and enjoy, even if they don’t have the same staying power as the likes of Catan and Pandemic

    • Yeah yeah yeah to Love Letter. I thought it may have been omitted due to being a card game but then Sushi Go?
      LL is a game I’ve roped a lot of non gamers into. Even my parents were all-in after the first game. That games got serious pull.

  • I think Happy Pigs is definitely a good gateway game.

    If you want to get someone into slightly more complicated games, Kingdoms of Valeria is a good one. It has the resource collection of Catan, but doesn’t have that feeling of being constantly screwed out of resources that Catan can have. It also gives everyone overlapping but different objectives, meaning you’re always interacting with each other, but it’s never a head to head battle.

    • Editing a post seems to automatically put it into Moderation Hell, so I’ll put it as a reply.

      My mistake on the game name. It’s Valeria: Card Kingdoms. But it’s great.

  • I run a board games club at work, and my go to picks for new starters are Zombie Dice, Fluxx, Sushi Go and Forbidden Island. Now playing Forbidden Desert. Next I’ll bring along Tsuro and Castle Panic.

  • All good choices, except Pandemic Legacy. I agree that it could be overwhelming for new players, unless you have one player telling them what to do, and then whats the point.

    I’m glad I picked up Azul, its so easy to teach, and its a decent challenge for beginner and experienced players alike.

    Sush Go is great, and it can lead to other games with the same card drafting mechanic (like 7 Wonders).

    I’d add Skull to the list, very easy to learn and play. And people always have a good time.

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