Play These Games First: An Introduction to Gaming (Games #5 – #1)

What games would we recommend that aspiring (but wholly inexperienced) gamers play first?  This is the second article in a three part series, and today we discuss the top five most recommended games.

We ran through details of the project yesterday, but as a reminder, we had 13 Opinionated Gamers vote in a shared spreadsheet, with 46 different games receiving votes.  We decided to write about our findings in three articles, discussing the top ten games.  Yesterday’s article discussed #10 to #6 (i.e. the second-highest vote getters).  Today’s article discusses #5 to #1 (i.e. the highest vote getters).  Tomorrow’s article is everybody’s chance to discuss games that didn’t make the top 10.  

The Methodology

As a recap, each member of the OG was offered the chance to vote for up to 10 games.  They could give one game a 10, one game a 9, one game an 8, all the way down to giving one game a 1.  We all put our votes into a spreadsheet.  Any OG writer could add games, provided that they were willing to give it a vote.  We then added up the points for each game and picked the top 10.  

The top five actually had a natural breakpoint: there was a noticeable difference in votes between the fifth game (Pandemic) and the games in the previous article.  

The Results



41 Points (Recommended by 9 Voters)

Designer: Matt Leacock

Publisher: Z-Man Games

2-4 Players, Ages 8+, 45 Minutes

In Pandemic, players are disease-fighting specialists who must cure four diseases that have broken out across the world.

On each turn, a player can use up to four actions to travel between cities, treat infected populaces, discover a cure, or build a research station.  They get cards that can help with this mission, but the team has to work quickly: the disease is spreading, and sometimes when you flip a card, you get a terrible outbreak in a new city.  Each player has a unique role on the team giving them a special ability, and using their powers, the players must work together to save the world.  

Few games have had the impact of Pandemic, which popularized “cooperative” games (which are games where all of the players play together against the board, so there is no individual winner).  Pandemic kicked off a wave of cooperative designs, and it remains a beacon of the genre.  Pandemic has gone on to sell millions of copies.  There are several offshoots, including an iOS version, and most notably Pandemic Legacy, which is currently rated as the #1 game on BoardGameGeek.

Pandemic is an addictive strategy game.  The game is difficult to win, yet easy to learn.  Plus, because players aren’t competing against each other, experienced Pandemic players can help newer players.



42 Points (Recommended by 6 Voters)

Designer: Klaus Teuber

Publisher: Kosmos, Mayfair, Others

3-4 Players, Ages 10+, 60-120 Minutes

Previous Review on The Opinionated Gamers

The Washington Post has called it “the game of our time.”  Wired described it as a “Monopoly killer.”  The game has inspired songs and a novel, and there are dozens of references in pop culture.  With more than 22 million products sold in more than 30 different languages, there is no Eurogame with as big of a footprint as Catan.  

In Catan (formerly The Settlers of Catan), players try to be the dominant force on the island of Catan by building settlements, cities, and roads. On each turn dice are rolled to determine what resources the island produces. Players collect these resources—wood, grain, brick, sheep, or stone—to build up their civilizations to get to 10 victory points and win the game.  Along the way, they’ll trade with other players.

Catan has a lot to love, and among board game fans, the game is a timeless classic.  Catan is easy to learn (though more challenging than most games on this list) and features a great balance of luck and skill.  The modular game board enhances replayability, and the theme — settling an island — is fun.  

Catan is routinely held out as a great “gateway game.”  That reputation is deserved: I suspect Catan has done more than any other game to bring new players into the U.S. hobby.  A couple of its gameplay elements — dice rolling and trading — make it a natural starting point for people who have played Monopoly all their lives.

Catan has numerous spinoffs, and you can find it on iOS, Android, and various other digital platforms as well.



59 Points (Recommended by 9 Voters)

Designer: Vlaada Chvátil

Publisher: Czech Games Edition (CGE)

2-8 Players, Ages 14+, 15 Minutes

Previous Review of Codenames

Previous Review of Codenames Pictures

Codenames (or its sequel, Codenames Pictures) are the newest games to make our list.  Codenames took the board game world by storm in late 2015, quickly selling hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of copies, and last year, it won the Spiel des Jahres, Germany’s Game of the Year award.

Two teams play around a 5×5 grid of 25 words.  Each team has a “spymaster” who knows which words belong to his team, and on his team’s turn, he will offer a clue and the number of cards in the grid it applies to.  For example, if two of the words were “drill” and “car,” the captain might say “oil two,” meaning the clue is “oil” and it can apply to two of the cards.  The captain’s team must guess at least one clue, but they are free to guess the number of cards the clue applies to, plus one extra.  However, if they inadvertently point to one of the cards belonging to their opponent, their turn ends.  To ramp up the tension, there are words to avoid, especially the dreaded “assassin” card, which the game ends immediately (and your team loses).

Codenames is a thinking man’s party game, but with laugh-out-loud or high-five-your-teammates fun.  Though the box advertises 2-8 players, you could play with a larger crowd.  Codenames has a lot going for it: how quickly it plays, how easy it is to teach, how tense it is, and how it appeals to both gamers and non-gamers alike.  

Codenames Pictures, the sequel game, captures all the fun of the original design, but adds a clever twist by using exceptionally-well designed pictures on a 5×4 grid (instead of a 5×5).



66 Points (Recommended by 9 Voters)

Designer: Klaus-Jürgen Wrede

Publisher: Hans im Glück Verlags-GmbH, Z-man Games

2-5 Players, Ages 8+, 30-45 Minutes

Previous Review on The Opinionated Gamers

Carcassonne is another massive hit in the boardgaming world.  Perhaps the most famous game in the “tile placement” genre, Carcassonne has won numerous gaming awards (including Germany’s Spiel des Jahres) and sold millions of copies.

Players draw and place a tile (from a set of 72) with a piece of southern French landscape on it. Tiles have differing combinations of cities, roads, cloisters, and/or grasslands.  Each tile must be placed adjacent to tiles that have already been played, in such a way that cities are connected to cities, roads to roads, and so on and so forth. Having placed a tile, the player can then decide to place one of his meeples (those little wooden people you see in boardgames) on one of the areas on the tile: on the city as a knight, on the road as a robber, on a cloister as a monk, or on the grass as a farmer. When that area is complete, that meeple scores points for its owner.

Carcassonne is an ideal gateway game, and it is easy to see why it has been so popular.  The game is easy to learn and new players tend to pick up the basics with ease.  Carcassonne is a modern classic, in part because it is so family-friendly, well-presented, and fun to play.  This one will be played decades from now.  

As a fun historic tidbit, this is the game for which the meeple was invented.  Carcassonne has numerous spinoffs, and you can find it on iOS, Android, and various other digital platforms as well.  

Ticket to Ride


115 Points (Recommended by 12 Voters)

Designer: Alan R. Moon

Publisher: Days of Wonder

2-5 Players, Ages 8+, 30-60 Minutes

Previous Review on The Opinionated Gamers

Ticket to Ride was the clear winner in our voting.  The game was recommended by 12 out of 13 voters in our poll, earning 115 out of 130 possible points.  Of the 13 voters, 9 of us gave it the highest possible score.  Consensus is rare among us here at The Opinionated Gamers, but we really love Ticket to Ride.  

Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure in which players compete to connect different cities by laying claim to railway routes on a map of North America.  The goal of the game is to place track and complete “destination tickets” connecting various cities.  On a player’s turn, he can either draw “train cards” (used to complete track), claim a route (by paying train cards), or draw more destination tickets.  The game ends when somebody comes close to running out of trains, and at that point, players add up the points from their track, their destination tickets, and possibly the bonus for longest train.

Ticket to Ride is beautiful in its simplicity.  It is a game that virtually anyone can learn — there aren’t many rules, and the ones the game does have are intuitive — yet there is enough depth here for both non-gamers and gamers alike.  Ticket to Ride is a versatile game, one that fits in a variety of gaming situations, everything from a family game night to a tournament setting.  Throw in the amazing production value — beautiful artwork and plastic train pieces — and it is easy to see why Alan Moon’s most famous design is so beloved.  

Ticket to Ride has won countless game awards, and it is widely praised around the hobby.  When we did a re-review of Ticket to Ride a couple of years ago, we called it the king of gateway games.  With millions of copies sold in both print and digital form, and with numerous offshoots (including several maps and variants), Ticket to Ride is a modern classic.  If you’re looking to get into gaming, we recommend you play this first.

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11 Responses to Play These Games First: An Introduction to Gaming (Games #5 – #1)

  1. – Stone Age is better than Catan, even for beginners. Catan is obsolete.
    – Pandemic may be too scary for beginners. Try Alhambra instead of Pandemic.
    – Never played Codenames, so I have nothing to say about it.
    – Ticket to Ride and Carcasssonne: Yes.
    – More games for beginners: Speculation, Through the Desert, Archaeology: The New Expedition, Cacao, Modern Art, etc.

  2. Dan Blum says:

    “Obsolete?” Not a meaningful thing to say about a game.

    Alhambra is nothing like Pandemic.

    I love Modern Art but it’s not a good game for beginners because it is fragile.

  3. if Catan is obsolete, it probably won’t be sold in *Every* gaming store (literally)
    it also has an iOS port so I would say it even more popular than before.

    This is a great list, I would also recommend:
    – Forbidden Island (over Pandemic)
    – Machi Koro (for people who love dice)
    – Love letter (for being super easy to teach and can play under 10 mins)
    – Sushi Go (best for teaching card drafting)

    • I am not here to teach basic logic but if sales is the main point, Monopoly must be the best game ever.

      • Dan Blum says:

        This is non-responsive. You didn’t say Catan was bad, you said it was “obsolete.” Generally speaking things that are still purchased in large quantities are not obsolete, unless you are using an idiosyncratic definition of the word.

      • Chris Wray says:

        On the notion that Catan is somehow obsolete, I’ll point out that at major board game conventions — Gen Con, Spiel, etc. — hundreds (or thousands) of gamers gather to play big games of Catan. There’s a Catan convention attended by gamers. And Catan continues to be decently ranked on BGG. And, as previously mentioned, it is selling quite well. I’d say it is a very uphill battle to argue it is obsolete.

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  5. ianthecool says:

    Catan definitely deserves to be here, despite the fact that you think Stone age is better. Why are gamers so bad at respecting our classics?

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