Although I do a lot of gaming--especially hardcore gaming--by myself, I also love playing with other people. Because I am a high school teacher, I play a lot of games with students. At first, when my students think of games, they usually think about Connect Four or Uno. A delightfully large number of them also love to play chess. But few of them have ventured off of the beaten path.
One of the best "gateway games" I have discovered so far is Reiner Knizia's Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe is a card game in which players are knights competing in a tournament. The cards come in different colors, which represent different types of contests, from the lowly melee to the prestigious jousting match. The first player to win four types of contest (out of five) is victorious.
Ivanhoe is a blast because while the premise is simple, the special cards and strategies enable more complicated maneuvering. Nothing is more satisfying than destroying all of someone's purple cards with "Break Lance," or preventing them from doing the same to you by putting down a well-timed "Ivanhoe." My students love the game so much that other teachers have overheard them arguing about who will win next time we play. Sometimes, students who have barely talked to me will suddenly open up over a round of Ivanhoe, and it changes my relationship with them forever. At the end of the semester, my classroom becomes a hub of activity for students who have already finished their finals and need something constructive to do. When that happens, Ivanhoe becomes the most in-demand game in my collection.
I also have a soft spot in my heart for Ivanhoe because it was my high school gateway game. My European History/Model UN teacher had a copy and would let us break it out during downtime. It was the first game I ever really loved. Playing games in his class also exposed me to Axis & Allies, a more complicated strategy game. Although I took a hiatus from gaming during my college years, my experiences in high school primed me to fall in love with Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride when I first tried them at a grad student party.
When my boyfriend tracked down Ivanhoe for me for Christmas, it was one of the best gifts he could have given me. Not only did I get to experience a rush of nostalgia as I unwrapped one of my favorite childhood games, but I've now had a chance to share Ivanhoe with a new generation of kids. Maybe, fifteen years from now, my own students will still remember playing Ivanhoe with me.