Getting through the Gate
Jason Glover is a very talented man. Not only does he constantly design and expand games, he is also a master illustrator: his creations are always a joy to look at, and Gate is a case in point. Even though very small, so that they fit inside their tin box, the cards pop with colour and the citizen portraits are full of character. I'm sure table presence would be even better had I ordered the neoprene mat, but shipping and customs didn't allow this. Still, the game looks great without the mat too.
Gate is a basic deck builder. You start with a hand of 3, not very powerful, citizens. Over the course of the game, you will use income to recruit more citizens from the market to assist you in defending the Farm, the Tower, and most importantly, the Gate. At the end of each round, monsters will attack these locations and spread fear to the community. With the three cards you draw on your turn, you will attend to the tasks that need to be taken care of: repair the buildings, lower fear, and attack the monsters.
These monsters don't stay for long, with the exception of the final two. There can be maximum two monsters present at a time. If you can't take a monster out within two rounds, the leftmost one leaves, hitting the Gate once before it goes. Buildings can take up to 6 points of damage before they collapse. If the Gate ever falls, you lose the game. If the Farm or the Tower fall, you don't lose but are deprived of their useful bonuses. You also lose if you let fear reach the top of the Fearamid.
Once you play the game two or three times, you begin to see how to make best use of the citizen market and the Fearamid. You can't always purchase the card you want, and you don't have any control over the cards you draw from your deck, so it's a matter of making the most of what's available. The Fearamid will provide you with one-time-use Heroes when you reach certain spots. These cards can be very effective if you're lucky to draw them at the right time, and it's a good idea to plan around hitting these spots, if you can.
Played on standard difficulty, Gate is not hard to beat so you may resort to turning the location cards on their advanced side. This is where the game shines more, and creates more tension. The Fearamid now has a different icon arrangement, the buildings can take less hit points and they only provide their bonuses when the die shows 4 pips. Attacks are more difficult to achieve, but this mode is still winnable if you are careful.
Overall, this is a charming deck builder that you will play at least a few times at first. Once you start winning, the game will become familiar and may lose its luster. This is perhaps the fate of most pocket-size games, they are limited by their nature and scope. Gate is cleverly designed, and the combination of citizen abilities will keep it fresh for a while. Its portability is obviously a big plus, as well as the fact that it's diceless and therefore noiseless. I have enjoyed my sessions every time I played it but suspect it may soon be played out. For what it is, it is very good. But if you consider purchasing it, first consider if what it is is what you're looking for.