In my travels over the years, I have noticed that the one thing you can count on anywhere is that somebody around you will be playing a game. Whether it’s a pile of classic games at an inner city hostel, the back four pages of an in flight magazine, a beachside Mediterranean taverna with a backgammon board, or a pub in Suzhou China with a box full of dice, tactile games and puzzles are a commonality across all cultures and countries. Being so ubiquitous, I have found that playing a game is a great way to meet locals, befriend fellow travelers and while away the time at airports and train stations. Playing a game of solitaire, or a boisterous dice game is so much more inviting than sitting hunched over your phone playing ANOTHER mindless round of Candy Crush.

Customs may have some questions

That being said, when you travel, you can’t really empty your games shelf into your suitcase and go! I’ve never met anyone who has come back from a trip and said, “Wow, I really wish I packed more stuff.” Some mindfulness is required when selecting games for your journey. My rule of thumb is to load up a large size freezer bag, and that’s my limit. That gives you enough volume to pack at least two or three smaller games, and the weight likely won’t be more than a kilo or 2.  Let’s imagine a few scenarios, and go through the thought process of what games to take. I am working under the assumption that since you are traveling ( and reading this article!), you are open to the idea of meeting new people and playing games with them!

Solo travel

When traveling alone, you will  want to start out fairly broad. A deck of cards and a handful of dice would be a great start. If you are by yourself somewhere, you can play any number of versions of solitaire. That will usually bring somebody around to tell you to put the red six on the black seven, which creates an opportunity to invite someone to play a game with you. There are so many dice and card games around the world, opportunities will abound to both teach and learn. 

Regicide is an excellent co-op game that uses a standard deck of 52 cards, made easier by using the companion app

Killing two birds with one stone, why not pack That’s Pretty Clever by Wolfgang Warsch, or some other roll and write? That’s Pretty Clever plays well solo, and will account for that handful of dice. The rules are reasonably straightforward, although the symbology may be a bit difficult to get across in another language. Fortunately, there are any number of translator apps to help out with that! Playing up to 5 players, you can get an after dinner game going with anyone you meet in your tour group, cruise or hostel.

If you are the sort of person that needs a bit of liquid courage for meeting people (or hang out in a lot of pubs while traveling), Pairs by James Ernest, Paul Peterson, and Heinrich Glumpler would be an excellent addition to your game bag. It’s super easy, can accommodate many people, and will be a great icebreaker anywhere from a cruise ship to a hostel. If you are unfamiliar with Pairs, check out our review here.

Pairs is best played in a pub

Traveling with a partner

 When traveling with a partner you have a few more options that you can add to your bag. Top of my list would be a small, quick game. You are also looking for a game with a lot of replayability, especially if you plan on being gone for a while. Two games that leap to mind would be Dungeon Mayhem by Jordan Comar and Roscoe Wetlaufer and Sushi Go by Phil Walker-Harding.

I like Dungeon Mayhem because it’s quick, easy to teach, and gives the replayability of asymmetrical decks. It’s silly and light, and the art could provide a conversation starter in a social setting. I played Dungeon Mayhem on many long train rides through Europe, and my partner and I never really tired of it. Granted, we also had the base game for Sushi Go to mix things up. Sushi Go plays quite differently at 2 players, with a lot more “cut off your nose to spite your face” scenarios than at higher player counts, so you may want to try playing it at 2 players before making your final decision. I put Sushi Go in my bag because it scales up well. If you’re going to bring That’s Pretty Clever though, you may want to jettison one of the above games with another option, such as:

  • Dutch Blitz: Great game for passing time, but requires a fair amount of space. Not great for planes or trains.
  • Arboretum: Nice and compact, a bit vicious for making friends with.
  • Set (by Marsha J. Falco): A good thinky game that plays well from 2 players and up, and can fit on an airplane tray table.

Of course, with the rise of board game cafes, you will sometimes have the chance to really get your game on while traveling. For those times when a cafe is unavailable, or you are enroute between destinations, a game bag is definitely worth the space it takes up in your travel pack.

For those of you out there who have traveled, what do you think? What games have you brought along that have worked well?  Do you have any stories to share of playing games while on the road? Comment below and let us know!