Chuck that airport book in the sea and bring your favourite tabletop home comforts along for the trip
I was packing for a trip to Turkey last summer, and took advantage of a key equation; more sun means less clothing, equals more board games.
Unfortunately, Great Western Trail proved to be a stubborn adversary to my rucksack’s ageing zip and so, undefeated, I looked to my collection of small-box games. Like an obscure retheming of Patchwork, I jammed these trusty party games and streamlined, barebones fillers into the gaps of my luggage and anticipated the quiet satisfaction of seeing the X-ray image of my accomplishment upon reaching the airport’s luggage scanners.
It needn’t have been such a struggle. In truth, you could be sent on an Arctic expedition, bags stuffed with survival gear, and still squeeze Ultra Tiny Epic Kingdoms under your hat.
But size isn’t everything. After all, one of the most important aspects of travel is meeting new people.
It can be hard introducing strangers to the world of board games. You may have even made the mistake of plonking down Caverna in front of a group, only to see them promptly vacate the table, leaving you pondering Uwe Rosenberg’s unique talent for providing enough components to feed the world’s termites
Fortunately, there’s a wealth of options for games promising satisfying depth within small, portable, less intimidating packages. But there are a few other factors to consider if you want to travel light and not scare away that nice couple you met by the pool.
1. Dress (your games) to impress
Choose games with eye-catching design. Artwork in games is getting better and better, with so many talented artists creating a variety of styles catering to all tastes. You may love the beautifully detailed boards of Michael Menzel, but when trying to entice others it can be good to stick to bright, bold colours, and simple but quirky design. Games like Sushi Go! or Game of Thrones: Hand of the King illustrate this simplicity nicely.
Busy art on boards and cards may at first impress people used to the flat and simple art design used on games like Monopoly but, to your average non-gamer, it could also suggest complexity. Fortunately, there seems to be a recent trend in games featuring minimalist art styles. Slick images on plain backgrounds can really pop, and suggest elegance and simplicity. This is certainly the case in Justin Blaske’s sleek and stylish worker-placement game Mint Works. Of course, the game may be deceivingly tactical, but your guests can find that out for themselves.
Although, if you’re really set on showing off great artwork but in a small package, the Timeline series of games could be perfect for you, combining hundreds of unique illustrations with simple, addictive gameplay.
2. Go easy on the text
Similarly, choose games with minimal text. Lots of people love to read on holiday, but they read books. Showering a stranger with walls of cryptic text from ten separate decks of cards is likely not their preferred means of literary escapism. Instead, use games with simple key words, numbers or even just symbolism, such as Kingdomino, Dobble or Arboretum.
Your guidance and familiarity with the game combined with easy-to-follow iconography or text should be enough to keep things running smoothly. Furthermore, a game with little to no language dependency is ideal when travelling to places where the people you meet may not share your own language.
3. Pack light
Stick to abstract games or light, humorous themes. Perhaps you want to demonstrate that tabletop gaming isn’t all about high fantasy, epic sci-fi or wheat, wood and stone.
In that case, maybe try Elevenses. Elevenses defies predictable tropes and instead offers players the chance to host an elaborate tea party. The art is clean but evocative and the light theme means it should be accessible to anyone.
Alternatively, if you’re feeling a bit more ridiculous, why not challenge some strangers to navigate a cape-wearing rhino up a tall building? Enter Rhino Hero. An easy-to-teach dexterity game with a ludicrous theme guaranteed to draw interest.
Bear in mind that not all small games are made equal. A casual glance at the unassuming box for Stefan Feld’s The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game could hint at a sleek, scaled down version of its older sibling, perhaps perfect for playing on the train. But looks can be deceiving; whilst capturing the essence of The Castles of Burgundy excellently with just a deck of cards, The Card Game demands a decent amount of table space, arguably even more than the original.
4. Save space, use deck boxes
On the opposite end of the spectrum, games like Machi Koro and Splendor have notoriously large boxes considering their contents. If you don’t consider transporting your games in something other than their own boxes a blasphemy, perhaps invest in some cheap deck boxes – or make your own. Both titles are great gateway games, and their portability should be recognised.
Similarly, if you’re a fan of Carcassonne, consider purchasing the Princess & the Dragon expansion. Not only is this a great addition to the game with an adorable dragon meeple, but its compact box can quite comfortably fit the base game and a few extra expansions. Leave the score tracking board and settle for one of the several scoring apps or just pen and paper, and you have an excellent and accessible game perfect for chucking in your backpack.
Another bonus to using alternate means of storage such as deck boxes is the added protection. The sturdy but flexible material of your average plastic deck box will keep your precious cardstock safe from stray spills or splashes from the bar or the pool, and you could even go one step further by sleeving your cards.
Sleeving is common practice for gamers hoping to diminish the gradual wear and tear of their favourite games. In the holiday setting though, sleeves add that little extra protection when gaming poolside. Now, I still wouldn’t recommend a game of Sushi Go! perched precariously on a lilo, but your cards will be much safer from soggy hands and splashes.
If you really feel the need to experience a bit of aquatic gaming then you could source out copies of Uno: H2O to Go or Spot It! Splash. Both games feature waterproof plastic cards designed for use by the pool – or even in it! Spot It! also comes with a waterproof drawstring bag, ideal for hanging around your wrist or tying to your swimwear as you dive down for some deep-sea Dobble.
So next time you’re on your travels, be it just to see family or somewhere further afield, remember to pack wisely. Finding space in the smallest of luggage allowances shouldn’t be a problem but finding fellow board gamers other than your travel companions can be. Stick to accessible, eye-catching and interesting games and you’ll have a trip to remember – and possibly recruit some new gamer friends along the way.
Artwork in main illustration by Kit Buss
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.