Summer has thrown open its arms and welcomed us in! If you’re anything like us, you’re humming Summertime by Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, while booking holiday flights and packing your suitcase. Vacations away are amazing, but the problem is that an airport sits between you and that adventure.
With up to three hours to kill, there is only so much Toblerone and Duty Free booze you can browse. If only there were a list of suggested board games out there! You know, portable, small ones that could fit in your hand luggage. Games that would liven up otherwise monotonous, soulless departure lounges. Wouldn’t it also be great if these games could not only be enjoyed in the airport, but in hotel bars, balconies and cosy lodges, too?
Well, fear no more holidaymaker. We’ve done the hard work for you! We've chosen five phenomenal board games that provide the maximum economy for their box size. Some say sun cream, your passport and the correct currency are travelling essentials. However, we insist a strong arsenal of games sit high on your list of priorities, too…
Bang! The Dice Game
BANG! The Dice Game, by Dv Giochi, is an excellent social deduction/party game that takes the form of a wild west-style shoot-out. Box size-wise, it’s paperback book dimensions. BANG! can accommodate up to eight players but requires a minimum of six to shine. I took it on a seven-person skiing holiday earlier this year and it went down a storm. However, I can’t recommend it for, say, a family of four.
This is a game of hidden teams, partnerships and bluffing. Each player is dealt an asymmetrical personality trait (offering great replay-ability), but, more importantly, a character role. The Sheriff player’s identity is public knowledge, but the other players could be Deputies, Outlaws, or Renegade(s). Meaning none of the players start out knowing who their allies might be, or enemies! The winner(s) depends on each character’s own win condition…
The Deputies are trying to protect the Sheriff. They, together with the Sheriff, win if they eliminate the Outlaws and Renegade(s). The Outlaws win if they eliminate the Sheriff. The Renegade wins if they are the last player standing. They want to eliminate everyone (including the other Renegade).
On a player’s turn, they roll five D6 dice with six different faces representing actions: shoot players one/two spaces away; beer to partially heal themselves (or as a gift to someone else); a Gatling gun (which could shoot everyone); dynamite, which cannot be used; and arrows, representing an eventual attack by Native Americans. Players can re-roll or ‘lock’ dice a total of three times on their turn (much like traditional Yahtzee, or King of Tokyo). The fantastic thing about BANG! is that if you shoot too soon, you essentially reveal your intentions and then become a target.
Games usually last about 20-30 minutes, which makes BANG! an ideal airport departure lounge option if you know you have a certain length of time before boarding. Consider bringing along a slim, foldable dice tray so over-enthusiastic players don’t chuck dice halfway across the airport! Apart from each player having two cards, the only other components are a bunch of beer and arrow tokens. Therefore, BANG! can easily be played with everyone sitting on the floor in a circle, as well as at a table.
On the flipside of the player count, perhaps just you and your friend or partner are going on a two-person holiday. There is a whole smörgåsbord of small-box two-player games available, and many of them could easily fit on this list… But this Top 5 Guide is about maximising efficiency with regards to packing. When rucksack space is limited, big games in small boxes become high in demand. That’s why we’ve opted for Targi – part of the two-player KOSMOS range – because it packs an excellent punch, considering the box size (20x20x4.5cm).
Targi is a worker placement game set in the Sahara, featuring the Tuareg people who live there. Set-up is nine (a grid of 3x3) goods/tribes cards randomly placed, with a further circle of 16 specific action cards surrounding them (therefore making it a 5x5 grid). The core mechanisms of Targi are that players – one at a time, first-come, first-served – place one of their workers along an x axis (as in, the left or right outer border cards), and then the y axis (the top or bottom border cards), or vice versa. The players will get to do the action on each card they selected, but also, cleverly, they can claim the inner 3x3-grid card too, at the point at which those two axes meet.
At it’s heart, Targi is resource management (goods cards) and set collection (buying the tribes with the goods you’ve pre-earned). There are blocking possibilities, because players cannot place a worker opposite another worker. A neutral grey ‘robber’ features too, who moves around the outer 16 border, acting as both a game timer – it ends after 16 rounds – and blocking one possible option each time. The corners also represent bandits coming and stealing goods!
It fits on a table you’d find at an airport bar or coffee joint, and it takes about 60 minutes. However, we picked Targi in this list because we feel it’s an awesome medium-weight, two-player game that you might want to play when on holiday itself, not necessarily at the airport.
Deep Sea Adventure
The smallest game in our list, Deep Sea Adventure comes in a teeny box that could fit in your pocket, never mind your hand luggage! Part of the Oink Games range, a Japanese company whose games also include the likes of A Fake Artist Goes To New York (a drawing, deduction game) and Startups (set collection card game), Deep Sea Adventure is our favourite because of its addictive push-your-luck, pick-up-and-deliver mechanisms.
Up to six players are divers on board the same submarine, and between them have 25 units of oxygen. You must pick up the most valuable treasure and return to the sub with oxygen remaining. Treasure comes in four values. They are:
- Triangular (worth between 0-3 victory points each).
- Square (4-7VP each).
- Pentagonal (8-11VP each).
- Hexagonal (12-15VP each).
They are laid out face-down in a winding path in approximate value-order with of all the precious hexagons at the end, on the ‘ocean floor’.
On their turn, players roll two D6 dice that only go up to three (so the range rolled is between two and six). They ‘swim’ down that many spaces, hopping over any divers en-route (so they often move further than the dice state). They then decide whether to claim that treasure piece. The catch is that on future turns, the player loses a pip value off their dice total for every piece of treasure they have upon them (the weight of it slows them down). Also, crucially, for every piece of treasure they have, the shared oxygen supply decreases by one unit…
At the start of your turn, you have an agonising choice before you roll the dice. Do you decide to turn back now, playing it safe and sacrificing the chance to claim deeper, more valuable treasure? Or do you dive further down again, in attempt to snaffle up one of those appealing hexagons? Ultimately, if you fail to make it back to the surface and the oxygen runs out, you drop your treasure and it sinks to the ocean floor!
Lasting three rounds, Deep Sea Adventure is a rollicking 25-minute game that has very little footprint. It’s incredible that a game so fun, so simple and so satisfying can fit in such a small box. Guaranteed to make you forget you’re stuck in a tedious terminal.
Designer Scott Almes is perhaps best known for the likes of Tiny Epic Quest and Tiny Epic Galaxies. Another of his games, Harbour (by Tasty Minstrel Games), could be described as an unofficial entry into the Tiny Epic series, under the alias ‘Tiny Epic Le Havre’.
Harbour certainly mimics mechanisms of Uwe Rosenberg’s brilliant worker placement game, but it’s very much its own game, with asymmetrical player powers from the start. However, Harbour is also set in a (albeit fictional) port. It’s a two- to four-player worker placement game where players only ever have one worker. This worker visits building cards that provide actions to either acquire, trade or manipulate goods and their values (just four here: wood, fish, stone and cattle). The aim is to buy building cards – worth points – to claim for yourself, and from then on your opponents have to pay you in order to access that building’s action.
The main differences between this being a condensed Le Havre rip-off are threefold:
- No workers must be fed.
- There are no accumulation spots.
- The ever-changing market values.
It’s the third aspect that really makes Harbour shine. The four different goods have stock market qualities to them. Once one player sells their, say, fish, the value and need for fish drops. As a result, all of the other resources increase in value and demand. Therefore, you need to time when you sell, or predict how others will impact the demand and fall, because this is a race. The game end triggers once a player constructs their fourth building.
While this is a resource management game, there are hardly any components. Players have one of each, and they move these wooden tokens along a quantity track, instead. This is ideal for playing on holiday because the potential for losing bits decreases, sharply. Also, it means the game demands much less of a physical table footprint.
We’re certain that if some people really are hell-bent on squeezing the likes of Le Havre into their rucksack hand luggage for their holiday, they’ll find a way. You’ll hear very few bad words about Le Havre as a game from myself, your humble narrator (read my review), but it’s not the shortest board game. Harbour, however, only lasts up to 60 minutes and, alongside Targi, has a strong game-weight-per-box-size ratio.
Valley of the Kings
We haven’t picked any card games yet within this list, and for good reason. Why? Because there is another tantalising Zatu Top 5 already in existence – Perfect Picnic Games – and this offers marvellous card games, instead.
Our requirement here of ‘small box, big game’ lends itself, however, towards deck-building games. We omitted some straight away; those that come with a googolplex of cards aren’t wholly practical for squeezing into a modest satchel (yes, Dominion and all your many expansions, we’re looking at you).
We’ve decided on a quintessential deck-builder for your travels, though. Not only is Valley of the Kings diddy enough to fit into even a modest-sized handbag, it also holds a lot of respect within the board gaming community.
Designed by Tom Cleaver and published by Alderac Entertainment Group, Valley of the Kings is a 2-4 player game set in the time of Pharaohs, in Egypt. Set-up starts out as any other deck-builder: each player has a hand of 10 default low-value cards, and there are always six stronger, more-valuable cards available to buy. These sit in three levels (three, two, one, shaped like a pyramid). Players have to buy from the bottom of the pyramid and the cards above it then slide down a level. Therefore, you can semi-predict what might be available for purchase on your turn… It’s very neat. (Also, literally. Six cards, plus a deck and discard pile, takes up very little space.)
Ordinarily, a strategy of a deck-builder is to thin your deck of your weaker cards, replacing them with more powerful cards in a rinse-and-repeat, snowballing fashion. However, Valley of the Kings serves up a terrific twist, because while every card has a points value on it, players will only score points from the cards that have placed in their tombs. Essentially, players will only score the cards that they have thinned from their deck.
So, while you want the expensive, powerful action cards in your hand to do cool stuff or buy more expensive cards, those cards are worthless unless you ‘entomb’ them at some point. But the fun doesn’t stop there… There are two other games with this series – Valley of the Kings: Afterlife, and Valley of the Kings: Last Rites – which are both tip-top standalone titles, but they also can be combined with each other to make a variety of decks.
What’s your favourite small game to take on holiday? Do you think it rivals our choices for fun-per-square-inch for a modest-sized box? Let us know by tweeting your suggestions to @ZatuGames!