With Lockdown restrictions set to ease even further later this month, many of us will be thinking about venturing out and about beyond our front doors once again. But, whilst escaping to tropical beaches and exotic destinations may be tempting, the reality of travelling for fun may be a little closer to home, at least for now. Road trip!
However, we don’t actually need to trek to far places in order to enjoy a change of scenery. After all, as J. R. R. Tolkien once said, “Still, round the corner, there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.”
And, if we are hitting the open road instead of taking to the skies, that probably means we have more luggage space. And when I say luggage, I actually mean games. Because, after all, they are the only baggage worth handling!
But, with shelves full to the brim of boxes, which ones are travel essentials? Which cardboard companions will help pass the time as we chew up the miles and cruise the highways and byways of this fine country?
Using my own collection as inspiration, here are five suggestions to inspire your own packing list!
“I don’t know where I’m going from here but I promise it won’t be boring.” (David Bowie)
In a previous feature, I have admitted how woefully inadequate my internal compass is. I get lost going down my own driveway. Good thing then that we have a sat-nav built into our car. I am also married to a man who can find a route to any place on earth by simply triangulating the following. Where we are right now, where we need to be, and the most convenient Costa Coffee stop along the way.
However, his masterfully intuitive geographical skills do mean that I am losing when it comes to playing him at Cartographers. He excels as the Queen’s cartographer and I suck. Hard. Like, ball-bearing covered concrete level terrible.
But, I'm never one to shy away from a challenge. I don’t actually care how bad I am at working out where my forests have to be planted compared to my mountain ranges. Nor do I offend my own sensibilities when I realise that my second largest city is only two squares. And nowhere near the border which would have gained me additional points. Because this game is great! Tessellating polyomino shapes is always a winning mechanic with me, and with direct player interaction and an even more punishing solo mode, Cartographers by Thunderworks is one game that will, if you are anything like me, keep you frustrated in the most fantastic way.
With so many games vying for boot or bag space, this little roll and write packs a big punch in a small space. Plus thematically, it is spot on.
It's a game all about making the longest railroad and highway connections possible. You use only 4 dice in only 7 short rounds. This is a roll and write with almost infinite replayability. There are two expansions included in each edition as well as dry-wipe boards and marker pens. You will be able to change up your gameplay as often as you stop to shout tractor as you pass one on the road (come on now, I know you do it; we all do!).
With Railroad Ink you’ll always have a thinky puzzle to help pass the time.
Another small box, big think option, Arboretum from Renegade Studios is a card game all about creating paths made from trees. Beware, however, for whilst those trees may look gorgeous, it is an experience as crunchy as autumn leaves underfoot.
Easy to learn, this single deck of cards lulls you into a false sense of security. Using up to 10 beautiful suits (each depicting a different tree species), on each turn you simply have to add two cards into your hand of 7 cards and then lay one, discarding another. The only placement requirement is that each new card must be laid adjacent to an existing one.
But, and this is a BIG ‘but’; you are guaranteed to lose if that is all you do. For the tight twist in this game comes in the scoring. Your paths will only score points for each card along them if (1) they begin and end with the same species of tree, and (2) run in ascending numerical order (although not necessarily consecutively), and (3) you have the highest value of the species topping and tailing a particular path in your hand at end-game. Oh and if that wasn’t enough, 1s trump 8s in any final hand-value showdown. The combination of scoring conditions makes every card and every decision count in this game. Mixing set collection, tile (card) laying, and memory mechanics, Arboretum will have you spitting saplings in the most enjoyable way.
No road trip list would be complete without at least one party game – after all, those roadside cafes and campsite are going to be full of like-minded folk looking for an excuse to re-tell their travelling tales to a new audience.
And, whilst social deduction games like Herd Mentality can lead to great (or terrible!) insights into the psyches of friends new and old, you will have to continue your journey with some of these fellow trippers. And once you know something, you are going to find it very difficult to unknow it. With that in mind, we should probably leave the bearing-one’s-soul games to a time when you can retreat to your safe space. Otherwise, getting up close could become that little bit too personal!
So, as safe party game suggestions go, Obama Llama 2 is a solid choice. This team-based game from Big Potato Games is going to call upon many skills hopefully possessed by your new besties! Tasked with acting, miming or describing crazy rhymes (depending on what the devilish dice decides), your teammates have 30 seconds to guess as many of three cards you have been given. Every correct guess counts, and each time your team tallies up 3 correct rhymes, you get to flip cards over in the middle of the table. If flipping reveals two matching symbols, that will score points for your team at the end of the game. When there are no more matches up for grabs, the game ends, and the team with the most points wins!
Perhaps not the most compact of choices, Planet is definitely an inspirational one, and maybe even the most unique in my collection. For this game is a tile layer but a tile layer with a difference. Instead of placing hexes down on the table in front of you a la almost every other game in the genre, here, you are adding them to your very own 3D planet. You literally hold your world in your own hands, and it is fantastic family fun!
Having resisted the urge to throw, catch, and spin your planet (oh, go on then, but just for a minute), you are tasked with building a world in which the animals are going to thrive. And how do they do that? Simple; by you matching their habitat preferences to the tiles you place around your globe. If you hit a species’ sweet spot, you can claim the matching card which will be worth points at the end. But, as in the real world, they are quite particular in what they like and don’t like. And with only 12 rounds (1 tile per round), you are going to have to make some tough choices as the available space becomes smaller and smaller.
Scoring can be a little fingers-and-thumbs as you try to count your triangles but, that aside, Planet from Blue Orange and Coiledspring is a great, tactile game for all ages. Indeed, our own Mini-meeple is a few weeks shy of 6 and had no problem grasping the basic idea (although there are also variations for younger and more advanced players). It is fun to play, has inspired plenty of conservation conversations in our house, and has just enough trade-off tension to keep even experienced players engaged without excluding the newer gamers on your road trip.
And there we have it. A list of games covering a spectrum of mechanics will be accompanying me on my first road trip. I really hope they inspire you to get out there and do likewise.