I’ve got two main hobbies in my life, and those are camping and board games, and wherever possible I do like to combine the two. This is a particularly timely list for me to make as I’ve just returned from a nine-day camping trip, on which I managed to play some excellent games.
Given the current climate, more and more of us will be looking for staycations this year. So grab yourself a tent and one of these wonderful board games!
Skull is a deceptively simple game, and easily one of the most played in my collection. Every player has four tiles (large coaster-like circles), three with a flower, and one with a skull. Every turn a player can either place a new tile down in front of them (on top of any previously played ones), or they can call out how many tiles they think they can flip without finding a Skull. Each player can then either call a number higher than this or pass.
Once everyone else has passed the player who called the highest number must try to flip that many tiles (starting with their own) without finding a skull. If they succeed, they score a point, if they fail the player whose skull they flipped gets to secretly remove one of that player's tiles from the game. This will continue, round by round, until either only one player has tiles left or, more likely, a player reaches two points.
Skull is perfect for camping since there are very few components (hard to lose anything) and no cards (nothing to blow away in the wind). It may not sound like much from the description, but there are some excellent opportunities for strategic play, pushing your luck, and some of the most fun bluffing you’ll do in any game. You’ll get to watch with glee as your friend reaches to flip your tile that you know is a skull, and you’ll feel the tension when someone calls an insanely high number and then manages to flip flower after flower. Skull packs a lot of game into its small package and minimal components and allows for some excellent mind games.
2020 called for a new updated version of this board game! Skull: 2020 Edition is certainly a must-have if you enjoyed the original.
Small box card games are always a great choice for camping. They’re easy to pack in your bag, they’re quick to play, and usually they don’t take up much table space. Whenever small card games are mentioned, Love Letter is always at the top of people’s lists, and that’s certainly not without good reason. It’s got the simple mechanic that each turn you merely draw one card and play one card; this ease of play makes it the perfect game for chilling in the sun and just playing a few hands.
This small bag of cards also packs its fair share of exciting moments. This includes holding onto the princess knowing that if anyone figures out you’ve got it then you’re finished. Or being spot-on while using the guard to guess what’s in someone’s hand. While some might frown about games with player elimination, each round in Love Letter is so short that it hardly matters.
This pick is made even better due to the brand-new version which has just been released by Z-Man Games. This comes with amazing new artwork, a few new roles, and the ability to play up to six players! This is a modern classic of gaming and I can see it being played for years to come.
Werewolf was the first game I thought of when I started this list. There is nothing quite like it when you’ve got the right setting and the right group of people. Imagine its night, there is a big group of you, and you’re all gathered round a campfire; what better time is there for a game of Werewolf?
This is a hidden identity game which is all about atmosphere, and camping provides the perfect setting. In Werewolf there are two teams of players; the werewolves and the villagers. The werewolves eat a player each night, whittling down the number of remaining villagers. Meanwhile, the villagers are trying to uncover the hidden werewolves amongst their ranks. The villagers must eliminate the werewolves.
So long as you have one player who is familiar with the game when you start (they essentially serve as a Game Master to run the game), then anyone else who is around can simply jump in after a brief explanation of one of two rules. And the sheer number of different roles included in this game provides almost infinite replayability.
Much like my previous pick, this game does have some player elimination. However, I’ve had several people tell me that they love just watching the rest of the game unfold. You get to see the remaining players struggle to uncover the werewolves and watch the werewolves practice their best deception to attempt to stay hidden. When everyone gets in the spirit of the game, Werewolf is an unparalleled social deduction experience.
There is a lot of buzz around this game lately, especially after its 2019 Spiel des Jahres win, and I can definitely see why. This is a party word game (of which there are a lot of great games like Codenames or Decrypto) however, what makes this one unique is that it’s also a cooperative game.
Each game you’ll set aside 13 cards with words on them. On a player's turn, they will take the top card and face it away from them, before blindly choosing a number between one and five. This will provide a word to the remaining players, which they need to get the first player to guess. They do this by each writing down a single-word clue on their plastic board; the catch is that if any players select the same word as a clue, neither of them can show the person guessing. And that’s basically it, you work together to get as many words correct as possible.
When I first heard about this, I thought it sounded too simple to possibly be fun. Oh boy, I was wrong. We have played Just One over and over again, constantly trying to top our previous score. Just One is packed full of fun and feel-good moments. It's undoubtedly the best new word game I’ve played this year. It’s also perfect for camping because it’s quick, very easy to learn, and doesn’t even require a table; what more could you ask for?
My top game to take camping is actually less of a board game and more of an outdoor game. It’s on my list because it’s been a great success every single time I’ve brought it camping with me. Kubb is set-up in a rectangle, about three metres by six metres, with a large wooden King piece in the middle, and each team having five smaller wooden blocks at each end.
The aim of the game is to knock over your opponent's wooden blocks, and then the king, at which point you win! As a bonus, each time you knock over a wooden block, the opposing team will throw it onto your side. This has two benefits. Firstly, this is an extra life for your team as the opponent will have to knock this down before they can hit the king. Secondly, your team can now throw from where this new block lands as opposed to your back line.
This is essentially a large-scale dexterity game and it has always been fantastic fun. It’s got great escalation as the game goes on and the odds become increasingly stacked against one team. Kubb is accessible for just about anyone. You simply get into two teams and throw some wooden sticks. This game has become a staple on all my camping trips, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It's especially good for a nice sunny afternoon where you don’t want to think too hard.
Editors note: This blog was originally published on August 14th, 2019. Updated on June 22, 2022 to improve the information available.