After 2 days of driving across the Salt Flats of Bolivia, our off-roader finally stopped at the only building for miles – a hotel made entirely from salt. As amazing as this novelty was, we were tired from the travel and needed to unwind as we sat in the common area awaiting our dinner.
One of the other travellers who I’d only met 2 days before said the magic words – ‘Does anyone want to play a game?’
My eyes lit up, and an hour later when food finally arrived, we wolfed it down so that we could clear the table and play another round.
When you’re travelling like this, the space and weight of items have to be carefully considered. As much as I might’ve liked to have played Hogwarts Battle, there was no way I was carrying that on my back everywhere I went.
Like most, I’d only packed a trusty pack of playing cards for this trip. A smart choice, as it allows a plethora of games to be played with only 100 grammes of luggage. But when my new travel companion pulled out a pencil-case stuffed to the brim with cards, mini-pencils and dice, I realised I had done myself a disservice.
I want to unpack a few of the games that were hidden in that humble pencil case, as well as a couple others I encountered during that trip. Each take up about the same space and weight as a deck of playing cards, but allow for added variety and will quickly make you friends with any likeminded gamers you encounter!
With just 6 dice, something to write with and a few sheets of paper, Qwixx is the perfect travel game. It’s easy to learn – the sheets that come with the game do a great job of visually displaying how the game should flow from beginning to end. It’s quick (as you would hope with a name like that!), and there’s enough strategy and critical thinking needed that it appeals to gamers of all types.
Qwixx was the first game that was pulled out of that pencil case in the salt hotel and we played it again and again until the generator cut out and we were forced to call it a night.
The concept of Qwixx is straightforward – roll the dice and tick of as many boxes on your sheet as you can, going from smallest to largest or vice versa depending on the colour. In most dice games, you’re sat twiddling your thumbs until turn passes to you, but in Qwixx, you can do something on every player’s turn (or choose not to if that’s more advantageous). It keeps the pace of the game up, makes everyone feel involved and adds a layer of complexity for the player who’s turn it is – whichever dice you use, the other players cannot.
Qwixx is doubly good for backpacking as the coloured dice and writing implements can be used in countless other games, making it as versatile as the faithful pack of cards!
Similarly, Catan the Dice Game requires only a few special dice, a pen/pencil and some Catan paper pads. The game plays very much like a condensed version of Catan-proper. You roll dice, collect resources, build roads, settlements and cities, recruit knights and unlock resource jokers (which allow you to gain a specific resource once-per-game whenever you need it).
I came across this game in the depths of the Amazon Rainforest of all places. A couple with three young children were playing it, and the kids were absolutely enthralled by it. When I returned to somewhere that had an internet connection, I purchased a set for myself immediately.
Catan the Dice Game is far more luck-based than regular Catan, although in a similar mechanic to Yahtzee, you can reroll some or all of your dice twice each turn to attempt to get better resources. You can alternate turns with as many other players as you like, or complete all 15 turns at once before handing over to your opponent(s). You gain victory points for each structure you build, and whoever has the most at the end wins. The sheets are double-sided, with different maps on the two sides to allow a bit more variety in gameplay.
When taking a full game of Catan with you is not practical, Catan the Dice Game is a good way to tide you over until you get back to Old Reliable.
I know, I know! It’s not a groundbreaking revelation that Uno is a good travel game, but no list like this would be complete without Uno (or Dos, depending on your preference). Just like with a pack of playing cards, there are few places in the world where you’ll encounter someone who doesn’t know the rules – although you may have to argue out whether you can stack +2’s.
It’s quick, it’s fun, it’s accessible to all. There’s more strategy needed than in a game of snap, but I won’t pretend it’s like building a deck in Dominion. Uno is one of those games that you can take out anywhere, with any group, and you can’t resist playing a few hands. If you don’t want to have to put the cards in a zip-seal bag when travelling, it may be worth picking up Uno Splash.
Perhaps not a game you expected to see here, but now you’ve read it, it makes sense. Coup is a small and light game (which can be made more space efficient by placing the contents in a zip-seal bag), it offers something very different to the usual card and dice games you usually find while travelling, and it’s infinitely replayable.
If you haven’t played it, Coup is a social deception/deduction game where you must try to be the last player standing among hopefuls trying to ascend to power in a corrupt court. You are given two characters who will help you gain influence, but you can (and probably will) bluff to use the power of the other characters. Find liars, employ assassins or stage coups to eliminate your opponents and ensure your own survival. Additionally, you can lay low, pretending to be weak or an ally to others, right up until the moment you betray them.
Coup isn’t widely considered a travel game, but it has all the makings of a great one. Plus, it will really stand out – we all love a good deck of playing cards, but after the hundredth hand of gin-rummy, something like Coup will inject a lot more excitement into the day.
Spots… paint-splat... green blobs… Whatever you call the symbols, you probably agree that Dobble is a unique game. Whilst the mechanic is not original (it’s basically a souped-up version of snap) the fact that any two cards will always have exactly one symbol in common will never cease to amaze audiences.
If you’ve not encountered Dobble before, I suggest you check it out. The idea is to find the matching symbol between two cards and gain them as points (or get rid or your cards, or add them to your opponent’s hand, or make your opponent draw, or… okay there’s lots of different ways to play Dobble). The basic premise is that of snap – find the matching symbol and one way or another you’re a step closer to winning. My Dobble game has 5 different games you can play, but there are way more than that out there. Being able to change up the game while not really having to learn any new rules means Dobble stays interesting for longer.
Again, it’s a crowd-pleasing game. Kids love it, Adults love it, even people who “aren’t really game people” will have a go and smile despite themselves. It takes 10 seconds to explain the rules and then you’re off – in a frenzy of grabbing cards and flipping new ones over, until the round finishes and you insist on playing again.
It’s a small game, and can be made much smaller by taking it out of its protective tin. Made for travelling, ideal as an ice-breaker between any group of people and the perfect way to end this list of the Top 5 Games to take Backpacking.