Winter is coming and that means more time indoors, and what indoor place could be better than the humble pub? The only thing that can make a few pints with friends better is a fun little game to plonk on the table.
What makes a good pub game? One that you can chuck in a pocket or satchel, lay it out in double-time on one of those little round tables, not bore your mates with too many rules or lose your rag if cider-spill seeps over some of the bits.
It doesn’t get more pub-themed than a game consisting of coasters. Skull is a simple bluffing and deduction game involving a hand of four coasters (three roses and one skull). On your turn, you can either play a coaster face down or make a bet on how many roses you can find by flipping over the coasters already played. The next player has to either raise on your gambit or drop out, but there’s a catch: if you win the top bid, you always have to start by flipping over all the coasters you played. This leads to a lot of bluffing and baiting as players try to tempt each other to ever riskier bids or uncover a grinning skull. This is a game that can be thrown down and taught in a minute.
A cute little box holds this charming 2-3 player game of dice-chucking area control about dandelions trying to spread their seeds to the best gardens in the summer breeze. Each game starts with everyone rolling their fistful of candy-coloured dice then taking turns to move their dandelion piece as many spaces as there are pips on their selected dice. The garden it lands in is where the dice ends up, with the highest-scoring gardens having the fewest spaces. There are some fun wrinkles too: if your dandelion would land on an opponent’s then you get double movement and when you deposit your dice, it can push all dice of the same value to neighbouring gardens. A vital tactic when toting up the dice numbers and pip values to see who won which garden. Ironically, of all the games in this list, this is the one least likely to blow away in the breeze which makes it perfect for the pub garden.
Trailblazers (Pocket Edition)
Coming in a few different travel options, here I’m discussing the 1-4 player “pocket edition”
Trailblazers is a drafting tile-laying game where players compete to build the longest biking, hiking and kayaking trails.
Each round, players have to choose two trail cards to play to their personal play space, starting off from their first camp card whilst handing over the remainder trail cards to their neighbour. The first three rounds start with players laying down a new camp card to build even more sprawling spaghetti junctions, whilst round four is all about looping your trails back before game end. After all, it doesn’t matter how long and intricate a trail is; if it doesn’t start and end at its respective camp (bikes, hikes and kayaks), it scores zero.
Trailblazers is quite scrappy and forgiving about card placement. You can lay the cute little packet-o-gum shaped cards all over each other so sometimes it’s best to abandon an overly ambitious trail for one that gets back to camp in time. It even has a solo mode with achievements to aim for when you’re waiting for people to turn up.
Not only can mini Heckmeck fit in your jeans pocket, but it can also fit in that tiny inner pocket that you normally use for your gold pocket watch.
This 2-7 player dice-rolling push-your-luck game was designed by uber-maths nerd Reiner Knizia and can probably be a good teaching tool on probabilities if you wanted to bum your kids out.
Before the players are a long line of numbered dominos with an increasing number of worms below the numbers. Worms means points and to get them you need to roll eight dice, pick one set of matching numbers to keep, and roll the rest of the dice again. The aim is to try and get a higher and higher total sum of dice to pick the juiciest domino.
But there’s a catch. Two, actually. Firstly, you need at least one ‘worm’ die (worth six, they replace six on the dice) and, secondly, if you roll nothing but numbers you already have sets of, then you’re bust and lose a domino back to the row. And finally, if an opponent happens to have already taken a domino you fancy and you manage to get dice of exactly the same sum: you steal their domino (but only if it’s at the top of their domino stack).
In a case this small, there’s no excuse not to always have this one on your person.
Azul burst onto the scene back in 2017 and quickly carved out a niche for itself as the colourful abstract puzzle game you could introduce to Sudoku and puzzle fiends, who had no interest in dice rolling or meeples. This 2-4 player open drafting tile placement game is all about filling your five-by-five grid with colourful tiles that combo off each other whilst working towards the end game goals of completing an entire colour and forming complete rows and columns. All whilst trying to avoid tiles you don’t have room for on your assembly lines, lest they smash to the floor and hit you with negative points.
The recently released travel version keeps everything from its big brother whilst delivering it in smaller portions and with delightful jog-proof play mats with integrated scoring tracks. All of which makes it not only suitable for the pub but also the tray tables of planes and trains, a grassy meadow and the lip of a dormant volcano. Probably.