There’s nothing quite like being in the great outdoors, appreciating nature; unless, inevitably, the weather takes a turn for the worse, the nearest park is an hour away, or you just need a day inside in pyjamas to recover from a tough week.
In these situations, I found myself drawn to outdoorsy themed, cosy games, so I can get a taste of the wonder of wildlife from the comfort of my own sofa - what’s not to love?
So, without further ado, here are some of my favourite nature, wilderness-invoking games for those rainy Sunday afternoons.
I’ll admit, I’ve often daydreamed about learning all about foraging and frolicking through the wilderness with a basket full of treasures. For now, I live out that fantasy through Fungi. Fungi is a two-player set collection card game based around foraging and cooking up mushrooms. Cosy visuals and theming combine with a quick-to-understand but surprisingly intricate gameplay to create a hugely replayable game.
As you play, both players have access to the forest, a public lineup of mushroom and item cards in the surrounding area. Players can collect cards from the stretch of forest by their feet, use sticks to reach mushrooms deeper into the forest, or pick up the trash pile. Points are scored by playing sets of matching mushroom cards in a frying pan, with different species scoring different points based on rarity. Once the forest pile is empty, the game ends, and the points are totalled up to see who had the most fruitful forage. Additional ingredients, items, and night cards increase the complexity of the game, adding more variance and strategies to increase your score before your opponent knows what hit them!
Fungi strikes the balance between meditative and competitive; the actions themselves are sweet and gentle, but the game easily becomes competitive as you figure out what your opponent is trying to collect, snatch up the good finds before them, and race toward the finish line.
As much as I love watching the birds flit around the bird feeder in my garden, it’s lacking one core element for me - you can’t win at it. That’s where Wingspan comes in, combining peaceful bird-watching with a competitive engine-building structure. Every time I play, Wingspan inspires me to take more notice of the birds I see in my daily life, and sometimes even play around with the idea of becoming a twitcher.
Wingspan is a bird-themed engine builder for 1 to 4 players (with expansions available which can up the play count to as many as 7). The aim of the game is to attract birds to your habitats, which in turn makes it easier to attract more and more birds and score victory points.
Add bird cards to your hand from the display, gather food by rolling dice, and play birds by paying their food cost and placing them in a suitable habitat. Each of the three beautiful habitats gives you a unique action when you place a bird there, such as gathering food, laying eggs, and drawing new bird cards from the display. As the game progresses, it costs more resources to place new bird cards, but they also earn you more powerful actions and trigger the effects of
other bird cards. The game ends after four rounds, and victory points are tallied up from bird cards, round objectives, and personal objectives to reveal the best bird spotter.
Wingspan is a wonderfully illustrated strategy game in which different strategies and plays can be made every game to make it endlessly replayable. The pleasant theming makes it feel a lot more relaxing and approachable than other similarly strategy-heavy games, so it’s perfect for filling a relaxed afternoon whilst also fostering some welcome competitiveness.
My favourite place to be in nature is walking through the woods in autumn time. Savernake Forest lets me do that regardless of season, weather, or location, and think about the animals that make their homes in these environments that I’d rarely get to see in real life. This is one of those games I picked up purely based on the artwork in a board game cafe, tried, and instantly fell in love with.
Savernake Forest is an open drafting tile placement for 2 to 4 players. The goal is to help the animals of the forest prepare for winter by building them paths with food for them to collect.
Players take turns taking road and animal cards from the bank and placing them in a 4 by 4 grid in their own play space. Each animal has unique food preferences, a point score, and storage capability to take into account when building their road. Every road card in the public bank is associated with a unique effect - picking a card from the Rooster pile allows the player to choose first next turn, the Goat pile gives a can increase the value of an animals food preference, and the armadillo can increase an animal's storage size. The game ends when all players have built their forest, and the points are tallied up.
Savernake Forest is a surprisingly complex nature map-building game that can be played in 30 minutes. The open drafting element allows players to choose whether to play nicely or purposely steal cards their opponents need, and the cute illustrations are sure to brighten any rainy day.
In theory, I fancy myself a bit of a hiker, traversing the wilderness and getting up close and personal with nature. In practice, life often gets in the way, so by escaping into the beautiful vistas of Parks, I get a glimpse into these magical worlds, and some new places to add to the bucket list while I’m at it.
Parks is a track movement game for 1 to 5 players based around visiting the US National Parks. Featuring an array of gorgeous illustrations from the Fifty-Nine Parks print series, it’s hard not to feel in awe of the natural world as you play this game.
The main goal of Parks is to move your hiker characters along the track, which is randomly placed and added to each round, and collect memories that you can use to visit parks. Visited parks are worth victory points at the end of the game, and the addition of personal objectives introduces new ways to score more points and gain the upper hand. This basic mechanic is simple and easy to explain, making it easy to get stuck in and going even with new players, while the randomised seasonal effects, canteens, and gear add a variety of different ways to gather more resources. This element of light engine building helps make Parks replayable and enjoyable time after time, as there are so many different ways to approach the game. Parks is another wonderful example of combining the beauty of the outdoors with simple but highly addictive gameplay. It’s a game I always rush to show off to visitors who didn’t realise games could be pretty and fun, and which fills me with wanderlust every time I sit down to play.
That’s it for my top four nature-themed games! I highly recommend theming your next board game night around these wildlife wonders for some extra comfy and relaxing vibes to see you through until your next big adventure