Packing Board Games for Vacation

It is easy to picture the stereotypical grandma telling you to never leave home without a sweater, or the classic tv mom reminding her kids to always wear clean underwear.  As we’ve journeyed through life, we have also come up with our own rules for travel.  Chaos believes he should always bring a book.  Confetti isn’t going to go far without a charged phone or a way of charging her phone.

Like many people, we have our quirks of checking that we’re prepared for what’s to come.  Chaos always does his quick “phone, wallet, keys” pocket check before stepping out the door.  With a baby in our lives, our checklists and necessities have grown and morphed in ways we still haven’t mastered.

One packing-prep area we have become pretty comfortable with though is our board game beach bag.  Most Summers, we’ve had the privilege of getting to join Confetti’s family for a week at the beach.  Along with our swimsuits and flippy-floppies, we bring our hobbies too.  Sure, we’re going to get some sun and sand, but why would we take a total vacation from the things we love?

Once Chaos has packed more books and comics than he can reasonably get to in a week, it’s onto our board game bag!

The proper selection of board games for any trip will depend on a number of factors: time away, amount of free time, others in your group, and available space.  Let’s take a look at these factors and discuss what is right for us.

Our Specific Vacation Plans:

We will be staying at a beach about eight hours away from our home by car.  In fact, we will be traveling together with our 10-month old using our own vehicle.  Our destination will be a beach resort with a decent amount of space.  However, we will be sharing our living quarters with family.  Our vacation group will include parents, siblings, and children.  While our time will be mostly pretty flexible, we will still want to be sure to spend time with family and to take advantage of what the area has to offer: beach, pool, bike trails, restaurants, etc.

Available Luggage Space:

Whether you’re journeying by plane, train, or automobile, space tends to be at a premium.  As much as we love Gloomhaven, it’s not really travel-sized and we do probably need to bring clothes, toiletries, and other essentials. This means many physically larger games will have to stay home while vacationing happens.  Sadly, this also eliminates some of our games that have grown due to expansions (Marvel Legendary) and games that have found their way into big boxes (Smash Up).  

The first step is accessing how much space you have available for games.  There are plenty of smaller games (Cross Clues, Hanabi, Innovation, Love Letters, etc.) that easily fit in most spaces, including if you only have a backpack or pocket free for extra storage.

Replayability is a good thing to consider as well.  If you can play one game over and over, it may be a better use of space than eight games you’ll only play one time each.

Whether you have some spare space in a suitcase or whatever is leftover in your car’s trunk, you’ll want to decide what you can realistically sacrifice for games and how to best utilize that area.  Are you looking to bring a few larger games, a bunch of smaller games, or a careful mix of the two?

Personally, we try to prioritize a few physically larger games we hope to play (think the size of Quacks of Quedlinburg or base Wingspan) and then sprinkle in a few smaller games as space allows.

Vacation Party:

Different groups are going to appreciate different games.  If you’re vacationing with friends who you normally game with, it should be easy to pick out a few games you know they’ll love.  However, a group that contains non-gamers or unknowns can get a bit trickier.

Aunt Ethel who finds Solitaire to be a challenge might not be someone who is ready to join in on a game of CO2: Second Chance.  Sure it meets the size requirement we discussed earlier, but the weight might be a bit much for dear Aunt Ethel.  If she or others like her might be joining in on games it may be wise to bring along a few easier to learn or simple-mechanic games.  Entry level games like Pandemic, Catan, and Azul are great.  We might also suggest any game that builds off mechanics they might already know, such as King of Tokyo (Yahtzee), The Crew (any trick-taking game), and Kill Doctor Lucky (Clue).

Trivia games are another great option for mixed groups.  We have enjoyed success with America, Bezzerwhizzer, and Trivial Pursuit.

Each group will be different.  Social deduction games can be great for outgoing groups if they can get into their roles.  Word games (Anomia, Letter Jam, Puns of Anarchy, Scattergories) are usually pretty accessible too.  You may also want to choose games that are easier for people to join in or drop out of if you have people who might have trouble committing to a game or might be distracted more easily.  Finally, don’t forget that not every game has to be about strategy.  There are numerous games that are more about the story or experience than maximizing every turn (Tales of the Arabian Nights, Betrayal at the House on the Hill).  

Since we know plenty of our gaming will just be the two of us while others aren’t around, we usually bring along two or three games specifically with the larger group in mind.  This tends to be enough.  This provides a little variety, but if the group likes something we’ve brought along, they’ll tend to be happy playing it a few times.

Amount of Free Time:

If you’ll only get to squeeze in games between other activities, it might not be wise to pack the game that takes an hour to set up, three hours to play, and another half an hour to clean up.  When time is limited, please factor in setup and clean up time.  You don’t want to be the reason your group is late to or misses a reservation.  

Thankfully, most board games come with estimates for playtime, so that should really be a big help here.  Remember, they are estimates though.  If you know you’re a slower or faster gamer, factor that in.  

Sorry to be more vague in this section, but every vacation is different.  Just make sure to be considerate of your own and others needs in order to maximize fun and reduce drama/unfinished games.

What we can suggest though is games that have flexibility on length.  Games such as Love Letters can be played as a single game or as a series of rounds.  Many of the play-to-the-judge types of games (Puns of Anarchy, Pitchstorm, Cards Against Humanity, etc). Can usually be stopped whenever since they tend to be more about the fun factor than the actual points.  Flexibility is great in tight spaces.

For ourselves, we tend to stay up later than the rest of our group, so time isn’t too much of a factor when we’re playing late at night.  When we do play with others, our ideal game length is one to two hours, so it fills a good chunk of time after dinner, but doesn’t steal everyone’s entire evening or keep anyone from going to bed at a reasonable hour.

Length of Vacation/Length of Stays:

An overnight or weekend stay somewhere is very different from a week to month vacation.  While we are terribly guilty of overpacking, we suggest against it.  No need to bring twenty games, when you can only reasonably play two or three.

How long you stay in each location should also impact what you pack.  A week in one location may let you keep a game setup.  Changing hotels every night will probably dissuade you from games that are a pain to regularly set up and teardown or games that would benefit from having the chance to resume a longer game later.

Also, if you’re moving a lot, then having to lug a bunch of games around may be more than figurative pain.  Your back may hate you if it keeps needing to hoist a mountain of games from spot to spot repeatedly.

Other Factors:

Appropriateness:  Think of who might be around.  The NSFW variations of games or more raunchy games might not be welcomed everywhere you go.  Meanwhile, other themes could be questionable amongst certain crowds.  Maybe Secret H_____ can stay home this trip.  

Also appropriateness isn’t always about content.  Throw Throw Burrito might not be appreciated if you’re staying at grandma’s house with all her knick-knacks and breakables.  Any game that might cause a mess should probably only be played in your own space or with permission from those who do own the area you’ll be playing.

Your Love of the Game:  Travel can be risky: leaving something behind at your destination, lost luggage, damage while getting from point A to point B.  Bring any game you want, but accept the chance something can happen to it.  If a game is not easily replaceable, maybe reconsider bringing it along.

What We Actually Plan to Bring on Our Trip This Year:

  • Clank: Legacy!
  • I’m Right, You’re Wrong
  • All of Us – The Family Trivia Game for All Generations
  • Suspend
  • Dinosaur Island
  • Jaipur
  • Codenames Disney
  • Trivial Pursuit
  • Quacks of Quedlinburg
  • Pandemic
  • King of Tokyo
  • Love Letter
  • Wingspan
  • Splendor

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