The true gamer is always looking for an opportunity to play a game, and what better opportunity could arise than those frequent waits at airports, train and bus stations when you’re travelling around the world? The problem, of course, is that the last thing you want to do is tote around a copy of Runewars in your backpack on a trip to South America; and it’s also not much good taking a game with lots of fiddly, easy-to-lose components like Arkham Horror. So allow me to suggest a few small, portable, easy-to-play games to shove in the bag or backpack when you’re off on your next trip.

One little trick I recommend is to leave the boxes at home, because they’ll inevitably get damaged on your adventures. Instead, after making your choice of games, ‘decant’ them into a small plastic box that’s easy to carry and will protect your games more effectively. You can put individual card decks in a few ziplog bags within the box. Then again, an even easier option is to just buy yourself another copy of the game and accept that it will get seriously damaged en route!

Kosmos have made some excellent two player games that often find their way into my bag on a trip. On old favourite is Odin’s Ravens (2002), a clever and portable race game with some ingenious twists. Players have to ‘fly’ their raven piece over a series of land cards, matching the land types with cards played from their hands; but you can move cards around and zip ahead by matching a series of the same land types in a row. It’s just a few small decks of cards and a few wooden pieces, and great for playing on the go.

Of course, good old Lost Cities (1999) is just a deck of cards, as you really don’t need the board to play. While it’s probably a bit easy for experienced gamers, it’s great if you feel like a card game with just a bit of theme. Also be sure to try Blue Moon (2004), a fantastic card game which has all the complexity and fun of a collectible card game without all that blind buying business. A series of different race decks keep the strategies fresh. It comes with a board, but again, it’s not an essential component. In the same Kosmos range you can find Hera and Zeus (2000), and intriguing and attractive card game featuring mythological creatures doing battle, and made up of just a couple of card decks and two wooden tiles.

One game that always seems to come along on our trips is Rüdiger Dorn’s Jambo (2004), also by Kosmos. There is a bunch of cardboard counters in this game, but it’s still pretty portable. In the game, you are a Central African merchant buying and selling your wares in an attempt to make your fortune in gold. Armed with a budget of actions per turn, you buy goods with gold tokens and place them on your market cards, and then hopefully sell them for a profit; but of course there are all manner of special cards that complicate things. There’s a great balance of luck and strategy here for such a small game, and the cards are beautifully illustrated.

Another game that is ideal for playing in hotel rooms or places where you have just a bit more space is the Catan Card Game (1996). Personally I think the card game is superior to the venerable board game, and it’s certainly a lot more portable. In the card game, players build their own kingdoms by spending resources from the lands around their cities, eventually building villages, towns and cities and the special buildings and monuments within them. It uses a very clever idea to keep track of resources: you rotate the card to face the number displayed on an edge toward you. With just a few decks and wooden dice and markers, it’s an ideal travelling game with a bit more depth; and if you add the expansion decks, there’s an endless amount of variety.

If you’re a fan of Puerto Rico you’ve probably heard of its portable card game spin-off, San Juan (Rio Grande, 2004). By the clever expedient of making cards serve a dual purpose as money or goods/buildings, this manages to squeeze the ingenious mechanics of it’s euro game parent into a deck of cards and a few tiles. There’s still the role selection and the goods production and the building, all in a fast-playing and portable package.

If you can manage to rope in some other players, a classic favourite is Bruno Faidutti’s Citadels (FFG, 2000). It can be played with two but is much better with a group. Saboteur (Z-Man Games, 2004) is also an excellent portable choice for a group of gamers. Another fun little card game—that drips with black humour and cartoon art—is Guillotine (Wizards of the Coast, 1998), where you score points for sending victims to the guillotine during the French revolution!

Fantasy Flight Games have a range of games called the Silver Line, which come in small boxes and often pack a lot of game in a small space; for example Condottiere (1995), Cold War: CIA vs. KGB (2007) and Letter of Marque (2009), all of which are great fun. AEG have a great card game in the same small-box format called Arcana (2009).

Of course, many of your old favourites come in travel editions: Settlers of Catan, Travel Carcassonne, Ingenious: Travel Edition, not to mention more ‘normal’ games like Yahtzee, Uno and that old standby, a deck of cards.

There’s no reason to stop gaming when you go on a trip, and in fact a game or two can help while away those inevitable delays in transport and quiet nights in cheap hotels. Next time you head off, remember to shove a game or two from this list in your backpack—you won’t regret it!

For more information about the games mentioned in this article, visit the publisher sites or BoardgameGeek (www.boardgamegeek.com). You can also find rules summaries and reference sheets for many of these games at Headless Hollow (www.headlesshollow.com/freebies_games.html).

by Universal Head

Universal Head (www.universalhead.com), has been designing for clients across the globe for more than twenty years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites www.tekumel.com and www.battleloremaster.com. His blog site www.headlesshollow.com is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.