It’s that time of year again! Family gatherings, airports, lots of food, and lots of awkward conversation when all the catching up and family gossip is done. So what do you do with your time outside of football games, helping the old folks, and corralling the young ones before they start swinging from the ceiling fan? Play a game, of course. But what happens when you’re with extended family who haven’t much experience beyond Monopoly and Yahtzee? What happens when you are packing for the plane and trying to avoid checked baggage AND boredom at your auntie’s house? You look here for easy, portable, entertaining games that are quick to teach and friendly to those who don’t typically walk into your FLGS.
Dead Man’s Draw
One I love to play is Dead Man’s Draw by Mayday Games. This pirate themed press-your-luck strategy game is a quick and easy card game that should fit into your carryon. It is for up to 4 players but since it rarely goes more than 20 minutes and has various ways to play and score, you can bring two and shuffle players around if you have a large gathering. Scoring can be a little tricky for kids and the easily confused, but a couple of rounds is all it takes to get the hang of it, in my opinion. It is accessible for visually impaired folks with large print and images, with few words.
Each suit of cards has a different ability, and you want to draw as many different suits as you can. The moment you draw a duplicate suit, you’ve gone bust and lost all your cards (unless you’ve drawn a card that allows you to save one or more cards). This game can be fun to watch as people press their luck and occasionally come out with huge wins or losses after a giant string of cards. It is competitive but not really cutthroat, and it is amusing enough to play several hands of an evening. I have gladly left behind more than one copy while visiting friends and family, which is the best recommendation I can give.
Fox & The Forest
For a light two player game, I love Fox in the Forest from Renegade Game Studios and Foxtrot Games. It is a little trick-taking game that plays out in 25-35 minutes. I enjoy this one because of the scoring system as well as the artwork. If you take too many tricks, you start losing points. If you mind your own business too long your opponent can foil you by dumping tricks on you, so you have to look lively and watch your points. The art is lovely and reminiscent of childhood fairytales. The directions are clear and easy, if a little word heavy on some cards. A couple of rounds and you won’t be relying on the card text a whole lot, though. There’s more strategy involved than I expected when my college student brought this out; some cards have game-changing abilities that can really bite you if you aren’t careful! But the variability in strategy and the scoring are what keep me coming back to this one. It’s good for convention lines, airport layovers, and killing time while you wait for the pie to come out of the oven.
Next up is Red 7 by Asmadi Games. I find this one to be a nice change for the family members who have a limited library of games. If they like Rummy or Uno, try this one out with them. It’s a colorful set collecting card game that fits in my backpack. It is a little strategic but light enough for most ages to play. A round takes about 10 minutes for 3-4 players. Each suit (color) has a number from 1-7. Different suits have different set conditions and weights. A Red suit is worth more than a Green suit, which is worth more than a Violet suit, which means you are re-evaluating your turn as each player takes their own turn. Each color card is labeled, so those with color processing issues need not pass this game by. Each suit color has the rules for collecting that set right on the card. Play is speedy and smooth most of the time. Last player standing wins, so if you can change the win conditions often enough you can gain the upper hand in a round even if you are not the top of the leaderboard when it comes to points. There are advanced rules you can add in to give the game more weight. I find this game works wonderfully with people who are intimidated by themed games and tend to gravitate toward classics from decades past. As a result, this one has appeal to a wide range of folks regardless of how often they game, making it an excellent candidate for my holiday travels.
If you are with folks who aren’t fond of card games of any stripe, you’re in luck. Another great carryon game is Zombie Dice by Steve Jackson Games. Smaller than your average Yahtzee cup and twice as fast at about 15 minutes for 4 players, you can play with even very large groups without needing to bring a second game (although there’s more downtime between players when there’s only one set of dice and 10 people). The premise of this one: You’re a zombie. You’re rolling for brains and trying to avoid gunshots. Get all the brains before shotguns end your turn.
Zombie dice can be taught in less than 5 minutes. Roll a brain, keep the brain. Footprints mean a victim escaped. Shotgun blasts are injuries; three blasts and your turn is over, meaning you lose all the brains on your table. End your turn before three blasts in order to score the brains you’ve rolled. Thirteen brains in your scorepad means you win and the game is over. The dice are multicolored but not imperative to game play. They indicate how hard it is to score. But you can figure that out just by looking at the die for a moment. Green dice have a higher chance of giving you brains than yellow or red. No reading is involved in game play, so young children and multi-lingual families will all pick up on this easily. We generally play four of five games of this at a time because it is so quick. But people can come and go during this one without too much trouble.
I have found all of these games at your average big-box store as well at local game stores, and they’ve all been under $20 in my experience, so if you find your days dragging a little during your holiday visit, you can usually find one or more fairly easily if you have played out whatever else you may have brought with you. Safe travels, everyone, and have some pie for me!