With vaccines rolling out it’s hopefully not long until we can once again shove ourselves into tiny airplane seats and lose our luggage on the way to stunning destinations around the world.
Whether you’re cruising around the Caribbean, sightseeing in San Marino or surfing off the coasts of South America, it’s always worth bringing a travel board game or two for those warm nights in the hotel.
Best travel board games
If you are taking cardboard abroad, you’re going to need portable board games that fit in your luggage alongside the rest of your holiday essentials.
With that in mind, here are the best bag-friendly travel board games - starting with the largest and ending with the teeny-tiniest - that are perfect to stuff in your suitcase this summer.
1. Railroad Ink Challenge
Roll, write and ride your way across this travel-themed dice game
With travel on the mind it seems fitting that we start this list with a game all about train lines and roads - and thanks to a brand new entry in the series it also happens to be the newest board game of the bunch.
Railroad Ink, along with its new advanced version Railroad Ink Challenge, is a roll-and-write puzzler that can be enjoyed solo or with up to three other players. In the game you’ll spend a number of turns rolling picture dice and drawing whatever shapes and routes come up onto your wipe-clean board.
Each player board has the same arrangement of open train tracks and roads along each side of its 7x7 square grid. Your job is to draw the routes that pop up in each roll of the dice to try and connect those open paths together, with each connection worth more and more points if you can connect them all to the same route. You’ll also score points for filling in the centre squares of your board and for the longest unbroken railway and highway on your board at the end of the game.
Railroad Ink is a delightfully simple game that can be picked up in a matter of minutes, hiding most of its complexities in the moment-to-moment decisions of each turn. You’ll need to gamble on certain dice rolls coming up in the future if you decide to strike out into new paths, as unfinished routes will lose you points in the final tally. Knowing where to put when and what will be the difference between victory and defeat - and as every player around the table is drawing from the same dice results, you’ll only have yourself to blame.
To step things up a notch, Railroad Ink Challenge adds some new scoring opportunities as well as an extra dose of complexity to the mix. Brand new buildings on the board can be connected to your routes in exchange for a special reward, while objective cards will have you racing against the clock or your competitors to fulfill them first in exchange for more points. Railroad Ink Challenge doesn’t necessarily reinvent the (train) wheel but it introduces a few new mechanics and concepts to give veteran players a fresh experience.
There’s a lot to love about Railroad Ink and it’s packed with plenty of replay value if you’re limited in the amount of games you can bring on your travels. While it’s probably the largest box in this list, it has a very small footprint on the table during plays. With just a handful of dice, a board and pen each you could very easily play this on a train table or flip-out airplane table without too much fuss. It's odd that there are so many great board games about trains, but this is the world we live in.
2. Tiny Epic series
Tiny by name, Epic by nature
We’d be remiss to write up an entire list of tiny games and not mention at least one of the Tiny Epic series from Gamelyn Games. As you can probably guess from the name, each of the Tiny Epic games takes a popular genre or theme and condenses it all into the smallest possible package. There’s Tiny Epic Zombies, Tiny Epic Quest, Tiny Epic Galaxies, Tactics, Western, Kingdoms... The series already has a massive list of titles, and designer Scott Almes doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon with more already on the way thanks to Kickstarter.
What exactly is a Tiny Epic Game? Well, it depends on which one you pick up. While there are similarities between some of the titles, each is its own take on a different grander experience. Tiny Epic Zombies, for example, sees your players fighting off hordes of the undead in a bid for survival amongst the fluorescent lights and broken window panes of an abandoned shopping mall. Tiny Epic Quest follows your band of adventurers as they travel across a fantasy kingdom to fight goblins, delve into dungeons and source legendary items and spells. Zombies plays like a tabletop tower-defence game, while Quest is more like a movement puzzle with push-your-luck dice throwing.
The important thing is that all of these games, despite their absolutely miniscule packaging, can easily go toe-to-toe with games that far outweigh them in size and footprint. One of the most impressive aspects about the Tiny Epic series is the way Gamelyn Games is able to squeeze such big ideas into such small boxes. The components and solutions might get smaller and smaller, but their ideas never seem to shrink as a result.
One problem you may run into with the Tiny Epic series is that the small box size doesn’t always mean that the game itself won’t take up much room when you start setting it up. Tiny Epic Quest sprawls across the table once it’s fully prepared for play - which is impressive if you’ve got the space for it, but pretty useless if you’re trying to squeeze the game onto an equally miniature playspace. Maybe avoid it if you’re looking for something to play on the train or in an airplane.
If you plan on picking up one game from the Tiny Epic series for your travels, go with Tiny Epic Galaxies, a dice-rolling strategy game in which you must seize control of planets to harvest their resources and grow your empire. As it’s mostly dice and cards it doesn’t eat up your entire table, making it an ideal travel space-based board game.
3. Welcome to the Dungeon
Dungeon-crawling in a travel-friendly package
Welcome to the Dungeon, we most certainly do not have fun and games. Instead we’ve got an absolute infestation of goblins, skeletons, dragons and demons. Whoever is bravest - or most unfortunate - out of you and up to three friends will need to delve into its depths in search of some lucrative treasure.
In Welcome to the Dungeon, you and your friends will be collectively building a dungeon full of creatures by taking it in turns to draw from a deck of cards. Each card will show an illustration of the type of monster you’re dealing with, but more crucially it’ll also contain a number and some icons to show how that creature might be defeated. Once you’ve drawn a card you can either place it into the dungeon facedown, so only you know what’s been added, or you instead remove it from the game in exchange for also removing one of the available pieces of equipment.
At the start of the game, the players each decide which character they’d like to play. There’s the warrior, the barbarian, the mage and the rogue. Each one comes with their own set of custom armour, weapons and spells. To try and avoid damage you can use your abilities and equipment to ignore the effects of certain monsters, leaving them for your companions to deal with later.
Despite the name, only one of you sitting around the table will be forced to enter the dungeon each round. Instead of drawing a card from the deck on your turn - or if you can’t because the deck is empty - you can pass, removing you from the running. If everyone but you has already passed, it’s time to strap on your boots and light up your torch.
If you’re unlucky enough to enter, you’ll draw all the cards that you’ve collected in the dungeon one by one, discarding those that you can defeat with your equipment, and taking damage equal to the value on the card for each that you can’t. Make it through the deck with some health intact and you’ll earn one of the two victory cards you need to win the game. Die in the dungeon twice, and you’re out.
Welcome to the Dungeon becomes a game not just about dungeon-crawling, but of pushing your luck, knowing when to stick and when to fold. Do you go for glory and try to make it through the dungeon with your hide intact? Or do you ramp up the difficulty and watch your friends perish in the dark, claiming victory as the last player standing? Either way, it’s raucous good fun will leave you in stitches, and it takes up next to no room on the table - meaning you can travel far and wide in search of worthy (or foolhardy) adventurers.
Guess your way through famous faces in this travel card game
Now we’re really getting tiny, because this Codenames-esque cooperative character guessing game for two or more players is literally just a deck of cards. Sporting one of these classic Top Trumps-style plastic boxes, Similo is an easy-breezy social deduction co-op game for all ages which will challenge your ability to communicate with limited information as you try to spot the differences and similarities from a range of different characters.
Depending on the set you choose you could be playing with fairytale characters such as Prince Charming and the Big Bad Wolf, or notable figures from history including Joan of Arc and Julius Caesar.
One player in the group acts as the clue-giver, while the rest will be trying to interpret their hints. At the start of the game, the clue-giver lays out a grid of 12 random characters face up for everyone to see. One of those cards is the character that all players are working to keep on the board until the end of the game - but only the clue-giver knows which one it is.
Each round the guessers have to remove an ever-increasing number of cards from the table: one card in the first round, two in the second, three in the third and so on until there is just one card remaining. If that card is the card the clue-giver has been hinting at, then everyone wins. Hooray!
The clue-giver is able to give their team-mates one clue each round to help them narrow down their search. These clues aren’t spoken out loud - the clue giver can’t speak at all during the game - but instead delivered in a very specific way. At the start of the game, the clue-giver draws five random cards from the remaining cards in the deck. Each round, they must choose one of these cards to play either vertically or horizontally in front of their guessers. If the card is played vertically it means that the character you’ve just played is in some way similar to the card your team is trying to protect, while horizontally means the opposite - a lack of similarity.
The rules are as simple as that, but in play they become a lot trickier because you’ll have to weigh up those clues you’re given against an entire tableau of characters, each with loads of different elements to consider. Not to mention the clue-giver must just do their best with the cards they have available to them.
Similo is a fantastic travel board game for families on holiday, but it’s also just a great co-op game to play with some drinks at an airport bar when everyone’s a little too tipsy or jetlagged to learn something complicated. It’s a hub of debates and comes with some lovely illustrations, all in a single deck of cards.
5. Dice Academy
Few travel games are more portable than a handful of dice
Our smallest travel game on the list is also one of the best quick-playing board games out there. Dice Academy’s box is technically bigger than Similo’s - but if you look inside you’ll find just a handful of dice that are solid enough to just sit at the bottom of a travel bag unprotected, making this a highly flexible option for gamers on the go.
Dice Academy sees you and any number of friends battling it out to be the best word-knower of the bunch. The ten dice are split into five colours, with a letter die and subject die for each. The letter dice are pretty self-explanatory; they’ve got different letters on each side. The category dice, meanwhile, are covered in little pictures denoting the type of words you’ll be looking for. It could be the name of a country, a type of vehicle, a fictional character, or even just “something rectangular” - which is an absolute nightmare.
You roll the categories first, making sure everyone gets a good look at them and understands what they’re trying to guess. As soon as you roll the letter dice, the round begins. You and all the other players around the table will be racing in real time to try and think of words that start with the letter on one die and match the category on another. Country that begins with F: FRANCE. Tree or plant that begins with W: WYSTERIA. Item of clothing that begins with G: GILET.
Once you’ve thought of a word you’ll need to say it out loud and then grab the pair of dice you used to make your word, placing them safely in front of you (Unless someone else already grabbed them before you could get your mouth and hands to work properly.) Each pair of dice you pick up is worth a point, and you choose a total to play to at the start of the game.
There’s only one complication that might trip you up, which is in theory very simple but becomes complicated in the rush to grab dice. You’re not allowed to grab a pair of dice that are the same colour. If you do, you have to put them back on the table and can no longer make any guesses for the rest of the round. The same rule applies if you grab a pair of dice and mess up, either because you thought a word started with a different letter or because it didn’t fit the category correctly.
That’s everything you need to know to play Dice Academy. You can learn in seconds and play for as long as you like.
The frantic scramble as you desperately try to think of literally anything rectangular that begins with the letter F is delectable. Dice Academy definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you love silly games that don’t outstay their welcome and enjoy getting shouty and racing against the clock then it’s a no-brainer. It’ll fit in the pocket of a pair of jeans and you can get it for about a fiver, making it the perfect travel game no matter how far you’re going.
Buy Dice Academy on Amazon UK.