Like many people this season, I am preparing to travel to see family for Christmas. But there is no way you're convincing me to leave my board games behind! Here is my holiday board game packing list this year:
One Player: Valley of the Kings
As you know, I like to play board games whether or not I have other people to play with. As my solo pick for holiday travel this year, I will be bringing Valley of the Kings (or one of its equally-tiny expansions, depending on my mood). The game is a deck builder with a fun twist: You don't score points based on the cards you have acquired for your deck, but for the cards that you have chosen to "entomb"—meaning that they are permanently yours for the afterlife, but you can no longer continue to benefit from their spending power and card effects. This tweak to the deck building mechanic makes for fun strategic decisions, and Valley of the Kings has a fun solo variant that will keep me playing throughout Winter Break. Plus, the box is tiny, and the game doesn't take up too much space on a table, either. It's a great choice for solo players on the go.
Two Player: Hive Pocket
Hive is a delightful two-player abstract in which you deploy different kinds of bugs in your hive with the goal of surrounding the enemy's queen bee. The game has a chess-like feel, with rules that are easy to learn but gameplay that is hard to master. For travel, Hive is even better than chess, given that its plastic hexagonal pieces are nearly indestructible and you don't need a board to play—only a flat surface. (Even an airplane tray table will do!) Plus, the pieces all fit into a drawstring bag that you can jam into any open space in your carry-on.
Multiplayer: Codenames and Splendor
In my experience, you can't go wrong introducing new gamers to Codenames or Splendor. The rules are very easy to teach, but you can wring a lot of great gameplay out of them. Codenames can expand to include almost any number of people, making it a great family game. Splendor only accommodates up to four players, but I've never introduced the game to a group of students and had it flop. I have every reason to think my family will like it! Both of these games are also great travel games, because their components are relatively few. You can easily leave the game boxes at home and pack all of the cards, chips, etc. into Ziploc bags. Although I admit I cheated a little bit this year—I already shipped a new copy of Codenames home as a gift for my word-nerd mother! I hope she loves it.