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.
I've started a new and exciting project! I am now creating a short segment for The Dice Tower's bi-weekly show, "Throat Punch Lunch." The show focuses on Amerithrash/Ameritrash gaming, and my segment is called "SoloThrash." Shockingly, it's about playing solo games.
This is a real departure for me—it's easier for me to write than to talk to a camera. But a couple of weeks ago, Sam Healey tweeted that he was interested in bringing more reviewers onto his show. I surprised myself and replied... and now here I am, around 26:30:
Our school year has officially begun, and soon, our board game club will be meeting again! I am not ashamed to say that the best part of my job is playing games with students. I am always trying to push the kiddos beyond much-beloved classics like Uno, Jenga, and Connect Four. Learning through play is real, and I want my students to push themselves both in class and during game time.
I've ordered some games for the new school year to try out with the kids, and I cannot wait for them to arrive in the mail:
1. Paperback (2–5 Players)
As both a word game and a deck-building game, Paperback is going to be board game crack for me. (That's right, students, this is how we teachers "turn up" on the weekends!) In Paperback, your goal is to write cheesy pulp novels, and you do so by using your hand to create words, purchase additional letters, and eventually acquire victory points/publish novels.
I love that the words you make in this game help you towards a larger goal and that new cards allow you to take interesting new actions on later turns. Scrabble is fun when you're in the mood to assemble words, but you can be stuck with the same crappy letters for a long time, and if you're only playing for a high score, the game can get discouraging. (Playing Scrabble with my mom can be exceptionally brutal.) Paperback eliminates a lot of these problems because in deckbuilders, you discard your whole hand at the end of a turn and start fresh. There is always something you can do to try to improve your situation. I think Paperback could help my students get in touch with their inner word nerds.
2. Spyfall (3–8 Players)
Teenagers tend to use words like cudgels rather than like rapiers. And while there is a place for bluntness in life, I want to make my students' brains melt as they seek out just the right words for any occasion. Spyfall will help them practice while also having a ridiculous amount of fun.
Spyfall is a social deduction game in which the players are working to detect a spy. At the beginning of the game, each player receives a card that is kept secret from the other players. Most of the players receive a card that reveals their location, for example, a casino, a pirate ship, or a movie studio. The spy, however, receives a spy card. Through a delicate process of asking and answering questions, the spy tries to work out her location, while the rest of the group tries to detect the spy. Answer a question too specifically, and the spy will easily guess where you are. But answer too vaguely, and everyone will think you're the spy! Players score points by successfully accusing and revealing a spy, while the spy scores points by revealing himself and correctly naming his location. I think the element of suspicion and the challenge of coming up with appropriately subtle questions and answers will be a lot of fun for the kids.
3. Cat Tower (3-6 Players)
Cat Tower is a dexterity game that offers a fresh take on towers for anyone who has gotten tired of Jenga. In Cat Tower, each player has a hand of seven cards with cats printed on them (you can bend them to create the "legs" and stack the cats). The goal is to get rid of all of your cards first, but beware—just stacking them won't be enough. Each player also has to roll a die which causes special game effects. You may have to add "fat cats" to the tower, put cats on upside-down, or place extra cats during your turn. If you mess up and knock over part of the tower, you have to take cat cards back into your hand.
Cat Tower is cute and has simple rules, but it can be challenging to stack the cats! It is also a more interesting game than Jenga, because it ends when a player runs out of cat cards—not when the tower falls. This gives everyone a chance to keep the fun going, and to get in enough practice to actually improve their gameplay. It's also great for players of all ages, because it's simple enough for kids to play but entertaining enough for a group of adults. I think it'll work well with teenagers who want something light.
This year, I'm going to have a very exciting summer: I'm spending six weeks in Rome! I'll primarily be hanging out with other Latin teachers and studying the history and archaeology of the eternal city. But if you know me, you know I cannot possibly go six weeks without wanting to play a board game. You will also know, however, that I am an obsessively light packer. The only reason I'm checking a bag on this trip is so that I can transport copious amounts of sunscreen.
How will I manage to game while on the road? Fortunately, Board Game Geek has my back with this thread about game stores in Rome.
Additionally, I am planning to pack one or two small games, plus an iPad loaded with board game apps.
I'm not entirely certain which games will make the cut, but I think that I will bring The Game because it is a fun solitaire that can convert to a co-op. I'm also considering bringing one of the games set in the Oniverse, because they offer lots of play without taking up a lot of room in a bag. I already keep copies of Hive and Love Letter in my backpack, so I will just leave them there. Plus, if I am an extra-efficient packer, I can bring Ivanhoe and hope that my roommates are interested in playing. Ivanhoe is a fantastic gateway game for my high school students, and fellow teachers tend to like it, too. Maybe it'll work its magic again and help me make some new friends in my summer class!
My other strategy is to cram a bunch of board game apps onto my iPad. I have app versions of Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Catan, Splendor, and Ascension... and hey, maybe I "need" a few more as "preparation" for my journey.
If you have any suggestions for games that I should bring/download, I want to hear them. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!
My name is Liz, and I play a lot of games. By day, I am a teacher. By night, I am an avid gamer.