Gaming on the Go | Games, Gamers, & Gaming

Summer’s coming up, and with that will come patrons looking for audiobooks, beach reads, and other fun ways to spend time on the road and at their destinations. Games are a great addition to family travel. They allow for bonding and help everyone wind down at the end of the day.

Of course, it’s easy to find video games that are great for the road: smartphones, tablets, portable consoles, and laptops provide numerous options—many of them no different from what you’ll find at home. But getting Wi-Fi en route can be expensive, and a dead battery with no outlet to be found can ruin a great gaming session. If patrons come to you wanting recommendations of what games to vacation with, don’t rule out board games!

Travel light

The ideal travel board game will use few pieces and elements so that it’s highly portable, be easy to manage (Who wants to keep checking the rule book when you’re trying to get away from it all?), and will be just as much fun for two people as for a whole family. It should also be easy to learn and teach, since you never know when you might meet new friends who will want to hang out with you.

For these reasons, dice games and card games are the best for traveling. They’re lightweight, take up little room in your bag, are visually appealing without being overwhelming, and are often fairly easy to learn given that there are fewer elements and mechanics in play.

Two standout dice games are Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice. Zombie Dice has players assuming the role of zombies on a quest to consume delicious human brains. Each die has three icons printed on it: a brain, footprints, and a shotgun blast. Players score one point for each brain and can continue drawing dice and rolling to build up their score. They reroll on footprints but are penalized for shotgun blasts. Once a player reaches a score of 13 or more, everyone takes one more turn, and the highest score wins. It’s a fun, fast-paced game that all ages can enjoy, and there are some expansions available that increase the mechanics by adding a few more dice.

Cthulhu Dice draws inspiration from the weird sf of H.P. Lovecraft. Each player begins the game with a set number of “sanity” tokens. The main game piece is a 12-sided die that players take turns rolling. The “caster,” or active player, chooses a “victim” and rolls the dice; the outcome of the roll can result in the victim or caster losing sanity, one of them gaining sanity, or all players losing sanity to Cthulhu. The victim then rolls against the caster, with the same results likely. Play continues until only one player is “sane” after a victim roll—it’s also possible that all players will lose all their sanity to Cthulhu, resulting in Cthulhu himself winning the game.

Deal me in

The Fluxx card games (e.g., Holiday Fluxx, Monty Python Fluxx, Pirate Fluxx) are great under any circumstance. The game actually changes as you play; it begins with a simple “draw one, play one” rule and no specified win condition. Various cards add to the rules, specify a win condition, or endow players with special advantages. Given its fluid nature, it’s nearly impossible to power game and forces players constantly to adapt. There are several themed expansions to the base set, all of them nicely packed away in their own portable boxes, and they can be mixed and matched in any number of combinations.

Another great card game for playing on the road is Smash-Up. While it’s slightly more complex, with more mechanics at work, it has a charming visual design and is highly imaginative in its concept. Players choose two thematic teams to construct their deck: your deck might have zombies teaming up with pirates, or ninjas with robot dinosaurs, for example. Three different locations are then drawn from a neutral deck, with players competing for control over those locations by playing cards to them. Each card, of course, has its own special effect, such as removing other cards from play or allowing players to move their characters from one location to another. The first player to control three locations wins, but as they claim control of a location they have to discard all units deployed there, so strategic decisions abound.

Tell me a story

Sometimes, you don’t want to compete; you just want to kick back and relax. This is where storytelling games work well. The idea is to tell the best story, but the real fun doesn’t come from winning—it comes from engaging the other players in your tale. Gloom is a unique card game whose goal is to put a family through the most horrible, torturous existence imaginable. Transparent cards featuring such mishaps as “Pursued by poodles” are used to craft a narrative for each family member, with the ultimate goal being an untimely death. There is a scorekeeping system, but it’s easy to ignore and play just for the sake of telling a story. Another great story game is Story Cubes, in which players roll dice to find out what type of characters and locations should be the basis for the story. Each set is easily transported in its own bag.

Until next time, safe travels, and keep telling yourself: just one more level!

M. Brandon Robbins is Media Coordinator, Goldsboro High School, NC, and a member of the 2011 class of the American Library Association’s Emerging Leaders

This article was published in Library Journal's May 15, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

M. Brandon Robbins About M. Brandon Robbins

M. Brandon Robbins ( is the Media Coordinator at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, NC. He's a member of the 2011 class of ALA Emerging Leaders.

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