Our top 5 travel games!

One of our biggest take-aways from our time in lockdown at Round the Woods (and there were many, many transformational take-aways) is the importance of slowing down and being present in the moment. Whatever jobs we took on, we did so mindfully and carefully as we learnt new skills and took our time to do a good job in whatever craft we were trying our hand at that day. After a few weeks of us and the family becoming more comfortable together, and getting to know each other more, a Saturday night board game session organically became part of our week. We loved those Saturday game nights, having fun together and laughing until we couldn’t breathe!

We’ve always loved playing games, and as our housesitting lifestyle has given us so much more free time together, we like investing in new games to play while we travel around. We wanted to share our top five travel games with you all, as after nearly three years on the road we’ve played our fair share of them!! We find most of our new favourite games at housesits – one of our delights while housesitting is to rummage through the games cupboard to find new ones. All of the games below can be played with two or more people and are great to travel with. So without further ado, here’s our top five!

Carcassonne

We’d heard about Carcassonne a few times before we came across it at a housesit in Chichester. It looks complicated, but once you know the rules it’s super simple!

How to play:

Each player takes it in turns to pick a random tile and place it down. Each tile has on it a road, city, monastery or a mixture of all three. Pick your tile and connect it to one on the table, so a road must connect to a road, for example. Then you place one of your coloured ‘Meeples’ – little people-shaped counters – on the tile to claim that road, city or monastery as yours. This is how you score points – one point for each road tile, two points for each city tile (when closed off to complete it) and one point for each monastery and the eight tiles surrounding the monastery. When a road or city is closed off by placing down a final tile, you move your scoring Meeple along the separate scoreboard and take your playing Meeple back to use again. When all tiles are used up, you count the points for the remaining Meeples on any unfinished roads etc. and total them on the scoreboard. The player with the most points, wins!

Why we love it:

It’s a simple premise once you understand how to play, and there are opportunities to steal the points for another player’s city! I can’t tell you how cross it makes me when I’ve spent half the game building a ginormous, will-be-massively-lucrative-in-points-if-I-can-close-it-off city, only to have Chris tack one of his Meeple along the edge and join it to mine. Infuriating. But we love to play it. The box is kind of big for travelling, with the size of scoreboard taking up most of the space. But you could always leave the scoreboard behind and take only the pieces, keeping score on paper (or on Notes on your phone – we’re big on not using up loads of paper when we play games).

Bananagrams

We first played this game waaaay before our housesitting journey began, back in 2014 when we had our first taste of what we call ‘living differently’, while staying at an eco-friendly yurt in the Dordogne to celebrate our three year anniversary! We always site this holiday as the first time we saw there was another way to live, and we’ll never forget it. Those sun-soaked August evenings playing Bananagrams in the outdoor dining space, overlooking a radiant field full of sunflowers, will be forever ingrained in our minds.

How to play:

First, all the letter tiles are turned upside down and each player takes twenty-one. After announcing ‘Split!’, you turn the tiles over and make words in your own crossword-style grid with your letters. When you’re finished you announce ‘Peel!’, and every player takes one more tile to add to their grid. If you want to get rid of a tricky letter (like a Z, X or Q – very useless if you don’t have a U) then you say ‘Dump!’ And put the tile back in the pile face-down, but you must pick up three new tiles. This continues until there are no more tiles left to take, and one player announces they have finished their grid by exclaiming ‘Bananas!’.

Why we love it:

It’s quick and easy, basically like Scrabble but without having to wait ages for other players to finish their turn. It also comes in a very handy (and very cute) banana-shaped pouch – which makes it perfect for travelling. The ceramic tiles are durable, and the small size of the bag makes it easy to chuck into our housesitting kit without taking up much space. The announcements using vague banana-themed words are kind of arbitrary, but hey, it’s fun.

Jaipur

I think Chris came across this game simply when he was researching good two player games. It’s one of those games I sort of groaned at when we first got all the pieces out, because it looked like a lot, but it’s become a firm staple in our housesitting kit!

How to play:

This game is only for two players, but it’s simple and doesn’t take long! Each player has five goods cards to begin, and five cards are placed in a line between the two players – this is the marketplace. Players take it in turns to either pick up cards from the marketplace or sell the goods in their hand. When more than one card is taken from the marketplace, the player must replace it with goods from their own hand – sometimes this can be a tough decision to make as you can only hold seven cards at once! Goods can then be sold and exchanged for their tokens. The more valuable the goods, the more points the tokens are worth. The round ends when either three of the goods token piles are empty, or players have played through the entire deck. Points are then totalled, and a new round begins. It’s best out of three wins!

Why we love it:

It’s a super quick game with three short rounds, and it comes in a teeny box. As players have to win the majority of three rounds to win the game, even if you had a bad run in one round you could still claw back the overall win! We often seem to win a round each before having an intense winner-takes-all final round.

Codenames Duet

Our homeowner in Stoke Newington recommended this game for us when we were looking after their teeny kitten Sumo – we would watch him lounge in his cat hammock underneath the glass coffee table while we played Codenames Duet on top.

How to play:

Twenty-five word cards are placed in a five by five grid, and a key card is placed in between both players – this has a different key on either side so it’s important the other person doesn’t see your side of the card. The aim is to give clues to your teammate to help them pick the green words on your key card, being careful not to give them a clue that will lead them to the word that is the assassin – that means game over! The key card will tell you which words are green, which one word is the assassin, and which are brown – these are innocent bystanders, which won’t end the game but will end that turn. You both have a finite number of turns, so you have to try to guess as many green words as you can with only a one word hint for each round!

Why we love it:

I particularly love this game because it’s cooperative – I have a tendency to get crabby when we play super competitive games (what can I say, I love being a team). All the cards come in little bags too, so it’s easy to take them out of the box and tuck them into a housesitting kit.

Exploding Kittens

We played this game at our housesit in Sweden at the start of the year and, as with most new board games we discover, that first game was followed by countless rounds for the remainder of the sit. The game holds the record for the #1 most-backed project on Kickstarter, as well as the #10 most-funded project in Kickstarter history – so you know it’s gonna be good.

How to play:

Players take it in turns to either play a card or draw from the deck. Similar to Uno, cards have special powers to afflict different actions on your opponent, e.g. hand over a card, shuffling the deck. But with kittens! And explosions! The aim of the game is to avoid finding the Exploding Kitten card in the deck, unless you have a Defuse card to play. Once all the Defuse cards have been played, it’s a Russian roulette style one card shoot out until there’s just one player left standing.

Why we love it:

The game might last longer with more than two people, but it’s addictive and comes in a handy travel-sized box. There are also several expansion packs to re-ignite your love of the game when you get bored of the original edition.

Other games we love:

We came across Mexican Train – another fantastic game – while at our workaway in Norfolk and while it’s better with more people, we love it. We also played Ticket to Ride at a housesit in Stamford Hill, which we may have got slightly obsessed with and spent every evening playing multiple games for the duration of our five day sit. Everyone we talk to that has played it, LOVES it. Both of these games are great – maybe not the best for travelling, and they’re super expensive which is why we haven’t committed to them yet, but we wanted to mention them here in case you come across them at a housesit. If you do, PLAY THEM! You will be obsessed and you’ll have us to thank – you’re welcome in advance.

If you don’t have the space to travel with board games, a standard pack of cards gives you endless possibilities! Our favourite card games include Sh*thead (which seems to be a universally-known game, even if the name changes), Gin Rummy or good old Go Fish. While at our workaway in Norfolk, we were introduced to a card / board game called Sequence in which you have to make a row of 5 counters on a card-covered board, using whatever cards you pick up from the deck. It takes a bit of luck but also strategy, and can be played one-on-one or as a team. It also requires the board, but we simply took a photograph of the design to print out at a later date and make counters from pennies or buttons.

We’d love to know if you’ve played any of our faves, and what games you travel with! We’re always finding new games, coming up with ways to DIY the playing pieces ourselves or jump at the chance to play them when we see them at housesits. We’re always looking to expand our set too – let us know what your faves are in the comments below or chat with us on Instagram. Look out for future reviews on our blog!