At the time I’m writing this it’s the Tuesday after Labour Day which pretty much marks the end of Camping Season, so I’m a bit late with this question. Today I’m going to talk about tabletop games that are great to bring with you when you go camping.
Like Shiras asks:
What are the best games for camping?
Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. Some games mentioned in this post were provided by publishers for review purposes.
The Short Answer
Right now my number one game for bringing on a camping trip or for playing anywhere outdoors is Zenteeko.
Zenteeko is a great game for gaming outdoors. I was just playing it two days ago with my youngest for the first time. A couple of weekends ago we had it out at Sandpoint Beach in Leamington. I’ve also brought it with us to “the Lighthouse Park” where we’ve played some three-player games after some ping pong.
I have to admit that I haven’t actually brought Zenteeko camping, but that’s only because I haven’t gone camping since getting the game. However, my wife is heading up to The Pinery this month with the girls and one of the things she’s planning on packing is our copy of Zenteeko.
For some more information about Zenteeko and why I dig it, check out my full review.
The Long Answer
What are some things to look for when picking a game to pack for a camping trip?
There are a few things I think you need to take into account when packing games for a camping trip, or really any other outdoor gaming activity.
You are going to want games that are small and portable so that they aren’t taking up too much room and can easily be stored. Save space for the important things like sleeping bags, clothing, cooking gear, etc. Think about the fact that you may need a place to store the games when you get to where you are going. Depending on the type of camping you are doing, leaving them in the car to grab when needed may not be an option.
Things can be easily lost when out in nature. You don’t want to bring any games with small or numerous components. Sometimes it’s hard enough finding a dropped piece in my basement, I can’t even imagine trying to find some copper cubes from Terraforming Mars in the underbrush.
Weather is a huge factor and can often be unpredictable. Try to avoid games that can be easily ruined if they get wet or dirty. This is going to be one of the biggest limiting factors for your games. When you do have a game that isn’t water/dirt resistant make sure you have some way to pack it or store it so that it is.
Extra protection can go a long way to protect a game. This is the one case where I actually bother to sleeve cards and might even consider things like coin protectors for cardboard tokens. Consider laminating any player boards or reference sheets. Boards, if thin, can also be laminated or varnished.
Speaking of boards, flat spaces may be at a minimum and that can mean no place to fold out a board. Games with neoprene mats are more forgiving (and more resistant to weather damage), but games without boards are even better. Games with small boards or just player boards may work depending on what your gaming space looks like. A game like Azul is going to fit better on a blanket than Teotihuacan.
Short games are often the best choice when heading out on a camping trip. I have to think that most people aren’t going camping to play games. Playing games is just one of the things you plan to do while out enjoying nature. Game time will probably be filler time, for before bed, or while waiting for meals to be cooked. A camping trip is likely not the place where you want to play an eight hour game of Twilight Imperium. Now I do know some people do board game camping weekends, but those are usually at some form of cabin. At that point, you aren’t looking for games to play outdoors and my game suggestions would be completely different and could include epic games like TI.
Roleplaying games that don’t require additional components like dice can be perfect for camping. Look for games without character sheets, that don’t require a lot or any writing. Try diceless games. Games that use cards are a perfect alternative to your traditional games. Improv and story based games also work great when sitting around a campfire.
What follows is what I consider some of the best games to bring camping.
Card games are perfect for a camping trip.
Playing Cards – There is probably nothing more versatile and portable than taking a couple of decks of standard playing cards with you on a camping trip. There are thousands of games that can be played with a single deck and these games can cater to a wide variety of play tastes. While some form of playing surface will help with most card games, very few actually require one. We keep a deck of cards in our glove box as you never know when it might come in handy.
Gloom – Toss out the box and Gloom becomes a waterproof card game due to its plastic cards. This is an interesting game where you are trying to have the most horrible and depressing things happen to your family. The cards are plastic because they are transparent and when stacked on top of each other modify but let you see cards below.
Sushi Go – This, or any other drafting game without a ton of components, could be perfect for camping. You don’t want something like 7 Wonders with its tokens and player boards, but rather game like Sushi Go where you are just dealing with a deck of cards. Sushi Go has the added bonus of coming in a water resistant tin. Sleeve those cards and you should be all set for some outdoor drafting.
Lost Cities – Yes this game has a board, but all the board does is show you where to lay down your cards. You can play, and I have played, without ever taking the board out of the box. Players are competing explorers checking out five different sites represented by cards in different colours. There is a push your luck element to this game and a lot of the game revolves around trying to figure out what cards your opponent has and remembering what has already been discarded. It’s a fantastic two-player game for any venue.
Abstract strategy games usually have weather and dirt resistant components that are perfect for outdoor gaming.
Hive – For years this was my go to outdoor game. This two-player tile laying game consists of just a water resistant bag and twenty-two bakelite tiles. Tiles represent various bugs and are hex shaped. The goal of Hive is to surround your opponent’s Queen Bee tile. Each turn you either place a new tile or move one already on the board. Each different type of insect moves differently. Not only is Hive weather and damage resistant, it’s also an excellent two-player abstract game. The rules are simple to teach and games are lightning fast.
Onitama – This is another two-player abstract strategy game. This one is much more chess-like, where players are attempting to capture the opponent’s Sensi piece or get their own across the board to the opposite starting space. Onitama is a game about perfect information, where there are only five moves in play at all times and after you make a move you have to give that move card to your opponent. The board in Onitama is a neoprene mat and the playing pieces are plastic. Laminate or find card sleeves for the move cards and you are good to go. Just leave the box and instructions at home so they don’t get damaged.
Azul – One of the great things about Azul is how small a footprint it takes up. While it does require some form of a surface to play on, something like a blanket would work as you just need somewhere to put out the market discs. Players can even keep their player boards in their laps if they are careful enough, though I don’t really recommend this. The tiles in Azul aren’t going to get damaged easily and the bag you pull tiles from can be washed. The only components you have to worry about are those boards. For this, there are some great options out there like cloth player boards and beautiful wooden market tiles.
Travel Qwirkle – Or regular Qwirkle or Qwirkle Cubes. The only advantage Travel Qwirkle has is that it’s more portable. All versions of Qwirkle are comprised of a bunch of wooden tiles (or cubes) and a bag to draw them from. The only other thing you need is a way to keep score. Nowadays we usually use our phones but a laminated score pad would work just as well and be more weatherproof. Qwirkle is a fantastic Scrabble-like tile laying game that plays up to four.
Social deduction games are great for big groups and playing around a campfire.
Werewolf – In the dark around a campfire out in the woods is probably the perfect place to play a game of Werewolf. Personally, I think the theme of Werewolf fits best in this setting but you could also go with Mafia or another Werewolf variant like Do You Worship Cthulhu? While I’m really not a big fan of these types of games, this is one of the settings where I actually think they work well. The best part about Werewolf is you can play with a huge player count, a great way to get the entire campsite involved.
Spyfall – This word guessing game doesn’t require any type of table or board. While I may think Codenames is a better game, I think Spyfall is a better game for a camping trip. Just sleeve or laminate the cards and leave the box at home. Spyfall is a unique social deduction game where everyone knows where they are based on a location card. Players then have to ask each other questions trying to rout out who the spy is. The spy needs to listen carefully and try to blend in. With the right group, this game can also include roleplaying elements as each location card also suggests a role players can take on when giving their answers.
Skull & Roses (or just Skull) – This bluffing game is played with a set of twenty-four coasters (or more if you combine multiple sets) and plays up to six players (again that can be increased with more sets). Each player starts with three rose coasters and one skull coaster. Each round players play one of their coasters face down until one of the players decides to place a bet. This bet is how many coasters they can flip face up before revealing a skull. Once someone has issued this challenge players can then outbid them with the highest bid then having players flip over their coasters one at a time until they hit their bid or a skull. Two successful bets wins the game. While the game works best with a table, I’ve played it where players just place their “on the table” cards into their off hands.
Hanabi Deluxe – While the original Hanabi is a card game, the deluxe edition replaces the cards with mahjong-like tiles. Tiles that are much more damage and weather resistant and thus way better for camping. The disadvantage here is that you do need a surface to put the tiles on but thankfully it doesn’t have to be very big. In Hanabi players as a group are trying to play their hand of tiles by colour in numerical order. The trick is that you can’t see the values of your own tiles. It’s a very unique experience.
Here are a couple of Dexterity games I think are worth packing for a journey to the great outdoors.
Go Cuckoo! – Have I mentioned this kids’ dexterity game before? While you do need a flat surface to play on, the actual footprint you need is very small. There’s a small worry of losing eggs that fall out of the nest, but they are bright white and larger than marbles so you should be safe in all but the densest brush. Super easy to teach, fun for gamers of all ages and playing a wide range of player counts, I bring Go Cuckoo with me everywhere, and would happily bring it camping.
Click Clack Lumberjack – What’s more fitting for a camping trip than a game about cutting down trees? All plastic components and a really tiny footprint means that this game can be played on pretty much any flat surface. I personally suggest a tree stump. In Click Clack Lumberjack players take turns hitting a plastic tree truck with a plastic axe hoping to knock off pieces of bark without having any of the cores fall. Bonus points are earned for getting the pieces of bark with bugs on them. It’s simple, silly, and fun.
Telling stories around the fire is a campsite tradition, why not turn it into an actual roleplaying game?
For the Queen – This is an improv, leading questions, based roleplaying game that is made up of only one deck of cards. You learn the rules as you play the game for the first time. There’s no Games Master or moderator required and there is literally zero preparation time required. I got to play this at Queen City Conquest and thought it was one of the best story game experiences I’ve seen. It would be awesome to play while sitting around a campfire with one player controlling the deck and reading out questions for players to answer.
Fiasco – This is another zero prep, no GM, no moderator required, game. It does require a bunch of black and white D6s though. Thankfully those are pretty abundant and it won’t hurt if you lose a couple. In Fiasco you play people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control, where things not only can but will go terribly wrong. One of the cool things about Fiasco is the number of different setting playsets out there, many of which are perfect for a camping trip. For example, Camp Death.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen – “A Game of Wagers, Wine, and Competitive Lying.” While I’m sad to say I haven’t played it myself, Baron Munchausen sounds perfect for playing around a campfire. In this game, players tell fantastic stories in an attempt to one up each other. Players can attempt to trip up other players by wagering a token and pointing out a falsehood in the story. The original storyteller then has to either come up with an excuse (and spend their own token) or swallow their pride and incorporate the new truth into their story. This is a diceless, GMless, no prep, game that includes over two hundred adventures ready to be played in the core book.
Once Upon a Time – Start off with Once Upon a Time and then tell a story using the cards in your hand. If you manage to play all of your cards and direct the story to your secret ending, you win, but other players can interrupt your story by playing their own cards, and then start weaving the story towards their own ending. With the right group I have had a fantastic time playing Once Upon a Time, just remind players that it’s about telling a good story and not solely about playing your cards as quickly as possible to win.
Here are a few other games that could be great for your camping getaway.
Roll Through the Ages – This is an early roll and write that uses a wooden pegboard to keep track of player resources and a scoring pad to keep track of what players have built in their empire. Laminate a few scoring sheets and you’ve got a pretty much weatherproof game. Roll Through the Ages is a rather quick civ building game for up to four players. The core game is decent but be sure to look up the print and play Late Bronze Age expansion.
Can’t Stop – A plastic board plus some plastic pylons and some dice are the components in Can’t Stop. Now the board for this isn’t small but it’s made of hard plastic so doesn’t really need to be placed on an overly flat surface. This classic push your luck game plays up to four players, is dead simple to teach and plays in about thirty minutes. I’ve also seen a number of people who have made their own version replacing the large board with other alternatives like cloth.
Bananagrams – This word game is a bit like Scrabble without the board and will appeal to fans of that classic board game. It also doesn’t require a pencil or paper as there is no scoring. The goal is to be the first to complete your word grid. If you get sick of the base game there are a number of variants also included. The components in Bananagrams are perfect for camping being plastic tiles in a water resistant bag.
There you have a bunch of games I would love to have along with me on a camping trip. What games would you pack if you were going camping? Let us know in the comments.