Three Games I Travel With

Today I wanted to talk about the games that make up my sort of “go bag.”  If I’m headed somewhere, that isn’t intended to be a “game night”, say, maybe a birthday party or a get together because some folks from out of town are in for the weekend, what I bring.

In this case, the three titles I want to talk about are, well, usually in the arm rest/center console of my car, so there’s no need to pack or remember to bring them.

As I’ve grown older, what I pack has shifted. I rarely, for instance, bring them out unprompted or even bring up that I brought something. I’m growing more comfortable with simply conversing, not ludologically evangelizing, and acknowledging that some folks don’t have much interest in playing a game.

I think that’s part of why party games don’t make the cut. My personality wouldn’t feel comfortable derailing a night of other types of interaction with a game as the centerpiece.

So I drift to card games: something a few of us can unobtrusively entertain ourselves with, while others go about enjoying each other’s company in their own way.  If, these games of ours come up in the course of conversation, and if, someone else seems intrigued, we’ll do it. Otherwise, I’m content to let them ride along with me in the car until the moment arises.

Anyway, these are the games.

For me, I chose three games that accommodate a range of player counts, moods, and intensity –how hard do we want to concentrate on playing a game vs. the fellowship.

6 nimmt! earned its spot mostly for the mood and intensity. (It’s also here for 3-player, but really, I’m unlikely to ever play with more than…4 or 5?) It’s a bit more raucous in player reactions than the other titles I chose, and is a just-right level on conspicuousness when a player makes some sort spontaneous gesticulation as they slide a card in just under the proud owner of a bunch of new bulls (or, well, that owner probably had a reaction too!) 

Those reactions are everything right?  The spontaneous emotions the game instills at a palpable level.

Rules are rules, and most things will be a slight hurdle, but I think it also lends itself well to distractions: a new person arrives or someone walks over to see what the commotion is about or we need to say goodbye to so-and-so or somebody wants you to hear this story somebody just told.  It works because you aren’t needing to track whose turn it is or concentrate on how to play out your hand.

Anyway, 6 nimmt! has a spot.

Team Play is here for 2 player counts: 4 and 6 (though any of these with 4.)  It’s here for, well, teams. There’s something comforting in having a teammate -makes the victories sweeter and softens the defeats, right? It takes a bit more of your attention, but in a rewarding way that foreshadows what is further down the hole. 

It will never have the eruptions that nimmt could, but it saves that to the end. I don’t need to promulgate here because you’ll do it for me. Your Aunt will grab her phone to order a copy and turn to her spouse in the other room to say “you have to try this!”

The player count does that a bit too, right? Sure, there are rules for playing with an odd number of people, but I’ve never read them. (It says “Team” in the title!) But that “Hey, we just need 1 more?” call can be a nice touch.  Maybe you interact with a distant cousin who jumps in that you hadn’t known that well before or it’s a life preserver to somebody who wasn’t really connecting with the conversations around the room and was ready to bail for alternate type of camraderie.

Team Play is in!

SCOUT! is what’s “next”. It has more rules overhead and won’t cause a scene. If my audience has played some things, I may start here, but it’s probably a second game (or if the call for 4 to Team Play results in 5, we audible to SCOUT!) 

There’s a certain strategy that the card play allows and a certain creativity. It may grab different people or the same people differently. 

If you didn’t think you had enough levers to work with to massage a bad hand into something useful in the games above, here’s a toolbox of oddities: you can flip it up-side down, you can take somebody else’s card and insert it somewhere -just don’t rearrange your cards!

To be honest, uh, while this has been in the car, trying to write it up is causing me to rethink if it is appropriate.  The climbing bit can be a bit unintuitive for those without a framework for it, and perhaps a trick-taking game that can call back to folks’ experience with Hearts/Spades/Euchre would be more appropriate.

So, it’s spot had been earned for a few years, but it’s now under reconsideration! (Geez, I wasn’t expecting that to happen!)


While on one hand, this isn’t a listicle I wrote for clicks or because we needed content (it, uh, really is what I keep in my car), it is also a purely academic conversation because they never get used!

I’m not a person who has ever been in a position to have a coworker game group (at home or at work), and really, I don’t meet that many new people outside of boardgaming circles.  So for me, these events have shifted, and friends and family have bifurcated into game friends and, well, those that aren’t going to play one again.  That I play games, or that this world of modern games exists, is old news for all involved.

That said, as I write this, I’m at a friend’s birthday retreat (listen, I’m a terrible party invite, but it’s 6:12 AM Pacific, and my Eastern body is awake, but others aren’t), and I did get a nibble.  Then I brought the games out from my luggage (see, they sometimes leave my car), and got some ooohs and ahhs, so I’m headed back in shortly (I’m outside on the patio), to see how it goes :)

best,
James Nathan

Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber – I’ve never found a reason to bring games with me in case there’s interest – I intentionally bring games when I know there might be, and just leave them at home – or at work – otherwise.  But it’s not hard to figure out what might be appropriate for such duty, and I understand entirely the inclusion of 6 nimmt!.  (Though – I find it more fun with, say, 8 than with 3; embrace the chaos!)  Diamant would make a great choice, except that it’s a bit large for such a selection.  Personally, a deck of cards would be a must for this – being able to play Bridge or Hearts or Cribbage or Pitch would open up lots of possibilities, to fit whatever group you have.  (I might even be tempted to bring two, to allow for Pinochle or Canasta as well.)  For a third, I’d probably opt for Rolling Japan or Rolling America; while I’ve largely burned out on roll-and-write games, this one has the advantage of being easy for folks to pick up, in addition to the wide range of players supported.  And while I approve of 6 nimmt!, I’d probably opt for Blöde Kuh instead – keeping with the cow theme.  So – two decks of cards, Rolling America, and Blöde Kuh, for the bag of just-in-case games I’m not planning to set up.

Jonathan – I don’t have a Quiver or go-bag, but if I did, I think it would have a few games that are approachable and that I am passionate about.  I could not muster enough excitement about 6 Nimmt, Team Play, or Scout!. They are all great, but I’m not passionate about any of them.  

Other games that would be fun to bring that I don’t adore quite enough include For Sale, Fairy Tale, Parade, Fool/Foppen, Fuji Flush, Stich-Meister, On the Goods, Port Royal, Loot, and Keltis: the Card Game.  I skipped 2p such Mr Jack Pocket and Fox in the Forest. Of the remaining, Cosmic Eidex gets knocked out because it is 3p only and Tichu is really 4p only. Palastgefluster and Meuterer don’t have English editions and take a bit too long to explain.

Some games are a bit too large, such as Traders of Carthage, San Juan, Just One!, Codenames, Ticket to Ride: London, Break the Code, The Builders: Middle Ages, The Grizzled, or The Crew: Mission Deep Sea.

For me, this leaves Corsari, On the Cards, Hanabi, Red 7, Timeline, and No Thanks!

Of those, I chose On the Cards, Timeline, and No Thanks! Because they are easier to teach than Corsari, Hanabi, and Red 7 and when combined play to different types of people, card players, trivia fans, and gamblers. In addition, Timeline can be played co-operatively and/or without a winner. If On the Cards is too large, I am not sure which trick-taker I would pack.

Going through this process was fun and highlighted some truths, Friedemann Friese, Adlung, and Japanese game designers excel in this area. Small does not mean light in game play. Some of the deduction games in particular are quite thinky, which is why I thought it might not make sense to include them, as most non-gamers don’t choose to play logic puzzles in their spare time.

Rand L. – I don’t think I could restrict myself to 3 games that I always have on me. I go through moods with gaming where there is definitely a flavor of the week/month/fortnight/what-have-you. I also try to be considerate of the people I may be around. Of the games James Nathan spotlighted, 6 Nimmt (though I’ll play it as Category 5, thank you. HURRICANES!!) and SCOUT! would certainly be in rotation. With my former students and coworkers, I’d probably slide in Landlord!, Rolling World, and Deep Sea Adventure. With family, it will always be whichever trick taker I introduced to them last time we met. Most recently it was TonTon — which also gave me an excuse to tuck it into one of their bags before I left — and I imagine the next one will be Take the ‘A’ Chord. I’ve also had Abluxxen, Recurring, Wind the Film!, Land Unter, Foppen, and Sticheln kick around in my backpack for months at a time. Don’t tell anyone, but there was even a time in my life where one of the Munchkin flavors tumbled around for between-class breaks with friends in community college.

I don’t think any of this is particularly insightful except to display my lack of…conviction? consistency? But I hope I can reinforce James Nathan’s closing thoughts. I hope he doesn’t mind me paraphrasing: I carry games as hopes, understanding those hopes will rarely be realized. It’s sure nice when they do.

Matt C. – I’m all for bringing games along in case an opportunity arises, but I’m generally thinking of an extended family gathering or youth group retreat.  I used to just jam some small things into a bag, but have since upgraded into a few options.  I was given the small version of the Quiver for Christmas last year and I have filled it with a pile of dice (mostly roll & write) games and a few card games.  A tiny version of Heckmeck for good measure.  Of note would be a deck for The Mind (that also doubles for The Game, as well as can be used in No Thanks!)  I’ve also put in The Crew (Planet 9) recently although I’ve had little luck getting it to play.  For micro-micro travel I have a small 3D printed Shut the Box case (probably 4×6”, ¾” thick) that I put in enough dice, laminated cards, and markers to play a few roll & writes like That’s so Clever, Can’t Stop, etc…  Of course, the majority of time folks around me are just playing Euchre.  (A fine game, but what about the variety?)

Tery N:  When I buy a new purse, one of the considerations is always “what small games will I be able to fit in here”, which on the down side leaves me with purses a bit too for dinner out or a trip to the store, but perfect for travel or meeting with friends or family where there might be an opportunity for gaming.

Cribbage is the one thing that is always available. In fact, we keep it in the car so it is always available. We have a cool folding board that had a cutout inside for a deck of cards and the pegs, so we are always ready to go. (We also then always have a deck of cards, but I am not counting that as a separate game. . ..)  What else I bring with me will depend on how many people are going to be there and what I think they might like.   Qwixx is a common go-to; it’s easy to teach and it involves dice so most people will feel comfortable with it, but it also has some strategy. Martian Dice is the other game that I will often have; again, it’s got dice and it easy to explain, but it is reasonably fun for all.

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4 Responses to Three Games I Travel With

  1. Martin Griffiths says:

    Love your choices James! A couple of card games I’ve carried around with me just to have available if the need arose are Pairs and The Mind.

  2. huzonfirst says:

    I dont have a “go to” bag. Most folks outside of my games groups have no interest in gaming and almost all that do hate learning new rules, so if they really did want to play a game, we’d just play one of theirs. But if I did have one, the one thing I’d be sure to pack is No Thanks. The rules are dead simple and it’s always a lot of fun. Qwixx would be another possibility.

    • xitoliv says:

      Yes! I think a roll-and-write is a prime choice for a slot. Qwixx is probably the write/right one, but I only own the larger “deluxe” box :/

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