Best Portable Board Games

Camping and board games go together like chocolate and marshmallows. And while the delicious interpersonal fun that comes from banging them together might seem like child’s play, some board games are just too big or complicated to set up on a card table under a nice grove of trees.

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But just because you can’t find a good spot to set up Twilight Imperium next to the campfire doesn’t mean you won’t have a good time. Many games that come in pocket-sized boxes will provide you with hours of fun even though they may not have the same complexity. However, the most important thing on any camping trip is to pack light and you will hardly feel these games in your backpack when setting up camp.


10 Eight Minute Empire

One of the few portable board games that actually has a board, Eight Minute Empire is a bit like playing the Civilization board game if it didn’t take a whole afternoon to build. Like other conquest games, you gain resources, compete for control of territories, and build your armies for battle. Unlike other conquest games, Eight Minute Empire doesn’t end in an unsatisfying stalemate on the European-Asian border.

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Despite being compact and fast-paced, strategy is key in Eight Minute Empire, and with rounds being so short, every decision counts. Games turn into a barrage of exciting action that you’ll want to relive over and over again.

9 Dice Academy

Dice Academy is a fast-paced, language-centric party game that starts with a simple premise. First, roll a set of specialized dice with images on each side. Your categories determine which images appear. Next you roll another set of dice, each with a choice of letters. Once you’ve rolled both sentences, the game is over as everyone tries to think of a word within the categories that begins with the letters rolled.

The only catch? Once you or your friends have used a dice combination, it’s done. Nobody can use this combination anymore. So if you’re quick with words you can score points, but it’s very easy for someone to steal your dice if you’re not quick enough. It’s a fantastic, albeit tense, afternoon that will keep everyone busy.

8th Tiny epic galaxies

They say it’s difficult to fathom the extent of the universe, but Tiny Epic Galaxies does a pretty good job of packing it into a tiny box. And while some Tiny Epic Games can spread despite their small packaging, Galaxies focuses mostly on dice rolls. That means you can play it even if you don’t have a lot of table space.

While colonizing and expanding an intergalactic empire might seem fun at first, Galaxies takes it a step further by making it feel like you’re actually commanding a space fleet with armed forces. Although you will spend most of your time mining planets and rolling dice, this tiny planet exploration simulator will make you a player in the new space race. Pretty impressive for a game that fits in a large back pocket.

7 Welcome to the dungeon

Want to play D&D under the trees but don’t feel like lugging around your laptop? Welcome to the Dungeon can take that itch away without any cumbersome technology or playing cards. Instead of roleplaying and rolling attack dice, you and your friends create a dungeon full of obstacles that one of you has to hack your way through at the end of each round.

Getting through the dungeon twice means victory, but be warned: if you get defeated twice in the dungeon, you’re gone forever. This forces you to think strategically about when and where to jump in. It’s entirely possible to play the hero striving for glory, but you can also set traps for everyone and kill everyone while kicking back with a pint at the tavern. The game brings a mix of cooperative and treachery-based gameplay that fits on a side table.

6 splendor

While it’s not the most compact game out there, Splendor gets points for its accessibility. With just a few decks of cards and a few tokens, you’ll build a trading empire from the ground up, grabbing gems and prestige to become one of the most prominent merchants of the Renaissance.

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One of the best things about Splendor is how easy it is to learn. It only takes a few minutes to learn, and there’s an element of luck that levels the playing field between new and experienced players. If you’ve played the game before you probably stand a better chance of winning, but there are enough odds that it never feels unfair.

5 gloom

In most board games, you want to keep your characters intact. But the wearable, dark, Victorian-inspired Gloom takes a different approach. Instead of taking control of a hero, you get dominion over a family of terrifying people that make the Bloody Benders look normal. Your task? To make them as miserable as possible before letting them die. You’ll also try to throw a little luck at your opponent’s family by stealing points from them.

Gloom is mechanically great, but where it shines is in its collaborative storytelling. Rather than just playing cards without comment, the game encourages you to share how these miserable events affected each character on their downward arc. This means that every game of Gloom is a story, a unique experience where the only predictable thing is that it will end badly.

4 Similo

If you’re familiar with Codenames, you know Similo. Playing like a stripped down version of the classic social deduction game, you play as either a guesser or a clue giver, trying to rescue one from a group of 12 historical characters. As a whistleblower, it’s your job to tell who the guessers should eliminate and who to rescue.

The only catch? The whistleblower is not allowed to speak. Instead, they play character cards from their hand in various positions. Playing a character vertically means they’re like the person you’re trying to avoid. Playing them horizontally means they are dissimilar, but it’s up to the guessers to figure out what you meant. Since it’s just a deck of cards, the game will push the limits of your communication skills, but not the capacity of your suitcase.

3 love letter

It’s hard to get more portable than Love Letter. With just sixteen cards and a few chips, this classic game of bluffing and theoretical love fits into a tiny red pouch that’s easy to slip in your back pocket. It’s easy to learn and offers a good mix of strategy and chance. Also, you can betray your friends to win the hand of the princess of the realm. What’s not to like?

The only downside to the original Love Letter was that it only supported two to four players, but its second edition corrected this with the addition of five new maps. Several balancing issues with the original have also been fixed, making your competitive courtship even more accessible to anyone playing around the campfire.

2 Go sushi!

Sushi may not be for everyone, but Sushi Go! is. The setup for the game is that you’re in a sushi restaurant trying to put together the perfect fish-based feast by collecting cards, but it hardly matters. The game’s art style will have you so hooked that you’ll want to snag as many of the cute sashimi as possible, not to mention all the adorable blobs of wasabi.

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Go sushi! isn’t the most complex card game of all time, but that’s part of its charm. It’s the consummate family game where youngsters can beat you just as easily as their peers.

1 beehive

If you’ve ever come across two colonies of ants colliding in the middle of the sidewalk, you’ll understand what it’s like to play Hive. You take control of an insect colony, fight your opponent and try to capture his queen. And while Hive isn’t quite as hectic as an ant war, it’s just as dynamic. It’s a bit like chess, except there’s no board and each insect answers a bee for some reason.

Hive is also extremely portable. There were only 22 hex pieces in the original and 28 if you want to invest in an expansion. They easily fit in a small backpack or purse and provide hours of fun if you’re looking for a one-on-one strategy.

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