Making Travel Games

At the time I’m writing this, I’ll be traveling to France in a couple of weeks to meet up with my love, Christine, who is already there. (This post is pre-scheduled to appear after I arrive, so as not to spoil the surprise. Shhhhh!) We have a lot scheduled, but will also have some downtime. In our spare time at home, we’ve been playing a couple of board games (or board-game-adjacent activities), but I’m not about to cart them in my luggage across the world and back. There are electronic equivalents of many games, to be played on the iPad or iPhone (do people still play Words With Friends?) but I really enjoy the tactile feel of a physical game.

There are plenty of “travel games” out there. They’re usually kind of bulky for airline carry-on, often in fold-up plastic cases that double as a game board and parts storage. They’re also often a little too small and fiddly to use in practice, and just not generally of high quality. The closest thing I could find to what I was looking for was a roll-up checkers mat, but really, who wants to play checkers?

I set out to make some game boards that are literally flat-pack, with pieces could be used for multiple games and that are (hopefully) robust enough to stay on the boards. At least indoors. I hope. And don’t jostle the table too much. And because we’re big fans of Harry Potter, I had to theme it after the Marauder’s Map.

The backgammon board is reversible, with a 9×9 go board on the other side.

First things first, I set out to find games that hit a few qualifications:

  • Games that are actually fun, with a balance of luck and skill. Not checkers. Not Parcheesi.
  • Games that don’t require much more than a board. Battleship and Mouse Trap are definitely out. Games with decks of action cards are out.
  • Games that only require pips and dice as pieces.
  • Sure, there are card games that use a standard 52-card deck, but I wanted to stick to something with a more board game feel.

I narrowed down my list to backgammon, go, and mancala. Othello almost made the list, but that requires a ton of pieces. (As it is, I may not have enough for certain configurations of go.)

Backgammon requires two die. The rest are diceless. I laser-cut some pieces from two-sided acrylic — black on one side, white on the other.

💫 Fun fact: the pieces are 17mm in diameter. That’s the same as a euro cent. I designed all of the boards around pieces that size. In a pinch, we can perhaps use coins and a sharpie. Or maybe 1 cent (copper) and 10 cent (gold) coins. The 10 cent coins are only a couple of millimeters larger than the 1 cent coins.

And because I’m not an expert at these games — at least not expert enough to teach the rules without having something to refer back to — I took a cue from the Puzzle Keyring and printed the rules on 3×5 index cards, hole-punched to keep them together.

Everything’s laminated in 5mil plastic and packs flat in my backpack. The bag of pieces and dice are small enough to fit in a pocket. This will be the first test of this setup, so we’ll see how it goes.

Do you have thoughts on games that can be played with minimal pieces? Let me know!

Posted in: Games Projects

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Brian Enigma

Brian Enigma is a Portlander, manipulator of atoms & bits, minor-league blogger, and all-around great guy. He typically writes about the interesting “maker” projects he's working on, but sometimes veers off into puzzles, software, games, local news, and current events.

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