Reviewed by Louise Totton
We are definitely summer people in our household – we try to cram as much into the lovely long days as we possibly can, be it days out, weekends or short breaks away or longer holidays. We have had a few UK mini breaks so far and are having a longer holiday shortly which will involve five hours on a plane and more travelling besides.
Our shorter breaks have been in the UK, and despite the weather being fantastic the week before, two of them have had mixed weather to say the least, with us having to spend longer than we would all have liked indoors, waiting out a rainstorm. Because travelling invariably means that we have to squash everything that we need into a suitcase, space is always at a premium and some difficult decisions have to be made about what we can take with us. Trying to strike the balance between the lack of space but knowing that we need to pack enough to keep the kids entertained, either on wet camping days, long aeroplane journeys or just to keep them happy whilst the adults are catching up with friends isn’t an easy thing to do which is where a few favourite travel games can come in handy.
I like to try to pack a selection that can be played by just the kids, just the adults or as a family, as well as bearing in mind it’s good to have some fun and frantic games as well as ones that are more calming or mentally challenging. We have been sent a small selection of games that should just about fit the bill, ready to try out in time for the summer holiday season.
We have tried out:
The first game we decided to try Dobble (RRP: £12.99), mostly because it’s a game that I’d actually been meaning to buy for ages but hadn’t quite got around to yet! Dobble comes in a little round tin and the whole of the game is kept securely in the tin, making it perfect for travelling with as the tin is sturdy and the lid attaches securely so there is no danger of it springing open mid-journey and components of the game going missing. Dobble is actually five mini-games in one tin, but they are all variations on the same theme – it’s like snap but more involved, more fun and much, much harder! Each of the round Dobble cards has a number of different images on it, in various sizes. Any two cards will have one and only one matching images on it, along with many more that don’t match. The aim of the game is to be eagle-eyed and to spot the two matching images on your card and the draw card and call them before any of your opponents do. This game is suitable for between 2-8 players, for ages 6+.
This game really is great fun! It is one of the very few games that can be played by adults and children at the same time, without either age group being at a disadvantage and no adaptations needing to be made. The game can be as long as you want it to be – a round only takes around five minutes but it’s such good fun that you’ll want to play round after round. We played it as a family game (2 adults and 2 kids), also tried it as just a kids’ game and as one for just the adults as well. It was brilliant, whichever way we played it, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. The more people you have, the more fun it is, but it still does work really well as a game for two people. We all agreed that our favourite version of the game was #2 – The Well, where the aim of the game is to be the first player to get rid of all your cards first. The game is fast, fun and gets really competitive and, frankly, infuriating! The kids (7 and 9) were able to compete against the adults on a level playing field and we had a great time with it. The fact that it is so compact and contained makes it ideal for taking almost anywhere, whether it is in a flight bag, in the car when you go camping or even to keep in a handbag so you have something on hand in case you are waiting longer than expected at a restaurant or on a train.
The next game we tried out was Bananagrams (RRP: £14.99), which is a letter tiles game for 1-8 players, aged 7+. Just like Dobble, Bananagrams comes fully contained in its own distinctive container – this time a banana shaped zip-up pouch. The pouch is made from good quality and well put together yellow cotton and contains 144 letter tiles.
The main game is for 2-8 players, although there are also instructions for a solitaire version. The main game is really simple and fun to play; the tiles are all placed face down in the middle (the bunch), and the players then take the requisite number of tiles each from the bunch, still faced down. One of the players then shouts “split”, everyone turns their tiles over and gets to work.
The aim of the game is to arrange all of your tiles into intersecting word grids and use all of your tiles before any of your opponent’s use theirs – except there is a catch! Every time a player gets to the point where they have used their last letter, they shout ‘peel’ and everyone has to take another tile from the bunch. If you find yourself stuck, you can shout ‘dump’ and place one of your tiles, face down in the bunch. The catch is that you then have to take three tiles from the bunch, making your task of getting rid of all of your tiles even harder!
Once you have got rid of all of your tiles, shout ‘bananas’ and, as long as your grid stands up to the scrutiny of your teammates.
We loved this game as well – the quality of all the component parts shine through and we particularly liked that the letters were etched into the tiles rather than just printed on top, making them far more durable with more longevity. Bananagrams is a lovely game, and is more quick-paced and frantic than I would have expected from a letter tiles game – it’s like Scrabble after a pint of Lucozade!
This is one that I think works better if the participants are of a similar age and ability to each other – there is no way that my seven-year-old can have an enjoyable game against an adult, because of different vocabulary sizes and spelling abilities. That said, it is super fun as a game for either adults or kids, and is also a great educational toy dressed up as a fun game. The banana theme makes the game more engaging for the kids and adds another element of fun to an already great game. The pouch makes the game ideal for taking anywhere, although you will need a decent sized table to play it – this isn’t one for an aeroplane or the corner of the departure lounge if your flight is delayed!
The instructions also have rules for three alternative ways to play – solo, faster or slower so there really is a way to play this one in almost all situations as long as you have a table.
Now, if educational games are your thing, Rory’s Story Cubes (RRP: £9.99) might be the one for you. It isn’t a game as such, as there is no competition or winning involved, but it is a lovely way to pass the time with kids of almost any age. I love anything that stimulates the imagination of children and Rory’s Story Cubes certainly do that!
They come packaged in a small, hinged sturdy cardboard box with a magnetic fastening, which sits inside a bight and engaging sleeve. The box contains nine dice, each one with different images etched into each face of the dice, so 54 different images in total. The idea is to use the dice as prompts to create characters and little tales, which can get more and more intricate and involved as you get used to the game.
Start your tale with once upon a time and roll your dice for inspiration for the rest of your tale! For example, the first time we rolled the dice, we rolled a moon, a castle, a fish, a question mark, a sheep, a mobile phone, an aeroplane, a turtle and a lightbulb. My daughter then had to start with once upon a time and come up with a story using all of the images – she came up with something along the lines of:
Once upon a time there was a cute little lamb who was pink and sparkly. All she wanted to do was to become a princess and live in Rapunzel’s castle, but the castle didn’t have a door and she couldn’t reach the window. The evil turtle was the only one who could make the door appear, but she wanted to keep the castle to herself because she kept all of her lightbulbs in it. One day, the lamb found a glittery mobile phone on the floor and it was ringing. The lamb answered the phone and asked ‘who are you?’. The other person was a magic fish, who said that the lamb really was a princess, and the only way she could get into the castle was when it was dark and the moonlight was shining on the castle. The fish said that she was sending a magical plane for the lamb that night, and when the moon was shining, she would be able to fly to the castle and find her crown. That night, the plane appeared, the lamb got on to it and flew to the castle where she put her crown on an became a princess. The evil turtle then died and everyone lived happily ever after.
The instructions also feature rules for other versions of the games, including a relay version, ideas about using favourite characters, books or tv series, as well as using them to create characters and scenery.
This is a fantastic way to fill some time in restaurants, fill a rainy day camping or even to take along to a picnic for some fun conversation prompts with young children. My two are 7 and 9, and they both enjoyed it very much, but they also enjoyed listening to some of the more involved stories that me or my partner came up with. My favourite way of playing it was to play a relay version, because we found spacing the adults between the kids helped us to keep the kids on track and engaged with the game. We were sent the standard version, but there are lots of different options available, including Voyages, Actions and the one that my 7-year-old is desperate to try out – Fantasia.
Of course, sometimes, when you want to fill in some time, the other people in your group are quite happily reading, sleeping or using their tablets and this is when some travel games won’t work for you. Sometimes a game with lots of cards or tiles isn’t what you want in case you drop or lose some of the component parts. In that situation, there is absolutely nothing better than the ubiquitous Rubik’s Cube, which is now available in more different variations than I can count! As well as the standard 3×3 cubes, Rubik’s also make smaller cubes, much larger cubes, teddy and doggy shaped puzzles as well as Rubik’s Pyramids and the Rubik’s Twist.
The Rubik’s Original 3×3 Cube (RRP: £10) is great fun – I have owned a few over the years and have always been in awe of people who can actually solve them – I happily admit that I am useless. One thing I do know though is that the proper branded Rubik’s puzzles are massively superior to some of the cheaper, generic versions. The movement on the genuine cube is an awful lot smoother than the cheaper ones and using them is a lot less ‘clicky’. All four of us really enjoyed playing with this, even if we got precisely nowhere with solving it. I found it quite therapeutic to have in my hands and manipulate, rather like a fidget spinner. The Rubik’s cube is a great one to have on standby, even if it isn’t a travel game as such.
The final game that we tried out was Get Packing (RRP: £22.99). This one definitely isn’t a travel game as it comes in a full-sized boardgame box, but I do think it’s a good one for getting everyone in the mood for their holidays. We have a bit of a routine the night before we go away where we sit down together with a takeaway and a film, and I think this could be a good game to include in that routine.
Get Packing is a packing themed, 3D version of the fantastic Tangram puzzles. The game is for 2-4 players, aged 6+. The box contains a deck of packing cards, four plastic suitcases and four sets of holiday themed plastic puzzle pieces (snorkels, flip flops, sunglasses, rubber rings etc.). The aim of the game is quite simply to pack all of your pieces into your suitcase before your opponent and close your lid fully.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds; the pieces you have to try to pack into your suitcase are dictated by which card is drawn from the pack of playing cards and they are rated from 1-3 for difficulty. All of the players play the same card at the same time and the player who solves that puzzle first takes the card and the winner is the first player to collect three cards.
We did like this game, although we found that it did disadvantage the younger players when we were all playing. The game tries to combat this by suggesting the adults play with their non-dominant hand which we found helped to an extent, but it was more useful to give the younger kids a head start. There are also instructions for a solo variant, which we actually liked better than the competitive version.
I think the beauty of puzzle games like this is that it is your mind against the puzzler’s mind, and adding the extra component of other competitors didn’t quite work for me. That said, we enjoyed puzzling side by side with the games, with the oldest players doing the level three puzzles, the older kids doing level 2 and the youngest working on level 1. This works very well to split the abilities of the players and also adds a sense of peace and quiet to the game, which I think puzzles of this type really benefit from.
That said, this is a very well made game with excellent quality components and it feels solid and substantial. We will absolutely be digging it out again before we go away on holiday and I can well see my youngest digging it out and sitting on her own to play with it.
We thoroughly enjoyed trying all of these games out, and we have been lucky enough to have been given a selection that really can please the whole family. The first four travel games will be coming with us on our holidays and I’m sure we will get hours of fun out of them, and Get Packing will be played plenty at home, especially by my more puzzling minded youngest daughter.