Each year I go on a trip with my family and a big chunk of my extended family at a campground on Lake Michigan. I’m not much for sandy beaches, but the beautiful thing about the area is that the woods grow right up to the edge of the beach. This means camping in the coolness of the shade and only a short walk to the beach – the best of both worlds.
Each year I also bring a stack of games to share with anyone who will play. I’m always learning what works best and trying new things out at the picnic table. This year the weather was particularly cool, which meant the beach was not so desirable, which meant more people stayed around to play board games. So now, I present to you a recap of what was essentially one long gaming session, but with thoughts on maximizing your own camping/gaming adventure quality.
Gaming While Camping
Camping is a great “analogue” thing to do, at least if you do it in tents or at least pop-up campers. There are plenty of people who bring massive mobile homes with big TVs and wireless internet and air conditioning into the campground, which seems less like getting away from it all and more like bringing it with you.
Anyways, board gaming is all about getting away from the digital life for a few hours, so it’s only natural that when you head out into the woods you bring some cardboard with you. Unfortunately, not every game fits into the camping world, and here’re a few things you should think about to maximize your gaming wilderness fun.
Don’t bring games with excessive tokenage
Eclipse was a big temptation for me this year. My younger cousins love trying any new game and I love playing epic space games, and with plenty of leisure time a game like Eclipse could definitely find a timeslot. However, Eclipse has a boatload of tiny cardboard chits that are just asking to fall in the dirt. Nothing ruins a game experience like constantly worrying about losing pieces, so it’s best to leave such games at home. I did decide to bring Rex, which does have a few tokens to its name but not nearly to the same level as Eclipse. I never did get Rex on the table, but I felt much more comfortable with the smaller token count.
Don’t bring games that are too long
With a leisure vacation like Camping, you wouldn’t expect people to have many commitments to worry about, and thus might be more willing to play longer games. Yet, unless you’re camping with a group of hardcore gamers, most people aren’t going to want to commit to that 3 hr game – they want to leave time open for reading, walking, chatting, wiffle-ball, beach visits, and whatever have you. The longer games will be much less likely to get players who don’t want to commit their open schedule for an extended period of time. All the games I ended up playing clocked in at less than an hour, and I would say 2-hour games are a reasonable maximum to aim for. I broke that with Rex, but I never did get that game to the table.
Bring a variety of games
And not just “bring 5 versions of your favorite type of game.” It helps to have games for different situations and groups, or even just to switch it up once in a while. Bring some shorter games, some longer games, a card game or two, a dice game, a real time game, a strategy game. A good mix will make sure you always have something that fits the situation. You especially want to bring multiple types of shorter, simpler, or filler games, because non-gamers may latch on to the easy rules and you don’t want to go crazy playing yet another round of Carcassonne or Coup. Also bring games with a variety of skill levels.
Know your Audience
To bring the best variety, you really need to know who’s going to be there. Aside from the fact that Twilight Imperium has too many tokens and takes too long to play, I also avoided it completely because I knew no one there would get into that. Some groups will only play cooperative games, some will refuse to play anything with Space in it, some are just looking for a light game with conversation. Know what your potential players enjoy and expect so you can bring games that appeal to them (and hopefully expand their horizons with games that meet some of their tastes but push the boundaries a little).
Bring an extra tablecloth
One of the best ideas that we thought of early on this year was to have a “gaming” tablecloth. My sister had an extra cheap plastic one from the dollar store, and it was incredibly useful. Tablecloths keep pieces from falling through the cracks of a picnic table, but when you eat a meal you tend to leave crumbs and smears of all kinds. It’s much harder to wipe a tablecloth than a hard wooden table, so it’s very comforting to have that extra gaming-only tablecloth you can just throw over the top. My fears of cards getting ruined by grease or condiment spills were much alleviated thanks to our dedicated, clean, gaming cloth.
Ask people to play games
I’m shy, introverted, and quiet even among my family, so one of the most difficult things I have to deal with is just getting the games started. Now I have an entourage in the younger game-addicted cousins of mine, but I like to get a little variety in my audience and play games with some older (as in older than 18) adults for a calmer, more thoughtful game experience. While the boys beg me to get a game on, more casual players probably won’t ask. It can feel like no one is interested, especially when you know that they know that you brought games to share, but if you ask them first you may find they say yes. This advice is for the quiet introverts – you outgoing people probably have no problem with this. The rest of us feel awkward and intrusive trying to ask people if they want to play a game. We assume they would rather read or talk around the campfire or whatever, but some of them may just be waiting for you to invite them in to play.
I’m sure there are plenty more tips out there, plenty of good ideas, and plenty of people who disagree with some of my ideas. What do you think about gaming while camping? Have you ever done it before? What are your favorite tips?
To finish up, here are some of the games I played out in the woods:
King of Tokyo was one of the most popular games of the week, thanks in no small part to the fact that my nephew learned to read, can now play, and really likes King of Tokyo. I’d much rather play this game repeatedly than Carcassonne game after game, so this is a big plus.
King of Tokyo works extremely well on a camping trip. The required table space is pretty small, which is good when you have picnic tables covered in camping supplies. It’s pretty quick to pull out and there aren’t that many pieces to worry about losing. You do gotta keep an eye on those green power cubes, though, especially with a distracted 7 year old.
Anyways, everyone loves chucking dice, and we had a good ol’ time, with victories in elimination and points, lots of card purchasing (this is possibly the least aggressive i’ve seen KoT played) and fun with Evolutions.
Dominion has been a staple of camping games ever since it was introduced a few years ago, and I was more than happy to get a few games in. I introduced some of my cousins to Dark Ages and Guilds, and I had a whole lot of fun winning and losing. I also got a chance to really use a certain Smart Dominion Randomizer out in the wild, and I’m pretty happy with the sets it has generated. Seriously people, use our Smart Randomizer.
I also got a chance to get my sister to play, who is a relative newbie. Because of that I kept the expansions down to base + intrigue. It was a healthy reminder that the core of Dominion is still incredibly solid, and doesn’t require the flash of the many expansions to continue to be a solid, excellent, and fun game. In fact, while the expansions add a lot of fun, exciting things, the core set with intrigue mixed in might still be the best, most satisfying way to play. Especially when using a certain smart randomizer to get great sets out of the mix. OKAY I’M SCHILLING FOR MYSELF.
Space Cadets: Dice Duels
I love this game and will take any opportunity to introduce it to a group who I think will enjoy it. I tried it with the army of my younger cousins who constantly harass me to play games. Most of them liked it, but one player in particular just felt too overwhelmed by everything that was going on. I really need to find more players who love this game, so I can play more larger group games – but it’s just too much for some people. But hey, at least I was able to give the Weapons station to my 7 year old nephew and let him fire away, and he had a blast.
Coup was popular with a few of the boys and was played frequently at camp and on the beach. I’ve noticed that when I introduce this game to people who enjoy it, they want to play over and over and over again. But the more you play, the more you find that it’s not really satisfying to keep playing again and again all the time. It’s a filler, a lead-in or lead-out game, and a great beach game; but it’s not substantial enough to create a fulfilling game experience. I had to deflect many requests for this game before it drove me insane and became too much. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but it shouldn’t be the centerpiece.
Gravwell might be the perfect camping game. It doesn’t take all that much table space, it is easy to teach and fun to learn, and it offers a lot of strategic fun and a lot of laughs. It’s also very component-lite making it much less likely you’ll lose pieces to the dirt. Gravwell was certainly a hit and we played multiple times over the course of the week.
Infiltration hit the table once, late at night, lit only by lanterns. It was an exciting game with some players playing it safe and others going all out to get the most data files. In the end, the players with the biggest chunks of data couldn’t escape, leaving the safe player to take the victory. I had a lot of fun, even though I lost. With all the cards it was a little tricky to set up on a picnic table, but we did it.
Pandemic is a great game. The cooperative nature of the game is fantastic for a family camping trip, leaving everyone feeling positive after the game, or at least filled with camaraderie. In the primary game of Pandemic I played, a player and I teamed up to create the SCIENCE PLANE – she was the Pilot (In the Lab expansion) and I was the Scientist, so she would fly me around to the cities she had and pass me the cards so I could get cures very quickly. The other players did a great job of managing disease cubes and coordinating their own meetups, and we ended in a victory just a turn or two before the player deck ran out. It was exhilarating! SCIENCE PLANE FOR THE WIN.
I’ve hit the point in 7 Wonders where I know too much and not enough. I get goals and ideas in my head for a long term strategy because I know what cards are there, but then I’m to slow to re-adjust what I’m doing when I don’t get handed the cards I need. Still, it’s a fun game for a big group of people with a bit more strategy than you usually get in that sort of thing. It takes up a lot of table space though, so I’m not sure how I feel about it as a camping game.
Few people enjoy Sentinels of the Multiverse as much as my young cousins, and so in between them begging me to play new games we played a few outings into the dangerous world of SOTM. We had a lackluster game or too including a devastating attempt against the Dreamer, and a few very enjoyable rounds. SOTM is a great camping game because it’s cooperative and doesn’t take too long, and when you have a bad game it’s easy to reset and start again