Last week I was away on vacation. My ego hopes that you noticed, but regardless, I get to talk about it. Why? I’m a gamer and a blogger and that’s just what I do.
My vacation was not just any vacation, after all. It was my yearly trek to the western side of Michigan, camping with family for a week right by the lake. It’s a time of relaxation, of getting away from electronics and obligations, and doing whatever one feels like doing at the moment. Which, for me (and fortunately, for several of my cousins) this meant a lot of playing games.
Camping and Gaming have a special place in my heart. If you’ve been around long enough, you may have read a very early post on this blog in which I told some of my backstory and how I got into gaming. A big part of that was Settlers of Catan, and a big part of Settlers of Catan was camping. After all, you have full days with no work and no organized clubs, and no excuses to NOT play a board game for an hour or two.
Since the initial Catan offering and obsession that saturated my family, I’ve learned a lot about what games work well at camp, what games don’t work well, and who is going to play what games. So the point of this post is two-fold: one, to recap the games I played, which is a little self-serving I admit, and two, to offer some tips of my own on gaming in the great outdoors.
Part I: What We Played
The biggest hit of the week was undoubtedly Sentinels of the Multiverse. After introducing Shadows over Camelot last year, my younger cousins found the lack of resultant arguing common in their other games (which generally resulted in getting them in trouble with their parents, of course) a very desirable aspect of the cooperative game. And what better theme to entice 13 year old boys than superheroes?
Sentinels is great because it is so easy to teach, and within 5 minutes we were up and playing. I snuck in a few expansion elements and had a much better go with Expatriette than in previous plays. After the first game I had multiple and immediate requests for more plays, and we did play many times this week. The frequency of playing reaffirmed many of the great qualities of the game, and also reinforced my thoughts on the few flaws. Easy to learn, thematic, dynamic, and challenging; but an unfortunate set of card draws can leave a player’s hero stuck and feeling somewhat useless for several turns. Fortunately, the more you play the more know what to expect from each heroes’ deck, allowing you to maximize your effectiveness regardless of your card draws. Also, while the new scaling functions of the Enhanced edition and expansion certainly helps with the balance factor, playing with 5 is definitely an easier time than 3, and 4 is the ideal number to play with.
Another hit game that hit the table multiple times was Escape. You know, that crazy dice-rolling game in real time? Exciting, tense, and fun (also cooperative), it was great to get this to the table with eager gamers. Playing so much in a short amount of time allowed us to quickly start using Curses and Treasures. While these do add even more tension and excitement to the game, and increase the challenge, the pictographs are a bit hard to decipher especially in a hurry, causing a clumsy moment when you draw a curse as you try to figure out exactly what it means. With more experience it will be easier to remember what the curses and treasure depict, but it’s definitely a learning curve.
I also managed to get Small World to the table, upping the complexity of games we normally play. It caught my uncle’s attention though, as he and two of my cousins frequently play Risk with much resultant frustration. One of my younger cousins seems to have a mind for area control, though, and smashed us all to bits with a runaway lead of more than 20 points.
7 Wonders was well received with a group of non-gamers. Dominion came out a few times, though mostly just personal games between my wife and I. I won perhaps my first game of King of Tokyo ever, and by points in a furious race to the finish. Tsuro also found its way in the middle of a few games, mostly thans to my 6-year-old nephew who loves it. Overall I managed to squeeze in several games a day, and this competing against muggy weather and a temptingly cool lake to swim in.
Part II: How To Game, Camping
The important thing to remember when bringing a pack of games to camp is that you can’t necessarily bring your favorites. While I certainly could have convinced my cousins to spend all day playing Twilight Imperium, and Star Wars: X-Wing would have been exceedingly attractive, these games just wouldn’t work very well in the camping environment. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to have a successful gaming and camping trip.
Do: Bring Card Games
Card games are good for outdoor gaming because they generally do not require a large playing surface. With the tendency of picnic tables to have gaps and be something other than flat, card games can work around the limitation. Card games also tend to be a little more relaxed, which fits the often-relaxed environment of a camping trip.
Do: Bring a variety
If you’re camping with a large group, and/or for several days, it’s good to have a variety. Different people will prefer different things. While it may mean leaving a game you prefer at home, it’s better to have a selection of games that provide unique experiences, playtimes, and levels of complexity. I always have far more games than I will actually be able to play, just so I will have the right game for any given situation.
Do: Bring the Resistance
The Resistance is a great game for decently large groups. It’s fairly casual and easy to teach. And it fits perfectly in an outdoor environment. I’ve had so many successful games of The Resistance. It’s highly possible that it is easier to enjoy the game while also enjoying fresh outdoor weather and having easy access to camping snacks or a campfire. Other social games (such as Love Letter, Werewolf) work well if your prefer them. The point is, these games can be played more casually, without even a table necessarily.
Don’t: Bring Games With Lots of Bits
No matter how much I want to bring Twilight Imperium, the fact is it just has too many bits. Something will get lost or destroyed too easily. The camping environment just doesn’t provide a great “game room” with places to put all your bits and cards and whatnot. Avoid the craziness, stick with something more compact.
Don’t: Bring Miniatures Games
Another game I really wanted to bring, I mentioned above: Star Wars: X-Wing. But I had to be realistic: there wasn’t going to be a good flat playing surface to make that game happen. Even though it’s one of my favorites it would only be asking to get destroyed.
These are just a few quick tips that’ll help get you started. Maybe I should do a full-on Guide to Gaming for this, what do you think?