Great Games to Play on Trains and Planes

Travel occupies a lot of people’s time. This list focuses on games that can be played under the special challenges imposed by trying to amuse oneself on a plane or train.

When thinking about the challenge, the criteria we came up with were:

1. a small box for easy packing
2. a small area required for play (like an airplane tray  table)
3. somewhat resistant to disruption by shaking the play area
4. not involve potentially humiliating public activity (miming or shouting) or contain offensive images
5. not have too many small pieces that might get lost
6. work well with only two players


We found 7 games that are favourites of ours that met all the criteria. Some of these games are well known, others less so; there are also a couple you can play with a pack of cards or just paper and pens! There are of course travel editions of lots of fine games such as Settlers of Catan and Ingenious.




Game Name: Blokus Duo
Designer: Bernard Tavitian
Publisher: Sekkoia / Divisible by Zero (in Australia)
Players: 2
Playing time: 15 minutes
Suitable for: Familes (Ages 6 and up), Adults
You’ll love it because: A very easy to learn game that will make you want to play again and again. Each player has a set of “tetris”-like pieces and must try to fit as many as possible onto the board. What makes it a challenge is that your pieces must touch each other, but only corner to corner! This is the only rule of the game. You alternate turns until neither player can fit any more pieces on the board. The player with the least area of tiles left over is the winner. The tiles are pretty translucent plastic pieces in purple and orange ranging from a single square up to all the shape permutations of five squares.
Travels well because: The plastic board has ridges to keep the pieces in place which makes the game somewhat shake-proof. The are not too many pieces and they are brightly coloured (keep an eye on the one square though, it’s the smallest!).Demands some thought, but can still played played by the brain-dead on overnight flights.



Game Name: Boggle
Designer: Alan Turoff & Bill Cooke
Publisher: Hasbro
Players: 2+
Playing time: 10 minutes
Suitable for: Families (ages 8 and up); Adults
You’ll love it because: Boggle is an old favourite which provides a neat and portable twist on word games. In Boggle 16 dice marked with a letter on each face are shaken up and allowed to fall into a 4×4 gridded plastic board. The players then have 3 minutes to find as many words in the grid as possible. This is a bit like the “word search”puzzles, but the trick here is that the word can bend as often as you want. When time is up, words are scored, but any words found by other players are not counted! The time pressure, the need to find unique word, and the endless variety make this a great game.
Travels well because: The dice come is a box to allow shaking them before settling them into their grid. This make the game very resistant to mid-flight turbulence. It doesn’t take much roomto play, and can easily accommodate more players if fellow travellers get hooked!




Game Name: Fairy Tale
Designer: Satoshi Nakamura
Publisher: Yuhudo / Z-Man
Players: 2 to 5
Playing time: 20 minutes
Suitable for: Families (ages 10 and up); Adults
You’ll love it because: In Fairy Tale you enter a world of manga fantasy: where fairy live pursued by cruel hunters, and mighty dragons roam the skies. Well at least the art conveys that: the game itself is a clever set-collecting game. The wrinkle is that you take 5 cards, keep one and pass the rest to the player at your left. You in turn will receive 4 cards from the player at your right; again you choose one and pass the rest on. Once the initial hands of 5 cards have been passed right around, then the game play begins where you try and form scoring sets by playing three of your five cards to the table. The problem is that others might play cards that make you flip some of your cards over (fairies fleeing from hunters for example) and so you will not be able to score them… unless you find a card which will give you the power to flip them back. Good fun with a few different strategies to pursue and nice artwork.
Travels well because: Fairy Tale is a card game so it comes in a small box. At the end of the game each player will have 12 cards in front of them which doesn’t take up too much room. A bit of slipping of card position is not critical as the main information is whether the card is face up or face down.  plays well with 2 people.
Game Name: Hive
Designer: John Yianni
Publisher: Gen Four Two
Players: 2
Playing time: 20 minutes
Suitable for: Families (ages 10 and up); Adults
You’ll love it because: This is an intriguing game that has no board – just it’s 22 sturdy bakelite tiles with different insects on them. Every tile must stay connected to the hive and you may not make a move that separates a tile from the hive. This sets up a game that moves across the table, where pieces are pinned by having other insects hanging off them, and there can be sudden strikes around the outside of the hive mass.The aim is to surround and immonilise the opponent’s queen: the problem is she will be trying to do the same to you! The rules are simple but throw up lots of challenge, and the lack of a fixed set-up means the game plays differently every time.
Travels well because: The only things needed are the 22 tiles which are sturdy and can resist spills and a bit of dropping. It only needs a small place to play too. This game is however a bit vulnerable to mid-air turbulence – though maybe you won’t be concentrating on the game if you are bouncing around that much!
Game Name: Mate
Designer: G. Capellen
Publisher: N/A – download rules here
Players: 2
Playing time: 30 minutes
Suitable for: Families (ages 12 and up); Adults
You’ll love it because: A card game named after a move in chess? After playing it you will know why. Each trick is a ‘move’ where you are trying to mate your opponent (hence the title). The cunning part is that you need to draw it out as long as possible because your score is based on the number of turns before you mate your opponent. All the cards are dealt out at the start so you know exactly what is in your opponent’s hand. After someone wins the game you swap hands without redealing and play again, so unusually for a card game it has absolutely no luck.

You can dowload the rules from us here and play with a regular deck of cards!Travels well because:This is the perfect travel game: 20 cards, no real play area requirement, and enough enjoyment and depth of play for a journey that takes an hour or a lifetime.

Game Name: Mystery Rummy: Bonnie & Clyde
Designer: Mike Fitzgerald
Publisher: Rio Grande
Players: 2 to 4
Playing time: 45 minutes
Suitable for: Families (ages 10 and up); Adults
You’ll love it because: This game is part of a series that takes the old card game Rummy, and adds a new level of challenge and drama. Your aim is to meld all your cards, but in these games the cards represent the characters and their exploits! There are ‘gavel’ cards that let you break the rules a little bit by searching the discard pile or by drawing extra cards, but the restrictions on playing these cards means they can make it difficult to go out. The first in the series is Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper which is highly recommended but now hard to find. Mystery Rummy: Bonnie and Clyde is the fifth in the series and offers the same fun.
Travels well because: The Mystery Rummy games are card games and so come in small boxes and don’t need much space to play. Despite this, the integration of the story into the game, and the addded layer of strategy means that these games are well-suited to filling in a few hours travel time.
Game Name: Y
Designer: Ea Ea and Charles Titus
Publisher: Public Domain /Kadon
Players: 2
Playing time: 20 minutes
Suitable for: Families (ages 8 and up); Adults
You’ll love it because: Y is a descendant of the game Hex invented by Piet Hein and independently by John Nash (of “A Beautiful Mind” fame). The game can be played on a board with black and white stones, but equally well with just pen and paper. The object is to connect all 3 sides of the board with a chain of pieces of your colour. Only one person can win and so every move counts! This is a fun and engrossing game that you can play at whatever level you choose. Study will reveal many layers of depth and emerging strategies, but just plonking a piece down will also eventually produce a winner.
Travels well because: All you need is two pens of different colours and a print-out of a board – so there are no little pieces to get lost. The rules are simple – mark one of the intersections in your colour, then your opponent does the same. Continue until one of you has connected the three sides of the board.

You can download some “Y” boards from Jan Kristian Haugland here – don’t forget to print them out before you leave!