Modern board games can be huge, sprawling affairs that make you wish you owned a bigger table. They can be multi-session games with all the narrative flair and complexity of a yearslong tabletop role-playing campaign. They can be so delicate, so fragile that the brush of a wayward shirtsleeve will destroy hours of painstaking work. But not all board games are like that. In fact, some are so small that you can tuck them into your shirt pocket and forget they’re even there.
Thanks to the incredible diversity of modern board games, summer break doesn’t mean taking a vacation from rolling dice with your friends. Here are five games that travel extremely well — including one that you can even safely play at the beach or poolside.
Deep Sea Adventure
Japanese design studio Oink Games makes products that are unjustifiably charming. Deep Sea Adventure is a small-box game about bringing up treasure from the floor of the ocean. It’s family friendly, colorful, and easy to teach. But what’s important here is the fact that it’s not going to blow away the moment that you lay it down on the table.
Players make paths using tiles, moving their colorful wooden meeples forward and back from the treasure to their submarine. There are no flimsy cards to worry about losing or damaging, and the bits will all stand out from the grass, making it hard to leave pieces behind after your game is through. And the tiny box will easily fit into a backpack, beach bag, or glove compartment.
Whenever I think of a robust and durable card game, I think of Gloom. That’s because each and every card inside its tiny box is made of transparent plastic. And it’s that transparency that makes the game so much fun to play: The cards stack one on top of the other, adding to, subtracting from, or otherwise altering the characters in play. It’s a marvelous blend of form and function, and even if all of the pieces fall directly into a gutter, you can still hose them off and live to play another day.
Love Letter is the poster child for microgames — it tells a compelling mechanical story with just 16 (2-4 players) or 32 (5-8 players) cards.
Originally designed by Seiji Kanai and released in 2012, Love Letter rose to prominence in the United States with an edition published by AEG that came packaged in a trademark red felt bag with “Love Letter” embroidered on the side. Since then it’s been adapted to many different licenses, including, most recently, Star Wars. No matter what version you buy, Love Letter’s exceptional risk and deduction-based gameplay is sure to please.
MicroMacro: Crime City
MicroMacro: Crime City is an award-winning mystery game that blends Where’s Waldo? with a true-crime novel, and it does so with virtually no moving pieces.
If you can lay a poster down flat on a surface, or even tack it to a wall, you can play this game of hidden pictures with your friends. Just don’t think of it as a traditional board game that must be gobbled up competitively in a set amount of time. Instead, treat MicroMacro as you would a traditional jigsaw puzzle — something that sits on the table as a downtime activity for anyone who needs a break.
Finally, there’s Tsuro, a tile-laying game with light strategy elements. Designed by Tom McMurchie, the game’s name comes from the Japanese word for “route.” In the game, players use their tiles to move their token from one side of the board to the other. Along the way, paths will invariably change and intersect. The only way to win is to stay calm, roll with the punches, and just keep moving forward.
It’s another game with no flimsy cards to worry about, and with components heavy enough that they won’t blow away. But it also just looks good on the table. Bring this to the park and even the die-hard chess players making camp there will want to know what you’re up to.