Don't Hibernate

Analog Gaming & Other Family Adventures

Amazing Card and Dice Games Make Airports and Waiting Rooms a Breeze

There is something magical about travel. spend enough time on Instagram and you’ll invariably follow a few “20-something Traveler Girls” who skip around the globe with their Spanish, top-knotted boyfriends eating things with perfect garnishes on imperfect plates.

The idea of joining this club is so alluring, you’ll even start using the term “wanderlust”. Well, you might?

The reality of most travel is that it lacks the sex appeal you’ll find when searching #instatravel as you doze off at home every night. if you’re like me — pulling around a cabbage cart worth of luggage for a family of four — or most other parents, you’re just hoping against the odds that your kids manage their manors and your patience during all of the waiting you will have to do between experiencing cool things.

That’s right, guys: I’m going to write about a nearly two week trip to Hawaii that I just returned from, and my central theme will be beating boredom and long waits. You’re feeling really sorry for me aren’t you?


First of all, let us be honest about flying. Airports suck. Airplanes are giant scientific marvels, that also happen to be torture devices best reserved for an Indiana Jones sequel (or maybe Bond?). You are going to arrive early, sit in a terminal and wait for your chance to sit yet again in a coffin-width row of hard foam chairs. Finally, you’ll wait even longer to go somewhere AMAZING. (Glitter falls, rainbows explode, your husband stops looking like me and suddenly resembles 20-something Traveler’s man-bunned foreign pixie boy).

Well, that’s how I see this sort of traveling, and when I’m going off to experience pure relaxation and tropical wonder with my 6 and 8-year-olds, I come prepared to pacify. Sure, sure… iPhones and Kindle Fires will zombify the little whelps and leave you to twiddle your thumbs or stare at Twitter, but why not have some fun? Why not avoid mental hibernation? (See what I did there?).

Small packaged, fast playing board, card, and dice games can be one of the sharpest tools in your travel kit, if you pick them correctly. In fact, over the past few years the number of small-box, fast play games out there has grown in an insane way.

For my family, nothing satisfies like dice chucking. My kids love it. I love it. My wife tolerates anything that shuts me up makes the kids smile. So, yeah, my wife loves it.

Zombie Dice is probably our number-one game to play on the go. Lately, it seems to always be in my coat pocket or riding shotgun — pun intended — in my camera bag. Zombie Dice is basically a Yahtzee game with a lot of “push your luck” excitement. Thematically, it sounds scary, but really if your kids are old enough to understand the general idea of zombies or vampires on their own (Like in the context of Halloween or Goosebumps), they are old enough to roll some dice and score some brains. Basically, you want to score brains, re-roll runners, and avoid getting three “bangs” on a turn, thus losing your points. Its 13 dice in cup. Which seems easy-peasy enough, but I’ve replaced the dice cup they came in with a much quieter dice bag, that takes up a fraction of the space when in tow.

I should note that my mother-in-law is now pretty hooked on Zombie Dice!

You can also sub in Cthulhu Dice by Steve Jackson games, when you want something a little more directly competitive. Again, I carry this game around in a soft dice bag to enhance its portability.

Cthulhu dice has players taking turns rolling a single custom die against eachother to steal sanity points (little glass bead counters) from each other or do Cthulhu’s bidding by handing sanity over to the great old one.

In my version of the game we use a Cthulu meeple to represent the Lovecraftian horror as he steals our sanity.

Another slightly more simple dice roller with a push your luck mechanic that travels especially well is Pass the Pigs by Winning Move. The only catch is that there are no dice at all! In lieu of the satisfying clatter of polyhedral dice, you toss two adorable rubber pigs to build scoring combos based on their landing position. Its simple, fun, and it’s nearly silent.

Where Zombie Dice works well on a beach chair, or on the  carpeted floor of the airport terminal, it is slightly more distracting to the strangers around you when three dice go clunking across a wood or glass table at a restaurant. This is where Pass the Pigs wins big! Almost every time we sat down to wait for some fresh fish or a plate of moco loco, Pass the Pigs came out, and the soft rubber piggies don’t make a sound to announce themselves. Most of the time, I think people can shove off, if they don’t like hearing kids in a restaurant. Even so, I’d hate to invite rolling eyes.

Eating and waiting might be an enormous part of any vacation, but when you’re not out on an adventure you might just be chilling out. Which is sort of like waiting around for nothing at all, am I right? I’d advise doing so with a mai tai in one hand and a good card game in the other.


Our hand’s-down family go-to in this regard is Sleeping Queens by Gamewright Games. This colorful card collecting games comes in a compact box that fits easily into your average purse or backpack.

Mechanically, the game is simple enough for anyone probably 6 or older. You play kings to wake up queens, use knights and potions to take queens for your opponents’ hands, and counter their plays with dragons and math. Yup. There is an adding and subtracting component that really adds to how quickly you can replace cards! Those little stinkers will nary realize they are using arithmetic to best you. Promise.

For a little more theme and to scratch a more complex itch, I really enjoyed the games of Boss Monster that my son and laid out on the floor of our hotel room a few mornings before breakfast. This Dungeon building romp by Brotherwise Games is a quick playing card game with awesome 8-bit art work. The whole thing harkens back to playing hours of Castlevania or Golden Axe, which I find my son appreciates a ton, due to the popularity of pixel art in today’s video games.

This game is sure to be dad’s favorite. You get to control one pixelated super bad guy and lay out a dungeon in front of him that you should (hopefully) design to attract and destroy archetypal video game heroes. The game ends either by victory coins or when a boss is knocked out!

Finally, I’d say grab yourself a tin of Sushi. Well, adorably illustrated sushi characters on high quality cards. I’m talking Sushi Go by GameWright Games. This round-based card trading game has you frantically pairing, hoarding and otherwise scrounging to get scoring combinations of cards before you pass your hand to the next player. This one translates super well to adult game night, as well!


For my dollar this a great small collection of portable games that are worth stashing into your carryon, or bringing to grandma’s house for dinner, or the to the doctor’s office, or out for Italian food, or camping … you get the point.

There is no price you can put on busting boredom, quelling complaining, and stimulating the mind. I’d say that’s well worth a total investment of $57.50 ( I just loaded my Amazon cart to check)! That’s all. For five games that will give you years of fun.

Now, there is sure to be a much more comprehensive list of travel and waiting room games out there, but I can personally testify to the effectiveness of these six games. So there you have it.

Thanks for reading. Mahalo!

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