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Armchair travel is a popular way to learn about other cultures and venture into other people’s backyards without ever leaving the comfort of your living room. You can watch a travel show on television, view a critically-acclaimed international film, or even tour a museum gallery online. All of these experiences help us get inspiration for our next adventure or bring back memories from a previous vacation. Travel-themed games are yet another option, plus they offer a more interactive way to satisfy your wanderlust that can be enjoyed by the entire family. Below, we’re rounded up the best travel-themed games to help you escape when you’re not on vacation.
Best Overall: Backpacker
This card game offers the best virtual vacation experience. Players face off in a race around the world and vie to return home with the most photos. Through the game, they travel as backpackers do—hopscotching between visiting beaches, trekking mountains, and encountering local culture. Along the way, however, they also experience travel’s unpredictability. They must avoid obstacles such as missing their planes and dodge bad advice from other travelers aiming to keep them from gathering those coveted pictures. The game becomes competitive quickly, and it can swiftly become ruthless as backpackers try to outwit each other. This game is recommended for two to six players, though three to four players make it flow smoothly. Reviewers recommend the game for players aged 10 and up. If you’re actually backpacking, this lightweight card game is easy to bring along on the journey.
Best Budget: BrainBox All Around the World
BrainBox All Around the World is part game and part home-school lesson plan. In this affordable memory-based game, players choose a card from the deck, then study the pictures on the card while time runs. Once the timer runs out, they roll a die and answer a corresponding question on the back of the card. A correct answer earns the player the card, and the competitor with the most cards at the end wins. For example, a card on Egypt might quiz them on the river that flows through that country, the capital city, and the bordering nations. Kids will not only develop their memory skills, but they’ll also learn geography, which provides further value for the game’s relatively small price tag.
The manufacturer recommends this game for ages one month and up (though one month seems early to be identifying a UK landmark such as Big Ben). Reviewers say gameplay grabs their kids’ attention for 10 to 15 minutes.
Best for Families: Carcassonne
France’s Carcassonne castle is one of the country’s top tourist attractions. This game will take your whole family there for around $30 and without a passport. In the Carcassonne game, players build the playing board as they re-create the French countryside around the fortress. Players take on different roles—knight, monk, farmer, or thief—as they vie to place tiles, add followers, and score points to win the game. As the map forms with roads, monasteries, cities, and fields, players have greater opportunity to interfere with each other’s plans. Just as in medieval Europe, this game requires plenty of cunning to succeed. Since no game is ever the same, your family is sure to return to it again and again. The game will keep two to five players entertained for around 35 minutes. It’s best suited for ages seven and older.
Best for Kids: Ticket to Ride
If you can’t take a real train journey, Ticket to Ride captures the enjoyment of long-distance travel without having to leave home. This game has multiple versions, including editions for travel across Europe, Japan, India, and the Nordic countries. The original version guides players across North America in a competition to build the longest continuous route. Players collect cards for train cars, then claim railway routes across the continent. Longer routes earn more points. Eventually, players fulfill Destination Tickets, which allow them to connect to distant cities. Similar to Monopoly, the tension comes from the balance between accruing more cards/points and losing an important route to a fellow competitor.
The game requires two to five players. It’s rated for ages 8 and up. For younger children, opt for Ticket to Ride: My First Journey, a game developed with shorter playing time in mind.
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Best Trivia: Passport to Culture Travel Edition
Travelers love to show off their worldly knowledge, and this game helps you do that. Passport to Culture requires a Trivial Pursuit–level understanding of countries, especially for the more obscure or far-flung ones. In the game, players tour every country on earth via quiz questions on top attractions, languages, and local traditions. If you know which gentle exercise is practiced throughout China and your bucatini Italian pasta from your farfalle, then this quiz game is for you. Correct answers earn players stamps in their passports. The first to complete their passport wins, though the game can continue as players compete for bragging rights to be called a globetrotter, or even a world citizen, by achieving the highest point tiers. It’s rated for ages 8 and older. Designed for two to five players, the game can also easily be played in teams.
Best Strategy: 7 Wonders
If you can’t leave your home to see the wonders of the world, 7 Wonders is a superb substitute. It evokes the empires of old, from the power-grabs involved in building them to the enduring architecture these cultures created. The game is similar to better-known civilization building and strategy games such as The Settlers of Catan.
In 7 Wonders, each player leads one of the great cities of the ancient world, such as Alexandria or Babylon. The goal is to build a city and an architectural wonder that will stand the test of time. Each round players draw cards to gather resources, like building materials and install elements of cities, such as taverns, marketplaces, and altars. They also build up military structures and face off with other civilizations for victory points. Strategy comes into play as you decide when and how to deploy resources and military strength. The game is suitable for ages 10 and older, and it is best played with three to seven players.
Best Card Game: Itchy Feet
There’s only so many rounds of Go Fish and Gin you can play before you need a new game. This card deck offers that refreshment with a fun, silly take on tourism. In his online comic “Itchy Feet,” cartoonist Malachi Ray Rempen depicts the follies of travel and learning languages. That humor translates into the Itchy Feet card game, in which players must gather various items that they’ll need to travel to a certain country. Each player must first attain a passport card, then try pick up or swap cards to gather the three items needed for that journey. For example, a trip to Egypt will mean the player will be visiting the beach, be speaking a different language, and seeing local attractions. In Rempen’s wacky world, that might mean the player could bring an ancient Egyptian language translation stone, a shark repellent, and a guidebook to satisfy all three required items.
Although the game is rated for ages 8 and up, reviewers attest that younger children can easily master the game; they’ll also likely appreciate this deck’s playfulness. If your feet aren’t feeling as itchy, the game doubles as a standard card deck.
Best Puzzle: Portrait Puzzle 1000-Piece Photo Puzzle
If you’re the type of traveler who takes thousands of photos on a trip, you’re not alone. Many of us capture every detail of our travels, but only a few select images land in our social media feeds, let alone scrapbooks or wall hangings. With Portrait Puzzle’s custom jigsaw puzzle, more of your favorite trip memories can be celebrated and remembered. Plus, these 1000-piece puzzles do so with a level of detail that will have you pouring over every millimeter of that landmark or favorite dish as you assemble the finished image. If 1000 pieces are above your skill level, Portrait Puzzles prints these custom puzzles in a variety of shapes and sizes, starting at easy-to-complete 15-piece sets. This custom creation will help you relive your trip long after you’ve returned home.
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Best Creative Game: Tokaido Board Game
This game brings to life Japanese history and culture, even when you’re far from Japan. It draws its name and inspiration form Tokaido road, the “eastern sea route” that connected Kyoto and Edo (today’s Tokyo) during the Edo Period, a seminal time in the country’s history. The game mimics travel along the road as players meet others at inns, soak in hot springs, taste delicious food, and visit temples. The game’s goal will resonate with many travelers: to reach the end of the road having discovered the most interesting and varied experiences.
Players must use mild strategy to plan out how to best utilize their resources, and when and how to interact with other players along the route. The game is designed for two to five players, all aged 8 years and older. Reviewers comment that the game art is evocative, and truly makes you feel as though you’re traveling through Japan. The design of the playing board and cards seemingly blend the style of anime and ukiyo-e paintings, putting the finishing touch on the whole experience.