When looking for the best travel-friendly board games to play during long layovers, you need things that are compact, easy to play in a small space, and without many pieces. However, it must also be engaging, entertaining, and – of course – fun!
I’ve done my fair share of traveling. I’ve spent several hours in an airport, waiting while the next flight’s gate refuses to show up, then switches around again and again. I’ve been offered the seemingly incredible $80 compensation for a suddenly canceled flight, only to find that it’s $80 in airline currency – and it’s worth about $5.
Basically, I’m pointing out that I’ve done my share of distance traveling. I wish I’d remembered to bring something to do with me. After watching screens on the first plane, going on my phone was the last thing I ever wanted to do. Travel-friendly board games would have been a saving grace.
However, when I was asked to put together this list of some of my favorite travel-friendly board games for long layovers, I realized the potential. While perfect for long layovers, you could also use these games when you need to turn up 5 hours early to the airport.
Without any further ado, let’s get into it. Here are the best travel-friendly board games to play during long layovers.
Bottom Line Up Front
The most suitable board game for you depends very much on your circumstances. I’ve come up with several possible scenarios and what I’d consider the most appropriate for each.
These are the best travel-friendly board games to play during long layovers if:
- The layover is less than 3 hours – Tides of Time or Lost Cities: Rivals
- The layover is 3 or 4 hours – Unstable Unicorns
- The layover is more than 4 hours – Tiny Epic Galaxies
- You’re in a large group – Unstable Unicorns, Codenames, or Monopoly Deal
- You’re alone – Tiny Epic Galaxies or card games
- You’re with family – Lost Cities: Rivals
- You’re with fellow gamers – Tiny Epic Galaxies or Catan: Rivals
So, what makes something a travel-friendly board game? I’ve chosen this list based on these criteria, hoping to whittle the selection down to only the very best and most practical for your journey.
- The number of players – the best board games require at least two people. Solo board games do exist. But if you’re alone, I’d suggest bringing playing cards and setting yourself up with a few rounds of Patience. An alternative idea might be to find other like-minded individuals in the airport waiting with you. You don’t need to use the loudspeaker; just ask anyone you think might be up for a game. Why not? You’ll never see them again anyway.
- Box/bag size – a travel-friendly board game must fit in your hand luggage. Of course, there’s no point putting it in your checked bag, not unless you need to pick your bag up at your layover (as you’ll need to do if you’re heading off to Canada). For this article, I’ll assume your travel-friendly board game has to fit in the maximum 45 x 36 x 20 cm imposed by many smaller airlines.
- Required space – when you’re in an airport, you’ll most likely be stuck using seats or bar-style tables for any board games. If you’re lucky, benches or actual tables might be available. This isn’t the environment for spreading out with multiple pieces.
- How many game pieces? – speaking of multiple pieces, you’re sure to lose something if there’s too much going on. There isn’t enough space in an airport to accommodate a game of Warhammer, for example!
- Entertainment value – of course, this is my personal opinion. However, I’m only choosing engaging board games that last a good while (and you could play twice without getting bored) or that you’d be happy to play multiple rounds of. On top of that, it must be enjoyable! Otherwise, why bother?
- Likely noise pollution – I apologize for calling your shrieks of laughter or competitive rages “noise pollution”, but an airport is always filled with people. Having fun while you wait is an excellent idea for anyone to pass the time, but interrupting and irritating everyone else isn’t particularly considerate. These games must be fairly quiet (or you must be pretty self-controlled).
My Top Picks at a Glance
1. Unstable Unicorns
TeeTurtle’s Unstable Unicorns was a crowdfunded project that was instantly successful. In this game, you’ll spend your time collecting viciously adorable unicorns in an attempt to fill your stable. Along the way, you’ll betray your friends, sabotaging their army of cuteness, as you pave your way to victory.
This game is for 2 to 8 players, although the more you have, the more exciting and unpredictable the gameplay is. Therefore, it’s probably best for a larger group of friends or family. The box will also easily fit in your carry-on baggage – it comes in at 4″ x 3″ x 3″.
You’ll need a reasonable amount of space to play, but not too much. Every player will need around 1 squashed square foot in front of them for placing their unicorns in their stable. There’ll also need to be somewhere to put a draw pile in the center. You might find those bar-style seats at some airport gates perfect for this game.
A two-player game might take 30 minutes. Eight-player games might be well over an hour, so a few rounds of Unstable Unicorns will eat nicely into your waiting time.
Check it out on Amazon here. You’ll probably also find this game in your local stores and Walmarts. For a similar but slightly more expansive version of this game, consider Here to Slay.
Unstable Unicorns Pros
- Fun, exciting, unpredictable game – especially with more people
- 2 to 8 players, so good for a large group
- Small, easy-to-transport box
- Long games and easy to play two or three times without getting bored
Unstable Unicorns Cons
- Difficult to play in a busy airport
- Two-player games pass considerably quicker
2. Tiny Epic Galaxies
Tiny Epic Galaxies is a perfect game for air travel. It’ll absorb many dull hours in fast-paced, strategic gameplay – once you’ve learned the rules and the gist. Many people rave about this one – and with good reason. Tiny Epic Galaxies will see you attempt to expand your space empire; the stronger your galaxy is, the more dice you’ll get to roll. You’ll attempt to gain control over contested planets, earn victory points, and try to complete your secret mission.
Tiny Epic Galaxies is a 1- to the 5-player game. Yes, there’s a solo version, which you’ll find on the reverse side. It’s straightforward to play by yourself. Of course, this variation doesn’t take up much room at all. The more people you have in your game, the more space you’ll need – but that’s a given. Tiny Epic Galaxies brings a lot to the table for a small, travel-based board game. It’s interesting and doesn’t take up too much space, although it’s still a reasonable amount when you’re in an airport. Provided you can claim some table space somewhere, it’s perfect for a multiplayer game.
The box comes in a very travel-friendly 7″ x 4.75″ x 1.5″, making it easy to cram into your hand luggage. Expect a game to take 30 to 45 minutes. You should easily get through at least three new games before starting to feel tired of them. You can find Tiny Epic Galaxies on Amazon. If you’re after a similar version of the same game, check out these alternatives:
Tiny Epic Galaxies Pros
- Strategic, interesting game requiring focus to do well
- 1 to 5 players (including solo version)
- Small box, easily fits in hand luggage
- Doesn’t require much tabletop space, depending on the number of players
Tiny Epic Galaxies Cons
- Includes several small pieces
- Rolling dice might be irritating to other nearby passengers
3. Tides of Time
Tides of Time is a simple, two-player drafting strategy card game. You’ll choose buildings one at a time, swapping hands with the other player after every selection. You’ll then tally up your victory points based on the cards’ suits and objectives. At the end of the round, you’ll keep one building ready for the next, known as a “relic of the past”. The game finishes after the third round. Whoever has the most victory points wins.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I quite like its simplicity. Any two-player game always tows the delicate line of how easy it is to sabotage your opponent. This can often stagnate a game, and you might find Tides of Time falling into this trap. If both players are tactically adept, they’ll have no problem selecting the best cards they can from the luck of the draw, whether they focus on implementing their strategy or crippling their opponent’s.
For some reason, Tides of Time isn’t available on Amazon. So far as I can tell, you can only find it in a package deal, along with Tides of Madness, a standalone follow-up. You can find it at Atomic Empire (it ships within a few days), eBay, and Walmart.
Tides of Time Pros
- Quick card-based game (around 15 to 20 minutes per game)
- Simple – not necessarily for die-hard gamers, though
- Hardly any space required – play on a seat between the two of you, if necessary
- A cheaper option compared to others on this list
- Tiny box (1.5″ x 4.5″ x 7.2″)
Tides of Time Cons
- A game might be a little too short for a long layover
- Challenging to implement any particular strategy other than sabotaging the opponent
Codenames is a classic board game where players try to provide one-word clues to their teams without giving too much away to their opponents. The guessers attempt to select which words (“spy codenames”) their spymaster is referring to. Whoever correctly picks all eight or nine of their spies first wins.
Typically, Codenames is a game for 4 to 8 players. However, it is possible to play with 2 or 3. You’ll have just one spymaster and one or two guessers in this variation as you try to locate all the words with as few clues as possible. Don’t be afraid to take this along with you, even if there won’t be many journeying with you.
A downside to Codenames is that it requires a reasonable amount of tabletop space to place your 25 spy codenames (in the 5 x 5 grid format). This doesn’t take up much space itself, but you do need all players to be able to see the words at all times. As such, you can only really play at a table if you have a large group. In a long layover, make sure you get yourselves plenty of space if you’re going to try playing this game! If there are only two or three of you, this doesn’t apply – you could probably even play using a spare seat on your row.
Officially, Codenames take about 15 minutes to play. In reality, I’ve found at least half an hour is a more realistic estimate, depending on the players. The more intense the gamers you’re playing with, the quicker the rounds will likely pass.
Codenames (Amazon) usually come in a big-ish box (2.8″ x 6.3″ x 9″), verging on unsuitable for traveling. However, finding a suitable case – such as this tailored Hermitshell one – to store everything will make it much easier to play in an airport and carry in your hand luggage. You could also try Codenames Duet, a version specifically created for two (or more) players with a little more going on.
- Simple rules, easy for anyone to play
- 4 to 8 players (with 2- or 3-player variations)
- Relatively quick games that can be played many times
- Doesn’t take up too much space if there aren’t many players
- Realistically, you need to buy a separate travel case to play during a long layover
- It might be hard to find the space for larger groups
- It might get loud – don’t disturb everyone else!
5. Lost Cities: Rivals
In Lost Cities: Rivals, you must bid on expeditions to various locations. Cards are placed in ascending order (you can’t add any cards of a lower value than your last-placed one). Whoever has the highest footprint score at the end wins. It’s a game for 2 to 4 players and should take around 45 minutes per game. A fair amount is going on, and you’ll have to be quite strategic about what you’re bidding on and when.
Although this game isn’t exactly a personal favorite of mine, when it comes to something easy to play in an airport during a long layover, this is one of the best options. You’ll need some space in front of you, but not too much. Traditionally, it would be played around a table. Still, you’ll easily get away with a game at a bar-style bench if there aren’t any available. The box comes in at about 7″ x 5″ x 1.5″.
It’s available from Amazon (as is everything, right?), although you should find it cheaper at Walmart.
Lost Cities: Rivals Pros
- Straightforward game
- Doesn’t take up much space – easy to play almost anywhere
- 2 – 4 players
- Small container
- Reasonable price
- Games last the best part of an hour, helping pass the time on your layover
Lost Cities: Rivals Cons
- Pedon’t find the game particularly interesting – I’d get bored after one or two rounds
Patchwork is an excellent little two-player game. It’s reminiscent of Tetris, as you aim to fill your quilt with perfect patchwork segments. The concept of the game is very simple. Move one, two, or three places through the circle of available pieces, putting it on your “quilt” card and moving the corresponding number of spaces on the position tracking. At the end of the game, score it up to find the winner (or just decide who has the nicest-looking quilt).
Although this game will keep you occupied for a short time, you might get bored after two or three rounds, each estimated to last around half an hour. That’s about right, in my experience – perhaps slightly less. It might not be the best option since there are many small pieces (patchwork pieces and buttons). The box is also pretty big – 9″ x 9″ – making it quite a large item to pack. If you have the space, though, and you’re only anticipating a short layover, it’s a great family-friendly option. Patchwork Express comes with a smaller board, but, as the name suggests, it won’t last so long.
- Very simple game
- Needs a lot of space
- 2 players only
- Lots of small pieces
7. Monopoly Deal
You must have heard of Monopoly Deal, a card game based on the traditional board game. It contains the same family fallouts and bankruptcy elements that we all know and hates but in a much more condensed version. You’ll need to collect three sets of properties to win, all the while charging rent and stealing things off your opponents in the well-known obnoxious manner in which Monopoly is always played.
It’s designed for 2 to 5 players and should be complete in around 20 minutes. Although it’s still Monopoly, it has some appealing factors. I’d be happy to play several rounds before calling it quits. Since it’s solely card-based, you won’t have to worry about losing any small pieces (such as houses, hotels, or game pieces from the original version).
You’ll need some kind of table to play, with space for several cards in front of you at any given time. There should also be a draw and discard pile in the center. This might make it slightly more challenging to find the appropriate space to play. It all comes in a tiny box that should fit into your bag’s front pocket, your purse, or even your jeans pocket (if you’re a guy).
Find Monopoly Deal on Amazon (the cheapest option I could find). Don’t be afraid to shop around, though!
Monopoly Deal Pros
- The only required setup is to shuffle and deal the cards
- True to the original game but condensed and simpler
- Quick, reasonably interesting games
- Tiny box, easy to carry
- 2 – 5 players
Monopoly Deal Cons
- It’s still Monopoly
- Requires a fair amount of space
- You’ll fall out with everyone traveling with you
8. Rivals for Catan
Based on the popular game Settlers of Catan, Rivals for Catan follows a similar principle. Continue to expand your settlement, recruiting heroes along the way to become the ultimate Prince of Catan. I like this two-player game, although I remember it taking a few tries to get used to it. If you decide to bring it along for your long layover, ensure you both know how to play in advance – or that you have a few hours to kill to learn it.
Expect a game to take around 45 minutes most of the time. Each game is always different, so you should be happy to play this one several times over, maximizing your time while you wait. However, the box is slightly larger than some of the alternatives in this list, and you’ll need a table to play across from each other.
Find Rivals for Catan on Amazon here.
Rivals for Catan Pros
- Fun, engaging game
- Lasts a reasonably long time
- Each game is different
- Very strategic
Rivals for Catan Cons
- Requires a standard table and to sit across from each other
- Fairly expensive
- 2 players only
- Slightly larger box
Tips Just for You
Taking the best travel-friendly board game for a long layover is a personal choice. I’ve selected what I feel are some great options above, but you may well think differently. If you’re planning on taking a board game with you, I’d suggest focusing on the box size, number of players, and average game length as your priorities.
When you first get off the plane, find your gate (if it’s already listed). If, like in most long layovers, you have to wait several hours before knowing where you’ll need to go, take a different approach. Find the best place to play your game. Of course, in most situations, that’ll be a table where you can sit opposite your opponent(s). Failing this, a bar-type seat might work for most games, but not all.
It might be a little cheeky, but you could find a restaurant with ample comfy seating and use that as your game table. You must buy food and drinks to be allowed to sit here, especially if the airport’s busy. However, as long as you keep on ordering food, the staff shouldn’t have any problem letting you stay. You could try ordering one meal per game – that’ll drag it out as long as reasonably permitted. If they ask you to leave, though, don’t be surprised.
During a long layover, it’s also essential to make yourself comfy – whether or not you’ve brought something to play along with you! Stay hydrated, especially. It’ll make your journey so much easier… and, more importantly, help you focus on winning your board game.
Alternatives Just For You In Long Layovers
The following games didn’t make it onto my list, but I’d still consider them worthy possible options.
- Yahtzee – a probability-based dice game you could play on your phone or with five dice, a pen, and paper. You can buy kits from Amazon if you like, but there’s no need. Rolling dice might irritate people if it’s all quiet.
- Top Trumps – a classic number comparison game that’s incredibly easy and family-friendly. I suspect you’d get bored before too long, though – not the best for a long layover.
- Travel-sized chess/checkers/backgammon etc. – these days, you’ve got plenty of options for travel-sized versions of these games. This one with a magnetic clip includes all three variations, plus dominoes and playing cards. Great fun, but losing one piece will put a swift stop to everything.
- Dobble – Snap with a twist!
- I Spy – if you’re te.
Overall, I’d recommend one of the Unstable Unicorns, Tiny Epic Galaxies, or Tides of Time as you plan your long layover. I’m sure at least one of these will tick all the right boxes for you. If not, consider one of the other options from the list above. Of course, there are many other possibilities – almost any predominantly card-based game is an option for your journey. You can play them pretty much anywhere.
Perhaps it all boils down to the following three points:
- Does it fit in your cabin bag?
- How people can play it?
- Do you like it?
Follow these three steps, and I’m sure you can’t go wrong.
Question: Where can I play board games in an airport during a long layover?
Answer: The best place to play board games with others in an airport is at a table, as you usually would. It’s down to luck whether or not you can find one. If you’re traveling at peak hours (weekdays – early mornings and early afternoons – and holidays), you’re less likely to find one.
The next best thing would be a bar-style setup. Sometimes, these are placed back-to-back, so you could still work out a way to play opposite your friends or family.
Finally, if there are only two or three in your group, you could sit on two chairs, leaving a spare one in the middle as the “table”. This only works with smaller games. Always remember that other people might need to sit down too, so if it’s getting too busy, you’ll have to pack it away or move to the floor. Sorry.
There’s one other option. Use a table in one of the restaurants (if any are available). You’ll need to order things from the kitchen regularly if you don’t want to get kicked out. See the Top Tips section above.
Question: What’s the best game to take with me while traveling?
Answer: If you’re traveling alone, I’d recommend taking playing cards. Games of Patience – in its many varieties – have kept me occupied for hours during layovers.
Alternatively, you could take board games with solo versions, such as Tiny Epic Galaxies (listed above). I’d only bring a single-player board game along if it had a multiplayer option, and I felt I’d play it with others once I arrived. To me, it’s a bit too much to bring along unless it’s an exceptionally long layover – I’m thinking 5 or 6 hours or more.
Question: What else can I do to pass the time during a long airport layover?
Answer: I’m sure I’m not alone in finding that layovers seem much longer when you’re there than when you book the trip. “Oh, a four-hour layover? No problem.” But then, two hours in… “Uugghh…”.
As I’ve been talking about in this post, you could bring board games along with you. These are particularly great if at least one other person is coming along with you. However, if you want more options – particularly for solo travel – you could consider these (and more):
• Talk to others in your group or even willing strangers – yes, talking is good. Get into a good conversation; the time will pass before you know it.
• Download a movie – Disney+, Netflix, and the seemingly unending list of streaming platforms now available all have download options for mobile devices.
• Read a book – “A book?” you say. “What’s that?” Yep, good old-fashioned paper. Nicer on your eyes than any screen, even a Kindle. Which is also an option.
• Work – if you can work remotely, fire up the laptop and immediately activate your VPN and other privacy protection programs. It should then be safe to connect to the internet. Consult your workplace before doing this to check you aren’t breaking any internet usage policies.
• Eat and drink – airport restaurants, stores, and bars are there to rip you off – but you don’t have much choice.
• Have a nap – if you’re brave enough to close your eyes (I’m not) and the airport’s not very busy, take your well-earned shut-eye in a secluded corner. Eye mask and noise-canceling headphones? Don them now.
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