Pocket-sized family games (non electric)
December 18, 2019 5:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a game that: fits in my pocket (or my partner's purse); can be played by 2, 3, or 4 players; and is suitable for a 9-year-old. Bonus points if it doesn't require a table so we can play it while sitting on a bus. (And just to be clear, I'm looking for physical games, not apps or handheld electronics.) What pocket-sized family games do you love?
posted by yankeefog to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Have not played it, but they are reviewed well and are the size of a pack of gum: Pack-O Games.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:53 AM on December 18, 2019

Hive is great, although it might be a bit tricky on a bus.
posted by Zumbador at 5:59 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I keep Spot It in my purse; there are variations that you can play with lots of space or little space and it's pretty great for all ages. My son is 11 and we play it waiting at restaurants and waiting rooms.

I've also brought Uno, which does require the draw and discard piles.

And with a regular deck of cards, my friends and I developed a way to play the game Scat entirely handheld. Just make the discard pile the bottom of the draw pile, and someone holds it face up in their hand. So you're looking at the last discard, and to draw you take from the bottom of the handheld deck.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:59 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Small pad of paper and pencil for playing "Exquisite Corpse," tic-tac-toe, sketching, or just passing notes.
posted by Temeraria at 6:02 AM on December 18, 2019

We had the grown-up version of this magnetic word game. Fun for killing a little time, and very pleasing in a tactile way. There's an arithmetic one, too.
posted by BrashTech at 6:07 AM on December 18, 2019

An ordinary pack of playing cards allows for a bunch of games, though you need room for one pile of cards (usually). I used to love playing crazy eights, which requires two piles (damned iPad wants to make that “pikes,” what is it with autowreck anyway?) but there are lots of simple fun card games and you can get a pack of cards almost anywhere—including most U. S. hardware stores.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 6:09 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Should be able to find some good ideas on lists like these, but I would suggest Love Letter.
posted by hankscorpio83 at 6:21 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

We have the regular version but I think the travel version of Farkle fits your requirements.
posted by brilliantine at 6:55 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid I had a travel edition of Trouble that was perfect for trips without a table.
posted by mkb at 7:09 AM on December 18, 2019

If playing cards are acceptable, keeping a 3"x5" card, a golf pencil, and a deck of cards means you can play Cribbage anywhere. My kids all learned by age 9. Here's a handy scoring card to print and fold into the deck: https://cribbage.wordpress.com/2008/06/11/cribbage-scoring-aid/

And until they are ready for Cribbage, you can still play simpler games.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:13 AM on December 18, 2019

This won't work for everyone, but I have a box of "original" Rory's Story Cubes that I keep in my bag.

Once in a while -- like at a coffee shop -- I will remember to not open my phone for brainless surfing. Instead I take out the nine little dice and roll them, then arrange them in a row to tell a very simple fairy tale story.

That's it: this is all that they are for, and they're a ton of fun. There are suggestions and rules online at https://www.storycubes.com/en/comment-jouer/
posted by wenestvedt at 7:18 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

With pen and an index card, you can play multiple games of dots. I played this a lot as a kid. It's a little more strategic than tic-tac-toe. You can make the grid as large as you want, depending on how much time you're killing.
posted by hydra77 at 7:23 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

We’ve done Tell Tale like this. You only need a couple of cards out at a time, the rate of swapping/drawing is slow, and if you drop or lose a card it doesn’t ruin the whole deck.
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:24 AM on December 18, 2019

Yes to StoryCubes. These were well used when my kids were younger.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:39 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Gamelyn Games makes Tiny Epic a "series of small box approachable board games that deliver far more than the box size would suggest. Featuring easy entry rule sets along with high strategy and a small foot print." The box size (7" x 4.75") makes them super portable, but not bus playable.

I just got Tiny Epic Tactics from their KickStarter for my nephews and it looks like it'll be a lot of fun.
posted by zinon at 7:40 AM on December 18, 2019

Love Letter.

Simple bluffing and logic card game with only 16 cards in the "deck", comes in a little travel bag, huge hit with my 9 year old niece and 11 year old nephew but also a huge hit with adults.

They've since moved up to Coup, but Love Letter still gets brought out on a regular basis cause its just so dang portable.
posted by Snuffman at 7:41 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sushi Go is probably tricky to do on a bus but great otherwise. A good old fashioned game of Spoons is similar as well, although again, not bus material.

I think Exploding Kittens could work on a bus.

This meta list of lists of small/portable games might be a good source of information as well.
posted by arabidopsis at 7:55 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

A little pad of paper and a pencil is good for Dots, Hangman, Ghost, Jotto, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:13 AM on December 18, 2019

Fluxx. There are different themed decks, but I like the original.
posted by lemonwheel at 8:52 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Zombie Dice is really fun and juuuust enough above brainless that you can stay engaged, with enough luck that you don’t feel bad if you lose. All you need is the 13 dice, so you could transfer those to a smaller container to make it pocket-size.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:04 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not on a moving bus, but Pass the Pigs.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:35 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Hi! I love these games!

Zombie Dice is a great idea.
So is Farkle - we count outloud and yell "Farkle!" if it runs out. You just need dice and a pad of paper.
With cards, "Oh Hell" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oh_Hell is amazing, we play with teams of two and a scorepad. It's good for a few hours each game, but a table is best.
"A fake artist goes to new york" is great as well, and very small. You need a table.
The best car game is "Outburst" which is amazing for 4-50 players. I believe the latest version is 2016, but most of the categories don't change much over time. You can take a stack of cards to make it pocket sized.
Love letter is a fantastic option basically made for this.

I know you said no electronics, but one board game was made into a little website. Spyfall at spyfall.adrianocola.com is a lot of fun, everyone on their own phone. All it does is tell you a role and a location, spy or not. The spy has to bluff and pretend they are one of the main people! I've had hours of fun at 3 players, but it's best with at least 4.
posted by bbqturtle at 11:42 AM on December 18, 2019

Hanabi requires a surface but is small and fits the rest of your criteria I think. It's a cooperative card game where your group is trying to play cards in a particular order. The twist is that you can't see your own hand; each turn you either give a hint to someone else or play/discard a card out of your hand.
posted by dismas at 12:37 PM on December 18, 2019

We love Quiddler, which is like playing Scrabble but with rummy rules. We also love Set, which is sort of a logic test.
posted by Knowyournuts at 3:53 PM on December 18, 2019

2 copies of Are You a Robot from Looney Labs. I'm an awful robot and always give it away with my opinions on humans.
posted by fiercekitten at 5:46 PM on December 18, 2019

Thank you, everybody! This is a fantastic list and will keep us occupied a long time. I've just ordered Love Letter to start off with, and I'm looking forward to working my way through the other suggestions.
posted by yankeefog at 1:28 AM on December 20, 2019

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