Game Spotlights

Published: May 24, 2023

Adam Knight

The Great Outdoors of Boardgaming

Adventure Time

You’ve done it: reserved the campsite, packed up the tent, gathered the firewood, and have it all together for a weekend in the wilds. The only thing left to decide is how you’re going to enjoy all those hours around the fire after your hike, or in the morning mist over coffee and cast iron eggs. Camping means leaving behind all that city stress, which makes it perfect for cracking out some games . . . and perfect, too, for wind, rain, or simple lack of tables to crimp your cardboard style.

Don’t give up on the great outdoors. Board games and green leaves go great together, so long as you pick the right pieces.

The Oldies are the Goodies

If you went camping as a kid, odds are an adult yanked out a greasy old deck of playing cards and spun through the classics like Euchre, Hearts, Spades, or Bridge. Those 52-card decks are cheap, and often come on thick enough card stock to counter mild-mannered wind gusts. The games are quick enough to slot in between camping staples like s’mores or afternoon naps, and you can teach’em about as swiftly.

Cribbage Board shaped like a 29Cribbage wins my personal prize for these, as many cribbage boards are small and store the cards and the pegs inside. The game involves enough luck so kids or anyone else can whip through a couple rounds without hurt feelings. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy moving those little pegs?

If you’re not feeling the classics, try out a trading card game instead. Magic, Pokémon, and most of the other TCGs you know are easy to pack away for an outdoor adventure. Use sleeves to keep the cards safe (and also add some wind-proofing heft), and you can have a great time waging magical warfare on a picnic table. If you don’t want to risk your collection, buying a couple of pre-made Magic decks makes a simple, inexpensive way to play a favorite game on the go.

Party Around the Fire

Not every campsite has a picnic table, and when night falls, you’ll want to be around the crackling fire anyway. A great time to swap stories, sure, but also a chance to tell some new ones.

Social deduction games like Secret Hitler, Ultimate Werewolf, The Resistance and others steal the show if you’ve got a good group cracking some cold ones around a campfire. You won’t need to worry much about pieces, just a few cards passed around, and those suspicious glances get all the more fun with the wild’s shadows and sounds. Bonus: when your murderous lycanthrope devours their last victim, your victorious howls might have some real company.

For the ambitious, Blood on the Clocktower marks a unique storytelling experience, with roles, murder, and a vibe all its own. Take up the mantle of the Storyteller and watch as Doomed Dan finds himself offed after an ill-advised bluff. Played in a circle with a group of at least five (and up to twenty), it’s well-suited to a spooky, fire-lit weekend.

If deception isn’t your thing, then how about embracing Dungeons & Dragons? Or any other tabletop RPG setting? Many, from Star Wars to Pathfinder to any number of one-shots offer a chance to tell a story with little more than pen, paper, and the occasional dice roll. Take a box top or a dice tray (most fold flat for easy packing) and hand it around, crafting a unique adventure under the starlight.

Rainy Day Romps

Overlight World Map
The World of Overlight

If it’s not the stars you’re seeing, but thunderous clouds instead, well, that’s no reason to give up on your game. If Nature isn’t cooperating, take Gaia at her word and bring games that can handle anything thrown their way. It might sound like a joke, but if you’re determined and stuck out in the rain, a few key choices can help keep your game on even when the weather’s not ideal.

If you have a neoprene playmat, you can spar on a wet table or (yes) in the rain should you choose. Neoprene is waterproof, meaning you can plop it on a soaked table and it’ll stay just fine. Sleeved cards won’t take being submerged, but can thwart a rogue droplet or two. Or plan in advance and use paper proxies to test your Magic decks in any weather.

Cover of Hoplomachus featuring a gladiator in the arenaBring the car right to your campsite if you want a big option playable in a hurricane, courtesy of Chip Theory. Too Many Bones, Cloudspire, Burncycle and, for soloists, Hoplomachus are all made with waterproof components and poker chips (hence the studio’s name), ensuring your game will laugh in the face of natural disaster. You’ll get tons of fun out of these, though their size and weight means they won’t belong on any hike unless you’d rather give up food and water for dice, a trade always worth making.

High Impact Hikeables

Don’t want to make that sacrifice? Then go for small boxes that pack a lot of heat, particularly for two players. You and a friend or partner can go deep into the wilderness with Innovation in the pack. You won’t feel its slim form during the day, but the back-and-forth card play, with its wild effects, will leave you laughing at first, and seeking out deep strategies as your deck knowledge deepens. Other small box card games like The Fox in the Forest or Air, Land, and Sea work just as well, though I’d bring a blanket to use as a playing surface.

If you’re a chess fan, Hive offers an abstract with insects that scratches the same itch, pitting two bug battalions against one another. Played with tiles and packed with a travel bag, Hive can go anywhere and be played on virtually anything, so long as you can tell which tiles are next to which. If you want, get creative and let the actual bugs milling around your campsite act as bonus pieces. Will it make sense? No. Will it be fun? Who can say?

Another lightweight option available in any theme you can think of is Uwe Rosenberg’s Patchwork. Cardboard tiles without cards travel well in a small box. You don’t need a very level surface either, as the player boards serve to keep your pieces in line. Patchwork has depth beyond its simple veneer, too, as sneaking a desired piece from an opponent’s grasp, or stealing a single spot token takes real strategy.

Any of these options can liven up your expeditions and fit into a forgotten pocket or corner of your backpack. Better yet, they’re all easy to learn, ensuring you only need a quick lesson at the trip’s beginning for enough depth to keep you playing through the final mile.

Inside Outside

What if all this talk of the outdoors is making you wish for natural wonders, but you’re trapped in the city, or the idea of bugs, raccoons, and nasty weather has you looking about your cozy space and saying nah?

Then go for the next best thing and go wild on your game table! Pulling out a copy of Parks and its Parks: Nightfall expansion gets you close to the U.S.’s national parks without ever needing to leave your living room. With a literal camping mechanic, you can make your s’mores in the oven, place some workers, and have your wilderness fix without setting foot outside the door.

Bellfaire Box CoverIf critters are core to your camping love, consider Everdell, which essentially asks you to decide how much cuteness you can handle on your way to scoring points. You’ll lead your forest friends in gathering resources, building a woodland city, and surviving the seasons, all with artwork almost as good as the real thing. Expansions like Spirecrest and Bellfaire add more depth when you’re ready for your critters to get even craftier.

Cascadia, a tile-layer and 2022 Spiel des Jahres winner, tasks you with drafting up an army of salmon, hawks, bears, and foxes, all designed towards crafting your perfect, points-maximizing wilderness. It’s fast, simple at first glance, and gets you almost out the door.

And this Earth Day brings the release of, well, Earth, an engine-building card-fest where you’ll find combos in cherry trees and chipmunks, waterfowl and wetlands. With flavor text fleshing out almost every card you’ll play, Earth educates as it entertains, at least enough to give you an edge the next time nature is a category on trivia night.


Summer means camping season, but that doesn’t mean giving up your games. Take a look at the weather, at who’s coming with you, and tuck away (or get a game-toting backpack, in Chip Theory’s case) some fun. If nothing else, a simple deck of playing cards is always worth taking along.

Give it a go, and you might find that graham crackers, marshmallow, chocolate, and Cribbage make for a magical night under the stars.

adam knight gaming author

Written by Adam Knight

Spinning stories and playing games under the direction of his two cats, Adam delights in the roll of the dice and a well-told tale. Find more of his adventures at Black Key Books.