Here are a bunch of easy games for all ages. The most equipment you will need is a pen and paper or a pack of cards — perfect for when emergency distraction is required in fraught travelling situations.
My Great Aunt Came to Dinner
For two or more players.
Player One says, for example, “My Great Aunt came to dinner and we had roast beef.” Player Two says, “My Great Aunt came to dinner and we had roast beef and tomatoes.” Player Three says, “My Great Aunt came to dinner and we had roast beef, tomatoes and jelly babies.” And so on and so on.
You can choose anything at all to eat and drink – it doesn’t need to make sense. But while choices can be silly in the extreme, every item must be remembered in the correct order.
Miss one out or get the order wrong, and you are out (if there are a few of you) or the game is over and you can start the whole thing again.
Think of six or so things that must be spotted. Make some really easy, and others more tricky (but still feasible).
Here is an example from a recent trip of ours: a yellow motorbike, someone riding a horse, clothes hanging out to dry, a sailing boat, a man carrying a child and a broken down car.
Your choices are going to depend on where you are travelling, obviously. Decide beforehand if pictures/signboards showing the items are going to count.
Write your list on a scrap of paper to save arguments later.
Only sightings verified by two people count – a casual, “Oh, there’s a white donkey,” won’t cut it.
A small prize can be offered if everything is spotted. There is no single winner, though – it’s a joint effort.
For as many players as you like. Requires a little preparation. Can be played throughout the holiday, not just while travelling.
Each player is given a card with a list of animals on it. There can be some repetition, but each card must be unique. So, for example, every card can have a dog, cow and a horse on it, but each card must have at least one animal that appears only on that card.
Try to be as fair as you can and avoid really obscure animals. Obviously, your cards can be tailor-made to suit where you are holidaying. If you are doing this for pre-readers, you can use pictures instead of words.
Players tick off each animal as it is spotted on your journey. The first one to spot all of the animals on her card shouts “Bingo!” and is the winner.
For long car journeys and as many players as there are passengers.
Player One starts to “bat”. Each car that passes you counts as one “run”. A truck is 3 “runs”, a bus is a 6. The player keeps adding to his score until he is bowled out by a passing red car.
The next player starts to “bat”. Scores accumulate over the course of the journey.
Only vehicles that are moving and coming towards you count.
This is (slightly) more fun than it sounds (just like real cricket).
Silence is Golden
I resort to this one when things are getting too fraught and my patience is stretched to breaking point. “I challenge you to keep completely silent for 10 minutes. If you manage it, I’ll give you 50p.”
The amount of “gold” is, of course, dependent on the age of the child – it needs to be enough to provide an incentive, but not so much that it makes you wince, especially if you are going to be playing this “game” a number of times.
Giggles, hiccups, coughing attacks, snorting, burping and farting all count as noise. If one player deliberately provokes another player into making a noise, the time goes back to zero for both players.
A great game because very little is required (general knowledge, that is).
For two or more players — it works better with more. You need to be able to read and write, although those in the family who can’t, can team up with a scribe.
Each player needs a sheet of blank paper and a pen.
Divide the paper into six columns.
Think of six categories. These can be adapted to suit the age of the players.
So, for example, you could have: Country, Animal, Fruit, Car, Flower and Colour.
(When I played this game as a child, a regular category we used was cigarette brands – how times have changed!)
Other options include, girls’ names, boys’ names, towns and cities, food, sea animals, birds, sports, and so on.
Write a category at the top of each column.
On a separate sheet of paper write down most of the letters of the alphabet (leave out the tricky ones like Z and Q and K). Circle each letter. They should be scattered randomly on the page, not in order.
A player shuts her eyes and stabs at the letter page with a pencil. If her pencil lands inside a letter’s circle, you are off!
All players write down one thing for each category starting with that letter. For our example: Australia, Ant, Apple, Audi, Agapanthus and Avocado.
The first player to write something for all six categories, shouts “Stop”.
Players call out what they have written for each category. If their answer is unique, they get 10 points, if it is the same as anyone else’s they each only get 5 points. No answer, no points.
If your players are very unevenly matched, you might consider doing it with a minute’s time limit, instead of the quickest person calling time.
Keep a running total of each person’s score.
Obviously, the winner is the one with the most points.
We seldom have issues with people getting upset about losing overall, because it’s the kind of game that sort of fizzles out after a while without actually getting right to the bitter end.
For two players.
Each player has a piece of paper on which they draw two square grids of 10×10 squares. Rows should be labelled with letters, and columns with numbers.
The top grid is labelled “Defence” and the bottom grid, “Attack”.In the top Defence grid, each player draws in at random the following: 1 x aircraft carrier (five blocks arranged in a T), 1 x battleship (four blocks) 2 x cruisers (three blocks) 3 x destroyers (two blocks), 4 x submarines (1 block).
Play starts with Player One calling out a grid reference, eg D1.
If this block on the other player’s Defence grid is occupied by one of his ships, he says “Hit!” He puts a cross on the block to indicate he has been hit, and Player One does the same on her Attack grid. Player Two must say what type of ship has been hit. Now Player One can make a good guess as to where the rest of her opponent’s ship is and calls out another grid reference, eg C1.
If it’s another hit, Player One can continue until she calls out a reference for a block that does not contain a part of a ship and her opponent lets her know that it’s a “Miss!” If she misses, she needs to mark that block on her Attack grid with an M so she can keep track of what part of her opponent’s grid she has already attacked.
Now it is her opponent’s turn to attack, and play continues until one player’s entire fleet has been sunk.
For two or more players.
Draw up a grid of dots like this: You can change the number of dots to suit yourself, but make it more or less square.
Players take turns to draw a line to connect two dots – either horizontally or vertically, but not diagonally. In choosing where to draw a line, you want to prevent your opponent from being able to form a square with her next line. If a player manages to complete a square, she puts her initial in the square and has another turn until she can no longer make a square with a single line.
Initially, it is quite easy to find a place to draw a line that will not enable your opponent to make a square, but eventually, it becomes impossible. Then, you must choose a least worst scenario – placing your line where your opponent can make a square or two, but not go ahead and complete the whole grid.
Just play it a couple of times and the strategies needed will become very clear.
The winner is the one with the most squares formed (count up the initials).
A pack of cards is probably the single most useful item to take with you when holidaying with children. My children are quite grown up now, but I still never stir without a pack in my handbag. If the charge on my iPad runs out, I can always play Solitaire.
For at least three players.
You are trying to collect sets of all four cards of each number – all the 4s, all the Queens, etc. The player with the most sets wins.
Deal 5 cards to each player. Place the remaining cards in a pile face down between you.
Players can look at their cards and sort them into groups by number. It is very important not to let anyone else see your cards.
Player One decides which number she is going to collect first. She MUST have at least one of the cards in her hand already in order to start a collection. Let’s say, she decides to collect 3s. She can ask any other player to give her all of his 3s. If that player has any 3s, he must hand over ALL of them. If he has none, he says, “Go Fish” and the asking player must pick up a card from the pile. If the asking player is given a card her turn continues and she can ask any other player for any other number cards (bearing in mind she must hold at least one of that number in her hand). If she has to pick up, it is the next player’s turn to ask.
If players pay attention, they can work out who is holding which cards, based on what numbers the others ask for.
Once a player has collected a set of four same number cards, she places them face down in front of her.
Once all the sets have been collected, they are counted and the player with the most sets is the winner.
Beggar My Neighbour
For two or more players.
The aim of the game is to get all the cards.
The whole pack of cards is dealt equally between the players.
Players should not look at their cards. They just place them in a pile, face down in front of them.
Player One places a card face upwards in the centre.
If it is an ordinary number card, the next player places a card face upwards on top of it.
If it is an Ace, the next player must put 4 cards down, one at a time. If it is a King, the next player must put down 3 cards, a Queen, 2 cards and a Jack, 1 card.
So, for example, if Player One lays an Ace, Player Two must start placing four cards down. If all four of the cards are ordinary number cards, Player One gets to pick up the whole pile of placed cards and put them at the bottom of his pile.
But if Player Two lays one of the cards mentioned above, then Player Three (or Player One again if there are just two people playing) must start laying the number of cards as specified above.
Again, if all the cards laid are ordinary, Player Two gets to scoop up the whole pile of cards and play another card from the top of her pile, but if a royal card is laid, play moves on to the next player who must start placing cards on the table.
The game is over once one player has collected all the cards.
The above explanation is quite complicated, but the game is, in fact, really simple and suitable for younger children. It is also a real equalizer as no skill is required – winning is pure luck – and it is impossible to cheat!
You may know this game as “Old Maid” – but I think that’s a dreadfully sexist name, so I’ve changed it.
For three or more players
The aim of the game is to avoid being named as the Old Goat by being left with one King in your hand.
First, remove three King cards from the pack so that there is only one left.
Next, deal the entire pack equally among the players.
Players should sort through their cards and remove any pairs they find. Pairs should be placed face down in front of you. It doesn’t matter how many you have or how many single cards you are left with.
Take care that no one sees the cards you are left with. Hold them in a fan, but keep them close to your chest to prevent any peeping. If you are holding the single King, make no sign that you have him. Secrecy is key.
Player One holds out her hand to Player Two (not showing the fronts of the cards, of course). Player Two should take one of the cards (any one he chooses). If this card makes a pair with one in his hand, he should remove the pair from his hand and put it down on his pair pile.
If it happens to be the King, he should NOT react. He must keep a poker face. He does not want the other players to know he has it, as he will then struggle to pass it on.
Player Two now holds out his hand to Player Three to choose a card.
Keep an eye on how people select cards. If you notice that the person who is taking cards from you always chooses from the middle of the fan, say, that could be very helpful information when it comes to trying to make them select the King and relieve you of its presence, should you be unlucky enough to have picked it. If everyone manages to keep a straight face the King can go round and round the circle without it being generally known. This delicious secret is part of the fun of the game.
If a player succeeds in pairing up all of her cards, she is out of the game and safe.
Eventually there will be just two players left with three cards between them and then a final showdown occurs with a nail-biting choice to be made. You can shuffle the cards around behind your back and use whatever technique you can think of to try and make your opponent pick the King.
The player who is left with just the King and no other cards is the old goat.
[A note on the personal pronoun: For these game rules, I tried to use s/he his/her, etc, but it made already complicated instructions completely unintelligible. I have chosen to alternate between female and male instead.]