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The best games to play outdoors this summer, wherever you are and whatever the weather

Beach? Picnic? Hotel room? Torrential downpour? There’s a game for that.

Image credit: Indie Boards & Cards/Mindware/Gamewright/Asmodee/Iello/Dicebreaker/

It’s almost summer, which means half the planet is entering into the part of the year that makes the rest of it worth it. But since so many of us have a very short window in which to fit in our outdoor fun, it does make it a touch harder to justify spending your time indoors.

The best outdoor games to play...

Not every board game on the market is a beefy Twilight Imperium or Star Wars: Imperial Assault with a million pieces that can get blown away or lost in an airport. If you are travelling or enjoying the spring weather and you need to get your fix, the best outdoor games can provide.

Whether you’re hitting the road, getting some fresh air with friends or you just need to play your board games at a distance for health reasons, we’ve got you covered with our breakdown of the best games to play outdoors this warm season.

Some more travel-friendly games to take with you on holidayWatch on YouTube

1. Mafia de Cuba

The best game to play outdoors… at the beach

You'll need at least six people to play this social deduction gem - but where better to find people than the beach? | Image credit: Asmodee/

For those of us brave enough to face the chilly sea at home (or warmer waves abroad), the beach is a tempting place to bring a game. But beyond all the concerns of losing pieces in the great outdoors, the beach brings new risks for our beloved games: water damage and sand. In choosing an outdoor game for the seaside, avoid games that require you to put things down on the ground - or risk being cursed with finding sand in the box in perpetuity.

In this respect, Mafia de Cuba is a phenomenal choice. This adorable little box is, despite demanding a bureaucratic six to 12 players, the perfect component-light game for high-stakes social deduction. In Mafia de Cuba, the players are mobsters whose boss, the Godfather, has been robbed of his priceless collection of diamonds. Some of the people at the table are loyal innocents to the godfather and try to help him recover the loot, some are diamond thieves blending in, and a few are undercover cops trying to shut the whole operation down.

One of the best features of Mafia de Cuba is that, unlike other social deduction games where it’s luck of the draw, players get to decide their own role every game. A round starts with the players passing around a box of cigars and drawing either a poker chip representing their role or any number of diamonds — players can decide for themselves whether to be a good guy, a traitor or an attention-seeking diva who steals all the diamonds and tries not to crack under the pressure of interrogation.

Buy Mafia de Cuba on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

2. King of Tokyo

The best game to play outdoors… in a tent

King of Tokyo's neon green energy cubes and monster standees look especially cool when illuminated by torchlight. | Image credit: Iello/

Compared to some environments on this list, the tent is a fairly tame environment to bust out a board game. But if tents have one point of failure, it’s lighting. Unless you and your friends are hardcore indoor cats, you’re likely to be spending the bulk of your camping trip’s daylight hours outside. By the time you retire to your tent, it’s pitch black, illuminated only by the dim and shaky glow of your friends’ flashlights. Any game you play in your tent, then, is going to be one of big, chunky components that won’t get lost in the recesses of your sleeping bag.

King of Tokyo is a game with colourful creatures, a pleasantly light rulebook and a smattering of custom dice and cardboard standees that aren’t likely to get lost after even the most rage-filled of table-flips. Players take on the role of giant kaiju smashing Tokyo to pieces, battling each other in a push-your-luck, last-monster-standing dice game. Stealing the coveted centre of the board grants a deluge of victory points and lets you strike at everyone else in the game, but it also makes you the target of everyone else. Do you thrust yourself into the centre of the action and take the punches of the other two to six monsters? Or do you hang back, bide your time and charge up your energy to buy cards with cool abilities?

For an approachable, thematic and action-packed game that emphasises portability, look no further than King of Tokyo. And with a lovely 30-minute playing time, your friends will be wrapped up by the time you decide to shut out the lights and turn in for the night.

Buy King of Tokyo on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

3. Forbidden Desert

The best game to play outdoors… at a picnic

Despite its arid theme, Forbidden Desert is ideal for the more verdant surroundings of a forest or field, too. | Image credit: Gamewright/

Playing a board game at a picnic poses two main challenges: first, it is very hard to balance components and/or a flimsy fold-out board on the grass, and second, the other players have ample opportunity to spit in your food. The solution? A cooperative game that is, though not necessarily light on components, easy to set up and not dependent on anything standing upright on an unmowed lawn.

To satisfy this, consider Matt Leacock’s revered Forbidden Desert. Masterfully improving on the shortcomings of its predecessor Forbidden Island, Desert is a role-based co-op that sees two to five players racing against time, sandstorms and the horrific reality of dehydration in the hopes of rebuilding an ancient airship and escaping a desert teeming with danger. You and your friends will navigate across a beautifully modular barren landscape, tracking down components of the ship and collecting cool gadgets to give you a fighting chance at not dying from exposure.

Because of the game’s clever tile design, you can spread out the board over basically any surface and still play unimpeded. The game is hardly overcomplicated, and its short playtime makes it perfect for a post-lunch activity. It is worth mentioning that Forbidden Desert does suffer from some issues of “quarterbacking” whereby the most experienced players tend to nudge new players in the optimal direction, but the huge amount of uncertainty in the game’s exploration mechanics have done a lot to negate this problem.

Buy Forbidden Desert on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

4. Qwirkle

The best game to play outdoors… in the pouring rain

Qwirkle's robust components - including wooden tiles and a drawstring bag - mean it'll stand up to less than perfect weather. | Image credit: Mindware/

Anyone who’s ever popped down to their friendly local game shop has probably been exposed to the one true rule of tabletop games: keep liquids away. As such, when you’re caught out in the rain and get that itch to game, your options are limited if you don’t want the owner of the box to skin you alive. Fret not, however, for not every board game on Earth is dependent on delicate paper and cardboard.

An oldie but a goodie, Qwirkle is a tile-based matching game that’s essentially Scrabble minus the infuriating disparity between you and your friends’ vocabulary skills. You and one opponent will take turns to vye to out-pattern each other with tiles of assorted colour and shape. Score points for each set of colours or shapes that you add to, with the twist that you score more points depending on how far they progress the set with each move. Add that to the fact that finishing off a set is worth double points (a “Qwirkle”), and you’ve got a clever game that is as easy to learn as it is hard to master.

The primary draw here in the context of outdoor play is the component design. The entirety of the game is playable with a huge set of wooden tiles, conveniently stored in a cloth drawstring sack. You don’t even need to keep the box! Simply sling it over your shoulder, bring it out to the rainiest jungle you dare to tread into and play a round on the muddy forest floor. Trust us, one quick rinse and your game will be as good as new.

Buy Qwirkle on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

5. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective

The best game to play outdoors… on a road trip

Swap your road atlas for a map of Victorian London, and you're set to play Consulting Detective instead of I Spy. (Please don't block the windscreen or distract the driver!) | Image credit: Space Cowboys/

When it comes to game components in the car, all bets are off. Between bumpy country roads and the driver’s erratic swerving for motorway exits, it’s safe to assume that no tokens, miniatures or human dignity will survive a long car journey. Consequently, the real meat of a game played on the road will need to be played primarily in the realm of the players’ imaginations.

All these years later, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective continues to wow players with its high quality yet low-hassle components. In Consulting Detective players will be working as understudies to detective Holmes, attempting to solve incredibly challenging cases by wandering around the streets of London. The vehicle will be briefed on the details of some gruesome crime, given a handful of details and anecdotes by Mr. Holmes himself, and then be given free rein to explore London and go to any location— any shop, any park, any home— to scrounge together more details until the pieces of the puzzle slide into place. (Or not. The game is very hard.)

Consulting Detective is a must-buy even if just for the beautiful components. All you need to solve your case is the case briefing book, your A-Z map of London, a directory book and your copy of the day’s newspaper. Even the driver can play along (don’t drive distracted) as they listen to the shotgun passenger relay an interesting news article to the group or read out the autopsy report of a murder. The energy of the game all rests in the thoughts and conversations of the players. And on an endless stretch of highway, such intellectually stimulating conversation might be just what you need.

Buy Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

6. Coup

The best game to play outdoors… uh, indoors, in a hotel room

Coup's suitcase-sized box, approachable rules and rowdy bluffing is perfect for the hotel bar after you return from your latest excursion. | Image credit: Indie Boards & Cards/ Nondakowit

It’s late at night. You’ve been out with friends checking out the city’s nightlife - you’ve been to the bar (and perhaps three to four more bars), you’re tired out from dancing and, despite your climate-controlled lodgings with free access to a table, you don’t want to play anything hard or bulky (not that such games would even fit in your suitcase). Instead, you just want a game where you can play a few quick rounds over one last beer, yell at your friends, and feel one last moment of triumph before heading to bed.

No list of travel-friendly board games would be complete without the legendary Coup, a crowd-friendly card game of greed, bluffing and some of the meanest ganging-up mechanics in contemporary tabletop gaming. Players take the role of the social elite in a far-future oligarchy, vying for control in a vicious cycle of raising revenue, attacking other players, and attempting to remove their precious advisors. Your main resource in Coup is your hand of cards - just two per person - and if you run out of cards through the actions of your opponents, you are out of the game. Each of your cards has a special power but, critically, you are allowed and encouraged to cheat by lying about which card you have. You can claim to have an assassin who can knock out an opponent’s card for a cheap price. But if they call you on your lie, then it’s you who has to lose a card.

Coup is a masterclass in portability and accessibility. The rounds are so fast yet incredibly tense, the game has virtually no setup and the rules are so simple that the game gives every player their own personal player aid that contains basically everything they need to know. This makes Coup not just great for your drunk friends, but also the perfect friend-making hostel game: call over the other travellers, explain the game in less time than it takes to explain checkers, and win some new travel companions (provided that you don’t lose them by lying to their face repeatedly over four games).

Buy Coup on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

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