Great games for cruisers

games on Totem

Entertainment on our cruising boat is pretty low tech. Oh, we watch some of the movies and TV series, but a lot of our fun and games as a family are the kind that doesn’t have a screen or need a power supply.

It occurred me this last week, as I watched our kids playing with their new friends from sv Water Musick (that’s Bananagram happening in the Totem main cabin, above), that having some idea starters for those games to bring on board would have been one of those really nice-to-knows before we went cruising. 
Cards are a great way to pack a lot of fun into a minimum of storage space. We have always been big card players and spread the fun of our family’s Chicago Rummy tournament to three continents. Priorities, you know. The kids have started playing in adult tables around age 9 or 10. There seem to be a lot of pictures on the hard drive of Chicago Rummy being played at lovely anchorages between here and Seattle: this one in Fiji, with Oso Blanco and IO.

What a surprise... we're playing cards!
Simple card games like Uno and Spot-It are a great way to make friends when you don’t share a common language. When we have a spare set, it’s a great gift to leave behind after a fun afternoon- something to remember you by.

Playing on Totem

We’ll play cribbage pretty much anywhere. Siobhan (age 9) skunks me if I’m not paying attention. She continued her streak of cribbage domination on the beach in Langkawi last week.


Apples to Apples (which will always remind me of rainy afternoon funfriends on board Ceilydh), Pirate Fluxx, and Dutch Blitz are more card games that while aimed for kids, are absolutely fun for Jamie and me as well. Lately we’ve had fun playing the card gamne version of Monopoly as well: the themes are the same, but cards fit on a locker more easily than a playing board. 

One game that is decidedly not for the junior set is Cards Against Humanity. When I saw this picture of my bloggy friend Charlotte playing, I knew we had to give this one a try. I can almost guarantee: you WILL laugh as hard as she is laughing here.

photo thanks to Charlotte and Eric of sv Rebel Heart

To quote Charlotte: “If you haven’t played this game yet, strap on your big-kid panties, imbibe something potent, and play it with some whip-smart friends. ” Her advance warning that this was NC/17 was is good to know… it might not hurt to be of generally the same shade of the political spectrum, too. The McCanns brought a set when they came to visit us in Borneo and we’ve been looking for excuses to play it ever since. I have never heard Jamie laugh so hard!

In Mexico,we were introduced to Mexican Train dominoes. I don’t know that this is particularly Mexican, but it was popular among cruisers and a great all-ages game where the kids could compete with adults. It doesn’t use any old set of dominoes, so it took a while before we had our own set. I’ve lost count of the times we’ve played dominoes in our cockpit, washed by a warm breeze.

We do have some board games: they’ve grown up and moved along as they were no longer age appropriate. Our days of Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and Sorry are over. Max the Cat was just passed to our friends with a younger age of kids on board. Settlers of Catan, Axis and Allies, and chess have taken their place. Scrabble, too, but we find Banagram to be even more fun and easier to play across different spelling levels- not to mention,  much more compact and travel friendly!
When we started cruising, we migrated a subset of the games we had onto the boat. Before we left, I used a box cutter to cut and score boards so that we could stow them in quarter size, not as the default half. Use a bag for the playing pieces, and it all fits MUCH better in a locker that way.

The simple truth is that we have a lot more time to play games together, with our friends or as a family. I don’t remember playing games nearly this much as a child. It’s certainly nothing we had the time for in our fully scheduled lives before cruising. Why not make plans for family game night this weekend?

14 Responses

  1. Definitely imbibe something strong for Cards Against Humanity. It’s hilarious, but completely NOT politically correct. Also it will make you think about why you think things are funny, or not. Or maybe I just think too much.
    Love scrabble, ourselves. Mainly because when we play, I always win. It’s the only game I can beat Mike at regularly.
    Great post, and love the photos of your kids playing with other kids. Good ones to whip out when people question the wisdom of rearing children aboard a sailboat.

  2. We aren’t cruisers, but we do our share of traveling…one really fun game that fits in my carry on easily is Bowling Dice! We even get my dad, who doesn’t like games, to play! And Apples to Apples is always a fave.

  3. I’ve ALWAYS been a big fan of games. Since you mentioned Settlers, I am thinking you are not afraid of some what tougher games. If you like Settlers, you will LOVE Iron Dragon. The toughest game to play but one of the most interesting is the Lord of the Rings game. It takes a few play throughs to get it all as the rules are nuanced but it is super cool as it is a cooperative game. Zombie Dice is a fun, fast small game that works well when under sail. Just a few dice and a cup and you get to eat brains. If you want to laugh while building your vocabulary- Balderdash. Its one of my favorites to play with witty friends.If you have not gotten your kids hooked on Munchkin yet, you need to.
    Did I mention I love games?

  4. Card games scare me… I’m too ADHD to keep in the game. I’d rather knit and watch and give hints to others. People always worry about me or feel obligated to work me into the game… really I’m fine knitting and watching on the sidelines. I do play a mean game of Mexican Train though.

  5. This is super inspiring! This comment isn’t directly related to games – pls bear with me. How much sailing experience do you recommend before making cruising a family goal? How do you build up to it?

    1. People go cruising with all manner of sailing experience, from nearly none to decades. Experience isn’t a deciding factor in being a successful cruiser. I think the most important thing, if you don’t have a lot of experience, is to make sure it’s something you have done enough to know your family will all be happy doing. Ideally you should spend time on skills building to get beyond the basics and get comfortable in different conditions, hopefully in a controlled way, to reduce the chance you get into very uncomfortable or flat out bad conditions that end up scary (if not dangerous) and put your family off cruising completely…while giving you more confidence. How much experience that takes will be different for different people.

      Whatever your approach, remember that a lot of learning happens through doing. We had a *lot* of years of sailing between us before we went cruising, but learned SO MUCH the first year, and we keep learning all the time. What you learn as a coastal beginner and a longer distance cruiser is different- but, constantly learning is one of the joys of this life for me! There are a whole different set of boat skills from racing to cruising, and especially a whole new set of life skills. Don’t feel like you have to be an expert, just know your limits and be willing to try.

Comments are closed.