Ensure your meeples are strapped in firmly -- this could be a long trip.
OK, empty that travel bag out. Where we’re going, you won’t need miniature toothpaste or a USB charger (but maybe keep that deodorant handy, still). You see, while we can’t live out our globetrotting fantasies right now, it’s entirely possible to tour the world via our favorite hobby. Collected below are our favorite regional board games to take you on that trip.
Intercontinental board games to help you travel the world
As your travel guides on this journey, we’ve done our best to rate the worldwide board games below based on how accurately the sights and systems they offer replicate the real locale.
Go island hopping in Santorini
An island this gorgeous basking in the Aegean Sea? It could only be the work of the gods. That’s the thinking behind building-placing strategy game Santorini, anyway. Plonking down 3D structures atop a shared grid, two teams of players shimmy their workers about and call upon the gods of Ancient Greece as they race to complete a three-story structure.
As you might expect after reading literally anything about Zeus and his ilk, the mischievous pantheon is far more likely to cause chaos than assist in construction. Ares was never famous for his DIY skills, after all. Blocking and destabilizing your opponents is all fair game, so long as your side is the first to cap a building with an azure dome
Real-worldliness Rating: It’s almost insulting how gorgeous the actual Santorini is, which means plastic miniatures never had a fair shot at competing. That said, the board game nails the iconic blue and white palette. Plastered across such a mishmash of heights, it feels like staring at an M.C. Escher art piece in the best way possible. Plus, visiting the real locale and losing at Santorini are both liable to leave you feeling salty. 4/5
Explore the stunning wilderness in Parks
If you’re quite done lazing around in the Mediterranean, it’s time to strap on those hiking boots. A banquet of wilderness, Parks sees players travelling through beautiful biomes in the USA. Each stop along the linear conveyor belt of mother nature will net you tokens representing the elements and landscapes you’ve born witness to. Collect enough and you can earn the right to visit one of the available parks and claim its victory points. That’s right, just like in the real world, only one human may ever visit each national park.
It’s not uncommon for popular tourist spots to sell their own themed packs of cards or even Monopoly sets. No strangers to long walks, however, the US national parks went far beyond the extra mile to support a stunning official art collection and a brilliant board game, too. Featuring designs from the official 59 Parks Print Series, Parks is easily one of the best-looking board games in existence.
Real-worldliness Rating: While Parks does feature plenty of official artwork to drool over, the system of visiting enough nature in advance to justify each park trip is an odd one. You’re telling us we need to visit three mountain ranges before they’ll even open the gates to the Arctic National Park? As far as we’re aware, the real parks aren’t filled with snobbish nature-lovers just waiting to check your hiking credentials. 3/5
Admire the stained glass of Sagrada
A stained reputation isn’t typically a good thing, but the Sagrada Família loves to prove an exception. The real building was never even finished and people still flock from around the world to admire its colorful glass sheets! Designers Daryl Andrews & Adrian Adamescu were clearly fed up with seeing a job half done, so in Sagrada all players must pitch in by filling their own stained glass windows with clear, colored dice in the most efficient manner possible.
There’s a sizable contingent out there who’d argue that art is just the mathematics of beauty, and in Sagrada’s case they’d be right. Picking dice from a shared pool, you must place them in accordance with the numbers and colors dictated by your chosen mat. On top of that, no adjacent spots can share number or color. Options will dwindle over the course of the game, meaning the last few rounds are rolled in an increasing panic as you pray for a specific combo of color and digit. Leave any space blank, and you’ll be losing vital points.
Real-worldliness Rating: Stained glass windows unveil their true majesty in the sun. Fittingly. Sagrada’s dice tableaus, too, are best enjoyed outside on a gleaming day. The arrested construction of the real building had to contend with the Spanish civil war and destruction of the original plans and models. Things won’t get quite so serious in Sagrada, but finishing a higher-difficulty mat is still a serious test of planning and luck. Thankfully, no one here is liable to burn down your efforts unless you’re friends with some particularly grumpy gamers. 4/5
Take a tour of Tokaido’s coastal sights and tastes
If you think golf is the best example of a good walk spoiled, you clearly haven’t played a close game of Tokaido. Japan’s famous eastern sea route serves as the main inspiration -- given it links the nation's former and current major cities -- to designer Antoine Bauza’s chilled-out board game. As your feet guide you from Kyoto to Edo, you’ll make regular stops to sample local delicacies, purchase souvenirs, simmer in a hot spring, or even put brush to canvas as you work on your masterpiece.
Each activity offers a component toward point-scoring sets, but there’s a key problem preventing you from bumbling slowly through every stop available: your fellow travelers. Commuters are, notoriously, a rather grumpy lot; they won’t suffer anyone else joining them at most locations. Excuse me, madam, but you’re ruining the serenity of this mountain. Please move along. What results is a battle of passive-aggressive positioning as travellers block each other off from the sets they’re hoping to collect or that crucial chance to refill their money purse.
Real-worldliness Rating: Today, the Tokaido route remains the nation’s busiest transport corridor. Unfortunately, that means it’s been upgraded for the modern day and is, understandably, covered in cars and trains. That may not be a bad thing, but it does place a game of Tokaido quite far from a real-life visit. 2/5 -- unless you’re reading this in the 1600s.
Enjoy sun, sand, and sea in Santa Monica
Seafronts are prime tourist destinations, and Santa Monica’s is arguably the most famous in North America. Famous doesn’t mean best, however, and board gaming’s take on this particular strip of sand gives you the chance to outdo the real thing. Santa Monica sees you choosing pier or beach cards from a shared supply, slotting them into two sandy rows to add and move tourists or score points based on their surrounding attractions.
Deciding between a volleyball net or parasols is about as tough as it gets. With only a few options to puzzle over each turn, Santa Monica is a cool summer breeze of a game that’s ideal for occupying your hands while making conversation. Chains and combos scale upwards as your pier expands outward, but never to a degree that’d set your brain sweating.
Real-worldliness Rating: Piers can prove noisy, chaotic places, but Santa Monica smartly opts to highlight the entire beachfront rather than a single, packed outcropping. With colorful-yet-mellow art to match, the result conveys the lazy weekend feeling of strolling down a lane of shops in the sunshine. Only here you can magically summon a fish and chip shop into existence -- ideal. 5/5
Let Lisboa guide you from ruins to glory
The city of Lisbon is in ruins. After an earthquake fractured the foundations, fires and a subsequent tsunami have left little more than detritus in their wake. The good news is that your board gaming friends will oversee the reconstruction of this commercial and cultural hub. You, er, did take those architecture and governance courses, didn’t you?
Set after the 1775 Lisbon earthquake, Lisboa tasks players -- taking the roles of wealthy noble families -- with revitalizing and modernizing the city over a period of 22 years. An unquestionably heavy game, your hand of cards can be used for an overwhelming number of actions. Clear rubble; obtain blueprints to construct buildings; or even engage in a spot of bribery to convince the King to act in your favor. After all, there’s no time like a disaster for a rich noble to exploit underhanded tactics. Your reward for all that hard work? The biggest pile of wigs. An upstanding Georgian citizen really couldn’t ask for more.
Real-worldliness Rating: Rocking up to your hotel only to find a pile of rubble and several angry men in wigs is, well, not an ideal holiday situation. Lisboa doesn’t exactly get better on that front, handing you the keys to the city-planning department instead of, say, a wine glass. An enjoyable time, but we’re banking on a lack of earthquakes when we make the trip for real. 1/5
Have any other cardboard port of calls caught your eye? Let us know your choices on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Be sure to check out the Going Analog Podcast as well for the latest board game chit chat.
When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Gloomhaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found gobbling up all the latest and greatest party games, then wondering why he can never find the time to actually play them with friends. Share your love of deck builders with him on Twitter @Fernoface or drop an email to email@example.com.