Forget motoring with Monopoly or touring with Trivial Pursuit. The perfect travel game is quiet, keeps kids entertained for hours, doesn’t take up much space, and has a limited number of pieces. It plays as well on the vacation-cabin floor as on the go. And it requires neither parental participation nor a referee (parental or otherwise). With the help of my daughters (ages 4 and 7) and some older volunteers (up to age 16), I played dozens of travel games, both preshrunk classics and specially tailored originals, in cars and on airplanes. Though no travel game is perfect for every child, we found that some come closer than others.
This poker-like game, played with five dice, enables players to try for combinations like five of a kind (”Yahtzee!”) or a straight. The travel version has been enclosed in a dice roller that makes the dice impossible to lose. It’s such fun that even those too young for strategy and logic may fight for a turn shaking and snapping. A
Pre-readers like this simple game (similar to Concentration), redesigned for the road in a neat little case. Half-inch doors hide pictures of cats, strawberries, and other preschool favorites, which children try to match. Like many miniaturized games, this one is a little delicate. Unlike most, however, Memory comes with extra pieces. Good thing, too, since we broke one on assembly. B+
This miniature version of the mechanical drawing toy is so cute it’s almost lovable. The 4 5/8” by 3 1/2” case holds red and blue pens, six drawing gears, and a pad of Post-it notes, which stick inside the top frame for drawing thousands of geometric designs. Before you know it, intricate patterns will flower on car windows and seat backs. But the age range is optimistic; most 5-year-olds aren’t dexterous enough to manipulate the wheels and gears in the confines of a car. B+
Etch A Sketch
In considering fancy solutions to backseat boredom, it’s easy to overlook such venerable games as Etch A Sketch. The drawing game’s advantages are that it is neat, silent, and infinitely reusable. Its disadvantage, as always, is that drawing curves is darn near impossible. Games and Puzzles overlays that fit atop the Etch A Sketch screen include simple connect-the-dot games, mazes, and tracing games — all of which lead children to the ultimate point: thinking creatively. B
Trouble is a basic board game in which each player has four markers that must circle the board; the first to get all four to the finish wins. The rules require more patience than many children possess. To get each marker started, a player must roll a six, which means an unlucky child can sit through much of a game unable to play at all. In its travel version, Trouble can be even more troublesome. A slightly bumpy road — or slippery fingers — and the pieces go flying. And if you lose one piece, the game is ruined. C-
Battleship is the most egregious example I found of shrinking without thinking — the pieces are so tiny, they’re practically impossible to manipulate. The game’s object is to guess the location of ships hidden on an opponent’s ”ocean grid.” But it’s difficult to play in the car without giving away your position, and, when the game is held as demonstrated, the pieces fall like rain through a hole in the bottom of the case. As if that weren’t annoying enough, the dye from the pieces came off all over this Mom’s hands. F