Earlier this month, the coronavirus and a snowstorm trapped my husband and me inside our one-bedroom home above Lake Tahoe in Nevada. We canceled our travel plans through summer and celebrated my sister-in-law’s 40th birthday over FaceTime. And as 5 feet of snow piled up and update upon update about the coronavirus grew into an even larger pile of anxiety, we fought cabin fever by curing a fictional pandemic.
We were relying on a time-honored way to entertain ourselves: the humble board game. In this instance, it was the frighteningly relevant Pandemic, which whisks two players or teams around the globe while they work together to save the human race from disease.
Social distancing and self-isolation are crucial to slowing the spread of the coronavirus. And as millions of Americans forgo travel and worry about COVID-19’s effects, we’ll be confined at home with crushing stress and none of the distraction that vacations or weekend trips can bring.
Enter travel board games, which allow us to embark on imaginary journeys or learn about the people and places we dream of visiting. Since the first time we passed by the Gumdrop Mountains in Candy Land or strolled the streets of London in Monopoly, we learned that every board game with a trail offers a voyage with a payoff. Through these games, we can travel anywhere from our living rooms – and we won’t even need a visa to visit Carcassonne or settle in Catan.
“One of the great things about travel games is they tend to be some of the more thematic games out there and often have very nice art,” said Antonio Uriarte, a game guru at Victory Point Cafe in Berkeley, California. “If those of us stuck in isolation can feel more immersed in the experience of getting out there and seeing different parts of the world, I think there is a lot of value in that for a lot of people.”
Games in general give us a chance to connect and be fully present with our family or roommates. They provide a temporary respite from the barrage of news and a distraction from monotony. “Focusing on something that helps take your mind to another place is a very helpful escape right now,” Uriarte said. Suddenly, that trivia game doesn’t seem so trivial.
Games are available at local stores (check pandemic-related guidance and closures in your area) and online from specialty retailers such as Cardhaus Games and Game Surplus and from general retailers. BoardGameGeek is a good site for searching by themes, reading reviews and browsing forums.
Here are some travel-related games that can help us mentally escape our confines as we stay home to fight a real pandemic. Just wash your hands before packing your imaginary bags.
PandemicEven before COVID-19, Pandemic was one of the most popular cooperative board games. Two players or teams treat outbreaks in major cities from Washington to Istanbul to Tokyo. Fight the unpredictable spread to cure four viruses and save humanity. Dark humor, cathartic or triggering? You decide. But if it helps you cope with the real thing, several expansion sets are available. (2-4 players, ages 8 and up. From $36.)
Ticket to RideAnother game suited for two players, the original Ticket to Ride challenges you to race your opponents in a train travel romp to North American cities. With more than two dozen versions available for Africa, Asia, India, Europe and beyond, the game has its own little empire. “Ticket to Ride First Journey” is for wee rail riders. (2-5 players, ages 8 and up. From $41.)
TokaidoIn Tokaido, journey along Japan’s coastal road between Tokyo and Kyoto. “You’re actually taking a vacation in Japan,” Donahue said. “As you stop at places along the road, you experience the culture.” Meander the countryside, soak in hot springs, savor panoramas, sleep at inns, buy souvenirs and sample local cuisines. (2-5 players, ages 8 and up. From $33.)
Trekking the National ParksTake your family on a road trip in Trekking the National Parks. Collect cards that allow you to move around the United States and claim parks or be the first to visit parks, which earns you victory points. Trekking the National Parks Trivia is also available. (2-5 players, ages 10 and up. From $44.)
PARKSCan’t visit Yosemite? Hike year-round in PARKS and collect memories, observe wildlife and appreciate sites. Share campfire stories around your table. Recommended by Victory Point Cafe game gurus, PARKS can be challenging to find but showcases gorgeous Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series artwork. (1-5 players, ages 10 and up. From $63.)
7 WondersIn beautiful 7 Wonders, lead one of antiquity’s great cities. Using resources, trade and military might, build civilizations that will allow you to construct the Seven Wonders of the World, from the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the Great Pyramid of Giza. 7 Wonders Duel is two player-appropriate. (2-7 players, ages 10 and up. From $43.)
The Quest for El DoradoSometimes, the entire game is a journey. In deck-building the Quest for El Dorado, race across South American jungles to be first to the golden city. Players begin with the same cards that they use to continue their expeditions and add new cards. (2-4 players, ages 10 and up. From $19.99.)
The Voyages of Marco PoloIn the historical adventure game the Voyages of Marco Polo, follow routes that the Italian explorer took. When you arrive in certain cities, earn special abilities and different victory points. The complex game features resource trading, and rolling dice allows you to choose different actions. (2-4 players, ages 13 and up. From $43.)
Professor Noggin’s Wonders of the WorldThis trivia card game is a family favorite because options for easier questions level the playing field between adults and kids. Professor Noggin’s Wonders of the World is only one version; others offer lessons about countries, civilizations, geography, rainforests and explorers. (2-8 players, ages 7 and up. From $12.)
Passport to CultureLearn about every country from your living room in Passport to Culture, which contains more than 600 questions. Correct answers earn you a passport stamp. The player with the most stamps wins, but the game’s objective is to help you better understand people from different cultures – always a winner. (2-6 players or teams, ages 10 and up. From $30.)
Terraforming MarsSolo player? All is not lost. In Terraforming Mars, become an expat of an extreme travel destination: the Red Planet. To succeed in making Mars hospitable, pay attention to oxygen, temperature and greenery. “This somewhat complicated game is fascinating from a scientific perspective,” Donahue said. (1-5 players, ages 12 and up. From $42.)
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed IslandAnother one-player option, Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island’s inspiration is one of the most famous literary travel misadventures. Shipwrecked as one of four crew members, feed and protect yourself from weather and wild animals, build shelters and make tools. Survive by yourself or by cooperating with other players to stay healthy, a fitting allegory for our times. (1-4 players, ages 14 and up. From $46.)