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Survival is a game with the highest stakes: Gaming in the bush to stay sane.

Scenario #1
Its 6pm.  Dinner is a soggy mess and your campfire is flooded.  The tarp shelter is holding up OK but no one seems interested in braving the rain one more time to look for or do… anything.

Survival Games

After breaking out dry food, candy bars, MRE’s, Mountain House or what ever else you can salvage you Stop, Think, Organize, Plan and Act. There are little kids here about to have a really unhappy camping trip with you! Stop. Deep breath. Calm everyone down, get them thinking, doing, something else while you Think of how to salvage what was suppose to be some quality dirt time with friends and family. You search your pack hoping you remembered to bring it.  There it is!  Sealed in a Ziploc and ready to go.  Thankfully you have a plan. This will keep everyone busy while you get the ball rolling on salvaging what is left of dinner. “Who wants to play a game?”

Scenario #2

The day was perfect a crisp, cold morning of hunting.  The deer you harvested is butchered and the evening is setting in.  Soon you’ll be trudging back to the cabin with the others and starting up a nightly game of poker.  Ethan will win again.  He always does but he is a good sport about it and his skill as camp cook forgives a lot. This time your ready for him.  When everyone sits down after dinner they can’t help but wonder what is in the bag you brought to the game.  Cracks about ‘gold nuggets for table stakes’ make the round of the table.  Then you pull out the dice and pieces to the new game you brought.  Even Ethan looks interested as he motions for you to explain and sets away the playing cards. “Who wants to play a game?”

Scenario #3

Frank’s fingers got tired of playing guitar after an hour and the hike really took it out of you guys today.  Some of the group start to set up for getting some shut-eye while a few talk quietly by the fire, not yet ready to turn in so early.  Everyone talks quietly so as not to disturb the others.  Some one else offers to play Frank’s guitar, but it would probably wake people up who were trying to sleep. Besides, nobody plays a six string as good as Frank. Smiling at the opportunity you whip a small box out of your pack. Your glad it is light weight kept it on your pack list this trip.  Its time to have some quick fun.  Everyone looks up to see what your bringing to the firelight. “Who wants to play a game?”

Scenario #4

2 Weeks on some forsaken hillside.  The OP has been manned up and running and you and your team are set up on rotating watches off the road a mile  below.  Your an early warning’ trip wire’.  There is nothing to do but watch, report in. watch, eat., Watch, etc etc,   Intel says the enemy has been getting smarter and more sophisticated so orders are to keep the EM emissions low.  No cells, video games or “extraneous radio chatter ‘.  You knew by day four the men would start to grumble on their down time off-watch. There isn’t enough room to lay out your usual Warhammer 40k game. Time to play your ace in the hole.  Moving over to specialists Burns and Carter you set down the game you packed for the trip.  Thanks to you Prior Planning you knew that Carter is a Horror movie fan, and Burns is competitive.  You pull out the brightly colored dice. “Who wants to play a game?”


Games for the trail and field are not something most people think about.  The needed gear or food takes up a lot of your time and money for outfitting for the trip or for a bug out situation.  Those things are important.  What about after? If your going to do these things and survive to come out on the other side you are assuming that there will be an after.  I’m not talking ‘sluffing off’ when you should be getting wood or erecting a shelter or any other survival task.   If left to itself the mind will find its own entertainment ( ie: Panic). This might not be as constructive or helpful in a dire situation. Part of the ‘after’ is not being so distraught mentally that you can’t go on.  When you’ve gathered enough wood and the dark closes in, your imagination will have its way with you.  Is there something out there? Will I be found?  Are my friends here ok? Are we lost?

When you are too tired or cold a good distraction from the things you can’t change is a welcome relief.  When you can’t walk any farther you need to pass the time until you can.  That’s where a good game can help.  At home or abroad small ‘e’ emergencies like power outages can be smoothed over quite well with a game to occupy your time until things like videos and phones can come back on.  Anyone with children or teens had better plan for this eventuality in your B.O.B. or Black Out kit’s plans.

Obviously not every situation is a literal ‘dice with death’ calling for a game to be packed .  Sometimes camping with friends or family just needs a little fun added. Some general guide lines for trail games include:

Waterproof. Soggy playing cards are no fun.  Many companies make good plastic ones that are both strong and waterproof. Other games, particularly dice games, are plastic and already as waterproof as they are going to get.

Portable. Axis & Allies™  the World War II board game is not going to work on the trail.  Small games with a usually limited scope can be great trail games.  Even some not so portable ones can be stripped out of there box and packed in waterproof bags to increase there chances of surviving the journey. Heavy metal miniatures or fragile pieces are not going to work.

Relateable. Try to tailor your game choices to your audience.  Complex betting or bidding games appeal to some people but not much to kids.  Also younger theme simpler games do not always appeal to adults.  Some people find a bit of humor or satire in games fun, others not so much. Try to put yourself in their shoes.  Remember, if you travel you might have to explain the rules to your game to a audience who’s first language is not yours.  Also keep in mind that in other countries some types of games such a gambling games or ones with ‘coins’ on the table as counters during play might be perceived as gambling or violate gaming laws.

Some examples of four games that I have found that would work with these parameters are listed below.

Settlers of Catan, The dice game

Settlers of Catan

By Klaus Teuber

Publisher: Mayfair Games

This game is about building settlements, roads, cities and hiring knights to protect and develop your tiny island colony. There is no board on which you play, Every player has his own score card called or building sheet, with a small map of the island of Catan. You build by drawing the settlements and roads on your sheet.

To build requires resources. These are collected by throwing six special dice depicting the different resources.  After each roll, the player can select which dice to keep and which to roll again. In the end, he may build using the determined resources. Points are awarded for any finished roads or buildings. The tallies are recorded on the map like score sheet.

The game lasts fifteen turns or about 15-30 minutes, after which the player with the most victory points wins.  The game has been designed for 1-4 players, meaning you can play it solitaire as well.  Another factor is the fact there is no need to be able to read to play, always good for younger kids or if there is a language barrier between players such as hiking I a foreign country.

Being a dice game Catan is very portable and the deluxe version even comes in its own dice cup that closes up to travel and pack easilyThis dice game is based on the wildly popular board game The Settlers of Catan, also designed by Klaus Teuber who is arguably the Sal Glesser of game design.

Seven Dragons

Seven Dragons

By: Andrew Looney

Published: Looney Labs

Seven dragons is a card game that plays a little like dominoes.  Players start by selecting a Goal color from one of seven colored dragons. After being delt three card hand to start, the Silver Dragon card is laid out as the starting card, allowing the playing of any adjacent color dragon card next to it.

The other cards in the game feature multiple panels per card depicting artwork and the colors of the dragons they represent.  The panels on each card are a different sizes and arrangements.  On a player’s turn they draw one card and play one from their hand. Cards are laid next to each other so as to connect matching colored panels.

The winner is the first to create a connected group of seven panels matching their dragon color they have as their goal. The deck also includes Action Cards such as Move a Card, Zap a Card, Trade Hands, etc.  These allow players to cancel and move other cards in the game, even each others Goal cards. The first player to link seven dragons wins.

Seven Dragons lasts about and average of 10 minutes per player.  The game has been designed for 2-5 people.  Another great feature about this game is the included rules allow you to tailor the game for the ages of the players involved, from a simple matching variant for kids to a slightly more complex one for more experienced players.


Zombie Dice

Zombie Dice

By Steve Jackson

Published by: Steve Jackson Games

Zombie dice is a simple dice based game of pushing your luck to score before getting ‘shotgunned’.  In the game your playing a zombie out to be the first to score thirteen brains before the other players who are doing the same. You draw three dice from the included storage cup which contains the thirteen that come with the game

Simple dice icons represent ‘shotguns’ ‘feet’ or ‘brains’ meaning the human the dice represents has either shot you, ran away, or succumbed to your attack and given you his sweet, sweet brains.  By ‘letting it ride’ you may gather up non scoring dice to roll again from the cup. You risk a payoff of ‘brains’, but lose those points if you fail to stop in time.  Scoring with some dice is more difficult than others .  When you accumulate three shotgun results your turn is over.

This game is easy to teach and can be played with many ages due to its easy of letting new players in with just a turn to show how it plays




By John Montague, Cristina Ramos and Dave Schiller

Published by Moosetache Games

Hike is a nature themed family-oriented card game for 3-8 people. By way of draw and play mechanics nature springs surprises while players take a hike.

Each player is dealt seven cards and plays one on their turn. You must match a suit (birds, bugs, lakes, lights, peaks, trails or trees)  When a player cannot play a card, they are  dropped from that hand. The player with the fewest number  cards left over in hand wins the round, and a player can earn a bonus by playing all of their cards.

Essentially you are attempting to match one of three suits on your card.  This makes it easy for children to pick up and have a good chance at playing and winning, while there is still some strategy for adults.

Specialty cards in play will shake up game play keeping the game fresh.  Cards such as “Earthquake”( which shuffles the remaining cards in play) to Lost and the humorous ‘Poop’ card which Keeps the bug cards from leaving everyone’s hand at the end of play).  The only drawback for hike is the fact it is at least a three player game. Paired up outdoor gamers might have to look elsewhere for fun, or find people on the trail to game with.

If all else fails and you can’t find a game you like feel free to experiment with traditional playing cards and dice. Waterproof plastic playing cards are not hard to find (Bicycle among others has a set) and dice are so common as to be everyday objects.  Both were favorites for sailors, soldiers and travellers of the past so they have stood the test of time.  Many resources exist for games using them and extensive rules compilations can be found at:

Enjoy the outdoors, enjoy a game and enjoy the ‘after’.

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