Rapid Reviews: Campfire Games!

Oh, the great outdoors! Roughing it in the wild. Struggling for existence much like our ancestors of old. Parking a gas-guzzling RV onto a cement slab and complaining that the campsite doesn’t have wifi. Indeed! Camping is a wonderful place to whip out some board games and here I review a quick few that are themed nicely for the outdoors. While Stone Age may be themed nicely to doing battle with nature, it would likely be used for kindling before actually played. Instead the games below are light on components, quick to learn, high on fun, and good for several plays while you wait for the alpha camper to set up the tent. And if they stink, you can always burn them….the games, not the alpha camper.


unnatural selection5) Unnatural Selection

Lets start this one off right! In Unnatural Selection from R&R Games, players attempt to create the most ridiculous (and powerful) possible creation with the cards dealt. And they have plenty of cards to choose from – with 170 cards, you are bound to create something…magnificent. Playing the game is simple. At the start of the round, choose one player to be the judge. That person will deal out 3 cards to each player. Those player review their animals and choose one card to place face down in front of them. By the way, each card is divided in half – one half is an animal and one half is an attribute. When the players place one face-down, they are placing the animal and not the attribute. Then the judge deals an additional card face down, picks up all the cards, shuffles them and distributes them in a row in front of the players. Each player now places the attribute side of the card on one of the animals in the row. The judge now gets to determine which combination will win!

Bottom Line: A fun, silly, card game to play at a picnic table over a couple of drinks. It isn’t a game to be taken seriously ( more of an ice-breaker game, really) and the real fun is trying to determine what type of creature combinations the judge will approve. Will it be the Roly-Poly, Turnip-Headed Puppy or a Radioactive Bill Clinton made of Marshmallow? Hint: It plays the saxophone…

hive4) Hive

Oh the humanity! Playing a game with bugs while camping is just too apt for this installment of Rapid Reviews. Really, I can’t add much to Hive except to say that all you need is a bag of bugs and a semi-flat playing area and one other person. In this abstract, tile-laying game, each insect moves in a particular fashion and your goal is to completely surround your opponent’s queen bee.

Bottom Line: Sir and Ma’am, you simply have not lived until you’ve played Hive on an outcrop in the South Dakota Badlands….that was right next to a mound of Harvester Ants. The best part is that it works just as well in the local bar while you are nursing your wounds with shots (true story). If you like abstract games or even if you don’t…ok, if you breathe, then you should probably have this game as a massive step up from checkers and less pretentious pastime than chess.

bohnanza3) Bohnanza

Another classic! In this Uwe Rosenberg joint, players take the role of bean farmers and need to “plant fields” (create sets of similar cards) in order to harvest them for money. The deck contains eleven varieties of beans, some scarcer than others. The cards are nicely designed with a cartoon of the bean and the bottom of the card shows how many beans need to be harvested in order to collect coins. The more harvested, the larger the payout.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to play Bohnanza, there are a few interesting mechanics at play in this game. First, players are not allowed to rearrange their hands. The order they are dealt out is the order they are played and on your turn you are required to plant the first bean in your hand. This forces you to plant something in your field (you are limited to two at the start of the game) and may require you to prematurely harvest a field.  However, trading, negotiation, and even the dreaded “donation” of cards are pivotal in mitigating this difficulty. Then the player draws two cards face up and has to trade them away or plant them in their own fields.

Bottom Line: Player interaction, a simple rule set and playing up to seven makes haggling over beans a great crowded campsite activity. Recommended for more “modern” campsites, perhaps while waiting for the mess hall to start dishing out seven-bean-salad for the seventh night in a row. Did you already have a bonding experience? Then play Bohnanza? Are you complete strangers? Then perhaps fight off a bear or two before starting…

bears2) Bears!

Nothing complements camping more than bears and quick easy, no-thinking, go by your gut, dice games. In Bears! from Fireside Games you are just camping and suddenly your site is infested with a flock of rampaging bears. In the panic people are running, hiding in tents and/or shooting wildly. The game starts when a bunch of white dice are rolled showing either tents or bears. Each player then rolls five black dice, each with a running dude, a gun and sleeping bag. Certain dice match with certain other dice (guns with bears etc.). Re-roll as  often as needed to grab what you want before the other players. After there are only one type of white dice remaining in the center, the game ends and you score your points.

Bottom Line: A fast, frantic and chaotic scramble to collect the correct pairs of dice. So simple it can be taught to anyone and all ages can enjoy it. So small it can travel anywhere. This makes it the perfect campfire game.

morels1) Morels

If you are more of a hard-core camper, perhaps you forage for your own food. If you are also an idiot you may dig up and eat mushrooms. My I suggest a safer alternative if you have the urge to eat wild fungi ~ Morels from Two Lantern Games. In Morels you need to collect and then cook a wide array of mushrooms in order to score more points at the end of the game. The path to victory leads down the path of cards set up. Some are free to collect, others require foraging points to find. But as time passes the fresh mushrooms go to spoil in the decay pile where whole handfuls of the delicious fungi can be gathered into your basket. Speaking of baskets you can collect then to increase your hand-size. You can also gather cider and butter to flavor your mushrooms when you cook them. But the deadliest of mushrooms, the Destroying Angel, can seriously mess your day up, watch it.

Bottom Line: For a game about foraging mushrooms, it is surprisingly tense as two different decisions play off of each other – grab mushrooms now or wait until they hit the decay pile and take them in one swoop and do you cook now or later. This makes Morels a set collection game with a smattering of “press your luck” and it works well. Find the sliding too fiddly or takes up too much room? Try the clock variant.

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