Sometimes the impromptu things end being the best, right? The last-minute let’s-go-out-for-dinner plans with friends who also happen to be available? That’s the spirit behind next weekend’s Gourmet Game Night gathering on Orcas Island at Allium restaurant in Eastsound. Sunday night October 16 during happy hour (5:30 to 6:30), I’ll be hanging out in the bar at Allium ready to play games, share tips for game night planning, talk about some favorite game night snacks and drinks. And of course I’ll have books on hand to sign and sell for anyone interested. Allium’s chef/owner Lisa Nakamura will be offering a couple of cocktails and a couple of snacks from the book as happy hour specials that night. Hope to see some of you there! Orcas may be a bit of a trek to get to, but it’s one of my favorite spots on earth. I, for one, can’t wait!
I wrote last summer about the sometimes-conundrum of how much luggage space you can–or should–devote to games when you’re traveling. It’s similar to what happens in the “what to pack?” question for clothes, too, never know what the weather’s going to be like, what mood I’ll be in any given evening relative to dinnertime togs. As usual, I opt more for playing it safe and over-packing a bit (as I did with that heavy set of dominoes last summer!) than regretting something left behind.
I can’t say how many times my husband and I have ended up on a trip somewhere never quite intending that we be playing games,only to wish that we’d had something along with us to kill some time on a rainy afternoon, or taking a break back at the hotel after a full day of exploring. Pay-dirt is when you drop into a coffee shop or casual restaurant and they have games on hand for customers to play while sipping and nibbling, but that’s hard to count on. It’s gotten so that our go-to weekend bags now have a dedicated pack of cards tucked permanently into one of the pouches. That and one of those cheapy little travel corkscrews. Another thing you don’t want to be lost in the wilderness without. Though getting to be less dire a possibility thanks to evolution of the screw-top.
But back to games. Those perma-travel decks of cards are one great fall-back. And for cases where space is as a special premium, we’ve got a couple mini-decks of cards as well. When we left on our honeymoon umpteen years ago, facing a loooooong flight to New Zealand, dear friends sent us off with a sort of in-flight care package, with something new to open every hour of the flight. One package early on contained one of those mini card decks, which became a staple on our trip, so easy to tuck in my purse and have at hand for an impromptu couple hands of rummy at random points along the way.
On one particularly dreary and drizzly backpacking trip when I was a kid, we unfortunately did NOT have any cards–mini or otherwise–to bide the time while we stayed in camp an extra day, allowing the weather to pass before we continued down the trail. I was so desperate that I used some paper from a little notepad that I’d brought along to hand-craft a deck of cards to keep us company while the rains continued to fall. Otherwise — as much as my family was big on playing games at home, once on the hiking trail we didn’t really need any such diversion from the shear pleasure of being in the beautiful wilds of the Northwest. Though on a hike in the Olympic Mountains a few years ago, we did pack along some dice to play Zilch, and one of those mini decks of cards with a tiny little cribbage deck as well.
Looks like Backpacker Magazine has covered this weather-related need for something to pass the time. In this archived article they cleverly suggest drawing some simple game boards (as for checkers or tic-tac-toe) onto mattress pads to have at the ready should the skies open. And it was fun to see this conversation on one of the magazine’s online forums about various games folks take along on their hiking trips (along with some who prefer to play “listen to the critters” and “look at the stars”).
REI, that shopping haven for outdoor types, has a (surprising) number of games in their online catalog, many of which aren’t particularly designed for backpacking–more for car camping or just playing around at the beach or in the backyard. But this version of Uno, cards that are waterproof, is a great option. As is this compact travel backgammon-board-in-a-bag. And when you have no games at hand but want to make the most of your wit and charm and non-verbal communication skills, there’s always charades!
Last month it was South Carolina. A week with two other couples, in a rented house. Lots of lounging-around and relax time on the agenda, so games of course were on my packing list before we headed out. Yahtzee, that’s easy: thin paper score sheets and 5 dice. Not much luggage real estate taken up by that. Just one more die needed and we’d be set for Zilch as well, so I just tucked away the tin that’s held my Zilch rules and beloved 6 green dice for so many years. Two games down. Mini cribbage board and a deck of cards, no sweat. Dominoes? I love playing dominoes. But man, those double-twelve sets sure are heavy (just weighed ours, comes in at over 4 pounds). I shoved them in the suitcase anyway. Impossible to know what we’d be in the mood to play as vacation progressed! Chicken Foot? Rummy? Zilch? Wanted to be prepared for various options. Ended up Zilch was the major favorite, we played loads of games of Zilch. If I’d known, could have left some weightier selections back home!
That’s one problem I have with vacation. Or any time I’m getting away and will have some “down time.” I tend to have boundless expectations for how much I can accomplish in those given hours of supposed down time. (It might be noted, in case it isn’t abundantly clear yet, that my “relaxing” usually involves an activity or a project of some kind. Which may or may not actually be relaxing but it’s how I’m built.)
Case in point: an upcoming train trip. It’s a long one, from Seattle to Santa Barbara and back. Lots of quality relaxing time. So I’m assembling the things that will help make the most of that time. Some of which will be devoted to just staring out the window and enjoy the scenery, I sure hope. Let’s see. I’ve got two books. Four or five magazines. And a knitting back full of yarn and accoutrements for the latest projects on tap.
Oh, and games. Of course games!! So there’s the travel Scrabble, a cribbage board, cards. Some friends are loaning us their travel version of Settlers of Catan, which we only just learned to play over dinner at their house recently. Dice for Yahtzee. A travel Mancala board. Lordy. As if we’re taking the train across the country instead of just down the coast.
Sure it’s a long ride. About 32 hours each way. But still, if I add up all the hours that each of those pack-along activities might take, the books, magazines, knitting, games. Maybe some time set aside for sleeping and eating. I know I’m overdoing it. But just as with that last trip, it’s so hard to know that I’m actually going to want to do to bide the time while we’re riding the rails. So I’ll take it all. And just let the cards fall where they may.
What’s your tactic when you’re traveling, what kind of games do you take along? And how do you prioritize which games to take along and which to leave behind for another time? Maybe I’ll take some tips from you before I next hit the road and am faced with the same desire to take a few too many options, “just in case!”
In a few weeks I’ll be making a trip south to San Francisco, such a great city! I’m sad to say I don’t get there nearly as often as I’d like despite the quick hop it is down the coast. I’d love more opportunities to explore its nooks and crannies, new restaurants and great shops, cafes and museums–and just stroll through its many neighborhoods.
Alas, that’s not what the agenda looks like for this next trip, it’s a power-packed couple of days for a conference. But I’m thrilled to have time to be making my first-ever visit to the destination book shop for food lovers, Omnivore Books on Food. I have the good fortune to be a guest author there on Monday April 12, 5:30 to 6:30 pm, signing copies of Gourmet Game Night. They’re also due to have some foodie trival games on hand, so we can all test our culinary mettle for a little fun as well. It’s a free event, just show up! I’m a little humbled to see the other authors on the roster over the coming weeks: Lorna Sass, Alice Waters, Rose Levy Berenbaum. I’m so looking forward to spending time there myself. Hope to see some of you food-and-game lovers from the Bay Area!