Boat Games

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Playing Games on a Boat has its own challenges. A moving platform within a wet environment. Most boats also have a limited amount of storage space so the games that get chosen have to be good!

We have used lots of forums and our own experience to create a shortlist of Boat Games both ready to play and that you can buy:

  • Onboard – General games that are suited to life onboard
  • Motoring / Sailing – Games that still work when the boat is moving around
  • At Anchor – Games that work when you can add swimming/water fun

Disclosure: Some of the links below are Affiliate Links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click thru and make a purchase.

OnBoard

Of course most games could be played on a big enough boat but these ones are favorites due to ease of packing/storage as well as the ability to play repeatedly without getting bored.

Paper / Pen Games:

(or invest in a Whiteboard)

Let’s start with the simple but addictive paper and pen games. They work brilliantly when mixed ages are playing. We have some basic ones that work for kids but also some more devious ones where developing a strategy will challenge the keenest adult (plus some tips on how you can win!)

Dots and Boxes

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Dots and boxes Example Game
Dots and Boxes Example Game

Players: Normally two but possibly more.

This game is more complex than it initially appears, and even on a 5×5 grid, there is plenty of opportunity for skillful play.

How to Play the Game

Set-up by laying out a grid of dots of what ever size you prefer (5 x 5, 6 x 4 etc etc).

General Play

  • The two players take turns to join two adjacent dots with either a horizontal or vertical line.
  • If a player completes the fourth side of a box they initial that box
  • If you complete a box you must draw another line.

When all the boxes have been initialed the winner is the player who has completed the most boxes.

Tip
The secret is to NOT claim all of the squares in a given run. Towards the end of many games, it may be obvious who is going to win. If you are going to lose then by not claiming the last two squares of a chain (three or more squares) you can change the sequence of who gets which chain. With two squares left to complete simply leave a gap and add your line on the last square, which you are not completing, so your turn ends. Your opposition might then claims the last two squares you left but in doing so gives you the next chain.

Triangles

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Triangles
Example of Triangles game

Players: Normally two but possibly more.

A variation of the boxes game above but more suited to those that prefer a less formal structure! It is much harder to see all the potential consequences when you draw your lines.

How to Play the Game

Set-up by drawing a series of random, well-spaced, dots, at least 8 to make the game interesting.

General Play

  • The two players take turns to join two dots with a line.
  • The line cannot cross another line or pass through another spot
  • If a player completes a triangle they initial that triangle (or one person might color it in)
  • If you complete a triangle you must draw another line.

When there are no more dots to join / triangles to make then the winner is the one with the most triangles.

Sprouts

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Sprouts; consecutive goes till Blue wins.

Players: Normally two but possibly more.

This game is easy to understand and play but can be devilishly challenging if you are up to it.

How to Play the Game

Set up by drawing two or more dots (more dots makes it harder)

Players take turns to draw a line according to four basic rules:

  • Draw a line that joins two dots together or joins a single dot to itself.
  • The line cannot cross another line or pass through another spot
  • No dot can have more than three lines
  • Having drawn a line you add a dot on your line.

The winner is the last person to have a successful go.

To make these games more suited to playing on a boat you might want to invest in a white board. This gives an endless supply of ‘paper’ and it doesn’t matter if it gets splashed.

Card Games:

The possible Card Games list is never-ending, given the variations that people play. These are some of our favorites to play with friends due to simple rules and fun gameplay, without anything needing to be taken too seriously!

Sh*thead

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bastard-layout-after-deal
Sh*thead; Layout after deal

AKA: Bastard, Palace, Karma, China Hand and Ten-Two Slide

2 – 5 Players with 1 deck of cards or up to 5-9 players with two decks

There are many variations of this game so your friends may well already know how to play, just under a different name. The initial layout with three cards face down and three cards face up on top usually rings a bell for most people.

How to Play the Game
  • Uses a standard pack of cards, no jokers.
  • Deals a row of three cards face-down to each player, one at a time.
  • Deals three cards face-up to each player, one at a time, on top of the face-down cards.
  • Deals a three card hand face-down to each player, one at a time.
  • Any cards remaining undealt are placed face down to form a draw pile.

Before the general play begins the players pick up their three card hands and can exchange any cards in their hand with any of the face up cards. In most cases you try to have your strongest cards as the visible face up cards.

General Play

Until the draw pile is finished all players should always have 3 or more cards in their hand. Player 1 starts by discarding any number of cards of the same rank face up to a discard pile. Player 1 then draws cards to have three in hand. Taking turns clockwise, each player must play a card or cards of equal to or of higher rank than the previous player, or pick up the pile!

When picking up the pile you add them to your hand and your go is finished. The next player then starts a new discard pile with any rank of card/cards of their choice. Play then continues as before.

When the draw pile is finished, play continues as before, without any replenishment. Only when you have no cards in your hand (ie no draw cards left and you have discarded your hand cards) can you play one of your table cards. All of the face-up cards have to be played before you can then play (without looking!) one of the face-down cards.

Note: Even if you have discarded any of your face-up/face-down cards, if you have had to pick up the discard pile you must play all of the cards from your hand before continuing to use any of the table cards.

Wild Cards – on your go..

  • Twos can be discarded at any time and rank as a two.
  • Tens can be discarded at any time and then the complete discard pile is removed from the game. That player then gets another go to start a new discard pile.
  • Set of Four Cards of the same Rank; they need to be played as part of normal play. Either played by one player or when a player discards the same rank as a previous player making a set of 4, the discard pile is removed and that player gets another go to start a new discard pile.

Game Play

You have been successful if you have completely discarded all of your cards before the last player. During the game it is quite normal to fluctuate from having no hand cards to picking up a large discard pile. This does, however, mean you may then have enough cards to dictate the flow of the game. Possibly having Sets of Four (which can remove the discard pile and give you another go) or through tactical use of the Two cards.

To be successful means that on your last go you have turned over a face-down card without knowing what it is. If it successfully matches or has a higher rank the current discard pile card then you can discard it. If it doesn’t, then you pick it and the discard pile up, into your hand, and you play on until you have no cards left.

Play continues until there is only one player left. They are the Bastard/Shithead!

Variations

Additional Wild Cards; the rank used for these variations also varies! (ie some say missing a go is when you get a jack rather than an 8)

  • Any 7; when played in normal play a seven on the top of the discard pile means the next player has to play lower or equal to a seven
  • Any Jack; when played in normal play it changes the direction of play i.e you would then start going anti-clockwise
  • Any 8; when played in normal play the next player would miss a go.
  • Any 9; can be played at any time but is ‘invisible’ and play continues using the previous discard card.
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Cheat

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cheat-cards
6 players; the last round someone called CHEAT!

3-6 players with one deck of cards, 6-10 with two decks of cards

The aim is to get rid of your cards by playing them to the discard pile, cheating if you have to! However, if you do get caught you have to pick up the pile!

How to Play the Game

General Play

Deal out all of the cards, one by one, to all the players. (Some players will have one more card than others)

  • The first player places between 1 and 4 cards face down creating a discard pile. That player then announces what the cards ‘are’; the claim is always that the cards are of the same value. i.e a player could say they have discarded “3 fours”. The fun comes as the player does not have to tell the truth! i.e they could have actually discarded ‘2 fours and a six’
  • The other players can then believe the announcement or call “CHEAT” if they think the player is lying about the cards he actually discarded.

If unchallenged, play then progresses to the next player who again must place between 1 and 4 cards face down on the discard pile. However, they MUST announce that they are either the same, 1 rank up or 1 rank down from the previous player. i.e if the previous player announced “3 fours” the next player (if no challenge) MUST announce a certain number of either three’s, fours or fives.

Challenge / Calling Cheat

  • If Cheat is called the last cards discarded are shown to all the players
  • If cards are as announced then the challenger who incorrectly called CHEAT has to pick up the entire discard pile
  • If the challenger is correct and the player was CHEATING then the player has to pick up the entire discard pile. Play then passes to the challenger who takes the next turn.

The first player to discard all there cards is the winner! (This normally means they were telling the truth as invariably people will call cheat to avoid them winning!)

Guide Points:

  • If you cannot go (you do not have one of the required cards (same, 1 up or 1 down) then you will have to CHEAT and hope to not get caught! That is the game!
  • You should only play when it is you go

Old Maid

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old-maid-cards-game
Old Maid; 4 players discarding pairs. One Queen removed from the deck.

3-6 players with one deck of cards

Old Maid is a well known favorite with children but also lots of fun for families playing together. The aim is to collect and discard pairs of cards BUT not to be left with the last card!

How to Play the Game
  • Uses a standard pack of cards with one of the Queens removed
  • The cards are dealt, one at a time, to all players until they are all dealt.
  • Not all players will have the same number of cards
  • Each player then discards any pairs they may have in their hand. (If they have three-of-a-kind, they can only remove two of those three cards.)

General Play

  • Player 1 offers their hand, spread out face down, to player 2 on their left.
  • Player 2 draws one card from it.
  • Player 2 can then discard any pair that may have been formed by the drawn card.
  • Player 2 then offers their own hand to player 3 on their left.
  • Play proceeds in this way until all cards have been paired except one – the odd queen.

The player who has that card is the Old Maid!

We also found these waterproof cards that will last, especially when swimming as a forfeit!

Games to Buy:

Disclosure: Some of the links below are Affiliate Links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click thru and make a purchase.

Beyond the well known and addictive games such as UNO (waterproof version!) or the fanatically popular Cards Against Humanity here are some other suggestions that are well regarded on the boating forums.

Spot It / Dobble (waterproof!)

(2-8 players / ages from 3 up)

 This is a great game to play as a family because even kids have a fair chance of legitimately winning each time! Super simple to learn observational game that is fun for everyone.

(1-8 players / ages 7+)

Suggested as an alternative to scrabble, it’s even more fun and easier to play across different spelling levels- not to mention, much more compact and travel friendly! This game requires no writing utensils, paper, or board to play.

(4 to 10 players / ages 12+)

Select the card from your hand that you think is best described by a card played by the Judge.

 Suitable for players with varied ability and nobody gets embarrassed because they can’t understand. The “judge” doesn’t know if you are being funny, don’t understand, or just don’t have any other card to play. You can’t go wrong with Apples to Apples! 

AKA: Double 12.

These dominoes are the same size as regular dominoes but have numbers going up to 12. They are used to play this fun game, suitable for kids and adults (or can be used for regular dominoes).

I had never heard of this one but found it mentioned in so many different forums by long term boaters it had to be included.

AKA Catan

3 to 4 players, 60 minutes, ages over 10

Multi-award winning civilization building board game of harvesting and trading resources.

Another game that I hadn’t heard of but again it seems to have a cult following among those afloat!

3 – 8 players Aged 13+ (although many users have said 8+)

This is a really fun and simple game. Almost no setup time (a few seconds) and plays quickly (5 people may take 15 mins per game). It’s like a cross between poker (bluffing) and Yahtzee (dice rolls to get combinations of items).

NB: This dice game can require cards (included in the game)to be laid out. For games that ‘just’ use dice see below.

Whilst Motoring/Sailing

These games acknowledge the added difficulty of the boat moving around unpredictably, being windy and/or heeling over either whilst sailing or speeding to the next spot.

Speaking Games:

As it suggests these are games that use words instead of cards, boards, game pieces, or other paraphernalia.

There are a massive array of spoken word games like the old favorites such as I-Spy or 20 Questions or Who Am I. Here are some variations as well as others to try.

I’m Thinking Of…

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A simplified version of 20 questions, and offers more objects than I Spy.

General Play
  • Lead player “I am thinking of something ….,” they then name a feature or attribute of the object or thing. Eg “I am thinking of something that is made of metal.”
  • The other players then make a guess or ask for another clue and we go back and forth between clues and guesses until they work out the correct answer.

Same Letter

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Another well-known favorite it can test general knowledge or be made more specific when choosing your category. Each answer must begin with the final letter of the previous answer; no repetition allowed.

General Play
  • A category is chosen; careful selection is what makes this game so variable. You could choose anything but they best categories need lots of possible answers (eg animals, countries, capitals etc).
  • Player one states an answer eg France (for a category of countries)
  • Player two then has to think of a country begining with the last letter of the previous player. e.g E – Ecuador
  • The next player then does the same e.g R – Romania
  • Play continues until a player cannot think of an answer.

The category selection and the sub-sections that are allowed can make this game even more interesting. e.g Category of Animals is Dogs an acceptable answer or only specific species of dog!

Variations
  • Use famous names where the next player has to think of a name with the first name begins with the first letter of the second name eg John Wayne > Winona Ryder > Rachel Weiz
  • Movie Game – Where you think of a movie, the next player has to think of an actor in that movie, the next player has to think of a different movie that actor has been in etc etc

Think Fast / Think Quick

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This is all about thinking quickly and not getting tongue tied! Note: The fun and fast pace of this simple game can lead to people shouting out their answers!

  • Lead Player says a Category of a physical thing e.g flowers
  • The lead player immediately starts counting down from 10 to 0 as fast as possible
  • The other player has to name an object in that category before Player 1 gets to zero.

 If Player 2 cannot think of something before the time runs out, they lose, and it is again the first player’s turn to call out a category. However, if they beat the clock, it is their turn to call a category.

If the counting is too quick simply start at a higher number or get adults to count down in groups of two or three (21,18,15,12,9,6,3,0)

Common Quality

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2 or small groups Aged 4+

This game has no real ‘winner’ but simply challenges the players recall and general knowledge.

General Play
  • The first player starts by naming an object and a quality/characteristic about it. eg a furry teddy bear
  • The next player must then name a different object say what the same quality/characteristic is, but also mention a new quality/characteristic that this new object has. eg a dog is furry and has four legs
  • Play goes back and forth (or around, with multiple players). 

Player 1: A furry teddy bear
Player 2: A dog is furry and has 4 legs
Player 1: A zebra has four legs and is black and white
Player 2: A penguin is black and white and can not fly…etc

Card Games (Again?):

Given we mentioned the waterproof cards above this Magnetic Board/Card set takes it to the next level and can be used even when its windy or the boat is not completely flat.

Note: Requires the supplied magnetic board to ‘hold’ the metal cards but in calm conditions, the cards can be used like any other deck. Alternatively, if you have a magnetic whiteboard then they can be used with that!

Dice Games:

The simplicity of dice games make them a firm favorite onboard boats and the easy stowage and waterproof nature make them ideally suited. These games can be easily played on a table or even just tray (even when moving!).

Mexico Dice

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This is a great game if playing with family or friends as you can add the extra dimension of betting with real money or simply playing for fun.

2+ players (3 or more is best) Ages 5+
Requires: 2 Dice and a score sheet or tokens/ gambling chips.

General Play

The objective is to be the last player with any tokens/chips/lives. At the end of each round the losing player loses one life (if gambling then they put one chip into the center ‘winner pot’).

In order to win a round you need to have rolled the highest score from your two dice. Your score is the two-digit number represented by the face value of the dice, in which the larger number is the first digit. For example, a roll of a 2 and 3 would be a score of 32.

Doubles(1-1, 2-2, 3-3, etc.) score higher than any mixed roll. e.g a 1-1 scores higher than a 6-5.

A ‘Mexico’ is the highest score 2-1!

Mexico Dice Score:
from Best Down
continued
BEST Roll : 2-16-1
6-65-4
5-55-3
4-45-2
3-35-1
2-24-3
1-14-2
6-54-1
6-43-2
6-3Worst Roll: 3-1
6-2
  • Player 1 rolls the two dice. He can choose to accept his roll or he can roll again. A maximum of three rolls and you cannot choose your score from a previous roll. The score is noted.

NB: If player one chooses to roll more than once all subsequent players can only have a maximum number of rolls as player 1 e.g if player 1 doesn’t like his first roll but likes his second then all subsequent players can only have 2 rolls maximum in that round.

  • Player 2 rolls the two dice. He can choose to accept his roll or he can roll again (Only if player 1 rolled again). The score is noted.
  • When all players have a score noted, then the player with the lowest recorded score loses that round. That player then loses a ‘life’ or has to put a token/chip in the ‘winner’s pot’.
  • The losing player starts the next round.
  • Play continues until there is only one player left with any ‘lives’ or tokens/chips. They then claim the ‘Winner’s Pot’.

2+ players 15-20 minutes to play, ages 10 and up

Self contained (carry the dice in the cup provided) Zombie Apocalypse Theme game.

“This game is incredibly easy to learn (it took me 2 minutes) and it is easy to introduce it to others as well.”

“This game will push your luck as you roll to decide whether you take the points or lose them all. This game can also easily be adapted for fun as a drinking game with friends.”

3 – Many Players, ages 4 and up

“A very basic game which is all luck, no strategy, but a lot of fun. Especially if you want to entertain a large number of people! Any age can easily roll 3 die so anyone can play. The other benefit is that you are never ‘out’ of the game so everyone always stays involved and can win.”

At Anchor

We see this as an opportunity to add in water games that might involve swimming or playing in the water.

Games To Buy:

The first game/activity that can be enjoyed by all ages has to be a floating mat. Ideal if you are anchored too deep for standing up. It lets you cool down whilst also being the starting point for countless water fun games. Basic ‘who can stay on’ battles or including it in an obstacle course or relay race. Or for the more sedate, its a floating platform for setting up targets or lounging while others are playing. 

Note: It may not be suitable when it gets a bit choppy or too windy

A classically popular floating version of CornHole.

The great thing about this version is that, among other things, it comes with brackets that can easily hook on to a boat rail.

Ideally suited to shallow anchorages but could also be used by those on a floating mat or when swimming.

If you are looking to burn off some energy (yours or someone else’s!) then sending these rockets flying and then swimming after them can make for some brilliant fun. Be warned they can go a long way!

Or if you are looking to go big with your onboard fun then how about these:

or even a  Diving board like this one made by Lillipad.

Loads of fun for having water battles with friends why not try the extreme Giant water balloon catapult / slingshot or something a little less extreme Slingshot for kids

Have we missed one of your favorite boat games? Know of alternative ways to play these games? Leave us a message in the comments below.

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