Packed Suitcase | Best Backpacker Games
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Best Backpacker Games

Best Backpacker Games

This post was originally published on on 8/8/11.

When you’re on the road, it can be hard to find the space to bring much entertainment along for the ride. Luckily, a great night can be had with little more than a deck of cards or a pad of paper and a great group of friends.

Here are a few of our favorite backpacker games with a little international flair, sure to make you the life of the party!

1. STADT, LAND, FLUSS (or City, Country, River)

This German geography game is perfect for the international traveler and is reminiscent of the board game “Scattergories.”

The goal:
To outwit your competitors with your superior knowledge of obscure geography and travel themes.

How many people:
At least 2

What you’ll need:

  • A piece of paper for each player
  • A pen

Is there drinking involved?
Drinking’s not integral to gameplay… although you’re welcome to imbibe if you feel so inclined!

How to play:

  • Begin by choosing 3 categories, such as country, city, landmark, etc.
  • Beginning with the letter “A”, everyone writes down their selection for the category. (You may set a time limit if you’d like to keep the game moving quickly.) Example: If the categories are City, Ethnic Food, Landmark and the letter is “C”, then the answers could be “Copenhagen, Crepe, Coliseum.”
  • At the end of each round, everyone shares their answers.

Each person is scored per category. If you are the only person to come up with what you have written, you will receive 10 points. If others came up with the same selection, then you get 5 points. If you blank and don’t write anything, you don’t get any points. (So, clearly out of the box selections are the way to go!)
The game ends when you get tired of playing! You can set a winning score if you want to have a definitive end point.


Mushroom is a really fun card game that I learned while backpacking throughout New Zealand. It’s a lot like Jenga… only instead of a tower of blocks, cards are funneled out while balancing on a small surface (bottle top or cup) until it resembles, well, a mushroom.


The goal:
Keep the mushroom from toppling over… or else, you lose.

How many people:
2+ players (more is definitely better!)

What you’ll need:

  • A deck of cards
  • A sturdy table (and a lack of wind!)
  • An empty bottle or cup (with a smaller opening than the width of a card.)
  • Drinks

Is there drinking involved?
Yes (although what you drink is completely up to you.)

Card values:
2-10               2-10, respectively
Face cards     10
Aces              11

How to play:

  • Place the empty bottle or cup in the center of the table. (Note: bottles are more challenging.)
  • Make a ring of cards (face down) around the glass.
  • The first player takes a card from the circle. Before they look at the card they guess whether they think the card is Red or Black.

If they guess the correct color, the value of the card is the number of “sips” the player can distribute… either all to one person or split amongst the other players, however he or she decides. They also choose someone to put the card on the bottle or glass using only 2 fingers.

If they do not guess the correct color, then they drink the value of the card themselves and place the card on top of the glass using only 2 fingers.

  • The game continues around the table clockwise. IMPORTANT NOTE: Each new card placed must have 2 corners hanging off from the rest of the cards. This will ensure that the cards expand and the game continues to be challenging.
  • The mushroom will continue to grow outwards until cards start to fall.

If only a few cards fall, the person responsible must put the cards back on the mushroom and drink the value of the fallen cards.

If all of the cards fall, the person responsible loses the game and must drink the rest of their drink.

3. 41 (or Empat Satu)

41 is a simple (I swear!) draw and discard card game from Indonesia. This game has the name “41” because it is the highest score you can hope to obtain.

Jack of All Trades

The goal:
To collect four cards of the same suit with as high a point value as possible.

How many people:
2 – 13 players (note: 5-9 players are ideal)

What you need:

  • 1 deck of cards

Card values:
2-10                2-10, respectively
Face cards       10
Aces                11

How to play:

  • The first dealer is chosen at random and deals four cards to each player, clockwise, one card at a time. Any remaining cards are placed face down in a stack in the center of the table.
  • The dealer plays first, and must draw from the stack. Again, the goal is to get as high of a score as possible with 4 cards of the same suit. So decisions what to draw and discard are made based on that goal.
  • The following players (moving clockwise) may draw from either the top card of the stack or the card that has just been discarded by the previous player. (It is illegal to draw a card from the discard pile then immediately discard it in the same turn. However, if you pick a card from the stack and don’t want it, you are free to immediately discard it.)
  • Play ends when someone has 4 cards of one suit at the start of their turn. (If after drawing and discarding during your turn you find that you have 4 cards of the same suit you must wait until the start of your next turn.) This can occur at the very start of the game, or may not happen at all during the course of the game… it’s different each time.
  • If there are no cards left in the stack, and the player whose turn it is does not want the card at the top of the discard pile, the game ends and the hands are scored as follows below.


When the game ends (either because a player has 4 cards of the same suit, or because the stack has run out), all players show their cards and count their scores.

In each hand, the player must select one suit (hopefully there is a dominant suit) as positive points, while all other suits will be considered negative points.

For example, if you have the following cards, your total score would be 7:
– 7 of hearts (worth +7)
– Jack of hearts (worth +10)
– 8 of spades (worth -8)
– 2 of diamonds (worth -2)

If you are unlucky and have no cards of the same suit, then… well, just do your best and pick the highest card as your dominant suit.

In case you were wondering… as mentioned, the perfect score is 41. To get this score, you’d have to have an Ace, King, Queen and Jack all of one suit. Think of this as a royal flush for the game of 41.
If there is a tie, the tied player’s negative cards are used to decide who wins. (The higher the value of the negative cards determine the loser.)

The player with the highest score is the winner, and the one with the lowest score is, obviously, the loser. Normally, no running score tally is kept. Instead, the loser deals and the winner begins the next hand.

Do you have any other great backpacker games to add to our list? If so, let us know, because it may be featured on a follow up post!

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