Not counting games that my parents bought during our childhood and RPGs, I think it’s a toss-up between Fluxx or The Very Clever Pipe Game or the first travel version of Settlers of Catan.
I haven’t pulled out the travel version of Catan in a long while. The last time I got it was for a trip to a family reunion. (Where I don’t think it even got played :D)
Pulling it out again, I’m struck by how both clever and dated the design of it is.
The board itself is a peg board with little holes for the tiny plastic roads and settlements and cities and big, numbered pegs for the hexes. (The hexes have holes in the middle with the desert in the middle so the numbers are laid out the same way every game) The insert is set up as a bank for all the cards and pieces.
What really makes it lovely is that it isn’t just small and easy to store or carry. It also takes up so little space the play. You might be able to make it work on an airplane tray. You could definitely play it on a TV tray or just about any space at a coffee shop or bar or restaurant.
There are a number of things that make a travel game work. It’s got to be easy to pack. It is good if it doesn’t take much space to play. (The card versions of Samurai and Tigress and Euphrates fail miserably there) And you and everyone else has got to want to play it :P
This version of Settlers of Catan manages all that.
It does have some flaws. The fixed numbers is a definite limit. I understand later versions of the game actually have rules for randomized numbers (which I don’t like at all) and this is the complete opposite. And it is completely incompatible with any expansions.
More than that, the materials are definitely from a past era. The tiles are thin and the insert is decidedly flimsy. Compared to games from even ten years ago, the quality isn’t there.
I haven’t seen the later travel set that has built in trays and what look like decent card banks but it looks sturdier than the version I have. It might take up more table space but I doubt by much. Still, I don’t see any need to trade up.
When I first got it some fifteen years or so ago, I felt like this was all you needed for Catan. A couple years later, getting to try out different expansions and variations, I felt that the travel set was not nearly enough.
Now, I’m in between. If you are serious in any way about Catan, you need more. However, if you are going to just play Catan a few times a year, yeah, you could get away with this.
For me, though, it was the just the start. I got back when I just imagined my board game collection would fit into a backpack. Boy, I had no idea.