5 Portable Card Games to Play Anywhere, Anytime

Hear ye, hear ye: The Oregon Trail is now a tabletop card game. You heard right — if you go into a Target store, you can have nostalgic fun, like this person here:

It costs $13. And I want it super badly.

That got me thinking — with the last days of summer before school begins again and people taking those last camping excursions, beach trips or park picnics, card games are a really excellent thing to pick up. They’re super portable — no big boards to haul around, and great for playing at tables in bars. For the most part, they’re easy to learn. Grab your nearest queers, build a pillow fort and play a game. With the world being so stressful to exist in right now, you’ll be glad you did. Here are some of my favorites.


When you play Chrononauts, you are a time traveler with a mission that requires you to alter history, a few objects you need to rip the fabric of space to gather, and the need to return to your home-time when all is said and done. But be careful! Don’t alter time too much without patching up your paradoxes — too many and the multiverse falls apart. And don’t, ya know, accidentally end the world. Unless you’re playing as Squa Tront, then bring about World War III all you like. This game is easy to learn, but requires a ton of strategy. And it has a ton of replay value because of that strategy — you’ll have to play differently based on your secret identity, your mission and the play-styles of those around you. Plus it’s super nerdy. There’s also expansion packs if you want ’em: The Gore Years, Early American and Lost Identities.


Bang is an Italian card game all about the caricature of the American Wild West. It’s one of my friend Catherine’s favorite games, and this year we played it for her birthday. Each player gets an identity that allows them to take certain actions on their turn, but they also get a role that they keep secret. Well, unless you’re the sheriff. Then everyone knows you’re the sheriff. And most people are trying to kill you. You do that by shooting people based on how far away from you they’re seated, if they’re on a horse and on your individual strategy. But don’t give away what role you are, or you might be the next one with a target painted on her back. This game is a fun, interactive version of a bad Western movie. Last time we played, my fiancée blew me up with dynamite. Also all the cards are in Italian and English. Once again, there are expansion packs if you want ’em: Valley of the Shadows and Gold Rush.


I feel like I may have mentioned Coup before because it’s one of my favorite games. And it’s no surprise it’s one of my favorites, because this game is all about how well you lie. If you know me in person, you know I can’t lie to save my life IRL, but as soon as you take away real consequences, turns out I can lie my face off. Coup takes place in a dystopian universe in which you’re trying to bluff your way into being the all-powerful leader. You can use the powers of either of the two identity cards in your hand, but you can also lie through your teeth and use the powers of any other identity card, just as long as no one calls you out about being a liar. I have a friend who plays this game without looking at the two cards in her hand until someone calls her out as lying. It’s a sight to see. This game also has one expansion pack available: Reformation.


Fluxx was designed by two NASA scientists and the rules are simple: each turn, you draw one card and you play one card. Except the things written on the card change the rules of the game. They change what winning means. They change what turns do. They change… welp… anything. The nice part about this game is that you disrupt the notion that having played before will get you anywhere. Since the rules are made with each card throwdown, no one has a gamer advantage. Last time I played this game, I used a lot of curse words. There are also a ton of different themed Fluxx games, among which are Star Fluxx, Pirate Fluxx, and Adventure Time Fluxx.

Sushi Go

Sushi Go is a set collection game where you’re a diner at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, a thing I didn’t know existed until I googled it because I’m allergic to fish. The first player takes one from the set and passes it along to the next player, exactly like a conveyor belt. Some cards are worth points on their own, some are worth more points in a set, and some are only worth points in a set. Better hope the card you need is still there when the conveyor belt comes back around to you. I am real real bad at this game, but the cards are REALLY CUTE.

What about you? What portable card games are you and your queermo-nerds playing? And where are you playing them?

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A.E. Osworth

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.


  1. Sushi Go! I don’t get that game. I like that it’s fast paced though?

    The last time I went to a board game night, I learned that playing games that require sustained mental energy just isn’t a thing I can do once my ADHD meds wear off.

    Why are boardgame meet-ups never around lunch time??

  2. I love portable card games! One of my favorites is Timeline- it’s a history game, for big ol’ nerds like me. Each player gets a set amount of cards that are double sided- one side has a picture of an event and a description- like, the first flight, the Crusades, the beginning of the Cold War, etc, and the second side has the same plus the date it actually happened!

    Basically, you’re creating a timeline of the events depicted in your cards. As more cards are put down, it gets harder and harder! I have the standard set but you can also buy sets that are more specific- about inventions, or discoveries, or music and movies.

  3. My personal fave quick & portable card game is Love Letter. Well worth a try.

    Definitely going to jot all of these down for future reference, though; my fiancee and I are always on the lookout for new games.

  4. I love quick and portable card games (though I have the hardest time finding them in my stack o’ games since they’re so small). Sushi Go is one of my favorites AND they just released an xpac to increase the number of players you can have! I’m super excited because my game group struggles with finding games for 6+ players.

  5. I was introduced to Coup on a beach weekend last summer when we were trapped in the hotel room during a bad thunderstorm. We had so much fun that the next day we spent another hour we could’ve spent on the beach inside playing, and I bought the game right then and there on my phone. It’s a marvelous little game and I highly recommend it, plus the expansion is really great too and adds a bit more strategy.

  6. I love Chrononauts. It’s one of my all-time favorite games in general, card or otherwise.

    I’d also recommend The Quiet Year. It’s a little more intense than your average card game; I guess it’s technically a map game/RPG hybrid? But it’s based on a deck (you can print and play with a regular card deck!) and I carry it with me anytime I travel. I love it because it’s so deep an experience for such a tiny package.

  7. I like a certain storyline on “Chrononauts”. If you save John Lenon from being assassinated, then he becomes a US senator, passes a gun control law, and Columbine never happens.

    Another fun game is “Guillotine”. You and your friends are competing headsmen during the French Revolution. Alter the lineup of nobles going to the block in order to collect the most valuable heads.

  8. I think I’m going to check out Fluxx. Completely agree with “portable”. I think what’s great about these card games is that they’re quite handy. And a nice alternative to just playing with your phones or tablets.

  9. I always loved the Oregon Trail as a child. Here’s my problem as an adult… aren’t we celebrating colonialism and the disenfranchisement of the indigenous population through those “plucky” pioneers who are stealing and destroying land?

    Yes it’s highly educational. It’s even fun. It still ignores the reality of the violence and oppression white settlers and the U.S. government brought down on Native Americans.

    It’s important history to know, but not something to be celebrated. Especially when the game first came out, we all grew up with the old westerns where wagons were circled and we murdered racist caricatures of indigenous people.

    I just feel like it’s not a game we can responsibly or ethically endorse.

  10. I love Fluxx! The best part is putting several decks together and seeing how the game goes. Although that makes it longer and more frustrating.

    • In our game group, Fluxx is especially nice because it requires no attention span or endless explanation of the rules.

      (I own Zombie Fluxx which is nice, but my favourite is my friends Monty Python Fluxx.)

      • We have most of them, Zombie is one of my favorites. I think Pirate has a rule where you have to talk like a pirate, which is a little entertaining.

  11. I like Set (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Set_(game)). (You score points by making sets of 3 matching cards – with the matching based on the visual characteristics of the cards)

    But I looooove Munchkin. Just the silliness, the terrible puns (the villain card ‘Hairy Potter’, which features a picture of a gorilla doing pottery) and general Monty Python vibe of the game makes it a hilarious game to play. It takes the mickey out of deeply serious Dungeons & Dragons type games but is strong enough as a game in itself to survive being a mere pastiche.

    I have to confess here: we have the original with seven expansions and two alternative editions in our household. So there. We love it.

    Also: second the person who mentioned Love Letter.

    Furthermore: anyone on here playing Gloom? Probably the prettiest game I own. <3

    • Gloom is nice! And super pretty.

      Also, have you tried Monty Python Fluxx? Includes things such as having to quote the movies in order to draw cards, getting bonus points for singing, etc. Really good if you’re playing with other Python fans :D

    • I also really like Set, although I feel like the main issue is that it can get very one-sided because it isn’t turn-based. Needs players who are fairly evenly matched.

  12. Sushi go is super fun!

    Maybe I’ll snag bang as well. I very occasionally play card games with my gf when we go through those occasional fits of “we watch too much tv! What else can we do!” But for the most part I’m not very game-y, we have different interpretations of how important the rules are.

  13. I just got the card game version of Ticket to Ride and it’s super fun! Very similar to the board game but with more of a memory component.

  14. Ooooh Fluxx is awesome! Definitely going to check out Chrononauts.

    My favorite card game otherwise is No thanks! Small, simple and surprisingly difficult (plus you can use psychology on your friends through very simple means). I also like Kittens in a blender, which is fun in a very gory way.

  15. Machi Koro is my favorite, very simple to learn. You are basically building up a city in game play that is kinda similar to Catan. I will say that you need the harbor expansion to really make it a fuller game that is fun and varied every time you play. The other expansion adds more cards, which is also great, but doesn’t really change the base play.

  16. Those all look great! “Fluxx” sounds a bit like a card game called “Mao” that I played with some folks in school (where the rules are never really “announced.”).

    I loved Oregon Trail as a kid, but I only ever remember finishing it once. Maybe I’d have better luck with the card game. =)

  17. Fluxx and Chrononauts have been on my to-acquire list ever since I played the latter at an A-Camp many moons ago. But I’m not a huge gamer-type, and neither are most people around me! So I have some hesitation that I would actually use them much. Someone persuade me otherwise please?

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