Two of the best games for your work travels

    I work in tech, yes that’s one of the reasons I write for TechAU. It also means I travel a lot for work. Whilst many people think work travel might be boring and tedious, I rather enjoy it. For me, it’s also social, that’s just the type of industry I work in. Travelling for work means I’m often catching up with friends—yes we all met through work, doesn’t make us any less ‘friends’—I get to see new cities all over the world, and network with amazing individuals.

    It does get trying after a while and many of the ‘home’ comforts aren’t there; movies on the couch, chilling out a video game, or playing sport. Luckily I’ve found a few ways around this. My Nintendo Switch always travels with me, and most hotels have gyms. There’s something else I enjoy while at home – board and card games! I love a good game of Risk, UNO, and who can go past a good ol’ game of 500. Recently, on my travels I’ve come across a couple of games that are perfect for fun, social activities. They are also great ways to decompress after a full day of conferencing.

    Why board and card games?

    Board and card games are great ways to interact while on the go. They are fun ice breakers if you don’t know many people. It’s an interactive way to meet new people, and have something to immediately discuss. My work travels are often to conferences. Meeting and seeing a lot of people is part of the job. There’s networking nights, speaker lounges, meal times, and more. Having a board or card game on hand is a great icebreaker. Two such games that I’ve recently been enjoying and getting to know is Settlers of CATAN, and Exploding Kittens.

    Settlers of CATAN

    CATAN has been a favourite of mine, and thanks to VR Distribution I got my hands on a set to add to my collection. It’s a fun game that’s great to teach other people. I bought out my set at a recent conference and it was very easy to grab four or five people and quickly teach them the rules, enough to get started that is. I like CATAN because it’s a game that doesn’t take hours and hours to play. Many of us have experienced a resounding groan when someone mentions the word Monopoly. It’s a fun game, but we all know it’s going to take hours if not days to crown a winner. Said winner usually only wins because everyone else gives up, hoping for a break from the endless trade of money.

    Settlers of CATAN board that is part way through the game. Red has four settlements, Orange has two, blue has two settlements and two cities, white has three settlements and one city. The robber is on a stone tile.
    Playing Settlers of CATAN over a networking event with pizza and cake (all the pizza and cake have been eaten!) Photo TechAU.

    Settlers of CATAN however doesn’t require near the investment that Monopoly does. And it’s a lot more dynamic. Monopoly is a ‘land on it and buy it game’. There’s not a whole lot of strategy until the mid-late game, that’s if you even get that far. CATAN instead requires a bit of strategy at every turn. You might have a plan in mind, but you need to constantly adjust based on the turns others make and the roll of the die.

    Okay I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. What is the aim of the game, and is it any good?

    How to play Settlers of CATAN

    Setup the game

    The aim of this strategy game is to score ten points. Players collect resources and use them to build roads, settlements, and cities. CATAN is the island, or rather the board where players build their empires. Setup the game by placing the hexagonal tiles in either random orders or use the predetermined layout for beginners. Tiles represent different resources such as sheep, brick, stone, wheat, and wood. The desert tile is barren and has no resource. Once the tiles are placed, randomly add a number to each tile. This will signify the dice roll required to obtain that resource.

    Starting board for Settlers of CATAN. It's a large hexagonal shaped board with lots of hexagonal tiles in the middle making up the game board.
    Board setup and ready to go. The hex tiles can be placed anywhere, and the outer border has numbers to show which edges piece together. The Robber starts on the desert tile. Every time someone rolls a seven, they are able to place the Robber on a tile and steal a resource card from a player. Whilst the Robber is on tile, those tiles don’t grant resources. (Photo TechAU)

    Initial player phase

    Start first phase of the game by determining who goes first, either by dice roll or another method. Usually the person with the highest dice roll goes first, and then around the circle of players clockwise. Depending on if you have an expansion or not, you can play with up to six players. The base game supports four players. If you have more, you might want to look at teaming up so you can all have fun.

    Once you’ve determined your turn order, start with the first player placing a settlement and two roads on the board. The settlement has to be placed at in intersection of tiles, and the roads must be attached to the settlement. Then move onto the next player. Once all players have placed a settlement, go back to the first player, and they can place another settlement and two roads, following the same rules, and then move to the next player. When everyone has two settlements and four roads, you’re ready to start.

    Blue, Red, White, and Orange game pieces signifying the four players that can be part of the game.
    Settlements, cities, and roads that players can build. Each player chooses a colour and are able to build with just those pieces (Photo TechAU)

    This is a relatively straight forward process and doesn’t take too long to get started. You can do this while chatting about the days’ events or upcoming holiday plans.


    Start back at the first player, who rolls two dice. The combined number on the dice determines which hexagonal terrain piece will yield resources for that turn. Players collect the resources if they have a settlement adjacent to a terrain hex that matched the number on the dice. That player receives one resource card of that type regardless if they rolled the dice. If you have two settlements adjacent to the terrain tile, then you receive two resource cards.

    Only during your own turn can you spend or trade resources with other players or the bank. On each of your turns, choose to spend resources to build new roads or settlements, or upgrade your settlements to cities. You can also spend resources to buy development cards. These cards grant various benefits such as provide resources, gain victory points or perform a special action. Each player takes it in turns building, resource gathering, and conquering on the way to ten victory points.

    Blue and red building cost reference cards showing the cost for a road (1 brick, 1 wood), Settlement (1 brick, 1 wood, 1 sheep, 1 wheat), a city (2 wheat, 3 stone), and a development card (1 sheep, 1 wheat, 1 stone).
    Each player receives a reference card telling them how many resources it costs to build certain items. (Photo TechAU)

    Winning the game

    Players can win the game by gaining ten victory points. Victory points can be earned through building settlements (1 point) or cities (2 points), having the longest road (1 point), the largest army (1 point), or through individual victory points earned from development cards.

    Two victory cards, the largest army which gives 2 victory points for having 3 knight cards, and the longest road, giving two victory points for the longest road of at least five segments long.
    Two cards that offer Victory Points (Photo TechAU)

    The game doesn’t take very long to play, between a hour and a few hours, much shorter than Monopoly! Settlers of CATAN combines luck (dice rolls), and individual tactics for a fun and dynamic board game. It’s suitable for many ages and is always a hit at an event. CATAN however isn’t a very portable game. It’s not the best to take travelling so see if you can tee up someone in the city you’re visiting.

    Going pro

    If you’ve played a lot of Settlers of CATAN, you should check out the CATAN Australian State and National Championships. The Victorian regionals were held at Fortress Melbourne last year. This year, they are back through this month and next month. Western Australia and Queensland have already had their competitions, but if you’re in South Australia, New South Wales or Victoria, you’re still in luck. Here are the remaining upcoming events. Tickets for the events are on sale now and can be purchased for competitors, and are free for spectators:

    This is your chance to show your family and friends you really know CATAN. Each state finalist will win $500 cash, travel to the Nationals, CATAN Traveler Edition and Return to CATAN Summer Hexes. Runners-up will receive CATAN Starfarers Duel and Return to CATAN Summer Hexes. Third place will take home CATAN Explorers and Pirates Expansion and Return to CATAN Summer Hexes, and fourth will earn Rivals for CATAN Deluxe and Return to CATAN Summer Hexes. Don’t miss out!

    A row of tables with multiple Settlers of CATAN boards and players competing.
    Pro Settlers of CATAN players competing. Image supplied.

    Dice tray

    Dice trays have become one of my favorite things for board game play. As a kid, I used to get so annoyed playing Monopoly and rolling the dice, sometimes they’d disappear. Under a table, against a wall, flung across the room. We had a rule that if you rolled the dice off the board, then it was invalid. That was just our way of encouraging the family not to piff the dice. But then I discovered something better – dice trays.

    I purchased a couple at PAX Aus a few years a these have been the best thing ever. No longer am I crawling around on my knees looking for dice. No longer are there arguments about whether to dice was on the board or not. The dice stay beautifully inside the cradle. The tray packs down flat so it’s perfect for taking to a friends place, or on the road. If you’re into board or card games that require dice, then you definitely need to invest in a dice tray.

    One flat dice tray, and one blue dice tray that has been put together so that it can hold dice. The blue tray has approximately 30 dice in the tray.
    Two dice trays, one flatten out, and one put together. (Photo TechAU)

    Exploding kittens

    I mentioned above that whilst Settlers of CATAN is a super fun, and relatively short game, it’s not something easy to travel with. Yes the tech nerds in the room love it and it’s a huge hit at almost any conference, but it’s not very portable. We instead rely on a local speaker or conference organiser to have a set on hand. If you’re travelling lots, don’t like coordinating logistics, and want to be in charge of bringing the fun, then you might want to look at a more portable card game, something good for travelling. Look no further than Exploding Kittens.

    The Exploding Kittens box, rule book, and a few cards spread out. Only an Exploding Kitten card can  be seen.
    Exploding Kittens card game. (Photo TechAU)

    All you need for Exploding Kittens is a deck of special cards. It takes up no more space than a lady’s wallet, and is a fun, fast-paced game for two to five players. Which is perfect if you and another conference attendee just want to chill out for a while without having to find at least three other people. To play, you’ll need an Exploding Kittens card deck. Setup the game by ensuring only four Exploding Kittens are in the deck (for 2-4 players) and five Exploding Kittens for five players. Give one Defuse card to each player, and then shuffle the rest back into the deck. Make sure your deck is nicely shuffled and then deal out seven cards to each player.


    Determine who start first, either by dice roll or another method. Move around the circle clockwise, taking turns. On each turn, you need to draw a card, play a card, and then end your turn by drawing another card. On your draw turn, if you draw an Exploding Kitten and you don’t have a Defuse card, you lose the game. The winner is the last person standing. There are many cards you can draw:

    • Nope – cancel the effect of another card
    • See the Future – see the top three cards and rearrange as you like
    • Skip – skip your turn
    • Attack card – force other players to take additional turns
    • Favour – demand cards from another player
    • Defuse – cancel out Exploding Kitten
    • Exploding Kitten – self explanatory!
    Action cards including Attack, Nope, See the Future, and Favour.
    Examples of some Action cards that can be drawn. (Photo TechAU)

    It’s a super fun and unpredictable game, which requires not a lot of strategy. Like UNO you can play it almost anywhere, and in the space of a short amount of time, you can play lots of games with multiple people. Exploding Kittens is the perfect unwinder after a full day of conferencing.

    Card and board games

    Board and card games are fun ways to meet new people, catch up with friends, and chill out over something that (usually) doesn’t require too much brain power. Settlers of CATAN and Exploding Kittens are just two of my favourites. VR Distribution, the company behind these two games also have lots of other fun games for you to get your hands on. And you don’t have to look far. Most of these games are available from places like Kmart, Target, JB HiFi, and most independent games stores. Two other favourites of mine include Zombie Kittens (it’s like Exploding Kittens, but you can come back to life), and Block Party, build items with blocks before the time runs out.

    Zombie Kittens is a modified version of Exploding Kittens and is available now. (Image supplied)

    One of these games is super good for travelling and one, not so much. No prizes for guessing which is which! With winter on the horizon, and man of deals floating around for end of financial year, this is the perfect time to grab a board or card game and play with friends or family.

    Michelle Mannering
    Michelle Mannering
    Mish is the Hackathon Queen, having participated in more than 100 events. Between being a Developer and Twitch streamer, Mish also finds time to pursue her keen interest in driving entrepreneurial culture in Melbourne's Melbourne’s esports industry and has founded several tech companies.

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