We were all there once: the back seat of your family car, packed to the gills with suitcases and coolers. We were going on vacation! This (in my view) little-known game by Philip DuBarry takes you back to those days. Along the way you’ll see some of America’s greatest cities and roadside attractions.
I’ll be honest, the main reason this game attracted me in the first place was that I wanted to design a game around trying to “survive” a day at a Disney park. I started as a card game, added dice, then cubes, then a board…and nothing felt right. Then I played Family Vacation and realized that this was the game I was trying to make! So, was I going to design a fun game? Let’s dig in.
The basics of Family Vacation are that each player is a family of 4 (2 adults and 2 kids) that are deciding to go on vacation. Each family will start in a different city (shown on your hometown card), and basically cannonball run their way from place to place. Each family member gets 2 randomly chosen but different “likes” at the start.
The goal of the game is to travel to at least one of the destinations shown on your hometown card and then get back home. But just driving out and back is boring (in fact, moving along any road not Route 66 costs each person a point of happiness)…so you want your family to have some fun experiences along the way. Each major city along the roads have various circles that match the interest tokens you drew at the beginning of the game. Whenever you move to one of those cities, you go to one of the matching circles and cover it with a white chip. That space is blocked for the rest of the game (except for eating, you can always eat). You then adjust your family’s happiness up or down depending on who liked to do those particular activities.
You may instead choose to take pictures in select cities. Picture tokens are worth a number of points based on how many of those tokens you picked up. Eventually you will get to one of the attraction spaces listed on your hometown card. If you are the first to go there (and you can’t visit ones not on your card), you take the bonus token and will score those points at the end of the game. Once you have taken one of those tokens, you may begin the trek home…or you can push on to go to one of the other attractions on your hometown card.
Once a player has decided to head home, the end game is triggered. Each other player has 7 turns in order to get back home. While they are racing home, the folks already home get +1 happiness per family member per turn the game continues. Once the countdown runs out, or everyone gets home, the game is over and everyone tallies their happiness points. High score wins!
This game had a rough road to the market. I remember being pretty enthusiastic for it when it was on Kickstarter. I think this is when I first ran into the stereotype of the entitled gamer. I recall comments made by people that had backed the game (I assume at the $1 level) just to criticize the designer for using the word “Family” in the title of the game. Basically saying that “Real Gamers (TM)” won’t play “Family” games. Ultimately, the game fell just short of its goal. Mad props then go to the folks at Jolly Roger Games that believed in it so much that they eventually helped bring it to market. Unfortunately, it does seem as though a few corners were cut in the process.
The quality of most of the components are decent, but not great. The generic plastic tokens for the family members should have been something more substantial because these get knocked around pretty easily. There are also several spelling errors on cards: most notably “Bounes” points cards. I believe Tallahassee, FL is spelled wrong as well.
While I wish these errors weren’t there, the thing that disappoints me most is that more people really should try this game out. It’s light and simple, but it’s also fun. The only knock I can really give about game play is that I truly feel as though you should have to go for at least 2 of the 3 destinations on your hometown card. Some of the easy ones are just 3 spaces away from your hometown. Rushing one of those and going home would end this game far too early (though I’d about guarantee that person wouldn’t win).
If you can find it, Family Vacation is well worth trying out. A definite keeper in my collection.