80 Days - World

10 Road-Tested iOS Games for Your Next Trip

  by Chris BackeNo Comments

Articles on this site contain affiliate links, meaning we may be compensated if you purchase a product or service after clicking them. Read our full disclosure policy here.

Whether you’re traveling by bus, train, car, or plane, staying entertained can be a challenge. Sure, you could admire the view out the window or read a book, but as you approach hour nine of that 30 hour bus trip, you’ll be looking for something else to keep yourself amused.

We’ve covered some great time-wasting games for travelers in the past (here and here), but time marches on and new ones hit the app stores every month. This post assumes you’ll be traveling with an iPhone or iPad, although many of these games are also available on other platforms.

I own many more games than these, but I had several requirements for games to fit before adding them here:

  • No Internet connection required to play (buses traveling through rural Thailand tend not to have Wi-Fi, and using a Personal Hotspot connection drains an iPhone battery faster than a kid eats candy)
  • No (or few) in-app purchases. Egads, I hate those – if I buy the game, I want to play it without worrying about paying for coins or gems or whatever. No intrusive ads, either.
  • It pulls me in. While admittedly subjective, it’s a game that takes my mind off of the uncomfortable seat, the snoring guy behind me, or the baby in the back that won’t stop crying.
  • It doesn’t repeat the same story or mechanics too often. That means it may creep into the hard-to-define ‘mid-core’ category, but it’s a game with more than a little depth to it.
  • Doesn’t require a fast reaction time or tapping on small areas – two things that can be hard on bouncy transportation.
  • Easy to turn off when something else requires my attention

With those requirements set in place, I’m pleased to share with you 10 of my favorites.

80 Days

80 days

Quite possibly my favorite game of the year. 80 Days takes the story of Jules Verne’s classic novel and mixes in a steampunk twist with a side of alternate history. This text-based Choose-Your-Own-Adventure matches a spectacular story with strategy and a great alternate history.

The year is 1872, and you are Passparteout, a French servant accompanying Mr. Fogg on his journey around the world Much like a CYOA book, your choices and your items affect your outcome, your relationship with Mr. Fogg, which routes you hear about, and so on. It’s a text-heavy game, so if reading while moving is difficult take a pass on this one. Share this with your teenager, or maybe a precocious 10-year-old.

($4.99 on iTunes)

Tower Madness

Tower Madness

For the uninitiated, Tower Defense games are those where you defend something (in this case, sheep) from something else (in this case, aliens) by building towers to shoot down attackers. By convention, the attackers are programmed to take the shortest route to the target, meaning they’re easily manipulated into the route you choose.

Experienced players will choose to make a maze for them to go through, but remember they can’t be trapped (e.g. there must be a way out, however long it may take).

As a bonus, it’s kid-friendly while being deep enough for the number nerds to get a kick out of. In-app purchases are optional – personally, I paid the $0.99 for access to the Flamethrower weapon since it’s fun to watch aliens die in a sea of flames =)

Tower Madness is $2.99 on iTunes. I’ll note the ‘HD’ version for iPad is $4.99, and that a new version ($1.99) is out, but less highly regarded than the first.


Scrabble screenshot

A classic standby with plenty of clones. I play this in one of two modes: Pass N’ Play (against your traveling companion), or Single Player (against a computer with four difficulty levels). Dictionaries from several countries are built in, and a ‘Teacher’ mode shows your highest-scoring move (but not necessarily the most strategic move!) after you play.

Note this app is scaled up from the free iPhone version – the iPad equivalent is an inexplicable $9.99.


photo 1 (2)

The classic card game works nicely on the iPhone or iPad. While the cards can be a bit small to tap on, the ‘Undo’ feature takes back an accidental tap. (Just be sure to use it during accidents, not bone-headed card play!) Avoid the hearts and the Queen of Spades, just like you might have when you were a kid.

Three levels of AI dial down the challenge if necessary, and is kid-friendly to boot. Banner ads do appear if you’re connected to Wi-Fi, but they’re unobtrusive.

Free on iTunes


photo 2 (1)

While simpler and more random than other games mentioned, Dots features an untimed ‘moves’ mode for starting and stopping without fear of losing your place. I’ll note there’s also a sequel – appropriately named Dots 2, it adds a questing system of challenges and ‘lives’ to lose if you fail a level.

In either game, aim to make squares, which makes all the dots of that color disappear. (Making squares also prevent that color from returning for a short time, making it easier to start a chain of squares.)

Free on iTunes

Get Us in Your Inbox

Get our regular email updates with the latest travel tech news, tips, and articles. We'll also send over a free 5000-word guide to get you started!

No spam ever, and you can leave any time. Our privacy policy explains how we handle your personal information.

Super Stickman Golf 2

photo 1

Perfect for the kids or the adults who love silly games, Stickman navigates 9-hole golf courses that come complete with water hazards, pink goo your ball will stick to, and sand traps. Your power-ups include balls that freeze water traps and a nitro boost that gives your ball that extra boost before it goes into the sand.

There is an element of timing to the power meter, but equip yourself with the turtle shell hat to make it move slower. (Trust me, that last sentence makes sense once you’re in the game.). In-app purchases are available, but completely unnecessary.

Free on iTunes


photo 3 (3)

Another popular puzzle-type game, your task is to slide same-numbered tiles into each other to create a higher-numbered tile. 2 and 2 make 4, 4 and 4 make 8… all the way up to 2048. If you happen to be the sort of player that goes ‘well, can you reach 4096 or 8192?’ Yes, yes you can.

You’ll have to be a much better player than I, though. Banner ads do appear if you’re connected to Wi-Fi, but they’re unobtrusive.

Free on iTunes

Plants vs. Zombies 2

Plants vs Zombies 2

Another type of tower defense game, albeit a more linear version, you play the Plants, and you’re defending a garden and/or house. Personally I find it to be a little repetitive, but there are some side games and twists to keep you going.

It plays quite nicely on an iPad and also fine on an iPhone. The in-app purchases are pushed, but mostly unnecessary – skill will win the day.

Free on iTunes


photo 2

Color blending and matching, anyone? This one tests your eye as much as anything else – arrange the colors into smooth transitions / sequences. While you are being timed, I thought it was different enough from the other games to be worth mentioning here.

Sponsored by Benjamin Moore (the American paint company), you can also ‘heart’ your favorite colors if you happen to be looking to create a color palette. It doesn’t get in the way of the game, however.

Free on iTunes


photo 3

Crossword puzzlers will love this one. Start with Tetris-like pieces and match the letters to make words that fit the clues. The tutorial starts simply enough, but the daily puzzles (free, although they require the Internet to download) are moderately challenging. The game prevents you from incorrectly matching pieces, and only joins pieces when they’re correctly matched.

You can’t just blindly try matching pieces, of course – there’s a lot of possible combinations! There are in-app purchases to unlock more puzzles, but you’ll have plenty to go on for free.

Free on iTunes

So these are 10 of my favorite iOS games. What are you playing during that painfully long layover these days?

All images via their respective game developers.

About the Author

Chris Backe

Facebook Twitter Google+

Chris Backe is the avid traveler and blogger behind One Weird Globe, dedicated to highlighting offbeat destinations throughout the world. He's written over a dozen books and itineraries about Korea and Thailand beyond the blog, and considers technology an absolutely essential part of traveling.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.