10 of the best car games for kids

Games to entertain the kids.
Games to entertain the kids.  Photo: Getty Images

Holiday road trips bring back memories of long hours in the back seat of a car, much boredom and, occasionally, a quick bit of motion-induced regurgitation on the side of the road while the looks impatiently at the clock and mutters about "the schedule".

As much as they are a classic part of holidays, the boredom part (and usually, as a result, the regurgitation) can be kept to a minimum by that other integral part of a road trip - car games!

Today we look at the 10 best games to keep the little (and not so little) passengers entertained during the trip to the relations, the beach or the holiday home.

Road trip bingo

This one can be as elaborate and pre-planned as the printing of prepared bingo cards, or as simple as a few pens and some paper. But the basic premise is the same - each player gets a bingo card (or hastily scribbled scrap of paper) with a range of common roadside sights on it. The first player to check off all the items on their card wins.

This can also be played with vehicle body shapes, styles or for a car load of real car nerds, specific models.

Number plate initials

This one is a silly bit of random fun. Simply take the letters from the first number plate you see and make up a phrase from it. For example, JUS855 becomes 'Jim's Ugly Sister' and so on. Things quickly get silly, with each person in the car taking turns with a number plate, trying to top the last person.

Be warned though, this can quickly descend into uncontrollable giggling when someone says something particularly silly. Or rude.

The alphabet game

Almost infinitely configurable to suit player ages, skill or even the length of the journey, the basic rules of the Alphabet Game are: each player must find the letters of the alphabet, in order, on road signs they pass.

The word must begin with the letter and a sign can only be used once (so Burger King can count for either B or K, not both) and whoever spots the sign first is the only one allowed to use a letter from it. Variables include allowing signs on trucks, number plates or any letter on a sign to make it easier for younger players.

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The real trick to the Alphabet Game are the letters J and Q, which are very much equalisers - if a player streaks ahead, then the relative scarcity of J and Q often allow slower players to catch up. Then there's X and Z.

The swift game

An absolute classic car game that can often end in tears, the basic premise of the Swift Game is to yell out "Swift" and punch the person next to you when you see a Suzuki Swift. Double punch if it's a yellow one.

Based on the game of Punch Buggy (also known as Slug Bug) which used the Volkswagen Beetle as a trigger for sibling violence, the Swift Game came about due to the decline in numbers of original Beetles as it has aged and the relative prevalence of the small Suzuki, as well as its easily recognisable shape.

A tamer version can be played that requires a gentle tap if less in-car violence is required, or if the age difference is too great. Remember, no one thinks you are funny if you punch grandma in the side of the head because you see a small Japanese car.

Car colour game

This one is nice and simple - each player picks a particular colour and keeps track of the number of cars they see in that colour. The player with the highest number wins.

Rules need to be in place prohibiting certain colours, however, because if anyone picks silver or white, then it's game over before it has even started.

Who's next door?

This one works best on a relatively busy road, and it relatively slow traffic, as it involves making up backstories for people in the cars surrounding you.

Each person takes turns making up a story about the people in the car next to you and the person with the best story wins. Or you all just keep making up wilder and wilder stories and completely forget about the competitive aspect of the game.

How many times have you speculated that the bloke in the car next to you at the lights looks like he has a secret collection of vegetables that look like celebrities and once threatened a man with a live weasel? Now you can share those suspicions with the everybody in the car.

Word chain

The basic premise of Word Chain (also known as Geography if played with country or city names) is to decide on a theme, then the first player comes up with a word. The next player must come up with another word that starts with the letter that the previous word ended with.

For example, if playing with animals it could be: bear, rhinoceros, snake, elephant, tiger. 

Time limits can be set to come up with a word, while limiting the theme can produce infuriating and anger-inducing results.

Another version of this game is to complete the alphabet using the first letter of each word. This works particularly well with people's names, countries and cities and car makes and models.

I packed my bag

I Packed My Bag starts with the first player saying: "I packed my bag and in it I put...", followed by any object they like. The next person then repeats "I packed my bag and in it I put...", followed by the original suggestion, then adding their own item. A player is disqualified if they forget one of the previously occurring items or cannot think of a new item to add to the bag. The game continues until all but the winner has been disqualified. Or someone cries.

Find the car

Similar to the car colour game, but more quick-fire, Find the Car requires each player to pick a specific make and model of car and the first one to spot theirs wins. A particularly nasty variation requires players to pick cars for each other, but this version can quickly be ruined by the disagreeable car nerd who picks Hispano-Suiza for another player.

A set of ground rules agreed upon by all at the start is strongly recommended for this very reason.

The quiet game

The beloved last resort of any parent or authority figure on a long car trip, the Quiet Game generally works best on very young children who don't see through the ruse.

Yelling out: "Hey! Let's play a new game and see who can stay quiet the longest!" only works on the young and gullible. Later in life some form of sugary bribery prize for the winner may be necessary.

Still after hours of giggling and silliness, plus bouts of uncontrolled Suzuki Swift-instigated punching, you'll probably be willing to try anything for a few brief moments of welcome quiet.

 - Stuff