10 Days in the USA challenges players to be the first to complete a 10-day journey that takes them across the United States via different forms of travel. Capturing the spirit of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days but with modern transportation methods, it is a game so well designed, popular, and just plain fun that it has grown into a series. Other versions include 10 Days in Europe, 10 Days in Africa, and 10 Days in Asia.
I could list the numerous awards this game has won, or praise its high-quality production values. But you know as I do that the best family games are distin- guished by how they play at your own kitchen table. I grew up in a household where everyone helped clear the dishes after dinner because the faster they were gone, the sooner a game board could be laid down. Now that my siblings and I are grown, with families of our own, we get together for multigenerational family game weekends where everyone brings their favorites and introduces new discov- eries. The first time I brought one of the 10 Days games published by Out of the Box, it hardly ever went back into the box. It not only remains a favorite, but we have since acquired the entire series and find all four entertaining and addictive.
What are my criteria for a great family game? Probably the same as yours. And 10 Days in the USA excels in them all.
First, 10 Days is easy to learn. The rules are so straightforward that you are playing within five minutes of breaking the shrink wrap. The game is also quick to play. Let’s face it: the realities of modern family schedules don’t often allow time for a weeknight session of Monopoly or Risk. A typical game of 10 Days lasts 20 to 30 minutes — short enough to squeeze in before bedtime on a light homework night.
Each player starts with 10 random tiles representing different states and modes of transportation. As each tile is drawn, you place it in your tile holder, assigning it to whichever specific day of your own 10-day itinerary you wish. Once a tile is in place, it cannot be moved until play begins; if a later-drawn tile fits more strategically into a slot you’ve already filled, figuring out how to get it where you want it to end up in the sequence becomes part of the challenge.
You may begin and conclude your journey in any state. Travel is permitted by foot between adjacent states, by car between states separated by only one other, and by airplane between states of the same color on the game board map. Driving or flying uses up a day of the itinerary; travel by foot takes you straight to the next state. Therefore, a completed journey conducted entirely on foot would have 10 state tiles in a row; one that incorporates other modes of travel would have fewer states, with car or plane tiles interspersed. On each turn, you draw the top tile from either the main draw pile or one of three face-up discard piles, and use it to replace an existing tile, if desired. When you’ve connected all 10 days of your journey, you’ve won.
The Africa, Europe, and Asia versions use the same mechanics, but travel is from country to country, and additional forms of transportation — railroads and ships — are incorporated.
Despite its mechanical simplicity, 10 Days is challenging for a range of ages. We have all endured games marketed for kids that bore adults to tears. Often, they rely too heavily on chance in order to win, or facile strategy that needs never alter from session to session. Conversely, games requiring highly complex strategies can prove frustrating for younger family members. 10 Days combines the best of both chance and strategy. The randomness of the initial tile draw means it’s never the same game twice. No one state or area of the country offers an advantage; you can begin your journey anywhere and win. Yet the randomness of your starting tiles requires you to devise a fresh strategy each time, and to adjust that strategy throughout the course of play as new tiles offer alternative paths or other players pick up tiles you were counting on to make your journey work.
In a recent game, I won with a final itinerary that had only one of my original tiles. 10 Days often requires you to abandon part or all your starting plan for a different route — which creates tension as you wonder whether you still have time to complete the revised journey before the opponent who just excitedly snatched your most recent discard announces victory. Or you might risk discarding a critical tile that was in the wrong day of your itinerary, hoping that it will still be available for you to retrieve on your next turn, so you can put it in the right slot. I’ll warn you now, the chances of succeeding at such a gambit go down with the number of players.
Though the suggested minimum age for all four versions is 10 years, children old enough to read can play independently. The Out of the Box Publishing website (otb-games.com) offers variant rules for beginners, such as shorter itineraries or the ability to rearrange one’s tiles, but we did not discover these until the whole family was already playing successfully with the standard rules.
10 Days is not, however, merely a kids’ game. It is equally engaging for adults, and can be made even more so. Try combining two or more sets — USA and Africa, for example — to create a cross-continent “10 Days Around the World” scenario. The Out of the Box website offers guidelines for this, or you can create your own rules. If you’re really up for a challenge, all four games can be integrated into a global supergame, though you probably want to allow more than 10 days for such an epic journey.
Beyond their entertainment value, the 10 Days titles are educational. While all games have some educational potential — at a minimum, they can teach good sportsmanship — 10 Days encourages the development of skills in logic, visualiza- tion, and geography. After the winner presents his or her successful itinerary, the other players can’t help but also trace their unrealized journeys across the game board map. The tiles also offer useful facts, listing the capital cities, populations, and square mileage of each state or country. Long after the box has been put away, it’s wonderful to hear a six-year-old confidently mention places like Kazakhstan and Moldova in conversations having nothing to do with the game.
As I write this, snow flies furiously outside our window. Schools are closed for the second day in a row. Ice has grounded flights, the roads look like ski slopes, and even foot travel is treacherous. Yet within our house, we’re plotting where to go this afternoon. Europe? Africa? Asia?
The snow is falling harder.
I think it’s time for 40 Days Around the World