As we’ve mentioned before, we’re big fans of the license plate game. We play it on road trips of all lengths, even though we rarely win. On our 2013 cross-crountry road trip, we played and actually found ALL 50 STATES!! It had never happened before, so we were pretty excited. We used to scribble them down on a scrap of paper. For our national park trips with our niblings, we printed out US maps and highlighted each state as we found their plates. But now, there’s an app for that! Several of them, in fact. We tested five of them head to head!
Below are our reviews of the five different apps we tested — all of which we liked, but none of which had everything we’d have included if we were king and queen of the apps! (App developers, take note!) All these apps were tested on our iPhones. At least some of them are also available for Android. We hope you have as much fun using them as we do. (Update: in the three years since this post originally went live, it’s been the most popular one on our blog! Gotta love the license plate game!)
License Plate Zone (Cost: 99¢)
- Shows nearly every iteration of a state’s license plates (truck, commemorative, etc.).
- Can create and save a list for each road trip taken.
- Interactive map drops pins showing where you saw each plate (but requires an Internet connection).
- Shows nearly every iteration of a state’s license plates (100s of plates per state can be overwhelming).
- Main screen doesn’t show which states you’ve already seen, and lacks a list of states remaining.
- List of states you’ve seen is in order they were found, rather than alphabetical order.
Marathon (Cost: Free)
- Simple and straightforward — no frills.
- Alphabetical list shows which — and how many — plates have been found so far.
- App also includes a good car bingo game — great if multiple passengers each have their own smartphone!
- Found plates can be inadvertently unchecked — no way to hide them.
- Bare bones — about as basic as it gets.
- Bummer: the latest version of this app doesn’t have the license plate game.
Plate Game (Cost: 99¢)
- Ability to hide plates that have been found, avoiding accidental unchecking.
- Alphabetical scroll bar allows for quick scrolling through plates.
- Home screen notification bubble shows number of plates found.
- Too easy to accidentally mark a plate as found while scrolling.
- License plate icons don’t always match the most recent version of actual license plates.
- Basic — no frills.
States and Plates (Cost: 99¢)
- Map shows which plates have been seen.
- App requires two taps to mark a state found, preventing mistakes.
- Once you find a state, info about that state becomes available (e.g., capital, state bird, state bird, bonus facts).
- App lists number of states seen, and different colors on main list differentiates between plates found or not found.
- Bonuses: a fun little horn honks when you find a state (it can be turned off) and a Vanity Insanity game where you have to guess what the vanity plate stands for (Alaska: WLDRNES = wilderness).
- Main list of states does not include pictures of license plates.
- Distances given are from your home state not from where you actually saw the plate.
US Plates (Cost: Free)
- Pop-up confirmation for each plate that’s added.
- User can add plates (such as Canadian provinces).
- App hides found plates while the statistics section tallies plates.
- Statistics section percent found calculation adds in new plates, so it’s not just calculating the percentage of the 50 US states seen.
- US map that’s included is non-interactive.
- As of July, 2017, this app is no longer available in the US iTunes App Store.
Believe it or not, there are even more apps out there, but these five are all fun and do the job. It’s a matter of whether you want some bells and whistles or you’re a utilitarian player. Heck, some people might even prefer the old paper and pencil method, and that works, too! If you have a favorite license plate game, leave us a note in the comments. Tip: parking lots in National Parks are fantastic places to hunt for plates!
Whichever method you use, we hope you find all 50 states on your next road trip, whether it’s for a week or a weekend! Drive safely.