Trek 12 Board Game Review
Trek 12: Himalaya
WBG Score: 8.5
Player Count: 1-50
You’ll like this if you like: Welcome To, Ganz Schon Clever, Cartographers.
Published by: Lumberjacks Studio, Blackrock Games, Geronimo Games, Hachette Board Games UK
Designed by: Bruno Cathala, Corentin Lebrat
Roll & Writes became all the rage a few years back, and now it seems we have a new game using this mechanic being launched every week. So, how do you wade your way through the bad ones, and find the good ones? Play them all of course! Don't have the time? Well, never fear, I play loads of new games every week and I can safely say that the 2020 release of Trek 12 stands out and should be worthy of your consideration if you are looking for a new game in this genre. Why? Well, read on, but give me a sec as a new roll-and-write just dropped through the letter box...
There sure are a lot of games that use the blank and write mechanic. A term coined to described games that either use cards (flip-and-write) or dice (roll-and-write) to add some random factor into a paper and pencil based game. We also now have flick and writes and I'm sure a few more! But there are not many with a campaign mode; or one of my favourite things in board games, extra stuff to unlock and open as you progress through the game. You see this in legacy games like Pandemic Legacy or Zombie Kidz/Teenz but it hasn't become something that you see that often. I'm unsure why, as it is an awesome way to introduce new rules slowly into a more complex game, and brings real drama and excitement when you finally get to open a new envelope.
In Trek 12 they are used to add more replayability and motivate you to keep playing the game over and over. And it works so well! But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's first talk about how this game plays.
How to Play
Trek 12 is built using the classic mechanics of a roll-and-write. One player will roll two dice, and then all players will use those dice somehow on their own personal player sheet. As such, this game scales to as many players as you like. It's marketed as 1-50 but as long as you have enough sheets, you could play with as many friends as you can gather. This will not affect the game at all including how long it takes to play, other than the post game chat and banter of course!
Players must use the dice in one of five ways. At the top of the sheet you will see a grid with five rows showing five different symbols. The top one must be marked off if you use the lowest of the two numbers rolled on the two dice. The second one is if you use the highest of the two numbers. The third one is for when you use the difference between the two dice. You cannot go into negative numbers so you must subtract the lowest number from the highest. Then you have the combined value of both dice, and finally one dice multiplied by the other. You cannot go over 12 but this is one way along with the addition row where you get get numbers higher than 6. You cannot use each method more than four times.
Once you have your number, you must then mark that into one of the circles on the mountain. You can draw the first one anywhere you like, but all subsequent numbers need to be adjacent to one other number you have already marked. You are looking to score from two main ways. Groups of sets of the same number and groups of runs of numbers running one up or one down from each other. Sets are called zones, a mapped zone you have plotted out for your climb. Runs are called fixed lines, a line you are climbing up to the top of the mountain. As such, once you place a number onto the sheet, the next number needs to the the same or one different in order to place it. If you ever cannot place a number you place mark a sad face onto a circle instead. These lose you three points at the end of the game.
You will then score your groups by taking the number used in the group, for example a six, and then one additional point for every additional circle used in this group. So my two sixes above in the bottom left of the map score me seven points. The runs score the same, except you take the highest number then add one for all additional circles used. You will then score a bonus from your largest run and group, and subtract three points for any number you were unable to place.
The game comes with a simple Trek manual to teach you the basic game. You will be up and running within in a few minutes, playing one of the three starting mountains. There is also a brilliant solo mode using the Soloist Trek manual, which adds one small addition, Max, your competitor in solo mode; in an otherwise very simple but fun solitaire game. And finally, there is the meat of the game. The Alpinist Manuel, which introduces the campaign mode, and the way to unlock those juicy envelopes.
The main difference with the Alpinist campaign mode is you are working your way through three different mountains in one game. In the box, you start with Dunai, Kagkot, and Dhaulagiri peaks. You will score each climb the same way, but your scores are not tallied. Instead for each route, the person with the highest score gets one star. There will also be a star for all players that achieve the minimum target score for that mountain, and a final star for anyone who beats your groups top score for that mountain. Whenever a new top score is achieved, that must be recorded in the hall of fame included on the back of the rule book, so you know what you are looking to beat in any future game using the same mountain. The player with the most stars after the three ascents wins.
There are also Assist cards used in this mode. Whenever you create a new zone with zeros, ones, or two's, you can pick an assist card from the cards revealed at the start of each climb. These help you as you make your way up the next few mountains. The Compass allows you to write a result of a dice face in a non-adjacent circle. The Rope gives you the chance to create a fixed line between two non-adjacent circles. Using the Schnapps gives players the opportunity to re-roll the dice after other players have used them. And finally, the Tent lets you use either one of the five metrics for choosing your dice for a fifth time, when usually they are limited to four.
If you achieve one of the six set targets you can open one of the envelopes. The targets are to create a zone of exactly five or seven spaces, a zone of three seven's or two eleven's, and a fixed line that is nine or thirteen circles long. Once any player has achieved either of these after any ascent you can open one envelope.
I don't want to spoil the surprise as to what's inside these envelopes, so I will not show any pictures here. But suffice to say that there is a lot more "game" to be had in Trek 12 than first meets the eye. There is pretty much more of everything and then some!
And just when you think that's all Trek 12 can offer, there is now a new Amazon version Trek 12: Amazonia (which I have not played yet) and Trek 12.1: A Travel Diary Through The Himalaya's which brings even more climbing fun to the table.
Again, I don't want to spoil what is inside this box as most of it is locked away safely inside secret envelopes. But right out the box you will have access to Jampa, a new map, which introduces a new rule - New Circles. Circles that are already linked on the map and must be filled with numbers that create a fixed line between them.
Once you create seven successful New Circles you can open the first envelope and see the wonders inside! The second and third envelope has some real treats in store for you too, and it doesn't end there. Virtually the story will continue. It's a wonderful expansion and one I would highly recommend getting with the base game.
There is so much game in these two little boxes. You may well need more sheets soon or consider laminating some like I did. I burned my way through the maps so quickly! The game is incredibly addictive.
Each game only takes between 5-10 minutes, depending on your familiarity with the rules. And you will want to beat your last score, or try to get the top score to get onto the Hall of Fame leader board. But the game isn't just addictive, it's also very fun. I get a lot of satisfaction from scoring well in this game, but also love the theme, and how playing Trek 12 transports me not to the mountains (sadly) but to a calmer, more meditative state. I love losing myself in the player sheet, working my way towards to the best result. There is something so grounding about rolling a nice wooden dice, and writing with a pencil on a piece of paper.
This, I think, is one of the reason roll-and-writes as a mechanic is so popular. The reason Trek 12 deserves it's place amongst the elite is that it brings with it a simple brilliance in the way the game is played and scored, a real sense of adventure with the theme and envelopes, and an overall brilliant game experience from the ever evolving components and additional rules.