Trek 12: Himalaya Review

We’re off on an adventure in the Himalayas! You’ve been hired to map out routes for climbers on some of the lesser known peaks among the mountain ranges. As as a pioneer, this will be a dangerous and tricky undertaking. Setting out with your supplies and rope, you explore the face of the mountain, dealing with the punches that nature throws as best you can. As you explore, you will lay out your rope and update your map, hoping to make the best route you can on your Trek … (12 … : Himalaya).

1 – A Lot of Players | 20 Minutes | Designed by Bruno Cathala and Corentin Lebrat

It took me a little while to work out the title of this game. The Trek part is obvious, but the 12 not so much. 2012 was my first thought, but after careful examination of the rules, my leading theory is that it has something to do with the highest number you are allowed to write in the Trek 12 universe, which is 12. Trek 12 saw a limited release to the European market in 2020 from original publisher Lumberjacks Studio and was then picked up by Pandasaurus Games for a late 2021 release to the rest of the world.

Trek 12: Himalaya is an interesting game in that it includes ‘Unlockable Content’. When you open up the game box, you are presented with some basic game components and a bunch of sealed envelopes. You can only open these after you satisfy certain game-play conditions which will unlock more stuff inside, waiting for you to enjoy.

So much stuff in a little box!

How does it work?

Trek 12: Himalaya is a roll and write game that brings the genre back to its roots after it went on a long and wild adventure, trying out new things and ultimately deciding to just be itself. At the beginning of a game, players are presented with a blank mountain sheet, which has a number of things on it. Prominently displayed are the 19 mountain spaces, circles which are arranged to provide an interesting combination of adjacencies and routes.

In each turn of the game, somebody rolls the dice (there is a regular D6 and a D6-1 (eg, 0-5)). Players need to then write a number down in a circle on their mountain and there are a few ways to choose what number you mark down. The higher of the dice can be chosen and marked down, or the lower. You can also choose to add the dice together or subtract the smaller from the larger. Finally you could multiply the numbers together. Critically, you only have a limited ration of 4 of each of these options throughout the game. You can’t just add your numbers each turn or you will quickly run out of the option to do that!

There are a few constraints on marking your number down. First off, once you pick your starting location, all subsequent numbers need to be touching your existing ‘route’. Secondly, you may never mark down a number higher than 12! If you can’t abide by the rules, you need to add a sad face to your mountain instead, which is a sad thing to do (and also worth -3 points at the game’s end).

During the game, players are trying to achieve two things while marking their numbers down. The first is to create ‘Mapped Areas’ which are multiple identical numbers touching. These score based on the value of the number, plus the number of additional circles in the group (e.g. three 5’s would be 7 points). The second is to create ‘fixed routes’ which are strings of consecutive numbers. These score based on the highest number in the string, plus one for each additional number (e.g. 4-3-2-1 would score 7 points).

Scores are calculated only at the games end so players have the opportunity to merge mapped areas and fixed routes during the game to get lots of points. There are some additional points for your longest road route and largest mapped area. Of course, whoever scores the most, made the best map, and wins the game.

A finished Trek. Nice score.

What do I think?

I didn’t mention in the above ‘How it Works’ that the game actually includes three different ‘modes’ : Trek, Expedition and Solo. Trek is what I described above. Expedition strings together 3 Treks and allows you to open the additional content envelopes as you play. I must say when I first un-boxed the game and felt it was obvious what was in (at least some of) the envelopes, I thought I might just open them after a few basic games, but when we got to playing the Expedition mode, we found it quite fun to unlock the envelopes in the way described in the rules and enjoyed the new stuff as it was naturally revealed to us. As of writing this review, I’ve played Expedition twice and Trek three times, (which is equivalent to 8 games of Trek) and we unlocked more than half of the envelopes while playing through two Expeditions.

The Good Stuff

  • Trek 12′s rules are very straight forward. It is easy to learn from the well laid out rulebook, and easy to teach in a couple of minutes. Despite simple rules, like many roll and write games, the gameplay is interesting and challenging, with every decision you make taking you down a unique path.
  • The simple scoring structure is very easy to keep track of and thus it’s easy to stay focused on your goal. I really like this as there is no disconnect between end of game scoring and gameplay, the scoring is at the forefront of your mind with every move you make.
  • I love a compact box! Trek 12 is a heavy boi with a surprising amount of stuff inside, yet the small box won’t take up too much space on my overstuffed shelves.
  • I think the planning and strategy overhead with this game is just right for me. While things most often won’t pan out exactly as you hope, there is lots of scope for pivoting your strategy and mitigating disappointing rolls.
  • Trek 12 has lovely presentation and attention to detail. Often I find rulebooks with story woven into them a bit cheesy, but I did enjoy all the random inspirational climbing quotes and little artworks presented throughout the Trek 12 materials.
  • There is so much stuff! I don’t want to spoil anything but the envelopes are exciting to open and so much content is revealed as you work through them. I am not worried at all about things getting stale with this game, however I am more worried about finding the time to unlock everything!
  • I found the mechanic of having to ration your use of dice combination options really interesting and quite fun. If you want to plan ahead to use a certain number in a certain spot in the future, you also need to make sure you haven’t used up the option to ‘make’ that number by then. For example, 7’s can only be made by adding, so if you plan to join your fixed line together with a 7 in future, you better remember to save a ‘+’ for that too … unlike me.
  • Trek 12 has instant setup! After we knew the rules, opening the box and starting a game only takes as long as you need to find a pen.

The Bad Stuff

  • The trade-off on scoring large areas versus size 2 areas seems hard for me to reckon with. This doesn’t affect my interest in the game really, but it seems like there is a pretty clear strategy for having one large area of each type (to get some bonus points) and then pairs for everything else. In some cases though it even feels like a waste to do anything but pairs, unless you are forced to with bad rolls or need to make some points out of small numbers. You have limited space and a pair of 6’s is worth 7 points while a chain of 6-5-4-3 might be worth 9, it takes up double the space. I think I need to play the game more with varied people to see different strategies working.
  • This game generates so many ‘instant regret’ moments. I don’t think I’ve encountered a game where so many of the dice rolls bring me pain because I literally just decided to change my strategy because something wasn’t coming, and then the perfect number comes up the next roll. I think that the dice included might actually be evil.
  • (Spoiler for the envelope content, select to read) Maybe the unlockable mountains are a bit too same same, bigger rule variations and changes in these would be welcomed.
  • The Expedition/Campaign – When playing this to unlock envelopes, it felt like you really needed to choose between throwing a round to get an envelope or trying to win the campaign. Of course, we went for the envelopes because why wouldn’t you, but then that leads to the question, why bother doing the challenge instead of just opening the envelopes as you wish if you need to throw a game to do it? They aren’t incredibly challenging to open, it sort of like a box ticking exercise.
  • The assist cards used in the Expedition are kind of so so for me. It’s one of those things that adds a little spice to a simple game but I’m happy to ignore them myself, because I like that the game is so simple as it is.
  • (Spoiler for the envelope content, select to read) The unlockable Guide cards seem really powerful for the person who gets them in most cases, but some are duds and highly situational, so these feel really imbalanced to me.
The results of an Expedition!

I’m growing to very much enjoy roll and write games in all their forms. My initial aversion to them for having consumable components is basically removed now with the realisation I only play very few games many times. I found Trek 12: Himalaya to be a surprisingly well put together game, both in gameplay and presentation. The unlockable envelopes add to the intrigue and experience. I think one of the strong points of this game is its simple rules and ease of play, and I would be happy to pull it out and play with anyone regardless of their ‘gaming level’. If Trek 12 sounds interesting to you, you can find out more and snag a copy at the Pandasaurs Games store!

The copy of Trek 12 used for this review was provided to The Boardgame Detective by Pandasaurus Games

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