Disclaimer: A copy of Trekking Through History was provided by Underdog Games for review purposes
I have a trick when it comes to introducing people to hobby board games. I find the easiest, most colourful, aesthetically pleasing game with a theme that they already enjoy, and use it to ease them into the hobby. Underdog Games has been producing some very bright and vibrant games with absolutely no expense spared on the production. Neoprene mats, tarot sized cards featuring full sized art, and chunky components make for excellent introductions into board gaming. Add in an educational twist, and suddenly you’ve got a game for both parents and kids to enjoy!
How to Play
In Trekking Through History, you’re playing as time travelling tourists tearing the fabric of the space-time continuum in an effort to curate the most enriching three day vacation through mankind’s past.
Setting up the game tasks players with laying out the neoprene mat that serves as the market row and score tracker, then separate the three decks of cards based on the number in the upper right corner. Each card depicts an event in history, and prominently displays the date the event happened in the top left corner. In the bottom right corner, cards may show several symbols that you’ll earn if you choose to that the card into your Trek, while the bottom left corner tells you just how much time you’ll have to spend for that card.
On your turn, you simply take one of the cards from the row, and collect tokens matching the symbols on the card, as well as a token matching the space the card was on. The tokens fall onto your itinerary and may score you points or earn you time crystals. You move your token on the time track, and place your card into your Trek. A trek is a line of cards with an ascending date, which means if you take a historical event that happens further in the past than top card of your current trek, you’ll need to start a whole new trek (It’s also worth mentioning that you can only have one active trek at a time). Then, the player whose token is furthest back on the time track, gets to take the next turn.
The rounds ends when all players time tracker tokens reach the 12 o’clock spot. The cards in the market are wiped out, and the round 2 cards come in, which span from the earliest records of BCE, all the way to almost modern day events. After the third round, the scores are counted. Your final score is based on the points you earned during play, and each of your treks are scored based on how long they are. There’s a helpful reminder on the right side of the score track. The player with most points wins!
Starting off with the physical production of Trekking Through History, the components are fantastic. All the tokens you’re collecting to fill your itinerary are made of moulded plastic, and are stored in a firm, plastic case. The player markers are large, chunky plastic stopwatches that move around the circular time board, and the main play area that contains the card river and score track is a stitched edge neoprene mat. Each of the large cards feature unique and vibrant artwork. All of this to say, the components of Trekking Through History make the game feel like a premium product!
The gameplay itself is very straightforward, pick a card, pay it’s time cost, and place it into your current trek. You’ll be compelled to wait for a card to slide along the card river, so it matches up with the bonus token that you really want, so you can earn bonuses from your itinerary. This is risky, however, as you really need to hope that other players won’t snap up your card. Treks can only move forward through time, meaning if the token you really want is associated with a card late in the timeline, you may find yourself making several shorter treks, and hoping you make up the difference in points. It’s quite satisfying when everything works out, however. There are great moments during the game where the perfect card slides into the right position, and claiming that event just so happens to trigger extra bonuses on your itinerary, rocketing your marker up the score track. When the combos hit, the game sings.
I love the time mechanic, I’ve loved the mechanic in every game I’ve played that featured it (Glen More, Patchwork, and Thebes are the games that come to mind). The cards that offer you a variety of resources, and sit further back in time require more opportunity cost to acquire, which offers an excellent trade-off. It can be frustrating when you have to take a card that launches you several spaces into the lead, then you sit there, watching the other players take turn after turn, letting the card you want slip right past the resource you needed, but the flip side is quite satisfying. If you happen to have them, the time crystals allow you to reduce the time cost when acquiring a card by 1 space per crystal you spend. We found ourselves using these to get multiple turns in a row more often than perhaps we should have, but it gave us greater control over that card market. Which in a game with narrow margins, every extra point counts!
Every card represents an event in history, and the back of the card shares some details about that event. Just like in HerStory, also by UnderDog Games, this feature educated us during our downtime of the game. Events or objects I’ve never really considered, like “Breaking the Sound Barrier with Chuck Yeager”, or “Race in the Paris-Rouen” were suddenly interesting. While waiting for my turn to come back around, I felt compelled to flip over the card. Even better were the conversations some of the cards inspired amongst my friends, like watching Freddy Mercury during the 1985 Live Aid concert. I love when a game helps pull the stories from our past, or encourages us to talk about hobbies other than the game we’re currently engaged it. It’s an easy way to introduce someone to stories from other cultures they may never have encountered otherwise.
With only 36 time to spend each game, and most cards costing between 2 – 4 time, Trekking Through History moves along quickly. Before you know it, you’ve picked up 13 cards between your three treks, and the end of the game is bearing down on you. There’s a lot of luck in the cards, considering only 6 cards are available to you when it is your turn. It can be entirely possible that there just aren’t any cards that will generate the resource you need! I don’t think Trekking Through History is the absolute best drafting or set collection game out there, but it’s one that would absolutely excel in a family setting. I wouldn’t hesitate to plop this down on a week night to encourage curiosity from the younger people in my life.
The deck of cards is thick, meaning players will always be seeing new events. The game flow is easy to follow, and it feels good when the luck just happens to fall the right way. It’s a fun and smooth game, and with the dates on the cards making each card valuable or worthless depending on the state of your current trek, it’s hard to inflict bad feelings via hate drafting. With short and long term goals pulling you in multiple directions, I felt engaged through my plays of Trekking Through History, and I really enjoyed the snippets of knowledge I acquired in between my turns. It’s attractive, fun, and quick to play. It’s probably not one that I’ll be pulling out with my regular game group often, but it’s the kind of game that I would put in front of my sister and her kids when they ask “What’s the board gaming thing you’re always going on about?”