Publisher: Lumberjack Studios, Hachette Board Games UK
Designer: Bruno Cathala, Corentin Lebrat

Artist: Jonathan Aucomte, Oliver Derouetteau

Release date: 2020

1- 50 Players

Age: 8+

15-30 mins

Favouritefoe score: 9/10

* Roll and Write * Legacy* Combo * Dice Rolling * Easy Rules * Chaining * Developing*

Trek 12 excited me from the moment I saw Bruno Cathala’s name connected to it. I admit it. I am Cathala Crazeee. I saw it mentioned many months ago when browsing his website. At that time, it was an uncertain thing. A promise more than a guarantee. Something new and different from Bruno. I was intrigued and the name stuck in my head. Question is, has it peaked  my interest, or am I left off-piste?

Read on to find out!

Rolling Hills

Roll and write games feature a lot in our collection. Whether we are rolling or flipping, I find something incredibly satisfying about filling in my very own sheet. Having a lasting souvenir of my experience that doesn’t get disassembled or repackaged back into the box when the game is done.

Most are admittedly predominantly solitary affairs, unless you happen to be sitting beside another equally keen challenger (think Metro X, Trails of Tucano, Welcome To etc).

Some, though, have an element of direct player interaction. Cartographers is a great example of this. Taking someone else’s sheet and changing not only their player space, but also their strategy and chance of victory, is probably the most meddly you can get! Seven Bridges is another; picking dice that precludes others from choosing those connections impacts in both an immediate and unforgiving way.

Bruno’s Legacy

Trek 12 feels rather unique, however. And whilst you may be forgiven for initially thinking it is just another solo-esque experience (discounting the usual communal groans and cheers as the dice are rolled!), it has an added sparkle as bright as freshly laid snow.

And this exceptionality comes from the fact that you have no idea what the game includes. In short, you have to take a leap of faith with Trek 12.

“ Oh, you mean there are different difficulty levels”……. Well, in a way, yes. There are increasingly challenging ascents included in the box which have their own scoring goals (Dunai, Kagot, and Dhaulagiri for veteran climbers!). But this game brings more than versatility to the table.  It brings surprises more akin to a legacy game. Sealed envelopes which you only earn the right to open once you achieve a level of game play that merits their grand reveal! Content which is at first a surprise and then forms part of the forever gameplay. And I don’t know about you, but that is the first time I have seen that in a roll and write!

Pack your bags!

In order to open those envelopes, however, you first need to know how to play Trek 12. And the basic game play is both simple to learn and quick to play. One ascent takes just 19 rolls of two D6 (yellow showing numbers 0-5 and red 1-6).

Essentially each turn (everyone using the same rolls simultaneously), you will be trying to climb the mountain in front of you by writing a number in a circle on your sheet. Numbers only score, however, if they chain together consecutively (to make a fixed line), or form zones of the same number.

And every one of the 19 rolls presents 5 options. But, (and here’s the kicker!); each option can only be used a maximum of 4 times:

  1. Insert the higher value
  2. Insert the lower value;
  3. Multiply the two together;
  4. Subtract the lower from the higher value; or
  5. Add the value of both dice together;

You can of course start with any number, and anywhere on the mountain generally. But once you have made that first mark, you are setting your path around that peak. Each subsequent number must be placed adjacent to one already filled in. And if you just can’t continue on your merry way, you are still going to have to place it. But, if you can’t connect a number to a chain or a zone, you will have created an ORPHAN which stops your point tally in its tracks.

Orphan Anguish!

Yes, I said it; ORPHANS! You have to draw sad faces on your sheet for every disconnected number! Now, I don’t know about you, but the mention of orphans instantly invests me deeper into this game. The thought of cutting off one number from its clan, alone on the side of the sheer face, is just too much to bear. And that is even before considering the scoring consequences of such a harsh act.

And scoring is where this game gives you ice-burns; if you chain numbers together, they will score the value of the initial number plus 1 point for each additional consecutive number in the line. If you Zone them, the same goes. So a line of 6-7-8-9-10 = 10 points! Or a zone 6-6-6-6 = 9 points. Helpfully, however, a number can form part of both a zone and a fixed line (although never two fixed lines simultaneously). Plus there are bonus points for your longest chain and largest zone.

Not content with guilting you senseless, the challenge is upped again. No circle can ascend higher than 12 (hence the name!) and “dangerous” circles cannot cope with anything higher than a 6. Go too big, splinter a chain, or shatter a zone, and you will have ORPHANED your number as well as any chance of cheeky-peaky points! Not to mention incurring pesky penalties that will have you stomping about in the snow like a yeti with a temperature. Do you have brain-freeze yet?? I do!

Climb Every Mountain!

Having caught your breath and fended off altitude sickness at the thought of creating ORPHANS(!), this game really is as versatile as you want it to be. Need a quick adrenaline hit? You can scale a single mountain in 5-10 minutes on express Trekking mode.

Feeling like a meatier mountain climb? No problem. You can don your Alpinist hat and scale 3 peaks in a row to form an “expedition”, tallying up stars as you go! Thankfully, you’ll also get some handy kit to help you on your way (as well as the ability to replenish it at the start of each new ascent). Note, however, that if you do pack light, you’ll get bonus points at the end for any unused ropes, tents, and other essentials!

Snowy Surprises!

Work your way through the mountain range as an experienced Alpine ascender, and you will acquire extra tools, and get to call yourself a killer climber! You’ll also get to open those tantalising envelopes I mentioned previously. Inside those, you’ll find further tasks that ramp up the ramblings in a familiar but fun way. Well, they have so far at any rate; I haven’t opened all of them yet – and I wouldn’t spoil the surprise even if I had! But I can tell you that am enjoying the journey up (and down) Trek 12 as much as I am the final mystery destination!

Puzzly Peaks!

Without doubt, I love this game. It gets to me. I am often quite terrible at it, but with the speedy option available, I I rarely ever play just one game. Finish, rage, reflect, and return!

You know me by now. I have to do better than last time. I also want to do better than my fellow climbers. Essentially, I want to beat myself, the game, and my opponents.

At its most basic, Trek 12 is a game of 19 choices. 19 decisions. Nearly all of them, however, require you to face a fork in the mountain road. Do you continue a chain, but sacrifice a zone? Do you orphan a circle but save something else? Do you use one of the four addition moves now, but risk not having enough of them when the numbers really start tallying higher?

There is so much gameplay in this modest sized box. Like Railroad Ink and other personal favourite roll and writes; the options and possibilities are almost endless. Ok, so a lot of games of this type have you filling in consecutive boxes in order to get points. But I feel like my strategies and approaches in Trek 12 remain fresh. The basic gameplay is the same from game to game, no doubt. But the restrictions over which options to go for, and what to write, never lessen. Replayability is consequentially high as strategies have to change courtesy of lady luck rolling random numbers each time. And not forgetting those bonus envelopes which throw new things into the mountainous mix!

Get Set Trekking

I also know that some players may well find the theme a stretch too far when it comes to writing numbers on a sheet. But the expanding challenge aspect of the game does in a way make me feel like I am on an expedition.

Admittedly, sitting at a table filling in a page of circles is not in the same universe as tying your boots, packing your bag, and trekking up a mountain side. Breathing in that crisp, fresh air, and giving a quick yodel to any bored bovine within earshot.

But the game setting works for me and draws me in. I feel like I am climbing (and descending) something. Starting green but getting more experienced. Earning my climbing badges, and in turn deserving that extra content.

And this is in no small part due to the superior attention to detail that the designer and publishers have gone to in order to make this game complete. From the styling of the components, to the Hall of Fame, and the illustrations; everything about this feels like a complete package holiday to the peaks!

Even the different game modes have their own manuals which accompany you through the various stages of game play (although they can take a few reads to get clarity on everything). I would have liked to see double sided sheets and heavier dice – they feel like they might float away!. Like Swiss chocolates, however, the box is jam packed with different gaming goodies.

Before you worry that I may be suffering mountain madness, I know I am not really casting numbers off into the wild, alone and untethered. I realise that I am not actually going up and down a mountain. But I personally think the process of forming numbers into rope lines, and zones into camps, carries the game along well within the setting.

Solo Scrambles!

The solo mode is perhaps the only slightly bumpier bit in an otherwise smooth ascent to roll and write greatness. Although it is not just a run of the mill beat-your-own score affair (having said that I often do just play to beat my previous total compared to the mountain goal), you have to write up another board which is a little bit more effort than most solo plays in the genre. You can also end up having to make decisions for him (like choosing which fixed lines a number links to when a circle presents more than one option), and I prefer not to have to think for an automa. Mainly because I like to focus my mental energy on my own game, but also because I don’t like the temptation or feeling that I am influencing or affecting the final scores.

To give you a little taste of your steep competition, Max, the automa,  is essentially a copy-cat climber. He mimics your circle choice, but always uses the highest value dice of the pair. And, whilst that would probably mean a lot of lonely numbers out there on another player’s piste, Max actually gets bonus rewards for making ORPHANS! As cruel and unforgiving as the mountain itself.

Final Frontier

Whether it is the proximity to so many inspiring peaks, I don’t know. But, I do know that I love what Bruno and his co-designer, Corentin Lebrat, have done in Trek 12. With a genre so filled to the brim with similar games, playing one which reveals more of itself as you progress up the ranks is refreshing and exciting.

My analysis paralysis has a field day along the paths most days, and that might be too much for some. But I have learnt to love the brain burn. Sitting and puzzling it out, with both frustration and fun vying for top spot, is a pretty perfect way for me to spend time, even if Max can be a little bit of a drag on the solo mode.

And I confess that I am very much looking forward to opening the remainder of my envelopes when I am worthy of such gaming greatness. With a world of rugged hills and terrains remaining to be explored, I also think the gameplay in Trek 12 lends itself to plenty of expansion. Indeed, on the Lumberjack Studio website itself, there are already a number of bonus maps just waiting to be scaled, and I have heard rumours of a Trek 12 + 1 in the wings. Not that I strictly need any additional maps any time soon, the completionist and gaming addict in me definitely won’t be able to help themselves. When it comes to Trek 12, I gotta have them all!