Trekking Through History: Time Management 101
It’s summer vacation season, but who wants to deal with traffic or parking? Instead, Underdog Games offers your family a trip through time! Trekking Through History, designed by Charlie Bink and illustrated by Eric Hibbeler, is the latest entry in Underdog’s Trekking series, which combine edutainment with light strategy in a 30-60 minute board game. But is it worth your precious staycation time?
In Trekking Through History, figurative time management is the key to success. The game is split into three rounds, referred to as “days” in the rulebook.
Each day, you will visit a number of significant moments in history by taking a card from the Destinations row. Pay its cost (hours spent visiting) by moving your stopwatch marker along a clock board. For you, a day ends when your stopwatch goes around the clock and reaches 12.
Because the available cards are random, and they vary in hour cost, players will take an uneven number of turns.
Every History card awards tokens (Person, Event, Innovation, Progress, and/or Wild) you’ll use to fill up your itinerary card. And cheaper cards provide fewer benefits.
Some spaces on your itinerary card give victory points, and that’s one of only two ways in which you’ll actually score in this game.
The other means of getting victory points is by building your “treks”. A trek consists of a sequence of historical moments visited in chronological order. When you take a card, if its historical moment took place later than the last card in your current trek, you add it to that trek. If it’s earlier, even by just a few years, your current trek ends and you start a new trek.
Herein is the great strategic choice of Trekking Through History. Do you take a card that continues your trek, but doesn’t give you the tokens you need for your itinerary? When you start a new trek, do you take the oldest card on the board to maximize potential trek length? Every choice of card is a balance of these competing interests.
And it was this strategic choice that had us loving this game from our first playthrough. History cards are very well balanced between benefits, clock cost, and date. It’s a simple enough choice in the moment that our 10 year old understood the tradeoffs and how to boost her score. The more seasoned gamers in your family will be able to think ahead a turn or two further in order to strategize.
There are a few other tweaks to the gameplay that we won’t get into here, but they all fit very well into the theme and the overall mechanic. It’s a much richer game than we were expecting, making it a hit across all age levels in our family.
Besides the randomness of which history cards will be drawn each game, replay is further enhanced by the itineraries. You start the game with a random four, and each round you choose one to use. They differ in terms of which tokens you need to collect, and, crucially, how many possible victory points they can score.
We liked this mechanic, but a few of us felt the itinerary cards were too unbalanced because the available points varied too widely (the one family member who did not feel this way is also the one who managed to draw 30 and 31 point itinerary cards every time we played).
Your ability to strategize changes dramatically by player count. With two players, the Destinations row is emptied very slowly, so you have fewer choices. However, it’s possible to play much more defensively, choosing to take cards more to block your opponent than to help yourself.
Conversely with four players, so many cards can be taken between turns that you have to play much more by the seat of your pants.
That leaves playing with three players as our sweet spot. The randomizing of the Destinations row was just enough to sometimes force you to rethink your plan, but there was plenty of opportunity to make careful clock management decisions and buy yourself those precious extra turns.
Underdog Games recommends a minimum age of 10 for Trekking through History. We think this game could work for even younger children as long as they have a good grasp of how BCE and CE dates work. Older gamers might want to mix in the Time Warp expansion pack that Underdog packs into every copy of the game. Time Warp adds one more choice to the player’s turn, offering a rule-bending move like choosing one card to place in your trek but gaining the benefits of another. The game designers wisely held back with this expansion by having only one Time Warp power available per round (again, drawn randomly from a deck of possible powers).
Parents should also check out Underdog’s website where, after registering your purchase, you can unlock a printable calendar, a kids’ history kit, some really fantastic looking digital prints of the game art, and some paper and pencil games.
I wish that Underdog had found a way to work the educational content into the actual gameplay.
Instead, other than the unlikely possibility of memorizing the dates on the cards, you’re only going to learn history from this game by reading the flavor text. To encourage this, we made a house rule that every round, each player had to read the flavor text on one card of their choosing as they placed it into their trek.
Time keeps on slippin, slippin
Trekking Through History is a simple enough game to fully understand on the first time you play, but with enough depth to play over and over with your kids without anyone getting bored. It manages to land at a near perfect midpoint in strategic difficulty. The card variety and Time Warp expansion push that replayability even further, making Trekking Through History a great value.
The Family Gamers received a review copy of Trekking Through History courtesy of Underdog Games.
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Trekking through History
Age Range: 10+
Number of Players: 2-4
Playtime: 30-60 minutes