Full disclosure: A review copy of Trekking the National Parks [Second Edition] was provided by Underdog Games.
Hey, look, not a Gen Con or Essen game. I still sometimes have been responsibly replying to requests, as I get them, but I have been overwhelmed with email and review requests for the last few … months, so I’m making do with the ones that I can respond to when I can. This one caught my eye, and so here we are, checking out the second edition of Trekking the National Parks.
In Trekking the National Parks, you play as intrepid explorers and outdoorsy-type people, looking to spend some time on the hills, trails, volcanoes, beaches, glaciers, rainforests, and rivers that comprise the National Parks of the United States of America. Not willing to settle for just having a nice trip, you’re also competing against your fellow travelers to see who can out-trek the other players. Will you be able to see all that the US has to offer? Or are you better off just taking a hike?
First thing you’re gonna want to do is set out the board:
It’s pretty massive; I can barely play it on my normal Photography Table. Next, place stones on each of the locations on the board:
You’ll be able to collect those later. Have each player choose a player color, and give them the tents in that color:
The bear should be given to the first player and the backpacker tokens should be placed on the start space. It’s hard to miss.
Shuffle and set out three Major Parks:
Also shuffle the other parks and set out three:
Shuffle the Trek Cards and give each player two, to start:
Play five face-up, near the board. Set out the Stones Bonus Cards:
For a two-player game, you’ll only use the Most Stones bonuses. Once you’ve done all that, you should be ready to start!
Note that I made a slight error — each player should only have two cards.
So, a game of Trekking the National Parks is an attempt by players to hike the US and see as many great parks as possible. Naturally, you’re competing against other players to have an excellent trip, and so you’ll vie to see the sights and score points for which parks you hit, first. The player with the most points wins.
On a turn, you’ll perform two of these four actions (you can perform the same action twice):
- Move: Discard any number of Trek Cards to move that many total spaces. If I discard a 4, I move exactly four spaces. If I discard two 3s, I move exactly 6 spaces. You cannot move through other players (except for the Start Space), but if you land on the same space as another player, you bump them back to Start. It’s unclear, narratively, why that’s the case, but roll with it. You are also not allowed to double-back, nor can you pass through a location more than once in a Move action. That’s … a bit tedious, but whatever. When you land on a location, collect a stone, but you do not collect stones for moving through a location; you only gain it if you end your Move Action on a space.
- Draw a Trek Card: You may take any of the five face-up cards, or you may do a blind draw and add the top card of the deck to your hand. In a move reminiscent of Ticket to Ride, if four of the five face-up Trek Cards have the same color / symbol, discard all five cards and reveal five more to replace them. You may only have up to 12 cards in your hand.
- Claim a Park Card: If you are on one of the locations of a face-up Park Card, you may claim it from the supply by discarding Trek Cards whose symbols match the symbols on the Park Card. You take it and keep the Park Card face-down (for some reason), and then replace the now-empty space with a new Park Card from the deck.
- Occupy a Major Park: This works the same way as Claiming a Park Card, but rather than taking the card, you place one of your tents on the Major Park Card. This gives you an ability which may let you move more, draw more, swap stones, use cards as wild, or a variety of other abilities.
Continue doing that until one of two events have occurred:
- All stones on the board have been claimed;
- A player has claimed their 5th Park Card (Major Parks do not count for this).
When that happens, finish the round so that all players have taken an equal number of turns. Then move to scoring!
When you score, you score the following:
- Stone Bonus Cards: Award Stone Bonus cards to the players with the most and second-most stones of each color. If there is a tie for the most, do not award it (you will still award second-most). If there is a tie for the second-most, do not award it either. Each Stone Bonus card is worth the indicated number of points.
- Stones: Each stone you collect is worth 1 VP.
- Major Parks: Each Major Park you occupy is worth 5 VP.
- Claimed Park Cards: Each claimed Park Card you have is worth 5, 7, or 10VP. It will say how much it’s worth on the card.
Add up those four values, and the player with the most VP is the winner!
Player Count Differences
So the biggest thing you’re going to see change at higher player counts is more blocking. There are now 4 other spots on the board you can’t move through (as opposed to 1 with two players). Also, now, since there are only three Park Cards at any given time, you should expect to see a lot more contention at higher player counts than lower (where you can mostly stay out of each other’s way). While those two things don’t generally bother me all that much, the increase in downtime at higher player counts is going to really slow the game down. I’d say you can get through a two-player game in about 30 minutes and a five-player game in about 60, and that’s a pretty significant uptick for me. Not really a huge negative; just something I’m not overwhelmingly enthusiastic about dealing with.
Oh, also, at higher player counts you really need to watch the stones; it’s very likely that other players can knock you out of contention (either by mistake or intentionally) on stones if they’re feeling like a bit of take-that play.
Either way, I’m probably most inclined to play this at 2 or 3.
- The Major Parks are better at certain points in the game. There are a few that boost your card-drawing / movement abilities, so get those early; there are some that let you swap stones or draw cards immediately, and it’s better to get those later on. Knowing when to hit the Major Parks is pretty clutch, especially for the ones with more relevant abilities.
- If you can get a Park Card, you might as well. It’s slightly more efficient to get the 2 or 4 icon cards (2.5 points per icon rather than 2.25), but it also uses a full turn (move to location + get card) to get a card, which makes the 2 icon cards fine unless you’re trying to catch up to another player. If the game weren’t to 5, it might make sense to try to optimize more, but honestly just kinda pick up what you can, card-wise.
- If you can’t do anything, you might as well move or draw. Drawing will help set you up for future Park Cards, which is good, and moving will help you get more stones, and stones are points, which is also good. If you can’t move to get stones, well, why not move onto a space where your opponent is and Sorry! them back to start? Should be funny.
- It’s probably not a great idea to end your turn on the same space as an unoccupied Park Card. This usually ends up with another player attempting to spite you and bump you back to start. That said, if you’d like to go back to Start, that may not be a bad way to bait someone into potentially wasting a Move action to “thwart” you.
- Be careful of the hand limit. This isn’t Ticket to Ride.
- You should be aware of how many stones other players have basically at all times. Is it worth you trying to get X stone or Y stone? It’s usually worth getting a stone of each color (since it’s points either way), as it forces opponents to actually do some work to earn the Most Stones of a certain color (as opposed to a few games where I’ve seen someone win it with one stone, infuriatingly). It’s a pretty major scoring part of the game (several of the cards are worth as much or more than a Park Card), so don’t overlook how valuable stones are when you’re strategizing your turns.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cute theme. This will definitely appeal to the hikers / backpackers in your group (or people looking for a gateway game)
- The photography art is neat. It does a good job of conveying how beautiful the park is. It’s a bit juxtaposed strangely against the art on the cover of the game and the icons (sort of three different things going on), but it does look nice on the cards themselves.
- The hand limit is a good move. It blocks my go-to strategy from Ticket to Ride USA, which is probably for the best.
- I like the information on the various cards. I’m a fan of games with an even-minorly educational component to them, so I’m appreciative of the extra info about the parks on the cards. If you’re planning a trip, this is a nice way to do it! It’s sort of got the same appeal as Highways and Byways, though I do prefer the route-building aspects rather than just going to a location.
- It’s very large. I waffle on this one a bit because it’s nice that the cards and the tokens are all so large, but it takes up a lot of space; it might be far bigger than you have space for, which is always interesting. It’s more of a warning than anything else, in my opinion.
- The “adjusted” map of the US throws me off, a bit. Just minorly, but it was pretty confusing when I first saw it.
- There are a few specific things in the rules that I find frustrating. Most of them are pretty minor, like having to call out your route in advance, but they add a bit of somewhat-needless overhead to what is, as far as I can tell, a pretty light gateway game with a lot of similarities to the classic Ticket to Ride. It seems to be just a situation that would benefit from some additional rules streamlining. The other one I don’t really get is awarding second place for stones when first place cancels out via a tie. That one just seems like a surefire way to make players irritated; even if it works strategically, the frustration factor makes me feel like it’s something I’d rather just ignore. I guess it creates some incentive to tie the player in first, but that almost feels like a take-that element in a game that doesn’t really need it (since it already has a strong blocking element).
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, Trekking the National Parks is fun! Like I said, it comes off to me as a gateway game, which is perfectly fine; it’s a great game for people in your group who love Ticket to Ride but don’t emotionally identify well with trains and are looking for something that appeals a bit more to their interests. My gripe with it is that I find some of the more nuanced rules a bit frustrating because I think they create additional unnecessary overhead which clashes with that whole “gateway game” idea. I’m also a bit of a fan of route-building, so I was slightly disappointed to see that this was more of a “move to a location” and not a “build a really good backpacking trip” game. That’s not the biggest deal, though, because the core of the game is still pretty fun, and I’ve enjoyed the games I’ve played of it. If you love backpacking and want to see more of the US, or if you’re looking for a great gift for the outdoorsy person who’s starting to spend a bit more time inside as the winter starts, Trekking the National Parks might be a solid choice to check out!