Full disclosure: A review copy of Trek 12: Himalaya was provided by Pandasaurus Games.
Huh, I just was going through my scheduling and noticed that I had apparently forgotten that I edited some photos, so that was a nice surprise. Just opening a folder and finding a whole trove of already-edited photos for one of my reviews. I’d say it saves me some time, but technically it’s just that I already spent that time? Oh well. Not relevant to this review (photos aren’t done yet), but just a fun anecdote from What I’m Doing At This Exact Moment. Anyways. Today we’ve got Trek 12: Himalaya for you, a distinction that I keep meaning to make since there are many Trek 12 titles and I keep forgetting because only Himalaya is currently in the US. My bad! But let’s check it out.
In Trek 12: Himalaya, you’ve got a few mountains to climb! You and your friends are making a competition out of going through various dangerous territories, setting up lines, and mapping out different zones. It’s hard work, but might as well make it fun, yeah? If you’re feeling up to it, you can take on a multi-event Expedition, but even a short Trek might not be a bad idea. And if you’re by yourself, the game will let you Free Solo (with the right guide). The question is: with all of these options, which challenge are you up for?
So the core of my review is going to help you with Trek Mode and Expedition Mode. We’ll talk about how to set those up. First, decide which one you’re doing. If you’re doing Trek Mode, you’ll only need one location; for Expedition Mode, you’ll need all three:
Give each player one sheet (of each, if you’re doing Expedition Mode). Set the dice nearby:
If you’re doing Expedition Mode, set the Challenge Envelopes nearby, as well:
I’ll talk about how to set up Assist Cards in Expedition Mode, later:
You should be about ready to start! Photos are going to be of Trek Mode, though.
There are several different variants of Trek 12: Himalaya, but in the interest of conciseness (the very thing y’all come to What’s Eric Playing? for), I’ll try to go through them quickly. You should essentially start with Trek Mode, and then play Expedition Mode once you’re ready.
Trek Mode is pretty easy to learn, so we’ll start there. The game is played over several rounds (usually less than twenty, but it really depends on your sheet). Your goal? Fill in the circles with numbers that match a few criteria.
To start, any player rolls the dice. Then, every player simultaneously chooses how they’d like to play them by picking one of these five options and checking off the corresponding symbol on their sheet. If you run out of boxes next to that symbol, you must choose a different action. These are the actions available to you:
- Lower Number (Down Arrow): Take the lower of the two dice values. If they’re the same, well, choose either one. They’re the same.
- Higher Number (Up Arrow): Same deal, other die. Take the higher of the two dice values.
- Absolute Difference (Minus Sign): Take the higher die minus the lower die.
- Sum (Plus Sign): Add the two dice values together. Take that number.
- Product (Multiplication Sign): Multiply the two dice values together. Take that number.
You must then write that number on any space on your sheet. If there’s already a number on your sheet, the next number you write must be adjacent to at least one number on your sheet. One caveat. Numbers must be less than 12, so, no writing that 25 you got for using a Multiply Action on a 5 and a 5. On some sheets, there are double circles that cap the max value at 6. If you cannot write a value, choose a space and write a frowny face in it. We’ll talk more about those later, but remember the term Orphan Circle.
Generally, spaces you fill in will fall under one of two types: Fixed Lines or Mapped Zones.
- Fixed Line: Any number that is exactly one more or one less than an adjacent number can potentially create a Fixed Line. Over the course of the game, they’ll create a gradually increasing or decreasing sequence. However, each space can only be part of one Fixed Line, and each number in a Fixed Line can only appear once. So no 7 – 6 – 5 – 6 – 5 – 4 or something like that. As soon as you add a number to your sheet, check to see if it creates or continues a Fixed Line, and then draw a line connecting the two spaces together. If a number can continue multiple Fixed Lines, you can pick which one it continues.
- Mapped Zone: Any number that is equal to an adjacent number will create or expand a Mapped Zone. They’re just contiguous segments of the same number. To indicate this, add a symbol to or change the background of or recolor the spaces that are part of the Mapped Zone.
Once players have filled every space on their map, the game ends! Players then score Fixed Lines and Mapped Zones, as well as Bonuses:
- Fixed Lines: Fixed Lines score the highest number in their line, plus 1 point for each other space in the line. Each Fixed Line scores, though; not just the longest.
- Mapped Zones: Mapped Zones score the number in any of their spaces, plus 1 point for each other space in the zone. Like Fixed Lines, you can score multiple Mapped Zones.
- Bonuses: You do get bonus points for your largest Fixed Line and Mapped Zone! Both are worth 1 / 3 / 6 / 10 points for being 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 spaces long, with an additional 5 points for each space in your largest Fixed Line or Mapped Zone after the sixth.
- Penalties: Remember Orphan Circles? They’re back. Take a look at your board. Every space that isn’t in a Fixed Line or Mapped Zone becomes an Orphan Circle, and it’s now worth -2 points! Cross out any numbers in Orphan Circles and add frowny faces to better remind you of what you did.
Total your scores, and the player with the most points wins!
In Expedition Mode, you’re going the distance! Now, choose three Ascents instead of one. Your goal has shifted somewhat! You’re not just focused on points; now you want Reputation Stars. And I’ll tell you how to get them.
First, set up the rest of the game normally. You’ll start on whichever Ascent has the fewest Reputation Stars available and work your way up. Now, however, add those Assist Cards back in that I mentioned:
Put three more than the number of players in the center. One player will be the Lead Climber and get that card, too.
The game is played mostly the same, with the following changes:
- Assist Cards: Assist Cards can be claimed from the center if you create a Mapped Zone of 0s, 1s, or 2s. You must create a new Mapped Zone, rather than expanding an existing one. If multiple players do it on the same turn, the Lead Climber (or the closest player to their left) chooses first and the last player to pick becomes the Lead Climber. Assist Cards let you bend the game’s rules a bit, but you can only ever have three in front of you at a time. At the end of the Ascent, you can discard ones you don’t want for 3 points each, or hold on to them until the next game. Naturally, in the last Ascent, you should discard all remaining ones.
- Challenge Envelopes: Challenge Envelopes should be set out in order of difficulty (it’s in the rulebook, rather than pictured here). Generally, at the end of a game, players should check to see if they’ve completed the Challenge on any unopened Challenge Notebook. If only one Challenge is completed, the player who completed it opens the corresponding envelope! If multiple Challenges are completed, the easiest one gets opened. If multiple players complete the same Challenge, the player who completed the Challenge and scored the most points opens it. Who knows what’s inside? I do. They change the rules up a bit and add some new stuff to the game. Enjoy.
- Reputation Stars: At the end of the Ascent, players score Reputation Stars for beating the stated scoring threshold, scoring the most points, and potentially beating the High Score for that Ascent. If it’s your first time playing that Ascent, nobody gets the High Score star, but you do write the winner’s name and score on the back of the Expedition Mode rulebook, so that’s fun.
After three Ascents, the player with the most Reputation Stars wins!
Player Count Differences
Effectively none, until you get to Expedition Mode. There, players can take the Assist Cards you want, which can very significantly mess up your game, if you’re not careful. Thankfully, more get put in play as the player count increases, but even then, I think that Expedition Mode isn’t what the “1 – 50” on the game box means, for player count. Too many players makes the game unwieldy, since it means you’ll be seeing Assist Cards getting taken constantly. Not ideal. I’d say that it was fine at three players, but I wouldn’t expect to have more than four players around before it starts getting to be a bit too much. Two is probably fine, as well. For Trek Mode, like I said, everyone’s playing on their own, so you’re not really seeing a ton of player interaction. This allows the game to scale, but can feel a bit lonely, since there’s not even a racing element to keep players looking at each others’ sheets. That said, no big deal, so there’s no real ceiling on player count, in Trek Mode.
- Your initial placement matters a lot. Use it to leave yourself options. Don’t place off in the weeds and force yourself to try and get perfect dice rolls to get out of it. That’s goofy. Placing in the center can be helpful, but also don’t place a terrible number in the center just because you feel like you need to place in the center! Place your first number in a spot that works within a plan that you’re making but also has some adjacent empty spaces so that you can stay a bit flexible.
- Similarly, you have very valuable dice options. Don’t overindex on adding too early in the game and leave yourself with weird options later. You only get five of each choice, so choose wisely. A lot of players use Sum to get specific numbers, like a clutch 3 or 4, but Sum is also the only way to get 7 and 11 in the game, so if you’re not keeping your eye on that, you might miss out on a long Fixed Line.
- Restrictions from your location may affect how you choose to go after certain numbers. Certain Ascents make things like a 13-length Fixed Line impossible, so try planning out some initial strategies to make sure that you’re planning well.
- One strategy I like to do a lot is the Score Rhombus, where I make a set of Fixed Lines and Mapped Zones that all intersect with each other, like a pair of 7s above a pair of 6s. It’s really nice to do when it works out, since it scores you a lot of points very quickly. Actually learned it from watching another friend play; I had never thought to make Fixed Lines or Mapped Zones of size 2, since you don’t get any bonus for them. But they’re so easy to make that it’s almost worth it on its own?
- Generally, at least one big Fixed Line or Mapped Zone is kind of a must. You do want one particularly high-scoring area on the board, just so that you have something. If you have a bunch of small spots of scoring, that’s fine, but one big one is often going to be the swing that wins you the game, especially if it’s, say, a Fixed Line of length 10. I’ve never seen a massive Mapped Zone, but I imagine it’s very impressive.
- (Expedition Mode) Assist Cards are your friends, and several can bail you out of very specific situations. There are a lot of useful ones! I particularly like the Compass, which lets you break the adjacency requirement for placing a number. If you have that early in an Ascent, you can actually place where you want, rather than making a potentially not-great move because you’re restricted by adjacency.
- (Expedition Mode) Also, think about how your Assist Cards are useful now, and whether you want to keep them to score additional stars in a game or not. If not, dump them. I generally don’t dump Assist Cards once I hit three. I like having options, and I rarely run the risk of accidentally getting a fourth Assist Card without some prior planning. During the final Ascent, though, they’re 9 points, so I dump whatever I have left.
- (Expedition Mode) Keep an eye on your opponents’ boards; they may hit a Challenge Envelope unlock condition that supercedes yours. You really don’t want to hit that 13-length Fixed Line in the same game as one of your opponents unlocking something else. That would be an easy way to get very mad. Plus, there might be other benefits to unlocking a Challenge Envelope, so set yourself up to be the person who gets to.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I think the acknowledgment of and donation to Himalayan-focused groups on the back of the rulebook is a classy move from Pandasaurus. There’s a temptation with gaming to … sort of turn existing cultures and peoples into something abstract, since we’re literally goofing off in their spaces. It’s cool to have such a wide variety of themes entering games and all, but it’s important that we don’t trivialize the cultures that our games are based around. I think steps like this are a nice way to treat the subjects of games and occupants of locations we base games on with respect. Cool thing to do, would love to see more of it.
- I actually quite like playing the Trek Mode by myself on Board Game Arena. I’ve been enjoying it! It’s quick, simple, and a nice way to discover certain areas of the board. Sure is weird that the Board Game Arena version refers to Ascents that I’ve never seen before, but who knows what that could be about. A mystery.
- The construction of Mapped Zones and Fixed Lines is remarkably simple and clever. I like it. It’s succinct. Makes the game easy to explain. I like that, in a roll-and-write.
- It took me a quick minute to notice that the red and yellow dice aren’t the same, which is fun. Yeah, this will throw you off, but one is 1 – 6 and the other is 0 – 5. So keep an eye on that! The potential numbers are different, and this means you can’t Sum to get a 12. You can only Product.
- I love that players get a limited pool of dice combinations that they can use each game. It makes moves count, makes the choices hard, and helps rapidly increase player variance without requiring more dice. Pretty much after the first turn, most players are on wildly different paths. There are just a lot of different areas for variance. You can start on different spots or choose different starting actions, and those small choices will affect your subsequent placements and strategies a lot. I’d be very surprised if players independently arrived at boards that are anywhere similar.
- The Challenge Envelopes are fun! You can set goals for yourself (and get those goals ruined by another player, which is entertaining, as well). It’s a nice mixture of legacy-ish components without the “feels bad” of destroying stuff. I think I like a lot about them, in theory, just because I also like the idea of challenges or achievements in board games. They give new players nice things to shoot for by pretty explicitly saying “this is a good thing to shoot for”, which I think ends up weirdly calming players down during their first games? There are a lot fewer “I have no idea what to do”s being exclaimed during early games of Trek 12, at least, for my groups.
- It’s also neat that there are Solo Game “opponents” that have specific rules associated with them. That’s fun. I like that the rulebook denotes how one works. I think that’s cute to have effectively variable scoring challenges for solo mode, even if I enjoy just playing Solo Mode by myself on BGA with no challengers.
- I found myself learning from other players during Expedition Mode, which was pretty cool. You kind of notice their strategies and absorb them into your own, a bit. Even with different boards, you can still see a good idea from time to time and adapt. That’s fun and cool, and I appreciate that Expedition Mode is a bit longer to allow for that kind of things happening. It’s always interesting to see how players adopt each others’ strategies.
- Some of the content in our Challenge Envelopes were swapped around, which is humorous. Not a huge deal, just hard to verify, since, you know, you can’t open the Envelopes. We had something that clearly didn’t match up (the explanation card referred to cards we hadn’t seen yet), but thankfully we found the indicated thing in another envelope.
- Speaking of which, we’re going to have to devote an entire game to getting that 13-length Fixed Line open, aren’t we. It seems … hard to do. I’ve gone entire games without ever seeing a 6 and a 2 rolled together. It feels like you’d really have to either get lucky on the rolls or get the right Assist Cards in the right place at the right time.
- It would have been nice if the game came with some stamps or colored pencils or suggested backgrounds; I’m not creative enough to have multiple Mapped Zones on my board without getting stressed. Just for shading, it would be nice, I think. I guess I can use the ones that came with my deluxe Cartographers? I hadn’t thought that far ahead.
- Trek Mode can be a bit lonely since there’s pretty much no player interaction whatsoever. You just kind of play by yourself and then it’s over. The best thing you can do is pass around the dice so that everyone gets a chance to roll every now and then.
- I’m not the biggest fan of even soft-gating game content, so while I enjoy the minor upgrades from some Challenge Envelopes, the more major upgrades from the more difficult Challenge Envelopes make me a bit sad. It’s not that it’s a huge deal, I just don’t love that we have to go through Expedition Mode to unlock things that might be useful in Trek Mode. Unlocking extra Assist Cards is one thing, but some of the Challenge Envelopes are a bit more intense, content-wise.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Trek 12: Himalaya is solid! It’s definitely an interesting little entry in the roll-and-write space, and I think it does its job well, even if it’s trying to have it both ways as a simple roll-and-write and a more complex multi-game campaign experience. It’s not a bad thing, but I do wonder if a more focused approach to one or the other would make it more compelling? Unsure. My biggest gripe with the game really is that I do wish there were more interaction, to some degree, in Trek Mode. Teaching the game, I feel like I’m kind of idling through a totally solitaire game. That’s fine, and all, but it doesn’t necessarily make for the most engaging teaching experience. To be fair, that’s why I largely play Trek Mode by myself on Board Game Arena. It’s a nice way to get familiar with the various boards and I don’t have to roll the dice. Convenient! Expedition Mode shines a bit brighter for this game (as one would expect). Assist Cards allow for player interaction in interesting ways, and there’s the explicit interaction of competing for stars across multiple games (with the final map being a pretty big swing, which can be exciting). Challenge Envelopes also help keep the game fresh, adding new elements as players collectively complete unlock conditions (and always throwing in a few surprises). I think this is an interesting system, and I figure it’ll be interesting to see what the other games (and the expansion) add, as I figure that Pandasaurus has decent odds of bringing the others to the states, at some point. If you’re looking for a good starting point for roll-and-write games, you enjoy a light campaign, or something that mixes both pretty effectively, I’d recommend checking out Trek 12: Himalaya! It’s a neat little game.
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