Trekking Through History is designed by Charlie Bink, the same designer who brought us Trekking the National Parks and Trekking the World, the second of which is still one of our favorite hand management/set collection games that booted most similarly-weighted train games right off our table. So when we saw another Trekking game in the works, we were really excited! However, unlike the decidedly more terrestrial wanderings of these other two games, Trekking Through History sees players wandering through the annals of time, visiting people, places, and landmark events across the entirety of history over the three days of a truly legendary vacation – a cool premise, to be sure, but does this newest Trek lead to the same sort of fun as the last two? Well let’s find out!
The core mechanism of the gameplay in Trekking Through History is drafting – each player is working on forming sets of History cards, which they draft into their stacks using time as a currency (what else?). On your turn, you will choose one of the History cards on offer. In order to claim a card, you will advance your Pocket Watch along the time track equal to the card’s value and then add the card to your Trek. As long as you draft cards in ascending date order, you can continue to stack them along in a single Trek, but if you ever take a card that can’t be added to the end of the sequence, you set aside your current Trek and start a new one.
Cards added to your Trek (either extending your current one or starting a new one) can also give you bonuses in the form of Experiences. Experiences fall into several categories, including Events, Innovations, and Progress, and are used to fill out Itinerary cards, which can provide additional points, bonus Experiences, and even powerful Time Crystals, which can be used to lower the cost of adding cards to your Treks.
Once a player runs out of time in the day, they can no longer draft cards in that round and once all players have finished their day, the current deck of History cards gets cleared and the next deck, with later historical dates, becomes available for drafting. After three days of drafting, players will calculate their scores based on their Treks as well as any bonus points they might have earned along the way from completing Itinerary lines and from ending their day at precisely 12 o’clock. The player with the most points is the winner!
As you may have surmised from this brief summary, Trekking Through History is not a particularly deep or complex game. The premise is pretty straightforward – make the longest chains of sequential cards possible as efficiently as you can. But from within that finite concept, a very cleanly-designed gameplay experience emerges. While Trekking Through History isn’t a ‘push your luck’ game proper, there is this sense of seeing how far you can possibly extend a Trek before you’re forced to collapse it and start again.
Managing the hours of the day as a form of currency is smart, especially when you factor in that the player furthest back on the day track goes next, which means that leaping ahead to buy the perfect History card won’t just cost you some time, it will also cost you in the turns your opponents will get while you wait for the timeline to catch up to you. And of course, trying to ‘time’ it so you land on 12 perfectly to get a few extra points is just significant enough to impact your best-laid plans without being so beneficial you’ll feel punished if you ignore it in favor of grabbing the perfect card.
Trekking Through History has a small expansion that comes in the form of a deck of cards that impose unique rules for each round of the game. You’ll only use 3 cards each time you play, and every one of them adds a little twist to the gameplay that will keep things interesting. As an optional component, you are free to omit them, but as far as we’re concerned, they add interest without complexity, so they always go in to our games.
As we mentioned, Trekking Through History is a spiritual successor to Trekking the National Parks and Trekking the World, so it’s only natural to ask whether this one follows in line, or perhaps even replaces one or both of its older siblings. And the fact is that Trekking Through History is easily the most distinct of the three. While we did consider Trekking The World to be the superior of the two ‘wandering across the map, grabbing things’ games (which is to say we ditched National Parks after we got it), Trekking Through History is a completely different game that stands perfectly well on its own merit. Adding to Charlie Bink’s rock-solid design is Eric Hibbeler’s absolutely fantastic art and the fantastic production value of the game overall, making Trekking Through History both fun to play and a pleasure to get to the table. We love the neoprene mat in place of a board and the game even comes with box-to-table component organizers that make setup and teardown a breeze.
So as far as we’re concerned, Trekking Through History definitely gets our recommendation. It’s family-friendly with just enough decision-making that your gamer friends will have a good time with it too, and everyone will appreciate how well-made and well-illustrated it is. And if this is your first Trek through Charlie Bink’s catalogue, we definitely also suggest you give Trekking The World a try – you might never feel the need to collect train cards to build routes again.