Trek 12 dice game: A four-sided review

The Trek 12 dice game is a light family roll-and-write lasting about 15-30 minutes, suitable for ages eight and up. The box says for 1-50 players, which is technically true. I’ve played it with 1-4, where it works well. And it could comfortably take double that if you had a big group.

As is normal with a light roll-and-write game, the theme is largely pasted on. You’re rolling dice and putting numbers in connected boxes, trying to make runs or sets of the same number. Any number that doesn’t connect up will lose you points.

There’s more in the box than you might expect. You’ll find three rule books, three 50-sheet pads, two dice and seventeen small-sized cards. Plus six bonus content envelopes with various bits and bobs in them – which you open as you go, so I won’t spoil it. The artwork is lovely and the component quality high throughout. Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices, you can find it for around £20 – which seems reasonable value for money.

The game is also available (to Premium members) at online board game portal Board Game Arena. It’s a great implementation. But do be aware the online version contains some expansion content that you don’t get in the base game described below – but doesn’t include the campaign elements of the game.

Teaching the Trek 12 dice game

Each player takes a sheet of the same mountain (there are three different ones in the box). The sheets have 19 circles on them, connected in various ways. Two of the sheets also have some bolded circles, which mean the highest number you can write in them is a six. Each turn someone (doesn’t matter who) will roll the two dice and each player will use the result to mark off a number (up to 12) in one of their circles. The first number can go anywhere, but later ones have to go into a circle touching one you’ve already marked off.

One dice has the numbers 1-6, the other 0-5. You can choose the highest single number, the lowest, the sum, high minus low, or the two multiplied (but not if it’s over 12). Whichever you choose, you mark off a tick box. There are four boxes for each choice (so a total of 20) – meaning you have to very careful about what you leave yourself near the end. So, if you add the dice together for the first four rolls, you won’t be able to do it again all game.

What you’re trying to do is create zones (of the same number) and/or runs of numbers. Both score in the same way: one point per connected circle, plus bonus points equalling the highest number in the run (or the number in the zone). And of course, some numbers may end up scoring twice as both part of a run and a zone. You’ll get a bonus for your largest/longest areas, but also lose points for each circle that isn’t connected to a neighbour (a zone or run only has to be at least two circles big).

Extending the game

That covers the ‘Express Ascent’ mode. If you want a longer experience, you can go for the ‘Expedition’ mode. Here you’ll do all three sheets back-to-back, trying to gain reputation points. Each has a number of points you’ll need to gain reputation, with more gained for the tougher sheets (1/3/5 respectively). The highest scorer (as long as they hit the minimum requirement) gets bonus rep (1/2/3 depending on the sheet). While if you beat a record (you’re meant to record everyone’s scores for posterity), you get extra reputation.

You also introduce the 16 ‘assist’ cards to the game, which you earn by creating zones with low numbers (0-2). These can be used up to give you extra options, or saved to the end of the round to bump up your score (each discarded is worth three points). And so hopefully earning you reputation. They can also be carried over until the next round.

Finally, you have the challenge envelopes. These are opened when a player meets certain criteria when completing a sheet. There are six in the box and they add new components to the game, enriching the experience. I’m not going to tell you what they are exactly, but they’re essentially mini expansions that add variety to the base game. They’re a lot cooler than this little paragraph gives them credit for – but I don’t want to give anything away!

Playing the Trek 12 dice game solo

You can play both the Express and Expedition mode solo, versus a very basic AI opponent (‘Max’). However, don’t be fooled by the ‘basic’ part. I’ve found it both fun and challenging, without adding much annoying admin. For me, the best kind of solo mode. It’s both simple and clever. Essentially, once you’ve chosen what to do, you mark off the exact same box on a separate sheet you use for Max. The difference is, you always put the same result on his sheet – the maximum (ho ho) number.

As this tends to be a middling range number (usually 3-5), it becomes very frustrating to try and score for you and not for Max. You only need to beat him, so it’s often about sacrificing points for yourself if you know they’d score him more. But as you get the hang of it, it can create some interesting decisions. Especially as he scores three points per orphaned square, rather than losing three. If you play well, you can potentially ignore him. But he has certainly surprised me when I do (admittedly I’m a bit rubbish!). Finally, rest assured: those secret bonus content packs include solo-specific stuff too.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: On first look, the Trek 12 dice game can seem a bit too simple. Just two dice and 19 spaces to write in? And the rules are as simple as they sound. But isn’t that the dream? A game that’s both simple and memorable? And, equally importantly, pliable and adaptable. There has already been an avalanche (sorry) of extra maps adding extra little ideas to this simple premise. A real design triumph.
  • The thinker: Not much here in terms of strategy. It gets a little better when you add in the assist cards. As they give you the ability to draw in unconnected boxes, or join up spaces to score that aren’t adjacent. But it’s still overly tactical for me. For a more strategic experience in the same genre, check out the likes of Twice as Clever. Or flip-and-write Welcome To. Not to say it’s not a good game. It’s just a little light for me.
  • The trasher: Trek 12 is pretty much a heads-down solo puzzle. If anything, you end up with a bit of camaraderie as you all realise the dice hate you all equally! I wasn’t expecting it to be anything less, of course. Trekking isn’t exactly a combative past-time! so it’s not really for me, although I’ll play it. But I’d rather go for the likes of the much more interactive Dizzle, or even Qwixx Longo. At least with that you need to keep an eye on your opponents’ sheets.
  • The dabbler: While I agree the game is simple, it’s actually a little tricky on your first play to see how everything connects. But once you get the hang of it, it’s great! I love the attention to detail in the production too. The dice and paper are great quality. It all just feels lovingly made. And who doesn’t like unlockable content! It’s great getting the little reward of opening the next envelope if you have a great game. Especially as sometimes you get exclusive use of whatever it is (no spoilers!) on your next trek. A definite winner.

Key observations

The lack of interaction in Trek 12 is going to leave some players cold. If you like a more complex game where you have to factor in what other players are doing, you may well find this basic, solitaire and boring. It’s very much a maths puzzle dressed up with some nice mountain artwork. Nothing wrong with that. But it certainly isn’t for everyone. And, it goes without saying, luck can be a big factor. Dice eh. Who’d a thunk it?

These are all standard rocks thrown at this genre of games – which does lead to another potential problem. Does Trek 12 bring enough to the party to be anything other than ‘just another roll-and-write’? On BGG right now it has a ranking of exactly 7 – the average-ist of average scores for a ‘good’ game. The answer is probably no, not really. However, the blend of looking brilliant and adding hidden content makes it perfect for new and casual gamers. And I’ve played it with plenty of ‘gamers’ who got a kick out of it.

One interesting factor is comments from those who have only played online at BGA (linked above). In one way, it’s a great way to play the game. But what you miss out on is really putting your brain through the wringer working out the outcomes (which are highlighted online). Then there are the campaign/hidden content elements. If you play in a regular group, this could be a great start/end of evening game. The rulebook encourages you to write down the name of record holders etc. While they also get extra stars in the expedition mode – and sometimes the opportunity to open a new envelope. Simple things, but they help put Trek 12 a step above some of the competition.

Conclusion: Trek 12 dice game

I’ve found Trek 12 to be a really enjoyable experience, both on and offline. Does it break the roll-and-write mould? No. Is it a must-have title? Again, no. But if you’re in a group, or couple, that enjoys a light game – especially one with a simple campaign mode – it’s a highly recommended purchase. As well as for any game evangelists out there, as it can be great for new and casual gamers. It will certainly be staying in my collection. And I’m looking forward to trying out some of the expansion material (hopefully more on that soon).

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