On the Table – Trekking Through History is a colourful time warp

Posted on July 1, 2024

If you’d told me I’d enjoy learning about history through a board game, I’d have laughed at you. Using colourful, well-made and thoughtfully designed components, Trekking Through History somehow manages to make history fun. Combining enjoyable mechanics that make it easy to pick up and play, with a healthy dose of interesting historical facts for good measure, it makes good use of its playtime and offers multiple ways to score, making it engaging and satisfying when chaining moves together.

To be clear, Trekking Through History is not aiming to be an educational experience, and it absolutely doesn’t have to be, so don’t let that put you off. It includes a large deck of gorgeous cards, each representing a year from history and a key moment that happened during that period. These moments span a huge stretch, including rolling the first wheel in 3500 BCE to rocking out at Live Aid in 1985, and everything in between. All 108 history cards have an illustration on one side, and tell their story on the other. There’s nothing too dark in there, and I found reading the details to be enjoyable while other players thought about their next move.

The illustrations make good use of colour, and are quite painterly. In fact, all of the components in Trekking Through History are tactile while playing and make for a satisfying pack-away when done. Uniquely coloured and shaped experience tokens live in the supply tray, there’s a large neoprene playmat that is used for scoring and card placement, and a large clock sits beside it with cute plastic pocket watches matching each player’s colour to be moved around it. The designers have done an excellent job of making the game visually appealing, and the style makes everything readable throughout gameplay.

Trekking Through History takes place across three in-game days, with the idea that you have to collect cards on your turn, based on the year on the card and the benefits for choosing that card. The goal is to fill your Itinerary, which each offers bonus points in different combinations, depending on which experience tokens are collected. For example, for filling a row (one of each experience token), you might get 6 bonus points. Or, for completing a column, that could give you a wild token to use, or a time crystal. As you cover different spaces on each Itinerary, you’ll achieve different scores, with a new Itinerary available for each day.

“…strategic decisions come into play on every turn, and meaningful moment-to-moment choices force you to adapt…”

Of course, it’s not just about picking cards based on their rewards. You’ll acquire an incredibly important bonus for having a continuous “Trek”. A Trek is a series of events visited in chronological order, which means you’ll want to ideally start further back in history based on the cards available to pick from and build from there. The longer your Trek, the bigger the bonus; crucially, if you are unable to have more than 2 cards in a Trek, you’ll actually get zero benefits or even lose points, so you must always keep in mind the year that you’re grabbing to make sure you don’t stuff yourself up. Ancestor cards act as wild cards, that can be grabbed at any time to keep a Trek going; they’ll also give you a wild experience token. They’re not the best to use for completing combos, but they’re helpful in a pinch.

The last thing to keep in mind is the Hour Cost. Each card will force you to move your pocket watch along a 12-hour track, and once you reach the end, that’s the end of the day for you. The player furthest behind on the clock always chooses their next card first, too. The aforementioned time crystals can help you remove some of that hour cost, so they’re handy to stock up on as well to keep you in the mix for longer. It’s good that these, along with Ancestor cards, mean that you’re rarely railroaded into doing something you don’t want to do. It does happen, but less frequently thanks to these thoughtful systems.

This combination of token placement, chronological card collection and time spent on the clock means that strategic decisions come into play on every turn. You may need certain experience tokens to score on your Itinerary, but you could be sacrificing your Trek length to do so. You also need to make sure cards don’t cost too much time, as that will limit the decisions you can make, and the future cards you have access to. The luck of the draw in what cards become available also factors in here. These moment-to-moment choices keep games moving quickly and often force you to adapt based on what your opponents are doing.

There’s also a Time Warp variant included in the box, which adds other twists into the mix; for example, these cards can add experience tokens to the clock for the players who get there first, or allow you to gain benefits from your most recently played card.

Considering the variety of Itineraries and the juggling of important choices with a little bit of luck sprinkled in for good measure, Trekking Through History is one that I can see making it to the board game table regularly. Once you’re in the rhythm of it, games only take around 30 minutes, with close rounds as you all jostle for position on the clock while snatching up useful cards as they enter the field. It’s easy to pick up the rules, fun to play, wonderfully designed and I even learned a few things. That’s an easy recommendation in my (history) books.

Trekking Through History is available now in all good board game stores. Thanks to VR Distribution for providing a copy for this review.