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Anyone for a hike? A Trailblazer: The John Muir trail review.



Ever have a fear of coming back to a game? That's what Trailblazer: The John Muir Trail did to me. I'd played a prototype what felt like 2 years ago, and I'd enjoyed my plays but felt it wasn't quite there yet. But hey, the company wanted to send me a final copy and asked me to take a look at it. Over the last week I've got The John Muir Trail to the table 3 times, now I know someone will no doubt message me or comment to say 3 plays is not enough, but for someone who works full time and has limited game time, and has played some ridiculous number of games. 3 plays (in addition to the previous prototype plays) felt plenty.


The John Muir Trail is a worker placement combined with not quite exploration, I guess almost encompassed around a race like point to point movement game, that takes place over 12 rounds (days) in which you need to hike to the top of Mt. Whitney, if you don't make it to the top, you'll score 0! So fundamentally, it comes down to deciding what two rounds you will not hike, as you'll have to hike on all other ten rounds.



Each day is broken down into three phases, Sunrise, Daytime, and Sunset.


Sunrise is where you'll discover what the weather is like for hiking, and draw and play a trail card.


Daytime is essentially the worker placement part of the game, although they are called tracks, they are fundamentally workers which you'll place in a variety of spaces across spaces where you'll gain resources and others where you'll spend them.



Sunset is clean up and is where you'll find yourself needing to refuel your body for the next round with water and food and setting up the board for the next round (day).


Daytime is where the bulk of the time is spent, with there being seven different types of action spaces.


Hiking is the action you must take at least ten times, and you'll need to acquire relevant resources to be able to hike without penalties. You can always hike without the required resources, but you'll take a hardship token. Hiking is one of the very few spaces where you can't be blocked as each player has their own hiking action space.



Acquiring and resupply are basic resource gathering spaces, although the resupply action is blocked until you reach the lodge (you'll need to hike at least 4 times).


The Discover action allows you to discover new flora and fauna along the trail, paying the required resources to take the corresponding card and activating it for various benefits. Whilst exploring allows you to explore physical sites along the trail, again spending resources to gain various benefits.



Another action is the mountain pass, where you'll draw two and play two cards for their resource icons only, as opposed to during sunrise where you'd gain the resource and the icon.


And first light is where you'll essentially take some water and the first player marker.


A key part of The John Muir Trail is your back pack and everytime you play or acquire a card with an icon if its the first time you gain that icon you'll add that tool to your backpack . If you already have the tool loaded in your backpack, you'll elevate your camp along the elevation camp. And every third space will provide you with some sort of reward.


That in an essence is it, you'll need to hike to the top be able to score points and then need to collect various cards to score in game points and seeking to claim an arrow head or two, to allow you to score points for sets or types of cards or resources youve gathered.



I'll be completely honest The John Muir Trail is alright. And that's pretty much it, but let me tell you why.


My first issue, and maybe its because I've played the prototype, but then other players who I hadn't played the prototype with pointed out the same. There are multiple versions of rule explaination videos we all had seen different rules and different explainations that actually we all thought certain things worked one way, when actually they had been tweaked and amended in the final version. Therefore, suggesting that the game really needs a final official rules video and the others need to be a bit clearer that they are older and outdated.



But the game itself suffers from what feels like balancing issues. Firstly, in the trail cards, they are in no shape or form equal some cards give you a resource, whilst others give you two resources and an icon. In a game that's all about resource maximisation to acquire points, it feels a bit restrictive to leave this down to lady luck.


Secondly the arrow heads, are vastly different and if you were to go to gain an arrow head when they all show e.g. 1 point per blue card, but you reveal for the opponent 2 points for each resource. Well, you've enabled your opponent massively again through no fault of your own, and it feels like they need some careful balancing as even a draw three from one stack pick one wouldn't necessarily solve this.



My third gripe is with the Field Guide and Discovery cards, in ym plays at two players, they didn't refresh anywhere near enough. Wiping one card a round for field cards and needing plays to buy discovery cards to reveal new ones felt again very limiting. We found one player would benefit from being able to build sets through the luck of their opponent revealing a new card that would complete their set.


As someone who enjoys hiking, this game thematically appeals to me massively, and the artwork and neat little touches to individual player maps draws you in, but I think there's a sense of hollowness here that holds this game back and with a few tweaks and amends this game could of been great. I won't mention the insert, its terrible mine arrive cracked and damaged and theres no way it can hold all the components, so it went straight in the bin!


As you know, I rate games on a

- Buy or play

- Wait for sale or play if you like game XYZ

- Avoid


For me this isn't quite an avoid, trust me I've played worse, so the John Muir Trail hikes itself into a "Wait for Sale or play if you like game XYZ". Fundamentally, this isn't a £60 game, and it feels like a solid £30 or maybe £40 game however, this game is probably spot on for those newer to gaming and those that are passionate hikers as the theme will likely keep you entertained. And I could see this game sitting alongside say Stoneage or Meadow for its complexity and accessibility, however, if you're after a deep rewarding strategic puzzle, this isn't it. In my three games, all players completed their backpacks, every player made it to Mt Whitney, and in each game, at least one person was able to reach the end of the elevation track. So it almost felt too easy, and that's with the luck of the draw in terms of cards!



Disclaimer: I was sent a review copy of The John Muir Trail to play and review. I was not paid for this review, and all thoughts remain my own.


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2 Comments


Spaghetti and Meeples
Spaghetti and Meeples
Mar 22

I shoot for exactly three plays before making a decision on a game! Sometimes it takes less, but if the third play is still rough, I’m probably not giving it another shot

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boardgameoverlord
boardgameoverlord
Mar 25
Replying to

That's a good way to go by, although I do think some games might take more to reveal their inner workings?

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