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Gaming Bits: Preview Review of Trailhead: The Wilderness Survival Game

Jonathan Nelson
United States
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From gallery of MillicanDarque

Recently I was given the opportunity to preview an upcoming new game that will be coming soon to Kickstarter. I received a preview copy of the game and rules. These are my thoughts and opinions on the presented materials. Enjoy!

Trailhead is a game by Mike McDearmon, published by Two Moles Games. It is for 2-5 players. In this game, players take on the role of hikers lost in the Superstition Mountains. They'll being trying to stay alive while being the first to make it to the trailhead. They'll need to collect trail markers if they want to move forward. Of course they'll need to be careful as their water supply is running low and each turn they'll lose more. In the end, the player that can reach the trailhead first or that survives the longest, will be declared the winner.

To begin, each player is recommended to go outside and find a game piece to represent themself wih. This could be an acorn, pebble or some other such item. The Trailhead tile is placed at one end of the play area. The Map tiles are shuffled together. A trail is built to the left of the Trailhead tile by placing a number of tiles face down in a row beside it. For a short game, 6 map tiles are used including the Trailhead tile, for a longer game 8 tiles are used. The tile farthest from the Trailhead is flipped over and is the starting point for the players. Each player will then place their game piece on this tile. Each player is given 8 water drops, while the rest of them are placed in a pile within reach of all players. Players are also given a counter card with 2 slider clips for either side of the card. Each player should position their sliders to the 0 space. The green and gold survival cards are shuffled separately and placed facedown in 2 separate stacks. The top 2 cards from the green deck are drawn and placed face up beside the deck. The top card from the gold deck is also placed face up beside it's deck as well. The first player is chosen and play now begins.

The game is played in a series of turns. Each player will take a turn consisting of 3 steps. These steps must be followed in order. They are roll the dice, take any number of actions and pay water from your supply. The first step is to roll the dice. The player starts by rolling the 3 dice. After rolling, the player is allowed to keep any dice they like and reroll the rest. The player is allowed to roll up to 3 times. Once the 3 rolls have been taken or the player is happy with their results, their roll is finished. The player then adds the items on the dice to their supply, adding water drops from the pool or moving the sliders on their counter card.

The next step is to take actions. There are 3 actions that a player may take; moving between map tiles, buying survival cards and using survival cards. The player is allowed to take as many actions as they want in any order they want. Moving between map tiles is an action that can be taken. It costs 3 trail markers for the player to move 1 map tile. If a player has more than 5 trail markers, they'll be forced to move. Buying survival cards is another action that can be taken. These can be bought from either the green or the gold decks. The cost to buy a survival card is located on the top left of each of these cards and costs a certain number of compasses. There are always 2 green and 1 gold card available to buy. If the player doesn't like any of the available cards, they can pay a compass to replace either the gold card or both green cards with new cards from their respective decks. It should be noted that a player is only allowed to have 2 green cards and 1 gold card maximum at the end of their turn. The final action available to a player is to use a survival card. To do this, the player simply plays the card and follows the instructions on it. Once used, green cards are discarded. Gold cards are more permanent and work on every turn. These are only discarded if a player chooses to replace it with another gold card.

The final step is to pay water from your supply. Each of the map tiles shows a number of water drops at the top of the card. Whichever map tile that the player ends their turn on, this is how many water drops from the player's supply must be paid at this time. If a player runs out of water, they are eliminated. Once a player has paid their water drops, play passes to the next player. It should be noted that at this time a player must check to make sure that they don't have more than their maximum supply limits in survival cards, trail markers, compasses and water drops. The survival cards were mentioned earlier. A player may only have the maximum of 5 trail markers, 6 compasses and 12 water drops at the end of their turn.

The game continues until one player reaches the trailhead first or all but one player has been eliminated. The player that still remains or that was able to reach the trailhead first is the winner.

From gallery of MillicanDarque

The pieces for this game are actually pretty cool. To start with, the game comes in this nifty little silver tin with a cardboard band around it. I have to say, I'm not normally a fan of games in tins instead of boxes, but I kind of like this one. That's probably because it's small and portable. Next there are the wooden water drops. These are dark blue and very sturdy. These are probably my favorite part of the game. There are also several of the counter cards that use the little plastic slider clips on the side to keep track of the player's trail markers and compasses. These are more like the thickness of a card except they have a nice satin like finish on them. On the back of these cards there is a reference of the player's carrying capacity and how much of each a player can have at the end of their turn. The artwork is a bit drab here and I wish that there had been a bit more emphasis on the trail marker and compass side. The map tiles are much like the counter cards instead of actual tiles. The same thickness and finish is also on these. The artwork isn't extremely elaborate and is very modest. However I kind of like the actual style here and think that it really works for the game. There is a little less artwork on the green and gold survival cards. These are more of an old school clipart logo than actual artwork. However the minimalistic designs actually keep from distracting from the actual game. While some really beautiful artistic drawings or paintings would have been nice on these cards and on the map tiles, I have to say that I kind of like the look anyway. I'm assuming that once this makes it to Kickstarter that this will probably be addressed. I'm also hoping that the dice will also be addressed. These are the only little blemish on the components. While I can really appreciate the effort to laser etch the dice, it appears that whatever the black stuff that was used for each design has rubbed off onto the dice themselves. I've tried to wipe the flakes and smears off them but it won't come off. It's not that the dice look gross or disgusting, far from it. It's just that it looks a little unprofessional. Like I said, I appreciate the effort. I just wish these were a little better done. I'm sure this little problem will be addressed before the professional copies make their way out of the gate. In any event, I'm still pleased with the overall look and feel. For a prototype game, it's quite nice.
8 out of 10

The rulebook for this game is a small little glossy color book that fits neatly into the tin. It's got plenty of nice pictures and examples. There's even a step by step example leading the reader through each step of a player's turn. Everything is laid out really well and is explained in great detail. There's even a rule cheatsheet that references the 3 steps of a player's turn, along with the maximum supply limits. Also included is a quick reference for the different actions that a player can take. While I appreciate having these here, it probably would have been better if this had been on the back of the book or on a reference card. In any event, it's not like it's hard to remember the rules of the game so it's mostly unnecessary anyway. On the back of the book is a nice little back story of how the game came about and some thank yous to some of the designer's influences. Overall, I think the book gets the job done and looks pretty good to boot. I'm sure that as the game progresses through the productions phases of the Kickstarter, that it will only improve.
8 out of 10

As a kid, I played Yahtzee many, many times. Even as an adult, I've still enjoyed playing it. It's easy, it's simple and it's fun. I guess that's why so many dice rolling games borrow the mechanics from it when it comes to creating a new game. You roll a set number of dice, keeping the ones that you want. You roll again, repeating the process from earlier and then you repeat all that one more time. Three rolls, locking in dice as you'd like. Like I said, simple. With a handful of dice, you have a fairly good chance of getting what you're looking for. With only 3 dice, it's not quite as easy. Every time I rolled these dice I'd wind up getting 2 of the same thing, which is great if I'm going for water drops. The problem would come when I'd try to get enough trail markers to move forward. Thankfully that's mitigated by the fact that even if you only roll 1 trail marker or 1 compass, you're able to store them in your inventory, which of course is shown on your counter card. So even if the dice hate you, like they do me a lot of times, you can still store the goods you need to continue. Unlike Yahtzee, where you're simply stuck with whatever that last roll gives you. The same is true with games like King of Tokyo, which is a family favorite at my house. I like that as you're rolling the dice, you're kind of having to plan out how fast you're going to move and what you're going to try to accomplish. There are these survival cards that everyone can see laying on the table. Do you try to save up and get the compasses you need for a particular card that you think will help you, before your opponents snatch it up, or do you worry about moving as quickly and efficiently as you can across the map tiles. Of course you really have to keep up with your water consumption too, use up too much or don't watch it and you're out, not only of water but also of the game. Like I mentioned, those survival cards can be a real benefit at times, but they can also be a hindrance to the other players too. Some of them have what's called Aggro effects. That means that they're aggressive towards the other players. Like the Raw Deal card that takes a compass, trail marker or water drop from any player in exchange for one of yours. Thankfully there are cards like the Self Defense that protects you from other player's Aggro cards. These cards give the game a bit more depth to it and also add a bit of Take That feel to it. For this reason, the game makes me think of the games from Smirk & Dagger with their Take That mechanics. Overall I really like the theme and feel of this game. It's actually quite fun and simple to play. The survival theme fits really well with the design of the game. I like how well it all fits together. I think fans of dice rolling games like Yahtzee and King of Tokyo, might enjoy this one too. Take That game fans should enjoy the survival cards that make this game more than just dice rolling. I'd definitely recommend checking this one out. I think the designer has a really good design and idea here. I look forward to seeing the final form that this one takes. I definitely like what was presented to me.
8 out of 10

Trailhead is a dice rolling game of survival with a Take That feel to it. The game doesn't take too long. Most game sessions last around 25-35 minutes. As a prototype, the game looks quite nice. The wooden water drops are a really nice touch. I also like the minimalistic designs on the cards and especially the map tiles. Of course, I'm sure that the pieces will all get upgrades to even better quality and designs once it hits production. Hopefully that will include a bit more life to some of the designs and a bit more professional look to the dice. Still for what it is at this point, it looks quite good. The game itself takes the Yahtzee mechanics of rolling dice up to 3 times and mixes in a bit of Take That to make a rather unique take on survival. I have to say that I quite enjoyed the game and look forward to playing it even more. Fans of dice rolling games like Yahtzee and King of Tokyo might enjoy this one, especially if they like the survival theme. Take That fans should enjoy it as well. Overall, this is a game that I would definitely recommend checking out. It's a really good game that will leave you thirsty for more.
8 out of 10

For more information about this game and how to purchase a copy, please check out the game’s official website below.

You can back the game right now by following the Kickstarter link below.
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