Stephen Kendall
United Kingdom
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By 'gamers' game' I'm meaning one where the strategy and tactics has a level of involvement that makes an experienced player feel 'clever'. This doesn't mean a game has to be as complicated as Chess, Advance Squad Leader or Through the Ages, but rather those games where the choices have a certain amount of satisfying subtlety; Take it Easy, Alhambra or Liar's Dice. Are these 'family games' - well yes, but not so much as Game of Life or Harry Potter Diagon Alley .... and here I begin to struggle, because the latter is not that renowned and others won't come to mind. What I'm looking for is the type of game where the theme leaps out and really drives the mechanics; so Ticket to Ride is close, but not quite there. And of course what I'm going on to say is that Backpacks & Blisters does what the strap-line above suggests. If you haven't encountered the game, let me enlighten you.

The core mechanic consists of using cards depicting circles and squares which allow the player's 'rambler' to move around the map of the breath-taking and wonderful English Lake District. This fine landscape is depicted by circular or square locations joined together by paths made up of ... circles and squares. Now to anyone playing even this simple movement system presents quite a few challenges, not least because four cards are held in hand at the start of each turn (until lunch time).

Then a decision has to be made as to which to play:
• How many circles or squares are needed to get from location A to location B ?
• Which cards have a combination of these ?
• Is there a better route on the map, maybe involving location C or Location D ?
• Which card would be the most efficient to use?

On arrival at a location the rambler score points equal to the value of the location. These are recorded on a score track running round the board. The rambler can only score for a location once and so therefore must place a 'stone' on that location. The player then draws another card. Each turn is decisive, very visual (a player can see where he/she has already visited) and fulfilling. The feeling of being 'clever' generates FUN!

To this basic system there are quite a few extra bits, all of which mesh with the theme. These include:
• Target destinations giving bonus points
• Secret Desires which also give bonus points
• Rainy weather - all locations are worth one point less
• Chocolate - double the movement value of a card
• Refreshments - stop in a cafe and score points
• Bus rides and Ferry trips - no need to walk and score more points
• Money - you'll need it to pay for Chocolate, Refreshments, Bus rides and Ferry trips
• Time itself - only so many turns before lunch, tea and returning to Keswick

There are also Equipment tiles:
• Binoculars - add +2 for mountain locations
• Sun Protection - add +1 on all locations
• Walking Sticks - add one circle to each card
• Guide Books - add more bonus points for Secret Desires
• Compass - draw two cards and discard one

And then finally there's The Heavy rucksack. Two turns to carry it in which each card reduces in value by one circle and one triangle. But don't worry - the sixth Equipment tile is Kendal Mint Cake and this can help!

So lots of game material (some of which can be omitted in initial teaching games) and all wrapped up in a strong theme. 1-6 players, it takes a maximum of 90 minutes to play.

Backpacks & Blisters is currently being re-booted (little waking joke there) and if you'd like to support us in our efforts to get this great game back into production, please go to:

Steve K
Ragnar Brothers

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