Backpacks & Blisters

Ragnar Brothers, £14.95
Designed by The Ragnar Brothers
3-6 Players, 1 Hour
Reviewed by Dave Farquhar

Night is falling. I remove the heavy rucksack for a few minutes relief; it seems to weigh a ton. I feel gingerly inside my right boot, and confirm the worst... I've got a blister. Anxiously checking my watch I realise I shall not reach Keswick in time to rejoin the other members of my party. Cursing myself for being such a fool as to attempt Great Gable following my afternoon coffee stop, I squat in the shelter of a rock and await the mountain rescue. Thus ended my first game of Backpacks and Blisters.

Backpacks and Blisters is an hour long game for three to six players, depicting a day's walking over the hills and through the valleys surrounding Keswick in the Lake District. The linen map (beloved of HotW players) includes Derwent Water, Basenthwaite Lake and Thirlmere, and stretches from Sale Fell in the North East to Striding Edge in the South West. As well as being attractive, the map has the unusual benefit of being washable. The other components include die-cut counters, and laminated cards.

The day's walking commences at 10am, with players attempting to visit peaks, places of interest, viewpoints and beauty spots, while accumulating victory points. Five additional locations are randomly selected as targets, scoring valuable bonus points for the first to reach them. Each turn represents twenty minutes, and walkers must return to Keswick by 6pm. Failure to do so results in the loss of all points (as I know to my cost).

Locations are linked by a network of lines joining circles and triangles. The former represent low lying country, while the latter indicate hills and mountains. I have checked these routes to my OS map, and they are fairly accurate. Players are initially dealt four cards, and move by playing one, each of which shows a number of these shapes. If, for example, the card played shows four circles and two triangles, these are the symbols which may be crossed in that turn, simple but effective. The relative scarcity of triangles makes hill-walking realistically more difficult, while offering higher victory points.

There are two breaks for refreshment; lunch at 1pm, and coffee at 3pm. However, tiredness sets in, and following each of these the players' hands are permanently reduced by one card. Another side effect is that as the turn marker reaches 1pm I always announce "its one-o-clock, and time for lunch, dum dee dum dee dum...." There appears little I can do about this, and the song then haunts me for the rest of the day.

Every walker receives £1, which may be spent on chocolate, cups of tea, ferry, or bus rides. With each costing 50p, deciding what to buy is a difficult choice. A bar of chocolate is always useful, as 'eating it' allows the player to double the value of a card, simulating a sudden burst of energy. I would have loved to have had one at the top of Great Gable, but had eaten it on the way up. Buses are handy, as all routes return to Keswick. This is very useful towards the end of the game, as the ramblers rush back. Unfortunately, they only run hourly, and the number 9 bus does not stop at Great Gable.

Walking is not always sweetness and light. First of all it may start raining, indicated by drawing a 'change of weather' card. If this occurs scores for all mountain locations are reduced by one, making viewpoints worthless until the sun comes out again. Secondly you may get a blister. Drawing this card reduces your hand capacity until you take a turn to rest your feet and discard the blister. Lunch and coffee breaks provide good opportunities for this. Finally, there is the HEAVY RUCKSACK. This seems to follow me around like a bad penny. Whoever draws this card from the deck carries the rucksack for an hour, following which a vote is held to see who should carry it next. Its effect is to reduce the value of any cards played by one circle and one triangle. Lugging this around the peaks of Cumbria is hard work.

The initial selection of targets makes each game different. Players should plan their route carefully, aiming to be the first to reach the target areas, and selecting suitable lunch and coffee locations. Most importantly know when to turn back! In conclusion, The Ragnars have aimed this game specifically at walkers, rather than specialist games players. Their previous release (HotW) was a major success, with the first edition of 500 selling out. I understand they are planning 1,000 copies this time. I like Backpacks and Blisters, because it combines my two favourite hobbies; walking and playing games. It will not set the gaming world alight, but plays well, is fun, and successfully reflects many of the joys of walking.

Dave Farquhar

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