Backpacks and Blisters is a game of hiking in the English
Lakes District around Keswick, Cumbria. While not a deep game, it can
be a light filler game, especially if you increase the player
interaction a bit - I'll tell how we do it at the end of this
The game comes in a smallish box and includes a board printed on a
tea-towel. The pieces include six pawns, six sets of "boot" markers to
show your route, a 53-card walking deck, some chits with chocolate bars
printed on them, others with "50p" on them for money, and some
miscellaneous chits. While not luxurious, the components have a
certain charm to them.
The map shows the area around Keswick, including ferry routes on
Derwent Water, four bus routes, and lots of peaks, beauty spots, and
cafes with paths connecting them. Around the edge is a scoring track,
at the bottom is a time track, and places for chocolate, money, draw
and discard deck, etc., are provided.
The object of the game is to score the most points by hiking to the
most - and most beautiful - spots on the map. The catch is you have to
make it back by evening or you lose the game as the mountain rescue
squad has to come look for you.
The rulebook is written in a very tongue-in-cheek style, poking fun at
hikers in a most delightful manner. If you get a blister card, for
example, you have to put the blister card on the table in front of you
and refer to your blisters as often as you can, like real hikers do.
The rulebook also suggests various things to say if you get stuck with
the Heavy Rucksack, ranging from "It only pulls a bit going uphill," to
"Isn't it time someone else had a go with it?" Obviously written by
someone who's spent some time on the trail.
The game starts with everyone in Keswick, and five spots chosen at
random as "targets." This is done by simply turning over five cards -
each card has a place name on it as well as a movement rate. Once
targets are chosen (there are counters for them), the deck is shuffled
and four cards per player are dealt out. At the beginning, you can
only have movement cards in your hand, but there a few other types of
cards you can draw later.
Movement is both simple and cleverly done. Each space on the map is
either a triangle or a circle. Some are large triangles and circles
(locations), while others are small triangles and circles (spaces).
The small ones can be open or filled in, so you basically have six
different types of spaces:
Each movement card shows a number of circles and triangles. This is
the maximum amount you can move in a turn if you play that card. For
example, a card might show three triangles and one circle. Say you
want to go along a path which has two triangles then two circles then
another triangle. If you play this card, you must stop at the first
circle - you don't have enough circles on the card to continue, even
though you have one unused triangle. The last triangle is wasted - it
doesn't carry over to next turn.
- Large circles
- Small open circles
- Small filled-in circles
- Large Triangles
- Small open triangles
- Small filled-in triangles
So you learn to plan your route by the cards you have. Triangles
represent heights, and circles gentler terrain. The big points are in
the triangles, of course - but only if the sun is shining, an iffy
thing in Northern England.
Some of the other cards in the deck include the change weather cards -
if sunny, it becomes cloudy, and vice versa. In cloudy weather, all
triangle point values are worth one less. There are also blisters - if
you draw one of these, it counts as a card in your hand, reducing your
effective playing ability. And the Heavy Rucksack, which reduces any
card played by one triangle and one circle. You can try to pass this
off on others, either by voting it away after carrying it three turns,
or by overtaking them on the trail.
You score points in locations - each location has a point value printed
on the map - or in beauty spots: filled-in spaces, which are worth one
point each. At a certain point in the time track, you have lunch,
during which you don't move. After lunch you have one less card in
your hand, reflecting reduced energy after hiking all morning. A
little later you have another enforced stop, Coffee, after which your
hand size shrinks to two. Blisters really hurt then!
You start with two 50p coins. These can be spent on ferry rides or bus
rides, or to buy tea at cafes (discard as many cards as you want and
refill your hand), or to buy chocolate bars (play with a card - doubles
all circles and triangles for one turn only). The first one back to
Keswick doesn't necessarily win - it's not a race in that sense - but
you can score bonus points by getting back early. And if you're late,
you lose points - and if you don't get back by 6 pm, you lose the game
no matter how many points you have.
The only real problem with the game is that there isn't much
interaction. They've tried to include a little incentive for
interaction (first one to a target gets 10 points, second gets 7
points, others get 5 points; you can pass the Heavy Rucksack off on
someone you overtake; overtaking someone on a space means you don't
have to count their space against your movement), but it's really too
little over such a wide-spread board. Consequently, it feels more like
multi-player solitaire than it should, and it doesn't really
To increase interaction, which really does help the game, we block off
the northern section of the board, saying Hollywood has leased the
whole area and it's off limits to hikers at this time, or there's an
alien invasion going on up there and you can't get in, or whatever. If
any targets are drawn to start in the closed-off section, simply draw a
replacement card until you have all five targets in the area the
players are able to reach.
To do this, take eight coins and place them on the map. No player may
move their pawns onto or over a coin. The eight coins are placed, from
East to West (starting near Threlkeld, a cafe/bus stop due east of
Keswick) on the following spaces:
This funnels the players into the south, without horribly reducing
their options. True, it does hurt those with lots of triangles in
their starting hands, but perhaps they could wait for the 10:20 ferry
and get rid of some of those cards that way, or they could all go up
Latrigg Peak, which causes great interaction when they all try to come
- On the open circle due north of Threlkeld;
- Move one space on the Threlkeld-Keswick path - a path branches to
the North at that point. Place a coin on the first open circle on this
- On the open circle due northeast of Latrigg Peak;
- On the filled-in triangle due northwest of Latrigg Peak;
- On the town of Millbeck itself, which is due north of Keswick;
- On the filled-in circle on the path between Keswick and Dodd Wood;
- On the open circle due east of Braithwaite (which is west of
- The southern-most coin is on the third open circle on the path from
Braithwaite to Causey Pike.
At any rate, if you own the game, give it a try - I think you'll find
it improves the game a bit.
Back to SOS' Gameviews
Back to Steffan O'Sullivan's Home Page