Backpacks and Blisters

Published by Ragnar Brothers, UK
These comments copyright 1998 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated November 27, 1998

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 article.

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:

  • Large circles
  • Small open circles
  • Small filled-in circles
  • Large Triangles
  • Small open triangles
  • Small filled-in triangles
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.

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 sparkle.

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:

  1. On the open circle due north of Threlkeld;
  2. 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 northern branch;
  3. On the open circle due northeast of Latrigg Peak;
  4. On the filled-in triangle due northwest of Latrigg Peak;
  5. On the town of Millbeck itself, which is due north of Keswick;
  6. On the filled-in circle on the path between Keswick and Dodd Wood;
  7. On the open circle due east of Braithwaite (which is west of Keswick);
  8. The southern-most coin is on the third open circle on the path from Braithwaite to Causey Pike.
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 down ...

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