Calvin’s Commentaries: Thru-Hiker

It is always interesting to come upon games that are decidedly different from those filling the game room shelves.

Wading through the tabletop games seeking support at I came upon Thru-Hiker.

According to the KS campaign Thru-Hiker “is a journaling game about telling stories of being on a long-distance hike. Using your writing instrument of choice, a pack of playing cards, and a series of writing prompts, you will create stories of the joys and challenges of being on the trail for days, weeks, or months at a time.”

I was intrigued in the sense I had not heard of a ‘journaling game’ before.

So I asked the designer Daniel M. Perez.

He replied via email that a journaling game is a “game where the objective is creating a narrative in the form of a journal written in the first person.

“Using a pack of playing cards, and a series of writing prompts called Oracles, you will craft a story about the journey of your thru-hiker.

“It’s a half-game, half writing exercise, all fun.

So, as a journalist who spends time most days pecking away at the keyboard, I’m not sure if more writing is a fun game option, but I delved into it a bit more.

For example what exactly is a ‘thru-hiker’?

This time from the KS campaign itself it is “hikers that embark on a one-way, long-distance trail are called thru-hikers. Unlike day hikers or weekend backpackers, thru-hikers carry everything they need to stay on the trail for extended periods of time, be it weeks or months, to complete the journey in as close to one continuous attempt as possible.”

I realized at this point I had actually written a story on a thru-hiker when I interviewed Tyler Cottenie who grew up in Yorkton and had hiked across the Pacific Crest Trail in 2019.

Well, a game would be the only way I’d attempt something like that, so it was time to ask Perez more about his game.

For Perez, who was born in Puerto Rico, and now lives in Delaware, creating a game fed of a long self-interest.

“I started gaming back in 7th grade, so 1987-ish, with the D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) red box,” he related. “Over the years I’ve worked at a gaming store, been a gaming podcaster, published my own games and supplements, played a lot of games both traditional and independent. It’s part of who I am.”

So what was the idea which led to the game’s creation?

“Because of my work schedule and home responsibilities, I don’t get a lot of chances to play games, so I started to look into solo RPGs (Role Playing Games),” said Perez. “I wanted to play something Star Wars-y with a lone character having adventures in the galaxy, so I wrote the basics of a system to let me play such a game using the journaling format.

“Then I shelved it for a year.

“Last summer I got back into hiking as a serious endeavor. It’s an activity I greatly enjoy, one that I can do by myself or along with my daughters, and an excellent way to deal with the stress of being a nurse during a pandemic year.

“Although I would love to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, it’s not something that I can do at the moment, so in daydreaming about long-distance hikes, the idea was born to make a hiking-themed game using the system I had created for the solo space opera game.
“Three weeks later I had the first draft done.”

So as a world trekker I was intrigued to learn more about Perez’s walks.

“I’ve done my share of traveling, yes. In my 20s I spent a month backpacking across Europe, visiting 17 cities in seven countries, and that was an absolute blast,” he said.

“I had the fortune of later spending time visiting Paris, Belgium, and the Netherlands, as well.

“Domestically, I’ve explored Seattle and nearby areas, and done a fair amount of driving all around the Midwest in the years I lived there.

“Back in 2007-08 I had a podcast called The Gamer Traveler, so yeah, traveling has been a big passion of mine for a long time.”

The new game keeps Perez’s daydreams of future treks alive.

“I wanted something that would help me keep daydreaming of a thru-hike; the game part of it appealed to my gamer side, while the journaling part appealed to the writer in me,” he said.

“I then wanted to share it with others who are dreaming of their own thru-hikes, or those who are simply dreaming of the outdoors. In a year where we spent so much time cooped up inside, Thru-Hiker can provide a small sense of escapism and relief.”

So what was the most difficult aspect of designing the game?

“Coming up with the ‘Oracles’, the set of writing prompts that help gives the player ideas and elements with which to build their thru-hiking story,” said Perez. “The Oracles carry the flavor of the game through the boons and challenges a thru-hiker could encounter, so coming up with entries that were both generic enough to apply to virtually any type of hike, yet thematic enough to convey the uniqueness of long-distance hiking, was a fun time indeed.”

Of course when on a hike making sure you have what you need is a big part of it, and that is one of the best elements of the game too, offered Perez.

“I’m very fond of the resource management aspect of the game,” he said.

“A thru-hiker has three resources — Gear, Provisions, and Will — and they need to manage how many cards they have for each, as challenges along the trail deplete those resources, possibly forcing a hiker to get off the trail and end their hike.

“It’s not complicated, as I wanted the game to be appealing to non-gamers, but it provides a neat twist to the solo journaling genre to make it more than just flipping a card and writing.”

Some elements also make Thru-Hiker somewhat unique among RPGs.

“Thru-Hiker deals with challenging the self, connecting with nature, and telling personal stories,” said Perez. “There’s no combat, no violence, no treasure hunting, no greed, no monsters.

“Thru-Hiker centers on exploration, of the world and yourself, offering a positive and hopeful play experience that can appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike.”

More is likely to come as well after the game was successfully funded on KS.

“I certainly have plans to continue supporting Thru-Hiker, starting with a trail guide that will present four-five real-world trails for people to play through, along with some new rules.

“I also know I want to make a genre hack, given how prevalent walking stories are in fantasy and sci-fi.

“Plus there’s that space opera game that was the seed of this whole thing. I think it’s safe to say there’s a lot more Thru-Hiker in the future.”

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