Full disclosure: A preview copy of PARKS was provided by Keymaster Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
For someone who doesn’t really go outside, I review a lot of board games about doing that whole business. We had Trekking the National Parks already on the blog, so, you National Park aficionados are going to be super pleased if you loved my review of that, because this is also a game about the National Parks of the United States. Art’s from the 59 Parks Project, which, rules, so if you’re interested in that I’m obliged to link to their site here. Anyways, let’s get to the game, courtesy of Keymaster Games, who’s put out Caper and Space Park, more games with pretty great art. I’ll review ’em eventually, probably.
In PARKS, you play as hikers determined to visit various parks around the country by hiking some trails. You’ve got your gear, a canteen, and a year to do it, but the seasons will bring new trails and new perils. Thankfully, you can meet other hikers along the way, if you’re willing to share your campfire with them. Gather some resources (and your stuff); the end of the trail’s a long way away. Will you be able to reach it before the year’s end?
So the first thing you’ll likely notice is the big park cards, naturally; they’re striking as hell. Shuffle them and flip three face-up in the center:
If you can take your eyes off them, you’ll also want to reveal one Year Card:
Shuffle the Seasons and flip one face-up, too:
You can just shuffle the Canteen Cards and leave them face-down:
Give every player a Gear Card randomly, then shuffle the Gear deck and reveal three face-up, below each of the Park Cards (makes the play area more compact):
Take the Trailhead and Trail End cards (I think they’ll be tiles later) and set them aside, for now:
Shuffle up the Basic Trail Cards / Tiles:
You should remove the Summer Lake unless you’re playing with 4 – 5 players. Now, shuffle the Advanced Sites:
Add one to the stack of Basics, and then flip them face-up to the right of the Trailhead, adding the Trail End to the end. Place the remaining Advanced Sites to the left of the Trailhead.
Set out the various resources:
Those are Sunshine, Water, Mountains, and Forests. There are also wildlife tokens, which are wild.
As you might guess, they’re wild-life. Hah, hah. Anyways. Set out the photo tokens, as well:
And give the camera to the player going last:
And give each player a pair of hikers, to put on the trailhead:
All players should get a campfire tile:
And you should be ready to start!
In Parks, you work to gather resources to buy more gear and visit Parks, which will earn you points. Along the way, you can gain abilities and take photos which might help push you over the edge. At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins. Let’s dive in a bit deeper, though.
A game of Parks is played over a full year (4 Seasons). Each round is a season, and each round begins with a season’s setup. Each Season card has some effect and some weather pattern on it, which should be emulated on the trail. Skipping the Trailhead and the first Site on the trail, place resources in the order indicated on the path, repeating the pattern as best as you can until you hit the end of the trail. These are bonus resources the first hiker on each spot will get.
Now, each player takes turns until all players reach the Trail End. Here’s how it works:
- On your turn, you may move either hiker as far down the trail as you want. You cannot reverse your movement, though, so be careful with how far you go.
- If you want to stop on the same space as any other hiker, flip your Campfire over. If your Campfire isn’t currently lit (visible), then you cannot stop on the same space as another hiker.
- If you pick up a Canteen, you can only fill it when you gain water. Filling a Canteen gives you a bonus effect, but you have to put a water into it. Once it’s filled, it stays filled for the rest of the season. It’s like The Who said: won’t get filled again. I’m at least … 11% sure that’s how the song goes.
- If you take a Photo, you get the camera. Of course; that’s how you take the photo. The Camera lets you take pictures without paying the Sunshine cost (usually a Photo costs sunshine + a resource of your choice).
- When you reach the end of the trail, reignite your campfire. Now your other hiker can share a spot with another player. You also can gain any of these bonuses:
- Become First Player. Only one player can take this.
- Purchase Gear for 1 / 2 / 3 Sunshine. Only one player can take each of these.
- Visit / Reserve a Park. Any number of players can take these actions. If you Reserve a Park, take a Park from the supply and set it near you. On subsequent Visit actions, you can visit one of these parks, too. If you Visit a Park, choose a Park that you can visit and pay the resources on the park, adding it to your scoring pile. Either way, if you take a park from the supply immediately refill it.
- If you’re the last hiker on the trail, you must immediately move to the trail end on your turn. No benefit to lingering, sorry. Though if there are two of you, you might be able to compromise… Nothing like a good Prisoner’s Dilemma on the trail.
When everyone has reached the end of the trail, the season ends:
- Empty everyone’s canteens and return the water to the supply.
- Place hikers back on the Trailhead.
- Remove the Sites between the Trailhead and the end, and shuffle in a new Advanced Site. Reveal them to create a new trail that’s one Site longer than last season’s trail.
- Reveal a new Season Card and apply its weather pattern.
You should be ready to go!
After the fourth season, the game ends. Check to see who won the Year Card; if there’s a tie, give all tied players 1 Point. Total your points, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I mean, the major gameplay differences are the addition of the Summer Lake at higher player counts and the trail crowding. It never feels too bad, but it’s definitely something you have to be mindful of, especially at like, five players. If you’re not careful, you’re underwater; it’s possible to basically chuck yourself out of a round because you used your campfire too early and all the available spaces aren’t helpful for you. That’s unfortunate if that happens, so, naturally, try to avoid it? The thing to be careful of is that you don’t get additional Park slots for higher player counts, so you may not be able to rely on the Parks you can see unless you’re willing to dive for them. Either way, I’m not terribly bothered with this game at any player count.
- Denial is more than just a river in Egypt; it’s a valid strategy. I had a pretty successful run just making it impossible for my co-players to buy high-scoring cards by reserving all of them. It meant that the Parks were churning rapidly, as well, so it was hard for them to plan (they’d grab some Forests and then I’d Reserve it, sticking them with Mountains).
- I think Photos are more viable with some strategies than others. If not a lot of players are going for them and you can keep the Camera, you’re essentially guaranteed 8 points from using them; even more if you can get the Gear that rewards photos (and the Gear that gives you photos for visiting certain parks). That said, I haven’t tried going for them, so your mileage may vary on this particular piece of advice.
- Your Starting Gear is essentially your player power. Use it to inform your basic strategy, as you may not even go for Gear for the rest of the game. I pulled off a win without any more than my Starting Gear, one game, which was kind of interesting. Weird, but fun.
- Your Canteen abilities can be hit or miss. Sometimes you get the same ability on two canteens, which isn’t that useful. Other times you get the same ability on two canteens, which is SUPER useful. Your mileage may vary, generally. If it IS useful, make sure you get some water into it.
- Sometimes you’re gonna have to play keep-away. You cannot let a player with 15 Mountains on Parks get the “1 Point for every 3 Mountains” Gear; that’s just a ridiculously good bonus for them. Just take it for yourself and hope that it’ll still be worth something, if you can.
- The Year card isn’t often worth enough to be super helpful but also it’s not worth so little that you should completely disregard it. It’s just kind of … a nice bonus. Treat it accordingly.
- If you’re going to hoard resources, try to hoard sunshine. Generally, water is useful for canteens and such, but there are plenty of Gear Cards that let you use Sunshine as another resource, which can really bail you out if you’ve collected a bunch of them. Bonus points if you get the Gear that also reduces costs; that’s super helpful. Just make sure you actually spend some time Visiting Parks instead of just grabbing Gear.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I mean, obviously the art. Keymaster tends to outdo themselves with the art, and 59 Parks is no slouch, themselves, so I expected the art in this game to be pretty good. It’s impeccable. Just absolutely gorgeous game. Looks great on the table and makes smart use of the cards to establish a solid table presence. It’s a well-done product, even in preview form. I’m extremely excited about a full release.
- It’s not too tough to learn. It’s a bit heavier than your standard Kingdomino / Splendor style fare, but it’s not much more than that. The only really tough bit strategically is positioning along the trail. It’s a nice weight; right in my preferred spot, being real.
- I really like the mechanics of the trail. The rounds are unique every time and get a bit longer as the game goes on. I thought I’d dislike that (usually I want the rounds to get shorter, to avoid AP!), but I really appreciate it in this game, for some reason. Maybe it’s that the trail keeps getting new abilities and configurations and I find that interesting? Who knows. Either way, I’m really into it. It also seems like expansions could play into that by adding different style trails; maybe scenarios, essentially, with trails in certain configurations over the course of a year? I’d be really into that. Or more Advanced Site cards to switch it up.
- I mean, I just think the game’s fun. It’s an interesting optimization puzzle; how do I get the resources I want while still kinda-blocking my opponents? When do I move my second hiker? Which Parks should I shoot for? How do I optimize them with my Gear? I dunno; I find there are a lot of fun mini-decisions during the game.
- Game could really use a playmat. When you’re picking up and putting down cards that lay flat on the table as much as you do in this game, it would be pretty nice if the cards were on a mat so that the edges didn’t get as messed up. It kind of makes sense for this one to have a playmat as well; kinda like Splendor, it has a really specifically-defined area for cards and such. Plus, then you could show off more of this game’s bomb art. But that’s just my two cents; I’m not a huge playmat person anyways.
- Some of the rules are still a bit unclear. Hopefully this will be cleared up during the game, but we were a bit confused as to whether or not the spots that let you copy other Hikers’ locations worked on the Trail End, but we assumed that they worked that way. Sometimes it’s just simpler to add a quick house rule, honestly. Plus, as long as we’re consistent.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, yeah, like I said, PARKS is a lot of fun. It’s very much a come-for-the-art-stay-for-the-gameplay sort of experience, which, I suppose, is exactly what you want from a game with great art? Don’t get me wrong, this game still isn’t going to convince me to go hiking (I seriously did enough of that when I was a Boy Scout; stop asking), but it’s a great step in that direction if you have friends that love that sort of thing, but are looking for something a bit weightier than Trekking the National Parks, which we’ve also discussed here. Usually when I show someone the game their reaction is just “wow”, which, means that the art director for the game did their job and I respect that. I spend a lot of the time talking about the art, but don’t think for a second that that means the gameplay isn’t there; it’s literally just that the art is very good. Under the hood, the game’s got it, as well; it’s a slick game of blocking and resource collection that’s a bit Tokaido-esque with a more palletable theme. I’m a very big fan of it, and you’ll likely be too if you give it a whirl. If it sounds up your alley, it hits Kickstarter on 1/29; check it out!