Full disclosure: A review copy of PARKS: Memories was provided by Keymaster Games.
I actually hadn’t thought about it before I wrote this up, but this is going to be an odd series to cover. You’ll see more of it below, since, I mean, I’m writing this after I wrote the rest of the review. This is essentially the written equivalent of a voiceover for my review, I guess? Sometimes I write these before the rest of the review, but I usually write them at the end. So that’s a fun What’s Eric Playing? fact for y’all. You’re welcome. Anyways, a lot of the three PARKS Memories games is kind of … the same, so the subsequent reviews should be shorter. More comparative. How’s that going to work? Let’s dive in and find out.
In PARKS Memories, players must keep track of various national park images as they work to assemble sets of the same image. Quick and simple, first to collect three pairs, wins! However, powerful player abilities can disrupt the playing field and change things around, and the only way to activate them is to reveal multiple tiles of the same type! Good luck remembering it all! In this edition, beaches, parks, and rivers await you from sea to sea. Will you be able to keep your memories together? Or will your ambitions end up beached?
Not too tough. Give each player a set of 4 ability tiles, face-down:
Shuffle the tiles and create a 3×3 grid, placing the other tiles into three equal stacks behind the grid:
Set the Hiker nearby:
You should be ready to start!
A game of PARKS Memories works mostly functionally the same across all three sets, so I’m going to plant my flag here and just explain the rules once in this review and cover the differences in the subsequent ones. Is it lazy? Maybe! Is it what I’m doing? Yes!
To win PARKS Memories, you just need to collect three pairs of the same Park Tile. Easier said than done! A game takes place over several player turns, and every turn progresses in the same way. Let’s walk through one!
Reveal Tiles: Start your turn by revealing any two tiles that are face-down. If the two tiles have matching symbols, the ability corresponding to that symbol is activated and can be used immediately. That’s cool. If you reveal a Wildlife Tile, the Wildlife Tile is considered to match any symbol. If you reveal two, you can reactivate the ability of your choice.
Take a Tile: Once you’ve got two face-up tiles, you must choose one and remove it from the play area, adding it to your supply. If this causes you to have three pairs of the same park tile (the symbols will differ, but they refer to the same park), you win!
Refill Board: Otherwise, choose a stack and reveal the top tile of that stack. Add it to the spot that you removed the tile from in the previous step. It should still be face-up.
Move Hiker: Take the Hiker Token from wherever it is and place it on any face-up tile. That tile cannot be removed, moved, or flipped over while the Hiker is on it. Flip the other tiles face-down.
Gameplay continues until one player wins!
In each set, the player abilities are different. These are the abilities for Coast to Coast:
- Sunshine: During the Reveal Tiles Step, you may flip this tile face-down to reveal two additional tiles.
- Water: During the Take a Tile Step, you may flip this tile face-down to take an additional face-down tile. You must then return a tile from your Supply to that spot, face-up.
- Forest: During the Refill Board Step, you may flip this tile face-down to place the tile you choose face-down instead of revealing it. You may look at the tile before placing it face-down.
- Mountain: During the Move Hiker Step, you may place the Hiker laying down vertically or horizontally to lock that entire column or row (respectively) rather than just one tile.
Player Count Differences
There are functionally only two player counts: 2 players and 3 players, as that’s how many ability boards there are. The game suggests that, at 4+, you can just have multiple players play on a team, where each team acts where a typical player would have acted. I don’t love that, because it’s not really an actual 4-player game; it’s a 2-player game, where each player is just a committee of two people. It frustrates me a bit. But that’s how the game is structured, so that’s how it is. That’s more of a gripe than anything else, being real, so let’s dig into how the game’s different between two and three players.
At two, you’re able to do more active blocking. If you see your opponent wants something, you can either try to remember it and take it yourself, let them have it, or use the Hiker to block them from taking it. The Mountain ability helps a lot with that, since it can block off a number of spaces at the same time to keep them outside of your opponent’s reach. It can be a bit of an aggressive game, as a result, since you really have to dig in on blocking if you want to win. At three, it’s lightened up a bit since you can’t really affect the player to your right if you don’t want to. There are some slight things that you can do, but they’re pretty technical and the player to your left might not help out with those. Instead, you kind of need to focus on boosting yourself and letting your opponents take care of themselves. It’s up to you which style of gameplay you like the best, but I find that the abilities here make this a bit more exciting at two players, even if it’s a bit more aggressive. I’d gently recommend it at two over three, but it’s a soft recommendation, if one at all.
- As with many multiplayer games, at more than two players it may be more beneficial to play to help yourself than to play to mess up an opponent. This is kind of the ongoing rule for head-to-head vs. multiplayer. If you’re hurting someone else in a two-player game, that essentially helps you (assuming it’s a zero-sum game, as many two-player games tend to be). At three, hurting another player means ignoring the third player, which may not help you as much. Instead, focus on helping yourself and getting the tiles you need. If your opponent makes too much progress, you can spend a turn pushing back on that, sure, but if you spend all your turns attacking just one player you’re essentially kingmaking by allowing the other player to run wild.
- The sunshine bonus that allows you to flip two extra tiles can be critical to activating certain abilities, which may turn the tide of the game in your favor. Using the sunshine ability to flip more tiles can potentially allow you to flip another ability, if you’re lucky. If you do that, you can possibly take another tile (via the water ability) or block other tiles with the hiker (the Mountain ability), which may help earn you a win or save you from a loss. You may even find a Wildlife Tile and use that to your advantage.
- The water bonus is a great saving throw if you forget where a tile you need is. It’s also useful if you’d rather reveal some tiles for an ability. You can reveal two tiles, get the ability bonus, and then use the water ability to take the tile you actually want. Or, if you play your tiles right, you may even be able to take a pair of tiles in the same turn! Just make sure you don’t flip both tiles you want face-up; the water ability only lets you take a tile that is already face-down.
- The forest bonus is a useful way to throw off your opponent’s move, but I wouldn’t say it’s terribly long-term useful. Yeah, I’m not sure if it’s worth keeping a tile face-down. Your opponent can just flip it next turn if they have nothing else better to do, but if they’ve got a better move available, they should just make that move instead. The intrigue isn’t really enough to compel an opponent to throw a more explicitly useful tile in favor of a potentially useful one.
- The mountain bonus is probably one of the more explicitly useful ones, as junking up an entire row or column can throw your opponent’s plans off for a while. Getting to lock down a row or column with the Hiker is wildly useful. You can even combine it with the water bonus to essentially shift a tile into the row or column you’re going to lock, making it impossible for your opponent to get a set of tiles that they might need. Is it rude? Absolutely. Can it potentially save the game for you? Of course.
- In a three-player game, you can always bump messing up the previous player to the next player and make them do it, but be careful: if they forget, you run the risk of letting a player potentially get closer to winning (or just to win). This is kind of the fundamental nature of blocking in turn-based games. I am player A, and I want to block player C. I can either choose to block them now, or I can take something that benefits me and let player B handle blocking player C. That will annoy player B, however, which may not always be to my benefit. Worst-case, B doesn’t notice that C needs to be blocked, so they don’t, and C wins on their next turn. Whose fault is that? B, somewhat, but A is not blameless. If you want to block a player, do it, or make sure that your opponent is also ready and able to block on their turn. Just, you know, don’t tell your opponent that they need to block the third player on their turn. That kind of sucks.
- Taking a Wildlife tile may not be a bad idea, especially because it prevents your opponent(s) getting further use of it. I usually will take it to boost my own abilities and to prevent my opponent getting a bunch of free abilities every turn. It doesn’t help me get anything in particular, but I can then use a water ability to return it to the play area later on, especially if I need it to win.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
A few of these are more comments on the PARKS Memories idea at large rather than specific sets, so you may see a few of these repeated across the other two reviews, when I get around to them.
- Component quality is excellent. As is kind of the norm with Keymaster. The tiles are nice and weighty and the Hiker Token is pretty much perfect. I was wondering why it was shaped that way until I looked at the mountain ability, and it makes perfect sense.
- Generally, I think the art in the PARKS series is almost unparalleled, and I’m excited to see more games featuring it. I could be into the PARKS series forever. I love the art. It’s some of my favorite art in any games, and it’s really consistently just the more the merrier. This is a nice one because the art really stands on its own on these tiles, and I think it was a great way to highlight them.
- Specifically, I really like a lot of the water scenes in this game, and I think a “parks featuring bodies of water” set is a really nice move, especially for like, beach travel. I’m actually a big fan of beach scenes and mountain scenes, so you can imagine that I’m also very excited for the Mountaineer Set, once I get around to writing that one up. Note that all of those subsequent reviews are going to be much shorter since, you know, I’ve already written so much about the PARKS Memories games as a set in this one.
- I like that the abilities can be mix-and-matched between games. That’s just a fun feature. It incentivizes getting all three, and I can see the Capitalism In Action, there, but it is nice, in a Pokemon Red and Blue-kind of way.
- This ability set, though, is nice! It does a good job playing off the traditional memory matching mechanics without being too difficult to learn. I think this is definitely a simpler set, since it’s “flip more tiles”, “take an extra tile”, “hide a tile”, and “block a row / column”. There’s a lot to manage on the memory side, and I like that this takes a classic memory matching game and elevates it to offer a bit of strategy. There will still be a lot of luck, in this game, but I think that’s kind of to be expected, given how light and quick it is. I’ll be interested to see how the other games’ ability sets change the experience.
- In general, I like that the game offers a bunch of variants to allow players to customize their play experience. You can reduce the game down to its base memory matching by removing abilities and the Hiker, and you can expand the game by combining multiple sets to create a 4×4 or 5×5 grid, if you want. They’d be massive, but you can definitely enhance them that way.
- It’s nice that the PARKS series has this array of complexity options. I need to remember when I’m publishing this (probably after my TRAILS review), but I like that PARKS Memories, TRAILS, and PARKS exist within the series. There’s definitely something for everyone, and as I mentioned earlier, with art this good, it’s hard to not be excited about at least one of the games.
- I also like that as the game progresses, it becomes more difficult to block other players until someone wins. The game gently accelerates towards a conclusion. If a player goes wide enough, you just can’t take enough tiles to prevent them getting a second of at least a few types. That just has to be balanced against going so wide that another player beats you to the win!
- I do wonder if there’s been confusion between the sets since they’re all called PARKS Memories. Like, I’m wondering if someone’s bought someone a duplicate Plains Walker because they didn’t realize that Coast to Coast was a separate thing? I wonder how often this happens.
- I kind of wish the starting play area were larger, especially at two players. It’s not impossible to remember all 9 spots, though I will say that balancing that against what your opponents want, what you want, what you need to block your opponents, and what symbols are on various tiles might be more than your brain can hold onto at once. I still would enjoy a larger play area on its own, but I appreciate that the variants allow for that, provided you own multiple sets.
- Oh, I kind of hate that all three are generally exclusive at different places. This aggravates my desire for completionism pretty aggressively. Apparently this one is a B&N exclusive, Plains Walker is a web exclusive, and Mountaineer is available via hobby retail? I … am all for promoting different places as part of long-term integration plans, but I do kind of think of these as a set, in some ways, and set exclusivity at different storefronts can be confusing.
- While I also understand why this game doesn’t really work at 4+ for individual players, I’d really call this a 2- to 3-player game, not a 2+. I’ve been getting far more into “player count on box” discourse than I really want to in these writeups, lately, and I think that maybe I’m just getting crotchety in my advanced age. Realistically, though, I’d call the team play listed in the rulebook as a variant, at best, and that kind of causes me to side-eye the “2+” players on the box. I can imagine if you went out and brought this to a group of 8 people without reading the rules, depending on your group, you might be fairly disappointed that it’s 2 teams of 4 people. It feels a bit disingenuous, to me, to assert that this plays the same at 4 or 6 or 8 as it does at 2, and I find that to be a frustrating thing about the Memories series as a whole (and plenty of other games that play similar games with their player counts).
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I think PARKS Memories: Coast to Coast is fun! It’s a nice, light introduction to the PARKS series. I’m not the biggest fan of memory games, since my brain is occasionally smooth as an egg, but there’s enough new elements to make this a bit different than a pure memory game. The player abilities incentivize not just keeping track of what you want to take, but also what you potentially want to reveal so that you can set yourself up for success on your subsequent turns. And that’s cool! PARKS Memories is a bit limited in that the game has to be played on teams with four or more players, which is a bit wild to me, but I think in the two- to three-player space there’s still fun to be had. Plus, the standard Keymaster Games fare is all here. There’s the incredible art of the PARKS series and the solid component quality that makes PARKS Memories a delight to play (and a game that looks great while you’re playing it). It’s hard to comment on Coast to Coast specifically in a way that isn’t a commentary on the series as a whole, give that the differences between the sets are fairly minor and, frankly, I haven’t played the others yet. I do like that the abilities here are simple yet powerful, as they give players additional ways to expand parts of their turn without being so worth pursuing that they muddle player objectives. These abilities are enhancements, not goals in their own right. I think that’s solid! And I particularly like the coastal / water-themed nature of this set, though I wish that this had somehow trickled into how the abilities worked, to give the entire game a bit more thematic cohesion. This is definitely going to be the lightest entry in the PARKS series so far (unless you count the playing cards, but even then, there are playing card games that are complicated). I think it’ll appeal most to folks who are looking for that light kind of quick, easy-to-set-up memory game. PARKS Memories does pretty well in that space, especially for fans of more outdoorsy-type things, like … outside? I don’t know. That last one’s not me. But if it’s you, I think you might enjoy PARKS Memories, and if beachy landscapes are your jam, PARKS Memories: Coast to Coast might be the one for you!