Explore the Wilds
Are you a nature buff that appreciates the great outdoors, enjoys visiting our National Parks, and also loves to play a great board game? Then PARKS is a game for you!
From publisher Keymaster Games and designer Henry Audubon (also known for Space Park and Kingswood), PARKS is a worker placement, set collection game that features an environmental and travel theme. Hikers move along a trail of tiles, collecting resources to turn in at the end of the trail for points. Hikers can also obtain Canteens and Gear to improve their hikes, and take photos along the way to earn bonuses. The hiker with the most points at the end of the year wins the game.
PARKS includes illustrations from more than 35 artists with artwork from the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series. There are 100 naturally stained wooden components stored in custom GameTrayz storage containers.
In PARKS, players will take on the role of two hikers as they trek through different trails across four seasons of the year. While on the trail, these hikers will take actions and collect memories of the places your hikers visit. These memories are represented by various resource tokens like mountains and forests. Collecting these memories in sets will allow players to trade them in to visit a National Park at the end of each hike.
Each trail represents one season of the year, and each season, the trails will change and grow steadily longer. The trails, represented by tiles, get shuffled in between each season and laid out anew for the next round. Resources can be tough to come by especially when someone is at the place you’re trying to reach! Campfires allow you to share a space and time with other hikers. Canteens and Gear can also be used to improve your access to resources through the game. It’ll be tough to manage building up your engine versus spending resources on parks, but we bet you’re up to the challenge. Welcome to PARKS!
The player board is set up with the supply of resources and photos in reach. Each player is dealt two Year cards, choosing one as their Personal Goal, and discarding the other. Three Park cards are face-up, along with a three Gear cards, with their corresponding decks and the Canteens deck. The topmost card of the Seasons deck is revealed, and Weather resource tokens are placed along the trail based on that season’s card.
Players take turns moving down the trail towards the goal from the Trailhead to the Trail End. At each Site they stop along the way, they collect the Weather resource token if it is there, and then complete the Site’s action. Site actions generally provide resources, which the player will add to their supply. Some Site actions allow the player to perform other actions, such a drawing a Canteen card, taking a Photo, or exchanging tokens. There are Advanced Trail Sites that turn 2 tokens into any other 2 tokens, or 1 token into a Wildlife token. Wildlife tokens are exactly that—wild. They can be used in place of any Weather token when visiting a park. Other Advanced Trail Sites allow a player to duplicate the Site action from another Site occupied by a hiker (even their own), Reserve or Visit a Park, or Buy Gear cards.
There are a couple of important rules for moving along the trail. First, players may only move towards the Trail End. If they pass a Site, they cannot return to that site. Second, a player cannot visit a Site occupied by another hiker (their own or another player’s), unless they use their campfire. The campfire token is flipped to the extinguished side, and will relight when one of their Hikers reaches the Trail End. Finally, when only one Hiker remains on the trail, that player must move the Hiker directly to the Trail End on their next turn.
Trail End/End of Season
When a Hiker reaches the Trail End, they choose one of three actions:
- To Reserve a Park, a player moves the Park card from the board to their play area, and rotates it horizontally. The Park will not score points until the cost in tokens is exchanged, and the card is rotated vertically.
- To Buy Gear, the player will exchange the cost in Sunshine tokens listed on the Gear card. Some Gear cards have ongoing abilities, and some have Instant actions.
- To Visit a Park, the player will change in the corresponding tokens from their supply that match the required tokens on a Park card on the board or in their reserve. The points indicated on the card will be scored at the end of the game.
There are benefits for the first player to choose one of these actions. The first player to Reserve a Park also receives the First Hiker Marker. The first player to Buy Gear receives a 1 Sunshine discount on the purchase of the Gear.
The game board is then reset for the next season. Canteens are emptied, the Trail is reset with a different set of Trail sites, the season is discarded, revealing a new Season and weather pattern, and the player with the Camera may take a Photo.
After the fourth season is complete, the game ends. Incomplete Park cards are discarded. After that, players reveal their Year card and score points for completed Parks, Photos, and their Personal Bonus. The player with the first player marker is awarded 1 additional point. The player with the most points wins.
Gameplay & Mechanics
PARKS is a worker placement, set collection game with point-to-point movement. None of these mechanisms are new, and none of the gameplay is groundbreaking. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not still fun. It is a suitable introductory game that is a great way to introduce newer gamers to mechanics such as set collection, worker placement, and point-to-point movement.
But don’t expect it to be more than that. I didn’t really find the actual gameplay to be anything new or different than I have seen before. The point to point movement along the trail, only moving forward, is similar to other games like Tokaido. The set collection is seen in a variety of other games as well.
Don’t expect PARKS to be an overly complex game that is heavy on strategy. Not that this is a bad thing…maybe that’s just the type of game you need for a specific group. It is a nice, light game that is easy to teach and will appeal to novice gamers and more advanced gamers alike, based on the theme alone…
Theme & Integration
But, the way that the National Parks theme is integrated into the gameplay, along with the stunning artwork and superb components, PARKS has the foundations to become a classic family game that is appropriate for anyone’s collection. Players become the hikers that are traversing along the trail, collecting resources…and memories…along the way. Snap photos, collect water in canteens, view wildlife, and soak in the sunshine.
Components & Artwork
What stands out the most about PARKS is how gorgeous this game is! Every time I sit down to play it, I am impressed with the quality of the artwork, components, and overall presentation of the game.
35+ unique artists are credited for the artwork, which is licensed from The Fifty-Nine Park Print Series. If you are a nature lover, or visitor to our National Parks, this website is a must-visit. I already have a few prints earmarked for purchase.
There are 100 naturally stained wooden components in the game. These adorable wooden meeples of sunshine, water drops, wildlife, mountains, and trees are absolutely adorable. And very well made. I can see all of the components in the game holding up to multiple years of gameplay. All of the wooden components, along with the photo chits, are stored in customized Game Trayz storage containers that fit perfectly in the game box. The inserts hold everything perfectly in this nice compact game box. No detail was overlooked.
If you are a fan of playmats, one is available for PARKS. It is sold separately. While it’s not necessary for play, I find that the extra space for the game footprint is welcome. The trail tiles fit nicely across the bottom of the mat, and it feels nice to slide the cards and components across the neoprene mat. The only drawback is that the mat does not fit in the game box, and will need to be stored separately.
I am always happy to see a game with a player count for a wider range of players. PARKS can play up to 5 players, and also includes a solo mode. There are different set-ups that scale depending on the number of players, adding more site tiles to the trail.
During the solo mode, players traverse the trail alongside Park Rangers that are maintaining the trail. As the Park Ranger lands on a site tile with a weather token, they add it to the Ranger Tracker. When the tracker receives three of the same type of weather, it triggers a card from the Event deck. Events may include moving a Park Ranger along the trail, or discarding resources. Also, the Rangers will have end-of-season actions that may discard Park cards, Gear cards, or acquire the first player marker.
PARKS does have a fair amount of variability in its gameplay. There are 12 Trail Tiles with randomized set up each game. Players will select 1 of 2 Year cards (there are 12 total) during set up. These cards will give different goals to work towards during the game. There are 36 Gear Cards and 15 Canteen Cards to help equip players for their hikes. As the seasons progress and players collect more equipment, they can build up synergy and gain robust benefits later in the game.
I am impressed with this game on a level that not many other games have reached. Yes, the game is fun and easy to play. Yes, I can think of several different groups that would love to introduce it to. And the overall look and table presence is outstanding.
But I think the greatest accomplishment of PARKS is deeper than any of that. I can see this game being a favorite of families that have spent time on vacations with their loved ones in these parks. The artwork will provoke memories had in these places, giving them time to reminisce as they sit and play.
This is how I grew up…sitting around a campfire, hanging out in a rustic cabin, hiking the trails in my favorite national parks, snapping photos, and collecting memories.
I have a strong connection with the theme and purpose of this game. It’s not just fun to play, but it also has a positive message about nature and the environment. Additionally, Keymaster Games is donating all funds from the tip jar in the pledge manager of the Kickstarter to the National Park Service. Furthermore, they will donate a percentage of all sales revenue from PARKS to the National Park Service annually. And that is a commitment that I can stand by.
PARKS was one of the hottest games at Gen Con this year. And it is currently climbing the hotness rankings over on Board Game Geek. In conclusion, I say to believe the hype. This game is deserving of all of its accolades. Definitely check it out if you get the chance.
- Release Date: September 2019
- MSRP: $49.00
- Playing Time: 30-60 minutes
- Age Range: 10+
- Player Count: 1-5