Review: PARKS

PARKS. Keymaster Games, 2019. Henry Audubon, designer. Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series, artists.

This Sunday was the birthday of one of our friends, and we (and by that, I mean it was Em’s idea–she’s the thoughtful one) wanted to get him a board game as a present. You know, because it’s kind of our brand. We (again, Em) realized that since our friend and his wife were outdoorsy, and since it looked pretty, we would get him a copy of PARKS, by Keymaster Games.

Here’s the thing: we had never actually played PARKS (and yes, it is stylized as all-caps-PARKS). Sure, we had heard good things, but we can only buy so many games a year, and with the pandemic, we haven’t really played much with friends in a while. So when we drove all the way out to our local game store to pick the game up, we decided to treat ourselves to a copy as well! Since we picked it up on Saturday (yes, one day before our friend’s birthday), we’ve played it a couple of times, and we’re ready to talk about it!

What’s going on here?

Hikers gonna hike.

PARKS–not to be confused with Trekking the National Parks, Bärenpark, Rick and Morty: Anatomy Park, or Free Parking–is a game of worker placement and resource management with elements of set collection. Each player plays as a pair of hikers who hike across a straight path from trailhead to trail end, collecting…experiences? These experiences are represented by water, valleys (suns), mountains, forests, and wildlife. Oh, and you can also take pictures by spending resources, and these photos are also experiences. I dunno…it’s abstract.

Anyway, you move your hikers on the track as far forwards, but never backwards, as you wish, collecting the resources and taking the actions on the path tile you land on. Gear that you buy on certain tiles may allow you to visit certain parks by spending fewer resources, or may give you bonus resources by taking certain actions. The main goal of the game, and the main way to score points, is by visiting National Parks, represented by beautiful, tarot-sized cards featuring artwork from the Fifty-Nine Parks series. You also score points by meeting goals on a card dealt to you at the beginning of the game, and by taking pictures that are worth a point each. You play through 4 seasons, with the path growing by one tile each season, and the player with most points wins.

What’s good?

I’ll be honest with you(and I haven’t even told Em this); when I first saw PARKS, I thought it looked gorgeous, but not very fun. I mean, you’re moving meeples on a straight path made up of 7 to 12 tiles and very limited actions. Em wanted it, though, and I am not one to object to buying any game, so…

Not a ton of options, but so many possibilities.

You know what? It’s fun. Like, really fun. The lack of broad options means that you really have to make each move matter. and the fact that these tiles appear in random order means that in some rounds, certain actions will be more viable in some rounds than in others. In the first season, if the “visit a park” action appears on the first tile, it’s going to be very difficult to us it. In another season, after you have collected some resources, that action might appear towards the end of the trail and you may find yourself using it twice and sort of camping on it (no pun intended) to prevent your opponent from taking full advantage of it.

It’s also a fairly short game. Even though you play through 4 rounds, the game of PARKS takes less than an hour to play. It’s not a “filler” game, as the action economy can be a bit of a brain burn, but it’s quick enough that you can recover and play another game (of Parks, or of a different game!). For a game that is about walking around, enjoying the scenery and travelling the country, it plays very quickly. And because it’s short, and because there aren’t a ton of options, AND because it’s a game with a theme people can relate to, this is a good beginner/lite-intermediate game that you can play with your family.

The best thing about this game, though, is the component quality. I’ve already mentioned the gorgeous cards, which not only display exquisite artwork but also present facts about each park. Really, the cards are worth the purchase price. The game also has painted, wooden pieces for each resource, small cards for your secret goals, the set up of each season, and gear, and a metal first player marker. The most impressive thing about all of this (besides the National Park cards) is the box insert. The insert is made by Game Trayz, and each component fits so nicely into its compartment that the game is actually fun to put away. This is one of the most well-produced games I’ve ever seen.

So satisfying.

What’s not so good?

Not a ton of options, not a ton of variety.

I have very few complaints about PARKS. The one issue I can foresee, however, is that even though the tiles are randomized, there are 7 (or 8 in a higher-player-count game) that appear in every season, in every game, and 4 more that get added each season, in every game. That means that by one game of PARKS, you’ve seen every action tile. While you will no doubt have to adjust your strategy depending on where and when each tile appears, I could see where experienced players’ strategies could become stale. I would love to see more variety in these tiles, and though there is an expansion, it doesn’t add more of these tiles.

Honestly, that might be my only complaint, which says a lot.

What do I think?

I’m sitting here in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of a snowstorm. PARKS is not a replacement for actually getting to go to places and see actual things in real life, but as a celebration of the before times, it’s a fun time. PARKS is a beautifully-produced little package that manages to pack in a lot of game much more efficiently than I can pack a backpack (and I was a Boy Scout!), and it holds its own beside much more meaty games in our collection.

PARKS gets 7/10 victory points.

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