A to Z Gaming: PARKS

PARKS trail with hikers

We took our time hiking through the National Parks taking in the sights in PARKS, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Cover of the Parks game box

Basic Info: PARKS
Players: 1-5
Time: 30-60 Minutes
Designers: Henry Audubon
Artists: Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series
Publisher: Keymaster Games

PARKS is a worker movement game where players move their hikers down a trail to collect sunshine, water, mountains and trees in order to visit the National Parks over four seasons. Along the way, players will take photos, buy gear to help their journey, and work toward a secret goal. Whoever manages their hikes the best will win.

Game set-up for PARKS

The game is set up with the board and resource trays placed within reach of all players. The Parks, Gear, Season, and Canteen decks are each shuffled and placed in their spots on the board. Three Parks cards are laid out, as are three Gear Cards. Players take the two hikers and campfire of their chosen color. Each player is given two Year cards and chooses one to keep. They also receive a face-up Canteen.

Finally the initial trail is set up. The base locations are shuffled together with one of the starred locations (there are four starred locations that come in randomly, one each season). Then these are laid out with the trail head on one end and the trail end at the other. Players place all their hikers on the trial head, the start player chosen and given the start player token, and the last player is given the camera. Finally, the top of the Seasons deck is turned over, which will give a special ability or condition for the round and will also give the “weather” — a pattern of sunshine and water that is added to the locations on the trail. Then play begins.

On their turn, the player moves one of their hikers as far down the trail as they like to an empty location. Well, unless their campfire is still lit, then they can land on a spot with one or more other hikers and flip their campfire to the doused side. If there is a weather token on the site, they collect it. Then they take the action on the location. Most locations simply give a resource — water, sun, mountain or tree. One allows the player to either take a new canteen or take a picture by turning in two resources (unless they have the camera, then they get a discount of one resource for all pictures). The special sites that come in one at a time through the seasons have additional abilities like trading resources, copying an occupied location, doing a parks action (which I’ll mention below with the trail end discussion), If the player collects a water on their turn, they have the option to immediately place it on one of their canteens to gain the ability of the canteen, which mimic the location abilities. Each Canteen can only be used once per season.

When a player moves their hiker to the trail end, they have three action options. One is to visit a park, which is to play the resourced depicted either on one of the parks on the board or in their reserve. They then place that park in front of them. One is to reserve a park, either one of the three that are face up on the board or a random one off the top of the deck. This is placed in their play area sideways, to differentiate it from their played parks. The final action is to purchase one of the face-up gear cards. These cards give the player special abilities, like visiting parks for fewer resources or alternate actions for some of the locations. At this time, the player will also re-ignite their campfire, if they’ve used it during the round.

Players continue taking turns moving their hikers down the trail. Anyone with both hikers at the trail end will stop taking actions and are out of the round. Once there is just one hiker left on the trail, that player moves it to the end of the trail and takes one of the trail end actions.

At the end of the round, the player with the camera can optionally take one more photo by paying one resources. Players return the water from their Canteens back to the supply. The hikers are moved back to the trail head. And then the trail locations are pulled up, shuffled with a new starred location, and laid out. The next round begins with a new Season card with its weather tokens.

At the end of the fourth round, players total up their points from their visited parks and photos, bonus points from their Year card, and the player with the first player marker gets a bonus point. The player with the most points wins.

I backed PARKS when it first game to Kickstarter. I was drawn in by the art — which was not made explicitly for the game, but rather inspired it. And I was not disappointed.

This game is such a lovely experience. Each time you move along the trail you have to ask yourself how far to go — do you jump right to the space you HAVE to have this round? But what about all the great resources along the way that you might miss? Maybe your opponents won’t take the place you need. And, if you spend your campfire wisely, you’ll still be able to get that one space.

I love how the game feels so different depending on the player count, too. At two players it’s more of a leisurely stroll in the park. However, with four and five, it becomes a tight game where your decisions are even more important. I’ve even played solo and found that to be a fun challenge, as you try to keep pace with the park rangers to beat a certain score.

How is it as a 2-player game? PARKS works great as a two player game. It feels a lot different than a four player game, but is still quite enjoyable. You still need to try to out-guess your opponent to get to the spots you really want.

How about the art and component quality? The art is gorgeous and is a huge part of why I picked up this game. The components are also amazing – the wooden bits are a nice touch and the game insert was designed by Game Trayz, which hold the game beautifully. This is a great Kickstarter example where they delivered amazing components without going over the top.

Will this stay in my collection? Absolutely yes. This is a beautiful game that works for so many different player counts.

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