I remember stumbling across the PARKS both (technically the Keymaster Games booth) at Gen Con 2019 and thinking “wow that game is pretty”. My friend then says to me “Oh, that’s PARKS, it’s gamer’s Tokaido“. Consider my interest piqued as I’m a fan of Tokaido even though the gameplay (without the expansions) is a bit too light. Is PARKS the game I had been looking for all along? Fun mechanics, pretty aesthetics, and a great theme… but does it roll up into an amazing game? Time to find out!
The goal of PARKS is to earn the most points over the four seasons of hiking the trail. Each player starts with two hikers and an empty canteen. A trail of 8 tiles is dealt out
And the various decks are shuffled.
On a player’s turn, they must move one of their two hikers forward on the trail to an unoccupied space. Whichever location they stop on, they can take the action of that tile. Usually, these are collecting resources, but some will have unique actions such as taking photos (1 VP at the end of the game each), exchanging resources, or taking actions from other locations in the game. Players also have a campfire token they can spend to stop on an occupied location that can be used once or twice a season.
Resources are spent visiting parks and buying gear cards when a player gets a hiker to the end of the trail. Park visits are the ultimate goal as they grant victory points, while gear cards give your player special abilities. Players also can acquire canteen cards, which grant them resources or powers whenever they fill them with water.
Once all players have made their way to the end of the trail, the season ends. There are a few cleanup steps, the most notable is that the trail tiles are reshuffled with a tile added, and dealt out anew for the next season.
The game ends at the end of the fourth season. Players total up their VPs from their photos, parks visited, and their secret year card (if they met the goal). Most VPs wins.
There is no denying it, PARKS is going to turn some heads with its production values and stellar artwork, which is nothing short of phenomenal. The 30+ artists did an amazing job of capturing the spirit of each of the national parks depicted. And for the nerdy types like me, there is even an factual tidbit on the bottom of each card about the park. PARKS also contains an organizer by Game Trayz (a personal favorite of mine) that’s even in the shape of a log. While this wasn’t Keymaster Games first title, it’s certainly one that proves they have the chops for head-turning game production.
Of course, all that bling don’t mean a thing if the game isn’t actually fun. Fortunately, game designer Henry Audubon created a highly entertaining game with this one. I’ve played PARKS with both my family and my gaming group and it’s done a great job engaging both crowds. This one is accessible enough to be enjoyed by just about anyone, yet still has enough meat on the bones to not feel like you are just going through the motions. Indeed, my friend, there are decisions to be made in this game.
When it comes to strategy, I loved having two hikers to control as it forces some decisions on which hiker to move on a given turn. Do you want to rush forward to that resource you desperately need, forgoing all the spaces in between? Or maybe you want to hang back on a highly coveted tile, blocking it from others.
These decisions become even more important at the higher player counts as the trail gets a lot more crowded. I’ve seen players purposely block others by not moving the hiker, camping on a space (see what I did there?) for as long as possible. This is also why I think PARKS plays best with 3 players. With two, the trail is baren of competition, but at 5 players, things can become almost frustrating as you need to elbow and claw those other hikers out of your way.
Finally, I think PARKS has a nice amount of variety in the game. What helps is not only the changing of the trail each season, but the large amount of gear cards that let you break the rules in various ways. Speaking of the gear cards, I do wish there was a way to sweep the market of them. Too many times we’ve had cards no one was interested in languishing from round to round. It would be nice for them to clear out at the end of the round to see more options because there are a LOT of gear cards and usually, only 2-3 are bought in any one game.
PARKS was played by some of the BGQ crew at Gen Con and most came away impressed. The production values are nothing short of amazing, and the gameplay is both smooth and engaging. It’s also on the lighter side of the spectrum, so don’t go in expecting a brain burner or and game with a ton of moving parts. Henry Audubon took the Tokaido concept and improved upon it a lot. As a family or gateway game, PARKS is excellent. For gaming groups looking for a light diversion, PARKS serves up nicely.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – An excellent game that helps set the benchmark for production values, bolstered by its fun and accessible gameplay.
Credit: PARKS Review