Instant Game Night Reviews: PARKS
Updated: Feb 19
“Is PARKS a good game to bring to game night?”
Year Published 2019
Designer Henry Audubon
Artist Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series
Publisher Keymaster Games
Age Range 10+
Playing Time 40-70 Minutes
PARKS is a worker movement, resource management game in which players will be competing hikers trying to visit the most US National Parks and take the most beautiful photographs of their adventures. Along the way, they will need to collect various resources, purchase gear, fill their canteens, and of course, choose which parks they wish to visit.
Below you will find a brief summary of the game play along with our thoughts on whether or not PARKS is a good game to bring to your next game night get-together.
Please note: We do not intend this review to be a thorough explanation of the rules of a game or how to play. Rather, our reviews are aimed to provide you a basic overview of the game play along with our thoughts on how suitable a particular game is to bring to a game night with family or friends. If this is your first time reading an Instant Game Night review, please click here to read about our review format and rating system.
PARKS is played over a series of 4 seasons. During each season players will move their two hikers along a trail with various trail sites. Each trail site a hiker stops on will require them take an action, such as collecting certain resources, trading resources, or other special actions.
The resources in PARKS consist of tokens representing Forest, Mountain, Sunshine, and Water. There are also wildlife tokens which are wild resources, able to be substituted for any other resource type. The primary purpose of collecting resources is to use them to visit a National Park.
Each National Park requires a player to spend a certain number of resources in order to place that Park in their collection. If a player doesn't yet have enough resources but still wishes to claim a park, they may “reserve” the park. This essentially works like a “layaway” system – the player may continue collecting resources throughout the game until they finally have the proper resources for the park. They are then able to successfully visit the park when given the opportunity. Each park can only be collected or reserved by one player, so when a desirable park is flipped over, players will be racing to earn the right to claim that park.
The Park cards themselves feature beautiful artwork along with an interesting fact printed at the bottom of each card. The base game includes 48 different national parks.
Before play begins, players are dealt two Year cards, which are personal goals that will provide victory points at the end of the game. Players decide which Year card to keep and discard the other. These cards serve to give players a sense of direction in terms of what resources to collect and what types of parks to visit.
As players move along the trail and perform actions, there are various tools they can use to assist them. First are canteens. Players begin the game with one canteen, which they can use once per season to give them a special action, such as collecting a resource or reserving a park. In order to play a canteen, players must fill it with water that was earned during that turn. The canteen can only be used once and must be used immediately when filled, so players must be strategic about how and when to fill their canteen. One of the trail sites will also allow players to acquire additional canteens. Any number of canteens may be played during a season, so this could provide a player with a real advantage if used efficiently.
The other tool available to assist players are gear cards. This gear, when purchased, provides a player with an ongoing special ability. These abilities might make parks cheaper to visit, allow a player to take additional actions on a trail site, or allow resource substitutions. These abilities are active throughout the remainder of the game and may be used as many times as a player likes. Much like canteens, gear can provide players with a strong advantage over others.
There are of course some rules on the trail. While a hiker can move forward as many spaces as they choose, they can never move backward. Hikers are also generally not allowed to occupy the same trail site as other hikers. The only exception to this rule is when a player uses their campfire token. The campfire token starts the round on the “lit” side but can be flipped over to the “extinguished” side to allow a player to place a hiker on the same trail site as another hiker.
One additional action on the trail is taking a photo. To do this, a hiker must land on the appropriate trail site and spend any 2 resources. They will then collect a photo token, which will be worth one point at the end of the game. That player will also gain the camera, which allows them the opportunity to purchase an additional photo at the end of the season. It also provides that player with a one resource discount on photos. The camera can be stolen by another player if they later visit the photo trail site and take a photo of their own. This makes photos quite strategic, as holding the camera at the end of a season is a huge benefit to that player.
When a players hiker reaches the end of the trail, they must decide where to place their hiker on the Trail End tile. There are three options:
Reserve a Park: The first player to reserve a park each season will earn the first player marker for the next season. After that, any number of hikers may reserve parks as well.
Buy Gear: The first player to place their hiker in this area can purchase gear with a 1 sunshine discount (second hiker also receives the discount in a 4 or 5 player game). Any number of hikers may choose to buy gear.
Visit a Park: Any number of hikers may visit a park. When visiting a park, a player may visit a park that is face up on the game board or they may decide to visit on of the parks that they reserved previously.
Once both of a players hikers have reached the end of the trail, they are now out for the remainder of the season. Once only a single hiker remains on the board, that player must immediately move the hiker to the trail end.
Once a season as ended, new park cards are revealed along with a new season card, which will provide a new effect and a new weather pattern. In addition, a new trail site is added to the mix, which increases the length of the trail by one in each subsequent season.
Each of the four seasons will play differently, as season cards are flipped over and reveal a unique theme to each season, such as the “Season of Starlight” where each park will cost one less Sunshine resource to visit. In addition, a unique weather pattern is displayed on each season card. This results in either sunshine
At the end of the fourth season, after the final photo opportunity, players will count up the number of point son their visited parks, the number of photos taken, as well as any points they earned from their Year card. The player with the most points, is the winner. If tied, the player with the most visited parks is the winner.
The game also comes with a set of solo cards, which allow one player to play against the “Park Rangers” and attempt to earn the highest number of points possible.
There is no denying that PARKS is a gorgeous game. The artwork and design of this game are truly stunning. This is a jaw dropping game that makes players stop and admire it the first time they see it set up on a table. The components are equally beautiful, practical, and high quality. We love that the resources are wooden tokens with unique shapes and the fact that they included many different animal types as wildlife tokens. The camera, campfire tokens, and first player token are wonderful tactile additions as well. I can't help but think I earned a merit badge in Boy Scouts that looked remarkably similar to the first player token.
But underneath the beautiful artwork and top notch components is a truly enjoyable game. PARKS strikes a perfect balance of simple mechanisms and deep strategy. Each turn you only have one singular decision to make – where to move your hiker. But the implications of that movement are significant, such as how it might block others, how it might set you up to copy a move next turn, and how collecting new canteens or gear might help propel you in future seasons. This is truly a game that can be played by newcomers to board games and veterans alike. While you can certainly create a deep strategy in PARKS, you can just as easily pick the park that looks the “cutest” and simply go with the flow. The game is fun either way. And we would go as far as to say that the game is relaxing. We don't say this about many games, but sitting down to play PARKS truly gives us a zen feeling we have never been given by any other board game we've played so far. It is wonderful.
This is one of those games that is just an absolute no brainer for just about any type of game night you might be hosting. And beyond that, it is a fantastic solo game. So even when you can't host game nights (2020 anyone?) you can still get good use out of the game.
We wholeheartedly recommend this game for your next game night, no matter what type of crowd or audience you might be expecting.
Our rating system:
G rabs your attention
E asy to play & teach
N ewbie friendly
G ood rulebook
H olds attention
! our experience
PARKS Rating Breakdown
Grabs Your Attention
PARKS grabs your attention more than possibly any other board game we have ever played. The beautiful artwork on the park cards combined with the great graphic design and unique components make this game some major eye candy.
PARKS is a fairly agile game as players do not have many decisions to make each turn. All they have to do is the decide where to move one hiker. On the most turns, this is going to be fairly obvious based on the resources they have and the parks they are trying to visit. However, turns can slow down at times when players are thinking about their long term strategy or about beating other players to certain sites. Because of this, along with a bit of a higher playing time with 4 players, we can't quite give PARKS a full point here.
PARKS is an extremely memorable game. While there are other similar games on the market, the production quality, artwork and simplicity of play really make this a memorable gaming experience. All throughout the game you really do feel as if you are hiking various parks and trying to take the best pictures possible. The game creates a sense of adventure and relaxation that is hard to forget!
Easy to Teach and Play
PARKS is relatively easy to explain but it must be done in the right way. There is a decent amount going on in the game when you consider all the different types of resources, year cards, season cards, the canteens, and the gear. However, if you begin your explanation by talking about the main mechanic and how to move along the trail, this can really simplify the game in people's minds. We have found that actually simulating a season of play prior to beginning the game helps tremendously. Overall, PARKS is fairly simple to teach and play but you will certainly want to practice your explanation beforehand.
Score: 1/1 (with preparation)
We have found that PARKS can be quite newbie friendly, again, if explained well. Nothing about the game is overly complicated on its own, however, if you throw everything at a new player all at once you will certainly overwhelm them. That aside, we do think that PARKS is quite newbie friendly but it doesn't quite get a full point due to some of the complexities mentioned above, which a brand new board gamer may struggle to comprehend.
PARKS is an extremely interactive game, sometimes almost to a fault. It can be very frustrating to plan out your season and collect all your resources only to have someone else visit the park you wanted first. That said, you are constantly planning your next move in your head and paying close attention to what the other players are doing. This really keeps all players involved all throughout the game. Not to mention every time a new park is revealed, players will collectively ooooh and ahhhh at the amazing artwork!
Good Rule Book
The rule book for PARKS is really well done. It does a great job of describing the set up along with plenty of photos to get you started. It describes player turns and possible actions very well along with clearly describing the canteens, the season cards, the year cards, and the various types of gear. The iconography throughout is also very well done and clear. Finally, the included rules summary sheet is also very helpful throughout the course of the game.
As I mentioned in the interactive section, PARKS does a great job of holding players' attention through the ever-changing parks cards that are face up on the board. This makes players think not only about the types of resources that they are collecting but also about when to reserve a park as opposed to waiting and visiting it after collecting the appropriate resources. The only way that PARKS would lose the attention of players is if you had someone who was extremely prone to analysis paralysis, but this has yet to happen with us.
PARKS has a great theme. There have been plenty of other board games that use the outdoors and parks as a theme, however, it is the stunning artwork, impressive graphic design and smooth, streamlined mechanics that really help PARKS to stand out. Every action that is taken and every card type in play make sense and are aligned to the theme....if you don't think too deeply about it. Of course no one buys a backpack with rays of sunshine. But the overarching goal and mechanics of this game really do keep you entrenched in the theme. With most games the theme is lost before the 1st round has even ended but with PARKS you continue to be engaged with the theme and blown away by the artwork throughout the entire game.
Finally it's time to tell you about our personal experiences with PARKS. We have played PARKS with 5 players, with 2 players, and I've also played it solo. The game works great at any player count but it does get a little bit bogged down with 5 players. Turns can take a bit longer to come back around to you and the trail sites are a bit more scarce. We would recommend you play with 4 or fewer players but the game does still work well with 5. In all of these experiences, though, all of our guests fell in love with the look and feel of this game. They have also been able to pick up on the game quite easily and with little confusion. The canteen cards did raise some questions, but overall everyone learned the game quite quickly (including my parents) and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would gladly play again. And that is the Hallmark of a good game night game!