PARKS Review – Hike The US National Parks

PARKS is a board game from publisher Keymaster Games, about hiking through the United States National Parks. Released back in 2019, designed by Henry Audubon, PARKS uses a modular board to create trails for players to venture along, national parks will be visited and pictures taken along the way. Lasting around 45 minutes the game plays with 1 – 5 players, includes Game Trayz and features artwork from Fifty-Nine Parks. However, will players want to wander the parks or never visit them again? Let’s find out!

Setting up the standard trail tiles are shuffled, with one advanced tile, to create a randomised route that the players will venture along, flanked by the trailhead and end. Players receive two coloured hikers and a matching campfire token, along with two year goal cards. Only one of these year cards is kept, acting as that player’s hidden personal objective, with the other returned to the box. A market of visitable parks and purchasable gear is made by shuffling the decks. Before play is ready to begin the top season card is flipped. This impacts the entire round, with bonus weather tokens also added onto the trail tiles. For example, it could see a pattern of sunny and rainy weather repeated across the trail – with sunshine and water tokens placed alternately along the trail tiles.

Played out over 4 seasons, or rounds, each turn the active player chooses one of their two hikers, moving it to a trail tile down the path. Hikers cannot move backwards on the trail. Plus, unless the player exhausts their campfire, they cannot send a hiker to a tile which already features another hiker. Every trail tile offers a unique action and if a player is first to go they also gain the token on the tile placed via the weather. The basic tiles mostly see the player gaining resource tokens. Advanced tiles give opportunities to visit parks, obtain wild tokens and even perform trail tile actions where other hikers are.

PARKS

Players are generally aiming to gain resources in order to pay to visit parks, take photos and buy gear. The final tile of the trail is the Trail End. When moving to this tile firstly the player can relight their campfire if already exhausted. Next, they get a choice between reserving a park, buying a gear card or visiting a park. Reserving a park sees the player claim it so only they can visit it later on, plus the player that does this first gains the starting player token – going first in the next round.

Buying gear is like buying an ability that only you can do, with the first player to do so each round getting a discount. Gear can make visiting parks cheaper, allow multiple parks to be visited or even types of resources interchangeable. Visiting parks is the main way that players will score points. By trading in the tokens denoted on one of the parks available in the market, or previously reserved by the player, they become visited and are placed into the player’s scoring area. Play continues clockwise until all the hikers have made it to the end of the trail, though when only one hiker remains they must jump straight to the end of the trail.

The game is played out over four seasons, with the hikers being returned to the start of the trail for the next round. At this point whoever has the camera can trade in a resource token to take a photo worth 1 point, before the next round begins. It’s not quite a rinse and repeat process across four seasons, as each round the weather changes and an additional advanced tile is shuffled into the mix. At the end of the fourth season players count up their points earnt from their personal goal, visiting parks and photos. Whoever has the most points wins, with ties broken by the number of parks visited.

From the box artwork to the art that adorns the cards there is simply no getting away from the beauty of PARKS. Featuring artwork of stunning places from America’s national parks, each is enough to make you want to book a flight and visit the depicted locations. Keeping the cards clear for the artwork PARKS utilizes easy to distinguish iconography for the costs of visiting parks and the resources available from visiting locations along the trails. Unlike some games the iconography is relatively intuitive, so there isn’t a game of learning symbols – players can just enjoy from the get go.

Maintaining that quality across the rest of the components wasn’t easy, but Keymaster Games has managed it. The wooden resource tokens all match the colour and the shape of the standard resource iconography, with 12 unique shapes included for the wild animals. PARKS also comes with GameTrayz, a brand of inserts that upgrade the storage inside the box. In PARKS players can simply lift the resource trays out onto the table – having one for either end – making setup much faster. Tear down is also improved as there is no need to scoop piles of tokens off the table, as when spent you just put the resources back into their section of the closest tray.

With the game being for 1 – 5 players it isn’t long before all of the year goal cards have been seen. 12 are included and at the upper end of the player count 10 will be dealt out in a single game, though only 5 will be picked. More variety here would have been nice, just to give more diversity to the hidden objectives each player is attempting. One nice touch with these year cards is that the rulebook makes the suggestion in your first game just to deal one out to each player. In that first game players don’t know how things will play out, so giving them choice at that stage is pointless. It also minutely reduces the barrier of entry, with new players not facing an unsure choice before the game even begins.

The concepts and mechanics in PARKS aren’t new, yet this doesn’t stop the game from being a great experience. At the core of the game players are collecting resources to turn them into victory points. Players move down a path placing their hikers on tiles to trigger actions like in a worker placement game. Still, there is a sense of satisfaction from going down the trail, collecting the correct resources, triggering action spaces to convert resources and just squeezing out enough to visit a park and purchase some gear ahead of the next season.

Combining the satisfaction of gaining points, with an easy entry point, makes PARKS an incredible gateway game, and this is all before the gorgeous presentation. It can be used to teach the basics of worker placement and resource management which feature in more complicated board games. At the same time, with the personal hidden objectives, gear cards and photo opportunities, there are enough choices to keep experienced gamers interested. PARKS is a great go-to game whether playing with those new to the hobby or looking for a pleasant, stunning, board game to play, with choices to make throughout.

(Editor’s Note: PARKS was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)