Designed by Henry Audubon and published by Keymaster Games
I set a lot of gaming goals. Almost every year I set at least one goal for myself, and it’s not uncommon for me to set additional goals during the year. For example, last year after I’d met my goal of playing all of my favorite games – those I rate a 9 or 10 – at least once, I decided to set a goal of playing them all at least one more time. But I don’t really have any big, long-term goals for playing games; the closest is my goal of playing 2038 in 2038.
Outside of gaming, however, my wife and I have set a goal for ourselves – to visit every single unit of the US National Park Service. There is no timeline for this goal; we set the goal back in 2010, and have been slowly chipping away at it ever since. I have no idea if we’ll make it to our goal, but to be honest – it’s really all about the journey.
As a result of our goal, I’m drawn to games about the National Parks (there being no particular emphasis on the broader range of NPS sites, one has to settle for the much smaller set of parks); unfortunately, my experience with them has been – disappointing. So while I knew I needed to try Parks – and it looked quite nice – I did not have high expectations.
The game, which works with 1-5 players (though I’m not a solitaire gamer, so I can only speak to the 2-5 player game), is a resource collection game; players move one of their two hikers forward along a track, usually to an empty space. (No more than twice each round, players may move to an occupied space.) At most spaces, players collect resources; some involve other activities, such as collecting canteens (which turn water into other/more resources), taking pictures, turning in resources for “wildlife” – wild resources in the shape of various animals, trading resources, or even taking actions available at the end of the trail. There are three trail-end actions – reserving a park to visit it later, buying gear to make it easier to visit parks or to collect resources, or actually visiting a park, by turning in the necessary resources. The hike is repeated four times, with one additional special space added each time, before the game ends. Players then count up their points – 2-5 points for each park visited, 1 point for each picture taken, 2 or 3 points for meeting a goal given out at the start of the game, and 1 point for being the last player to reserve a park at the end of the trail. Whoever has the most points wins, Appropriately, a tie is broken in favor of the player who visited the most parks.
I’ve noted, a number of places, that Parks is currently the only 2019 released game I have in my collection. And, in fact, that’s the reason Dale asked me to write this review; he thought it would be interesting to understand how this game stood out so.
But the truth is – it didn’t. For me, 2019 was a year with a number of reasonably decent games – I had fun with Hyakkaten and Fast Sloths, to name two – but none of them held up to repeated play; I don’t keep games in my collection unless I want to play them another ten or more times, and in fact when that’s no longer the case I let them go. Parks, by dint of its theme, I’ve played ten times, and am currently happy with the thought of playing it ten more. But – I don’t love the game. I like it.
The most notable feature of Parks is the production, which is fantastic. The resources are all nice wood pieces, easily distinguished and understood. The art for the parks is licensed from the Fifty-Nine Parks print series, and is delightful; a modern recreation of the style of classic NPS artwork. The insert for the game is perfectly designed; there’s a place for everything, and everything naturally stays in its place. While not everyone’s a fan of the game, I’ve never heard any complaints about the presentation.
There are certainly complaints about the game, however. It’s too simple for some. A number of folks won’t play with more than three players, since the game length is directly proportional to the number of players. And the gear is – oddly priced; in at least one case, the gear that allows for a substitution of resources is cheaper than the gear that reduces the required number of the same resource by one. While I’m happy to play the game with even the full five players, because of the latter concern we allow players to sweep the gear display before purchasing, then requiring a purchase after if possible. It’s not a perfect solution to the problem, but it sufficiently dulls the issue.
It should also be noted that the goals aren’t particularly well balanced. Due to the limited number of opportunities to visit parks, it generally makes sense to focus on the higher value parks. This makes the goal requiring visiting 2 to 3 point parks fairly undesirable. However, in practice the goals offer a sufficiently limited incentive, such that they can be ignored, and the choice of two goals at the start of the game helps to balance things.
Parks is not a game for everyone. But if you enjoy good presentation, lighter games, and have an interest in the US National Parks – Parks is well worth trying. As noted above, I find it better than any of the other similarly themed games I’ve played. It’s certainly a reasonable choice for a gift; the retail price of $49 feels reasonable for what’s in the box.
For me, Parks is a fine game, with a secure space in my collection – for now. As I keep paring back my collection – between the start of 2016 and the start of 2020, my collection shrunk by 1/3 – I don’t honestly know how Parks will fair. But I’m enjoying it, and still very much looking forward to my next play, so it’s still possible it will become an all-time favorite for me. And if not, I’ve certainly received good value from it already.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers:
Doug G (Garrett’s Games Podcast & videos): Shelley and I had a great time with this lighter game. It works very well with 2 players and it’s gorgeous. We will be talking about it in a few weeks on the podcast, and it was one of our “Best Of” for 2019.
Lorna: I like Parks for much the same reasons as Joe. While I don’t have a goal to visit all of the national parks I do enjoy visiting them and it is fun to look at the beautiful renditions on the cards and remember parks we’ve visited. My biggest gripe with the game was that they were unable to come to an agreement with all the artists and so some of our favorite parks are missing. The good news is that I have heard that they have been able to include the missing parks in the upcoming expansion which I will gladly support for that reason.
Larry: I was pretty sure I knew what I was getting when I sat down to play Parks for the first time and, sadly, that turned out to be entirely accurate. It’s very straightforward, with no real mechanical innovation and some questionable design decisions. In other words, what I’ve come to think of as a typical Kickstarter title: an attractive theme and completely forgettable gameplay. Like so many of those games (not all of them, but, in my experience, most), it can best be described in one word: “harmless”. The problem is, I ask a whole lot more than that from the games I choose to play. Thus, I plan on avoiding it in the future.
Erik Arneson: I enjoyed Parks quite a bit. I think there’s significantly more depth to this game than is apparent at first glance, and I look forward to playing it many more times.
Brandon K: Only one play, at two players so far, so grain of salt and everything, but this was another one of those style over substance games for me. It’s a wonderfully produced game, beautiful traditional National Park artwork, wooden bits and one of those molded plastic inserts that drives all the kids crazy, but that’s where the excitement ended for me. The main gameplay mechanism is similar to Tokaido (one of my least favorite games by a well known designer, hey maybe an idea for an article(?)) and plays out similarly. Rarely does it behoove you to move much further than the next available space, unless of course you can’t use that space. I know, they tried to remedy it all by giving the players two hikers and using the vacuum method at the end if you are the final player on the path. In the end though Parks is just another collect resources, turn those resources in to gain points game that got prettied up via Kicksterter and then tied to a wonderful theme that seems to be wasted on me here, and that’s too bad. That all being said, I’m hoping to play it again and be proven wrong, but that first play did not impress.
Dale Y: This is a superbly produced game that felt pretty just north of average in gameplay. Like Tokaido, it does feel like the optimal play is often the closest one. I think the beautiful pieces and theme make this want to be a family or non-gamer game, but there is a bit too much strategy here for that group. There is probably not quite enough here to keep gamers engrossed for multiple games. I’d be happy enough to play this again if it were suggested, but at the current moment, I’m not impressed enough to buy it or back the next version as I’m not sure that I have the right group for it. It is definitely on the list of games that I would be willing to give to someone as a gift, especially if I were trying to get them into more serious gaming; as I said, it is a beautiful game.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:
I love it! Doug G, Erik Arneson
I like it. Joe H, Lorna, Craig M
Neutral. Larry, Brandon K, Dale Y
Not for me…