Parks is a beautiful game of hiking through, enjoying, and taking photos of the great outdoors – specifically within the National Parks of the United States.
I have now played the game 5 times at varying player counts and feel like I have full picture of what the game is and my opinion of it.
What does ‘PARKS’ have to offer?
APPEAL (audience, length)
Parks has a lot of moving parts but they all are thematically connected which makes it very easy to catch on once you begin. When teaching new players, this is one you will want to give a brief overview of and then teach as you go for the first round. The length will typically run you about 60 minutes and doesn’t overstay its welcome, especially when playing with people who have played before. With lightning fast turns, and a very fast setup (due to a top-notch box insert), this game will appeal to most people.
VARIABILITY (re-playability, different setup/gameplay)
Most of the game’s components are cards, all of which are shuffled into different decks at the beginning of each game. In addition, the main ‘hiking trail’ portion of the game area is made up of tiles that are also shuffled. In short, this game has high variability and therefore, high re-playability.
AGENCY (Player choice, strategy/luck)
There is no shortage of ‘input randomness’ (shuffled decks of cards) in the game but there will never be a random event that will decide your overall fate. The strategic choices available to players in the game are concise and interesting and can basically be boiled down into 2 decisions on each turn: 1) Which hiker do I move? 2) What space do I move it to? each of which determine the resources you gain, resources you spend, and actions you can take to earn points.
In my opinion, these are the best types of games – ones that give you a handful (and only a handful) of very interesting decisions to make without an overwhelming number of options to choose from. Players should be able to chew on their decisions without feeling overwhelmed and Parks offers this in spades.
ESCAPISM (theme, artwork, immersive game play)
The artwork in this game is top notch and some of the best I’ve ever seen. It is abundantly clear that the game creators went out of there way to make this great and it shines through brilliantly. This is just one of the many ways this game immerses you in its world along with the hiking element, the changing weather patterns, and the gear cards.
One minor thing to mention is that there is a bit of abstraction in how everything is tied together. While your group is hiking on the same central trail, you are also traveling to different national parks all over the country, which doesn’t make much sense…but it’s so engaging and beautiful that its easy to look past.
SPECTACLE (highs/lows, victory/defeat, laughter)
While not completely absent, if this game has any downsides, lack of ‘spectacle’ might be it. Everything moves along at a fast clip but there aren’t a whole lot of ‘big’ moments that cause tension or laughter other than the occasional space or park card being claimed that someone else wants. The end game is also a bit lackluster which occurs when the fourth season ends, at which time, a winner is determined by counting up each player’s points. It’s not necessarily boring, but it could be better.
Parks is a delightful game with amazing artwork. Cara and I have loved every minute of the games we’ve played and it has shown no signs of slowing down. It will appeal to people of varying tastes and if the gameplay ever eventually gets stale, it will always be a joy to look at.
Each turn feels weighty but never lasts too long. It is easy to plan out a strategy and just as easy to adapt on the fly. The components are of high quality but not overproduced and the box insert is one of the best I’ve encountered. Although the gameplay can feel dry at times, it doesn’t last long before a new park card is revealed or you get to take a space that one of your opponents wanted.
I can’t imagine too many people not liking it save the ‘Free Spirits’ that won’t be able to invest in a game that may last longer than an hour. The theme is a great one to pull people in that are outdoorsy, even if they aren’t a fan of board games (or simply aren’t as familiar with the hobby).
With quick turns, pretty pictures, and emerging complexity, this game will stay on our shelves for a long time.
My recommendation varies depending on what type of gamer is playing. Descriptions for each type – including a quiz to figure out yours – can be found here.
WARRIORS should enjoy it
PIONEERS should enjoy it
FREE SPIRITS should be wary but may enjoy it
ESCAPISTS should enjoy it and may love it
‘PARKS’ can be found here for purchase.