Take a year-long journey through the American wilderness in Parks by Keymaster Games. Managing your pair of hikers, you’ll explore everything that nature has to offer, from deserts, to canyons, to forests, and America’s national parks. Are you ready to take the trip?
In this worker placement game, your goal is to score the most points by having the best year of travel. You’ll score points by visiting national parks, taking photos, and completing a personal objective that other players won’t see until the end of the game. I like to think of these as an item on my bucket list for a deeper thematic connection.
The core of the game revolves around its modular trail. Featuring mountains, forests, deserts, the beach, and more, players will move their hikers along the track from left-to-right. Players will move through the track four times; one for each season. The track also gets one space longer after each season. Once the fourth season concludes, the player with the most points wins.
When you land on a space, you’ll collect the resource token(s) associated with that space or perform the action associated with that space. Most of the time, you’ll collect some mix of sun, water, forest, or mountain tokens.
These tokens can be invested on a number of things. Sun tokens can be spent at the shop to gain permanent boosts, such as making visits to national parks cheaper. Water tokens can be used to fill your canteen, giving you whatever benefits are associated with the canteen cards you filled up. Oftentimes, canteen cards can give you one a token of a different denomination, though there are other benefits that come from filling up. One particular space allows you to take a photo by exchanging two tokens of any denomination. Photos are worth one point each, which are a great way of scoring points while keeping your tokens below the hand limit of 12.
Most importantly, your tokens can be cashed in to visit a national park. Parks cost a lot of tokens, but they’re going to make up the brunt of one’s scoring. Also, for a game that is beautifully designed and presented, the parks cards are easily the highlight. Gorgeous art inspired by the 1950s adorns every card while also featuring a factoid about that park. Every national park is represented here, which further adds to the idea of trekking through the wilderness.
Thought the game is a joyous trek, players will be jockeying for position throughout. Weather cards add extra tokens to every space past the first one, adding more incentive for those jumping ahead. More importantly, only one person can be on a space at any given time. This means that you’ll constantly have to weigh the risks and rewards that come with jumping ahead to grab the resources or actions you want while sacrificing previous spaces in the process. Each player does get a campfire token that can be spent to share a space with another player, but you only get to use it once per season.
With Parks, it was basically love at first sight. The game’s presentation from its card art, to its tiles, to the metal first turn badge, to the unique wildlife tiles has been fine-tuned to perfectly fit the theme. Every turn forces you to make interesting decisions about where to go next and how to allocate your resources. And though the idea of spending sun and water to book a trip to Yellowstone National Park is a bit weird, the overall vibe of trekking through the wilderness comes through. By the end of each game, you’ll essentially have a set of postcards from all the major parks you visited, as well as photos you took along the way.
After our first play of Parks, I wanted to play it again. After that second, I still wanted more. As I’m writing this, I’m anxious to play it even more. Featuring a clever integration of theme and mechanics, this one is a joy to play while also immersing you in the sensation of exploring nature. And though I’m not sure if the game is in any way tied to American tourism, it’s done a great job of selling me on the idea of visiting a few of these national parks someday in real life.
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