PARKS game overview
PARKS is a board game where you are hiking trails and visiting national parks in the United States. The object of the game is to get the most points. You get points by visiting parks, taking pictures, and achieving personal bonuses.
Visiting trail sites with your hikers
On your turn, you will be moving one of two hikers you control to a site on the trail. Your hiker can move as far as you want on the trail. However, you can’t move to a site on the trail that is already occupied by another hiker. In addition, once you move past a site on the trail, your hiker can’t go back to visit it this round. Your hiker must keep going forward on the trail. Lastly, if your hiker is the only one left on the trail, it will get pulled forward to the trail end. This game is all about balancing going too fast with going too slow.
When you move your hiker to a site on the trail, you get resources. These resources come in the form of forests, mountains, sunshine, water, and wildlife. You use these resources to visit parks, which have a specific resource cost at the bottom of each card. Wildlife are, um, wild, so you can use them in the place of any other resource.
Obtaining gear and taking pictures
In addition, you can obtain gear that makes visiting parks a little easier. Gear costs sunshine resources, but they give you special abilities. These abilities include being able to visit parks at a reduced cost and being able to take extra pictures at certain sites along the trail.
Speaking of pictures, that is the other primary way of getting points in the game besides visiting parks. There is one site on the trail that lets you spend resources to take a picture and gain control of the camera if you don’t have it. You understood me correctly — there are not enough cameras to go around in this game! Only one player can have the camera at a time. There is often a back-and-forth between players for control of the camera. The player with the camera can also take a bonus picture at the end of each round.
Filling canteens and using campfires
Canteens are another item you can get in PARKS. You start with one canteen, but you can obtain more from one site on the trail. If you get water on your turn, you can use it to fill an empty canteen to take a special action. This oftentimes lets you gain a different resource.
Lastly, each player starts the game with a lit campfire. Your campfire enables your hiker to visit a site on the trail that is already occupied by another hiker. If you do this, your campfire is extinguished and you can’t use it again until it is relit. Campfires are relit when one of your hikers reaches the trail end and at the end of each season.
Seasons and the end of the game
Rounds are called seasons in PARKS, and there are four total seasons in the game. Each season, the trail gets progressively longer as an additional site is added. Additionally, each season has a unique bonus that is available to players.
After four seasons have passed, players tally up their points from their visited parks, pictures, and personal bonus (if they met it). The first player token is also worth an additional point for the player that has it. The player with the most points wins!
Player count: 1 to 5 players
Playing time: 40 to 70 minutes
Why PARKS is a peaceful game
Theme & Artwork
Going on a hike in nature is often a way people unwind and relax. PARKS captures that feeling very well through its theme. As soon as I start to unbox it, I immediately find myself transported to a lighter state of mind through the way the beautiful artwork brings the theme to life. In particular, the national park cards bring forth a sense of awe and wonder with their illustrations. You can see bison with Old Faithful in the background at Yellowstone and orcas leaping out of the water at Glacier Bay. Everywhere you look, there are stunning vistas and gorgeous scenes with wildlife in their natural habitat.
One of my favorites things about the gameplay in PARKS is the way it captures the feeling of balancing between going too fast and too slow. Go too fast and you won’t get enough resources to visit parks. On the other hand, go too slow and your choices will be limited by the other players in order for the game to progress. I like how this translates well to real life. If you rush through things to get to the destination, you’ll miss the joy of the experiences along the way. Strive for perfection by going too slow and you’ll get caught up in the details and miss the bigger picture.
I love the wooden resource tokens in PARKS! They are quite unlike any other wooden components I have used before. The wooden texture is more pronounced and you can easily see the wood grain. They feel natural and organic, not like something that was mass produced (even though they probably were). All of this enhances the natural vibe of the game and makes for a more grounding experience.
Is PARKS a good game for you?
If you love nature, you will probably love PARKS. It is a joy to play for the theme and artwork alone. There are quite a few rules, so it may not be a good fit for people new to hobby board games. However, the flow of gameplay has an intuitive feel to it, which usually makes it easier for newer gamers to understand.
A question for you
Have you played PARKS? What are your favorite aspects of it: the theme, artwork, gameplay, and/or components? My favorite aspect is the artwork. I think it really elevates the game to the next level. Even if I didn’t enjoy the gameplay, I feel like I could get a lot of joy from just looking at the illustrations on the national park cards.
This post is part of my peaceful game series where I discuss tabletop games that I believe have a noteworthy amount of peaceful qualities. Click here to read my previous entry in this series: Kingdomino.