Parks Board Game Review | Keymaster Games | Base Game Review

Taking slow methodical steps, taking your time, closing your eyes and breathing in slowly, taking in the smell of nature and the scenery and managing the sensory overload crashing over you with a pine freshness.
Do that. Stop and breathe. Take it all in. Be at peace.
You might be inclined to use the word ‘majesty’, and you wouldn’t be blamed for feeling a slight sense of being overwhelmed, as once again you’re reminded of how stupidly small you are in relation to everything around you. That no amount of preparation would help you if the uncontrolled environment decided to focus it’s gaze entirely on you, to put you back in the food chain. You might think to yourself you could survive, but the reality is that you’d die of thirst before you died of boredom, and so we sanitise our touches with the grander examples of nature, by sticking to the path, and coming within touching distance enough to go ooh and ahh, like we are watching fireworks. Always behind a safety barrier. Always able to know we’re never truly too close. Parks from Keymaster Games is very much like this. But stop, and stand, and just breath..

I’m not from the State of America, so I’ll admit that the blurb and hooks that were meant to have me nodding and grinning like Yogi Bear, just kind of didn’t hit the spot for me. I missed the Kickstarter at the time, though judging by over $400k in funding, there was a lot of you who didn’t. I read over the press release like I read over so many that we receive, that how will it relate to me as a potential player, what’s the bait to get me excited? Why am I going to from zero, to jumping up and down like an excited puppy at the back door, knowing it is about to be let outside in the back garden?  Yosemite? Now that rings a bell. Is there a Jellystone? I dunno.. How about if I click on this link of picture attachments..
Well, f**k me. That’s pretty. That’s gorgeous.

If the artwork had me intrigued about what to expect from Parks, then the production values within the box took it from a curiosity, to a plain desire just to sift through the cards and wonder at the art, to play about with the Gametrayz and the cardboard camera. When I first opened the box at the games club, I was so enthralled with the offering on display that I showed other people, I pretty much made a point of stopping people and letting them see the fabulous menu of colours and styles on offer.
I got them to actually smell the painted wooden pieces, to pick up and hold the little mountains and water droplets. It is very much that type of game. You want to see how it feels.
However, upon shaking their heads to come out of their trances, the same question erupted from their dazed mouths.
“Wow. But, how does it play?”

It plays easily. It plays complicated. It entirely depends on the number of times you have played it, and with who you have played it with. For a game about trekking through the national parks, the phrase ‘Your Mileage May Vary’ has never been truer. Parks is one of those games where you don’t need to house rule it per se, but you do need to make those new to the game aware that they need to be interacting with everything they can, and to use the resources they have to the fullest that they can, and at the same time, make sure they are building up their little deck of gear and canteens as much as they can. Otherwise it can be prone to more experienced players dominating the game, even based on how easy the core mechanics are to pick up.

There isn’t a lot to do here, which is the complaint of someone staring at The Grand Canyon while trying to get access the the internet. There isn’t a lot to do until you start the ‘doing’. You only need to move your little hiker down about 8 spaces, collecting resources (and those wooden pieces are the cutest) and then using those at the end of the round to either buy gear for future treks, or reserve a park or visit one of the parks available to buy by paying the relevant number of resources.

There isn’t a lot to do here, well, unless you count the fact in this round, the latest season card means that every time you collect a mountain, you get some water. Or that the water can be placed on your canteen so you can trade it in for two mountain resources. Or use the gear card so that you can get a wildlife piece instead of water when you are at the mountains. So all of a sudden, you now have a pile of choices available to you that need you to think, you need to plan, you are balancing a compass and a map and torch at the same time, while trying not to look scared in front of the deer that is literally only fifty feet away.

And now there is a lot to do, because the trail has grown so much, that you can buy some gear or visit a park while still on the trail. The three canteens you have mean that you’ve got a little trail engine that is spitting out water and suns and mountains, all in the hope that you can afford that five point park at the end and claim victory. You’ve been taking pictures to boost your score as you go and have managed to keep the camera while you do so, and this season card is really playing into your plan and you’ve still got a lit campfire so you can share a space with another hiker, so every step you’re taking is absolutely glorious and you can’t wait to pitch your tent.

Or, you twisted your ankle on a root, and the rain has started and you trusted a fart, and now you have to keep walking from squelchy place to squelchy place and everyone is taking the resources just before you, and this season card is rubbish and I just don’t seem to be able to get water to fill up my canteen and I’m so behind now.. so behind. I needed forests, not mountains. I hate being outdoors, my allergies can get to Falkirk. This is obviously an example of a bad time, but it can happen especially when drawing from several random decks, and it is one of the few complaints I have about playing Parks. The additions add so much as you play through the rounds, but they can add frustration if your luck doesn’t pan out.

I have concerns about larger player counts and the ability for it to be tricky to make moves when you have eight hikers and only eight spaces, that the trek will end up like those photographs you see of  three hundred people queuing to climb Mount Everest. The single player solo mode is it’s own little piece of fun, with an automatic opponent who does enough to inhibit you, but doesn’t do too much to make you feel that you are completely playing a game based on chance. There is a balance here to be had, and with the sheer number of parks, canteens, seasons and gear, you can confidently bring it back to table without the feeling that you’ve been down this trail before too many times. Granted, you aren’t looking at the next heavy contender in terms of mechanics, but at the same time, there is enough brain bending to warrant multiple visits to the table.

Parks is gloriously over-produced, full of extras and swagger and glitz and painted wood, but only because when you fund by over $400k the only thing you can do with that money is to make everything the best it can possible be. I’ve been here with games that look and act like this, and I’ve often been left sitting in disappointment street, with the lack of interesting mechanics, shallow gameplay and low replayability making me wonder why I bothered pledging in the first place.

You’re probably here because you backed it, and you’re looking for someone to tell you that you made the right decision. I can tell you that I have concerns, but take your copy, sit near an open window and enjoy the open countryside that Parks is bringing to your table. You’ll smile, because, it turns out you did..

We were provided with a finished production copy of Parks for this Write-Up from KeyMaster Games
No member of the Keymaster Games team has appeared on the podcast 
We did not back the game on Kickstarter.