This is Picklemoose's Blog. A small section of Pixelated Cardboard dedicated to topics outside of digital board game ports. Posts here will be less formal & cover a range of topics.
I never thought the theme was an important factor in games for me. Sure, something over the top gruesome or otherwise blatantly offensive might be a turn off, but generic fantasy? Sure. Trading in the Mediterrainian? Why not. Doing things involving Knights. Sign me up.
That is until 2019 happened. It all started, for me, with Wingspan. I’m not one to have strong feelings on birds, but the artwork, flavor text, and the way my hawks prey on smaller birds really hit home for me. I absolutely loved the entire package the game offered and had my eye out for things that might be comparable to the overall experience that game offered.
Enter PARKS. The focal point of the game are 59 pieces of artwork depicting national parks across the USA. The box “looks like a puzzle instead of a game” as friends have said (as a compliment, just to be clear). The tiles for action spaces are full of vibrant colors and even the wooden resource tokens are splashed with color. The game is simply a joy to look at, hold, and play.
Aesthetics, check. As for gameplay, well that’s going to take more than a few sentences.
PARKS is a worker placement game which uses a randomly arraigned hiking trail to give you your various action options. You are only able to move workers in one direction, putting a heavy emphasis on order of operations and planning ahead. Most spaces will give you resources of some type. The primary use of resources is to spend them to visit parks, which means paying the specified resources on one of three face up cards (or one you’ve previously reserved) and earning the points listed on the card.
The game features a handful of small wrinkles, but succeeds in keeping things light as they all fold in seamlessly and none of them bog down the proceedings at all. Among those are canteens which grant you once-per-season bonuses if you spend a newly acquired water resource. Gear can be purchased to make things easier for you down the line by offering special abilities or making it easier to visit parks. There is also a neat photography feature in the game where you can trade resources to grab the camera from another player and take a photo, worth one point. Already have the camera? It costs you one less resource to snap that picture. Each player has hidden objectives and each new season card will introduce a temporary rule change.
That’s basically all that PARKS has going on, and the game really works because of the simplicity. I tend to stick mostly to lighter games and I was worried about how many “small details” the game had, but each of them is so simple and they fold in to the game so well that I’ve had no issue teaching this one. It’s a rare gateway+ level game that is easier to teach than it appears.
I’ve seen PARKS compared to Splendor in at least a couple of different places, but in my book I have PARKS as a lighter Lords of Waterdeep with a touch of Splendor sprinkled on top. The parks are equivalent to quests in Waterdeep and you are playing a worker placement game with the restriction of not being able to use a space an opponent is occupying (unless you have a campfire, which is a small rule I failed to mention earlier).
All of this adds up to a fun, light worker placement title. The tiny wrinkles it adds to standards of the genre might not be revolutionary, but they do work well. There are some details in how you finish your hike, for example, which add more depth to the game than you might think. Do you push a hiker ahead to be the first to finish and get your choice of trail-end benefits? Or do you keep your hikers out on the trails as long as possible to collect as many resources as you can? Just be weary of that 12 resource limit. The gear and canteen decks are quite large and, although they don’t carry quite as much variety as you might like, they do give you different avenues to play the game. Do you spend resources to buy gear to hope it helps you down the line? Or do you focus on visiting parks?
Allow me to return to the Wingspan comparison momentarily. Wingspan didn’t reinvent anything in engine builders but it streamlined the heck out of it and made it incredibly simple to follow, people all over the world are tricking friends and family into playing a legitimate medium weight game but getting away with it because of the amazing design which essentially holds you hand as you trigger your engine. PARKS, in my book, hits a similar spot for worker placement games. It isn’t as complicated as Wingspan, but it does a similarly good job of streamlining more complex games in its genre.
PARKS does so essentially by narrowing your choices for actions to take. I believe in Lords of Waterdeep, for example, there are 11 or 12 spaces available to play a worker. Give a player new to the genre that many options and watch their eyes glaze over. PARKS has fewer options to start, either six or seven depending on player count. Combine that with the stipulation that once a hiker moves to a spot on the trail, they cannot move backwards, it immediately narrows the player’s focus from “which of these seven actions will help me” to “what is the farthest left action I can take to help myself.” It’s a subtle difference, but one that very much simplifies tradition worker placement open-endedness.
PARKS has a spot in my collection as a gateway to worker placement games. There are many others out there that fit this bill, but none of them look as gorgeous and have the amazing components that PARKS does. A year ago, that might not have mattered to me, but I’ve come to appreciate that side of things and PARKS definitely shines there. Ultimately, this is a game I can’t seem myself ever turning down, which puts it way ahead of most other games out there.