Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 12 November 2019

A Natural Wonder:- Parks

Game: Parks

Publisher: Keymaster Games

Designer: Henry Audubon

Year: 2019

Parks is a 1-5 player worker placement game in which you play as hikers traveling and camping across America's national parks. You'll want to stock up on the best gear, stay alert to the current weather and perhaps even take a photo or two along the way. The game acts as a worker placement with a twist. The worker placement spots come in the form of a linear hiking trail. Your workers can only ever move forward on the trail, meaning careful choice of movement with both your hikers is key to get the most out of any one round.

The game begins with a trail being made up of 5 standard action spaces and 1 random action spaces from the pile of 4 unlockable ones. Players will then be handed a canteen each, a choice of 2 'Year' cards worth end game points, and place their 2 hikers at the start of the trail. The weather card for the round will be revealed, seeding the trail with water and sun resources as well as revealing the special rules for the round. Players will then take turns taking one of their two hiker meeples as moving it as far along the trail as they like. Wherever they leave their hiker will activate. If there is a resource token there due to the weather forecast then they can take that for free.

Most of the action will occur along this trail. The weather pattern for this round is rain followed by two bouts of sun, so this pattern gets repeated across the trail.

Most action spaces are relatively simple, rewarding you with resources that you'll need later. A few have more advanced actions such as spending resources to take a photo (and claim the camara token) or gaining a new canteens. Canteens can be filled whenever a player gains a water resource, letting them convert that water into different resources or bonus actions depending on the canteens they own. When a worker reaches the end of the trail then they can do one of 3 actions: reserve one of the 3 parks for later purchace, purchase a park by spending resources or spending sun to gain gear. Parks are the main way you'll be gaining points during the game. Gear cards give you a unique ability, these are typically discounts on park cards or bonuses when you visit certain spots. Gaining a good combination of canteens and gear cards lets you engine build for future turns.

Once all the hikers have made it to the end of the trail the round will end, a new worker placement slot will be added to the pool which will then be shuffled and dealt out to make a new trail. A new weather card will also be drawn. The game will end after 4 round at which points players will total the points earned from visiting parks, taking photos and their secret 'Year' card.

The art on the cards brings these fantastic areas of natural beauty to life. The animal meeples are just awesome!

Parks is not a complex game, There are only 4 resources (5 if you include the wildcard animals) for you to collect, with all the parks simply requiring a different combination of them. The worker placement spaces are all very simple too, most gain you resources, with the most complex letting you trade a resource into an animal, or to swap 2 resources for any 2 other. Hardly complex stuff. But this simplicity helps inspire the mellow feeling of the game. Parks evokes the calm feeling of exploring nature, the modern world taken away for one blissful moment. Complexity is not necessarily the key to good game design, sometimes the best games focus down to really explore one thing.

With Parks that one thing is the trail. Each turn you can move as far as you want, but since you can never go backwards the faster you go, the less you get to do. Sure you need to collect as many resources as possible, but you also need to get parks that match your year card bonus. So there is a constant tug between being slow and fast. Fortunately you have 2 hikers, so you can do a combination. Player interaction is a huge part of it too, each space on the trail can only support so many hikers (dependent on player count), so sometimes you don't want to move your hiker until your opponent has passed you. However this is countered by the campfire tokens which let you ignore the limit by flipping the token over to the burnt out side.

Parks does a great job of presenting simple, yet refined gameplay. It's an easy to pick up and artistically beautiful worker placement game. The game is a pleasure from the moment you open the box and see the impeccably designed game trays that make setup a breeze. Will the simplicity eventually get old? Yes, probably, this isn't a game where you will spend years working out the subtle nuances. What it is is a wonderful gateway game that can help show people how great modern gaming can be. Games like that are rare, and while they might not have a permanent home in my collection, they deserve to be celebrated.


Parks was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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