At the time of writing, we’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Trips away and idyllic plans got put on pause. We’ve had to cancel holidays, and travelling to far-flung places is a case of fuhgeddaboudit. It’s fortunate then that Parks allows you to visit national parks around the US, from the comfort of your own home. If you're not familiar with this game already, fear not. I'll be explaining how to play Parks from set-up to conclusion.
The stunning art direction comes from the Fifty-Nine Parks team. Your two hikers trek the span of the United States of America. You’ll marvel at the charming wooden components that sit inside the classy Gametrayz insert. You’ll bask in the phenomenal visuals on the 48 Park cards up for grabs. You’ll nod your head in satisfaction at the class that oozes out of this title from Keymaster Games. While you might not be in said breathtaking locations, you’ll make memories of your own when playing Parks.
So double-knot your laces and fill up your canteen with water (or something stronger, we won’t judge). Leave the map at home. Let’s go for a wonderful, meandering hike along the trails within these areas of natural beauty. Join me as we learn how to play Parks!
How Do You Win?
Before we start, what’s the aim of Parks? It’s always wise to establish how to win a board game, when digesting the rules – or explaining them to others! Parks is a worker placement game for 1-5 players, with elements of set collection. The game lasts for four rounds – ‘Seasons’ – and during this time, you’ll aim to visit national parks. You’ll earn tokens, take photos, use hiking gear, and spend tokens to claim park cards. The player with the most points at the end of the fourth season wins the game.
Sigh With Happiness During Set-Up
Before I show you how to play Parks, I'll explain how to set-up the game. Place the board in the middle of the table. The two Gametrayz can sit either side of the board, with the wooden tokens already inside them. No need for a messy table with overspilling pieces! Ahh, bliss. The Parks cards are the larger, Tarot-sized deck. Shuffle them and draw three face-up, at the top of the board. Allow your eyes to linger at their beauty for a moment, and then continue setting up the game!
Shuffle the Gear deck. Again, draw three cards from it and place them face-up beneath the Parks cards. There’s subtle iconography on the board, signalling where to place the Parks and Gear decks. (The right-hand side of the board.) Likewise, the Canteens deck and the Seasons deck sit on the left-hand side of the board.
Shuffle and then turn over the top card from the Seasons deck. Next, shuffle the Canteen cards and deal one to each player. Players keep this face-up in front of them. The final cards are the Year deck. Shuffle them and deal out two to every player. These are private objectives. Players pick one to keep and discard the other to the box.
Building This Season’s Trail
Next, create the Trail for the first Season itself. Separate the five Basic Sites (add the sixth if playing with 4-5 players) from the four Advanced Sites. Pick one of the Advanced Sites, blind, and add it to the Basic Sites. Shuffle them and then place them between the Trailhead and the Trail End. These Site Tiles are cardboard chevrons; they tesselate to form a row.
Each player gets a Campfire and two Hiker meeples of their colour. Their Hikers start on the Trailhead tile. Assign a starting player and give them the triangular First Hiker Marker. The player to the right of the First Hiker starts with the Camera. That’s set-up complete: now it’s time to start trekking! Let's learn how to play Parks.
And Now For Something Completely British: What’s The Weather Like?
Remember that Season card you flipped over? Sat in its bottom-right corner is a weather forecast. This is a pattern combination of Sunshine and Water. Ignoring the first Trail Tile (and the Trailhead and Trail End), place one token per tile, left to right. Match and repeat the weather pattern according to the Season card. You should now have single tokens across five of the six Trail Tiles. (Or six of seven, if playing with higher player counts, as stated earlier.)
Also stated on the Season card is an effect that comes into play for this first season alone. It could be something such as gaining extra resources in particular circumstances. Or, some Park cards could come with token discounts if claimed this Season. But more about that later!
Relight My Fire; That Park Card Is My Only Desire
The player with the First Hiker Marker goes first. They move one of their Hikers to one of the Site Tiles of their choice. They get to take the action stated on the tile when they land there. Then the next player moves one of their Hikers to a vacant tile and performs the action there. No two Hikers can share the same tile – unless you spend your Campfire token. Flip it so the flames become extinguished! Now you can visit an occupied tile. You can’t repeat this trait until you channel your inner 1990s Take That, and ‘relight your fire’.
It’s important to note that your Hikers move left to right. You don’t have to move to the immediate next tile; you can skip one or many of them if you want. But if you do skip some, this means that Hiker cannot then turn back and visit tiles to the left (behind you) later on. Theme-wise, you’re hiking in one direction, from point A (the Trailhead) to point B (the Trail End).
Most of the Basic Sites provide you with tokens: 2x Sunshine, 2x Water, 1x Forest, or 1x Mountain. So, straight away, you know that Trees and Mountains are harder to acquire than Sunshine and Water. Take these tokens from the Gamestrayz. You can have a maximum of 12 at any one time. If you’re the first to land on Site Tiles with the free ‘weather’ token, claim it as a bonus.
Why do you want these tokens? Remember, you want to buy Park cards. Each of the three Park cards that you dealt during set-up states the number of tokens required to Visit it. They’re worth varying victory points. The more points they are worth, the tougher token requirements, or quantity. I’ll explain how you claim these cards later. But first… Let me take a selfie!
Swig Your Water And Take Memories With You
One Basic Site along the Trail doesn’t provide resources. Instead, it shows the Canteen icon and a photography icon. You can perform one of these actions. Pick the Canteen option and you draw the top Canteen card and place it face-up in front of you. See how there’s a Water silhouette on the flask? If you gained a Water token this turn, you can use it to fill up this Canteen. Place the token on the Canteen card – or an earlier-claimed Canteen. Now you can gain the action stated on that Canteen card. (Usually, it’s gain bonus resources.)
Instead, if you pick the photos option, you give in any two of your tokens to take a photo (worth 1VP). You also claim the Camera from whoever had it last. If you already had the Camera, snap! The Camera owner only has to pay a mere single token to take a pic.
What’s The Deal With Those Advanced Site Tiles?
Advanced Site Tiles offer different actions. Of course, only one of these will be in your game right now, for this first Season. (Spoiler alert: the others will enter the game later! But more about that further down.) The four Advanced Site Tiles offer the following actions when you land on them:
- Give up any regular token in exchange for a Wildlife token. (The hint is in the name; they’re wild! As in, they can stand for any token type.)
- Give up any regular token and exchange it for a different regular token type of your choice. You can do this twice.
- Either: a) Reserve/Visit a Park card, or b) Buy one of the three face-up Gear cards.
- Give up a Water token to mirror the action of any other Site Tile. Provided, that is, there’s another Hiker present there.
Reaching The Trail’s End
At some point, you’ll either run out of Trail, or you’ll opt to move one of your Hikers to the Trail End. When you move here, you’re presented with a few options, and you can perform any one of them. You could decide to Reserve a Park. To do this, you place your Hiker in the top space on the Trail End. If you’re the first player to place in this option this season, you also claim the First Hiker Token for next Season. Later players can also Reserve Park cards too, but not with an extra benefit.
Reserving a Park means taking one of the three face-up Park cards and place it in front of you. (Or you can gamble and Reserve the top card of the deck, blind.) Reserving is different to Visiting a Park. Reserving is taking a Park card that you plan to fulfil later – like you would in, say, Splendor.
The second option is buying a Gear card instead. Remember you dealt three out during set-up? Gear cards provide game-long benefits in Parks, or provide immediate rewards. They might be permanent discounts off Visiting Park cards. Or they might be means to fill your Canteens at certain points. There are 36 of them, so plenty of variety! Gear cards cost a range of Sunshine tokens. Are you the first player to place in this option this season? You gain one Sunshine token (so a -1 discount, if you like). Later players can also buy Gear cards, but don’t get the Sunshine token benefit.
The final option is to Visit a Park. This means paying the specific tokens to claim a Park card for its points. This can either be from the three face-up Park cards or one you might have Reserved, earlier. If a Park gets Reserved or Visited from the board, replace it with another from the deck.
Enjoy Your Hike, By All Means… But Don’t Dawdle!
You have two Hikers, remember. Once your first hiker reaches the Trail End, you get to flip your Campfire token alight again. (So once again, if you want, you can visit an occupied tile). When it comes to moving your Hikers, you can move one on one turn, and the other on a later turn. Or, you could move one again and again – the choice is yours. Once both of your Hikers reach the Trail End, you’re done for the Season.
On the flip-side, you might not want to dawdle too long, though. Once there’s only one Hiker left on the Trail, they have to join the rest on the Trail End and pick an action. (So they miss out on any further Site Tile actions.) Some players might rush to the end, to prevent other players from hoovering up multiple actions en-route to the Trail End. After this, the player with Camera gets another opportunity to take a photo (costing any one token). Then it’s time to start a new Season…
Prepping For The Next Season Is A Breeze
There’s a little bit of next-round prep. Remove any Water tokens from Canteens and return them to the supply. All Hikers return back to the Trailhead. Pick up all the Site Tiles – discard any bonus tokens on them, if any. Add in another Advanced Site Tile. Shuffle them, and then place them out to create a new trail order for the new Season. It will be one tile longer than the previous Season.
Return the Season card to the bottom of that deck and reveal a new one. This will state a new weather pattern. Once again, skip the first Site Tile, but obey the Weather Pattern for the remaining tiles. Also, note the new Season-long benefit/trait as stated on this Season card. The First Hiking Marker denotes the first player, who moves one of their Hikers. And the game continues…
Now you know how to play Parks, but how do you win? At the end of the fourth season, it’s time for final scoring. You score the points shown on any Park cards you Visited. Bad luck if you didn’t Visit any Reserved Park cards – they don’t score. It’s no good Reserving all the expensive Park cards – at some point, you have to Visit (pay for) them!
Players earn 1VP per photo they snapped. Whoever has the First Hiker Marker scores 1VP. Also, reveal your Year card and see if you achieved your personal goal on it. They’re worth between 2-3VP, depending on how well you did. The player with the most points wins! If there’s a tie, then the player who Visited the most Parks wins. Although having spent time feasting your eyes on the wonderful artwork, everyone’s a winner having played a game of Parks!
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