The artwork, design and theme of a game can play a massive part in its success. Yes, there are those classics that perhaps could have done more with those three things however now, more than ever; we have new releases that are pure works of art. PARKS is one such example.
A labour of love
I love a good-looking game. Of course, it has to play well in addition to its good looks but it certainly plays a massive part in my decision-making when I come to judge a game. PARKS has been a collaboration between Keymaster Games and Fifty-Nine Parks, the artists behind the beauty of the game. Fifty-Nine Parks, for those that don’t know, are a group of artists who are committed to celebrating the beauty and splendour of National Parks. They have been running a print series which contains a beautiful set of artwork. Depicting a whole selection of the parks. Their commitment is such that 5% of all sales go to the preservation of these parks.
The quality shines through
PARKS pays homage to these National treasures in a board game format, and right from the start. We have to talk about the sheer beauty of this game! It is clear when taking off the cellophane wrap that a lot of thought has gone into this game. I remember when I first lifted the lid on PARKS, my jaw dropped. The contents has been meticulously considered and laid out in such a way that setting up and packing away is enjoyable! It is such things as being able to easily take the tokens and pieces out of the tray by simply pressing on the side of the component.
The use of the GameTrayz means you won’t have to worry about where to put your tokens on the table. Each component has its own unique place within the box meaning you won’t be found trying to cram stuff back into the box. Yes, this isn’t the first time we have seen a lot of thought being put into how to store and present the game in the box, but this is certainly the MOST thoughtful design I have ever seen!
Alongside the perfect logistics of storing the game, you then have the actual beauty displayed on the cards. If you look at the second to last page of the rulebook, you will find a list of artists who have thrown their passion into this project and the fruits of their labour are clear for all to see. I spent the first half an hour after opening the game just admiring the beauty on each of the Park cards. You can tell this board game is the result of a labour of love and that just warms my insides when I get to sit and admire the various works on show in this game.
Alongside this artwork, you get a production value that is second to none. The first player token is a metal token with an enamel finish, itself being a beautiful addition to the game. The wooden tokens are well-produced, with the 12 unique wildlife tokens being a particular standout component. Everything about this game in terms of its looks and quality has been developed in such a beautiful way. I would say to most that this game is worth getting just for the artwork alone, but of course, a board game has to play well in addition to looking good. So, does it play well?
How does it play?
In my opinion, it does, to a point. In terms of the game itself, you will find a worker-placement game at its core. Players control two hikers that must hike across a seasonal trail that changes each round, becoming longer each season. Along this trail, players will be able to take actions, such as obtaining resources or taking photos for points or filling canteens to activate abilities which will benefit them throughout the game. The resources gained during the walking of the trail can then be used to visit certain parks that are available on the board.
To visit a park, you must spend the resources listed on the Park’s card, that card then being worth points at the end of the game. Of course, you may find a Park that will benefit your end-game bonus but you can’t afford to visit it. You can then look at reserving the Park, ready for visiting at a later point throughout the game.
The end of the trail will allow players to either reserve a Park, visit a Park, or buy gear, cards that can offer a one-off bonus, as well as an on-going perk. There are bonuses for those that finish the trail first, netting additional resources once they finish that current trail.
The game itself, as a worker placement, plays well. It has all the elements a worker placement game should have and uses them in a way that produces a satisfactory outcome. I can’t ignore the fact thought that I wanted a little more from this game. It is fair to say, PARKS is definitely pitched as more of a family game than anything else. You are not going to find a super-light, quick-to-play game in PARKS; it certainly is on the heavier end of a family game. For me though, I just feel like it wasn’t heavy enough, at least not as heavy as my expectations were.
This is not a bad game, by any means. It’s a good game and I did enjoy playing it. There are just a few things that pull it down that you will struggle to avoid. Its lightness can be a turn off for some, but that shouldn’t mean you don’t ever consider playing it. I think the biggest thing for me was lack of direction a player would have during the game.
You do get given a Years card at the beginning of the game. This will give each player a goal to achieve and easier and a harder goal provided on each card. That will score points at the end if achieved. In my first game, I was lucky with mine as the Park cards were kind. I managed to net all the parks I needed. My partner on the other hand had a hell of a time, only managing to get one Park with the associated resource dictated by the end-goal, simply due to the random nature of the Park cards being drawn.
While a slight disparity is to be expected, there seemed to be a massive difference between our success and I felt the randomness removes a sense of enjoyment from the game, so much so that players may switch off, especially as the direction they are given simply cannot be achieved.
While this can be a downfall for the game at times, I have to say, I did enjoy playing PARKS. What it lacks in a sense of direction for players, it makes up for in looks and production value! PARKS is a thing of beauty and I wish more games would take the time to look at what PARKS really is. A homage to a passion shared by a collection of people. They have worked to develop and produce a game that demonstrates their passion and love for the National Parks.
It is safe to say that this game is certainly a bit of eye candy. But it is also a fantastic family game in addition to that. Personally, it will be a game that I play with my family during a holiday. Or a game I will get out to introduce people to the hobby. OK, it won’t be a go-to for me, but overall, I love PARKS. I think it has achieved a quality balance between, looks and function. Something we don’t often see, or at least to the level that PARKS has achieved. A delightfully looking game, with wholesome gameplay and a game that won’t disappoint!