As nature lovers, when my partner and I were first introduced to Park, we were immediately drawn in by the beautiful artwork, the outdoorsy theme and the cute critter components, and also found the gameplay complex and interesting enough to be discussing strategy and tactics long after the game had been packed away. It therefore quickly became part of our own collection and established itself as a firm favourite. When we saw that a new expansion had been released, therefore, it was purchased immediately. So what does Wildlife add, and how does it enhance the game?
First things first, Wildlife introduces the following aspects to the game:
- A new mechanic, the bison token
- A bunch of new canteens, season and gear cards
- A small selection of new parks
- Four new advanced trail sites and new rules on site selection for each season
The last of these is by far the most impactful. One criticism of the Parks would be that it doesn't have the highest replayability value, due to the fact that in each playthrough the trail, and hence the actions a player can take, will essentially always be the same. Now, each time you play, you shuffle the advanced trail sites, pick four and discard the rest. This means you can play multiple games in a row with a different set of powers available, which change the course of each game significantly. Not only this, but the powers of the new sites are highly interesting, introducing trade-off choices, more decisions to be made about hiker placement on the trail, and greater player interaction. A rule change has also been introduced which specifies that the 'Buy Parks or Gear' trail site is always introduced as the advanced trail site in the first season. This much needed tweak addresses an issue present in the base game whereby players could find themselves with more resources than they could spend each turn if that trail site did not appear in the first half of the game.
The bison is the one new mechanic introduced in the game, coming in the form of a pleasingly oversized token to be placed at the beginning of the game on the first revealed park. When a player buys that park, they have the opportunity to swap a normal resource for a wildlife token, giving them greater flexibility in what parks they can purchase going forward. The bison is then moved to the park to the right. When it is on the rightmost park and that park is purchased, it moves back to the leftmost park, and in the optional 'Stampede' version of rules triggers a reset of the available gear. I would highly recommend playing with this rule, as it addresses a quibble I have with the base game whereby you can be stuck with a set of fairly useless gear in the display, with no means of getting rid of them.
The new gear, season and canteen cards added are not game changing but add enough interest and flavour to make them noticeable and valuable additions. A lot of these new cards centre around the taking of photos, making this into a more viable game strategy, whilst some of them relate to bison powers, making that new mechanic more integrated with the rest of the game. A new rule has also been introduced to allow players to choose between two canteens when taking a new one, including at the beginning of the game. The effect of this is to increase the appeal of taking the 'Gain Canteen' action, as a new canteen can be fitted into their strategy more easily, and is a welcome boost to an area of the game that could be neglected.
The most noteworthy thing about the new parks is their very different artwork. I must confess that I don't love the new style, as I find it jarringly different to the original, but my partner was a fan so I can only say that this is a personal preference of mine. Beyond that, the only real difference with these parks is that their cost includes wildlife tokens, making the tokens a more important part of game and dovetailing nicely with their increased prevalence due to the bison mechanic.
How does this all affect the overall experience of Parks? It's certainly a case of evolution rather than revolution. You broadly play the game in the same way you did in the base version, moving your hiker along the trail, collecting resources and buying gear, parks and photos. The means of doing that, though, are now considerably more varied, with many more strategies and powers at your disposal and many more decisions to make. It has also ironed-out some issues which held back the base version and on occasion even made it a frustrating playing experience. The end result is a more interesting, varied, complex, and replayable game.