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Parks Wildlife Review

parks wildlife

Parks originally took the board gaming space on a bit of a trail mainly through its absolutely breathtakingly wonderful production design. The wonderful commitment to using all recyclable components as far as was possible, cavalcade of artists that unleashed a different style on every card, and the commitment to profits from making the board game to go directly to supporting the National Parks of America. Its simple gameplay was great yet still felt as if something were lacking but what couldn’t you love?

The first expansion Nightfall built on top of what was a solid structure to make the house of Parks an even greater experience, you could finally start to plan your time along the trail. But it still left one component out in the dry. The Wild resource. Parks: Wildlife is their answer. Is it what you’re looking for? Or is it two bad news bears stacked in a trench coat?

Park Life

No, nobody writing about Parks will probably ever stop using this header. And I will again repeat what was said in the original Nightfall review – Anyone who didn’t enjoy the first game due to the simplicity of the rules won't have their opinion changed drastically by trying Parks Nightfall. Anyone who didn’t enjoy the first game due to the simplicity of the rules won't have their opinion changed drastically by just adding Parks Wildlife.

Parks: Wildlife brings with it new trail spaces, a new independent Bison meeple, some new, very specific, cards, and new gear. Does any of it actually change the overall game, adding in new mechanics like Nightfall did? No! Am I happy about that? Yes! So let’s talk about the only thing that could be considered a new mechanic and not just iterating on original mechanics: That Bison Meeple.

The big burly but lovingly rendered Bison Meeple is a meeple that sits on the main board; on the parks as a “visitor” and it gives the player and option. If the player reserves or “visits” (The game’s terminology for fulfilling the cost require by the park) the park the Bison is on; the player has the ability to do a resource exchange to a wild resource. This may be done before or after fulfilling a park and at any time during the reserving of that park. The Bison then moves along to the next park and sits on it until someone forces it to move again.

Now, this is a tiny extra mechanic added to the game and pales in comparison to Nightfall’s addition in the form of camping that not only added in new actions but made those actions time limited and one offs for the first person to do them. They were powerful incentives to run down the trail quicker, potentially missing out on a series of goodies but potentially getting some of the most powerful actions in the game. This, more often than not, is a cool little bonus for if the stars align for you on your turn or, for those whose group plays Parks often enough (It comes out every week in our group) a tiny addition that you can plan around.

The Bison adds something for experienced players or people well versed in board games, but is likely to be completely overlooked and comes out, as said previously, as a little bonus for people who don’t play Parks. For games with my group, it very much added to the sense of making out a plan whilst at the same time having to deal with the fact that someone else might want that park too cause of its easier completion from the Bison.

A tiny mechanic, but for players who love Parks it can make a big an impact as a bison actually is.

Missing Parks?

In Parks: Nightfall it was noted that the rest of the 17 missing parks from the base are finally added to the game. For art, for the completionists, and for the NPS representation this was important. The night-time art of parks was jaw dropping in its style and whilst there were three that did kinda look like palette changes or original art, it was a good way of signifying that these were cards of the expansion, instant action cards. And it’s at this point where what I said earlier comes back around again. Specifically “For players who love Parks,”

Parks: Wildlife brings just 16 extra new park cards in its box and only 6 of them have actual landscape art of parks on them (And there is another copy of Glenn Thomas’ woods cards but with slight changes in those 6). The other 10 are all rendered by artist Tom Whalen and are “iconic wildlife” cards. With them comes the twist I was expecting: parks that require a Wild resource. Parks that forced players into having to see if they would spend the time to actually grab a wild resource whereas in most games of original parks wild resource was practically ignored. The iterative game design is great, they’re taking an original component and making it impact, more involving and not something that is just often forgotten.

But then you get to the art. I like it, I do like Whalen’s style and I do like how they’re all consistent of showing the iconic animals of that specific park. But even I am disappointed that these are renderings of all the animals squashed together done on a blank background. It looks good don’t get me wrong. But I’m left with a: That’s it?

Wildlife as an expansion was obviously aiming to show off the amazing wildlife of the parks and I appreciate the commitment to the entire ecosystem of a national park, not just the pretty views. Yet Parks always sold itself on stunning production design. This expansion was really cheap and it came in a tiny box which are both excellent things. But I would’ve happily paid more for more artists for the Iconic Wildlife cards and a larger box with a unique insert, not just plastic bags to put all of the components in like so many other board games, because this way it feels as though they tried to make it on the cheap.

I think it says a lot that after discussing Parks Wildlife with my group, one player spoke up and said “Do you think we should start with a wildlife card already reserved randomly?” To be turned into basically an open or side objective when the park cards were the main players in the game of Parks, well it speaks a lot to me at least about how whilst the iterative design is great, the art and amount of cards is really disappointing.

The Trail Gets Harder

So that leaves new gear, new seasons and new trail places to drop your worker on. In comparison to my disappointment with the park cards production but loving their game design, this is all game design baby. So let’s start with what people will love: new trail spots. New complex trail spots. Oh boy does the decision making become even more interesting with these options.

There is a trail spot that allows you to do any other unoccupied trail spot, but every other player gets a sun resource, one spot where you can give up a photograph, essentially giving up points, to get one of each resource but wild, another for converting wild resources into 4 other resources and then a final one which is tricksy; stepping on it lets you do an action of a water canister that you have already filled.

Parks was not one in which the decision space led to analysis paralysis. Simple, sleek, beautiful and with an excellent message. But here there has been some spice thrown in. A new way of looking at water bottles, the idea of giving up points for potentially an even larger reward, mechanics that allow the camera and water canisters to become even more impact instead of just side mechanics. This is exactly what I wanted to see and am impressed by, Parks iterating on its already solid structure instead of trying to build on top by just adding in more. If you loved Parks the original but wanted more complexity but not adding in more? This is it.

The new gear and new water canisters and new seasons all add in this dusting of spice on top of an great base game to give me something that I can actually feel pulling me in, making me stare at the cards more as if somehow I can work it out, making me think about where someone is actually on the trail, making me so much more aware of other players.

When someone sits on a site, I now have an idea of what they’re doing, what they’re aiming for. With original Parks everyone collected resources and just went for park cards and occasionally the camera whilst we were annoyed at other people for being on a space, we didn’t know what they wanted so just shrugged and made the best of it. Now? We’ve had more matches of sitting our hikers on specific spots and forcing all other players to bounce over or burn a campsite for it and it’s been great as we all laugh at it together.

There’s some rule updates too which I’ve not much time for such as being given a choice between objective cards at the beginning of the game. I much prefer people just being thrown objective cards and you all just trying to have to make it work, forcing you to play in a way you’re not used to (though a choice between canisters is a nice addition considering how overpowered some were) but all of that’s neither here nor there. How you play the game is how you play the game.

So in the end: Is it worth it? Well here’s the thing, it’s cheap to buy. The production isn’t as good as other Parks production, it doesn’t supply you with a lot of new things and the new mechanics and iterative designs are small such that that Nightfall outdoes them and Nightfall was pretty small already. It’s not something I would expect from Keymaster games. Neither does it change the game to something incredible, it merely helps make the base stronger. I can’t really recommend it if you’re here for the art or parks. If you want a better expansion, get Nightfall first and then think about Wildlife. But it is very cheap to buy.

That concludes our thoughts on Parks Wildlife. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy Parks Wildlife today click here!