Parks (Keymaster Games, 2019)

Date played: November 26, 2020 (inaugural game of Hovel Con 2020)

Basic details: 1-5 players (solo mode included); 40-70 minutes; competitive

Gist of the game: Players control two hikers who encounter and explore trails across four seasons. As the game proceeds, the trails change and become longer. On the trails, hikers will see nature’s beauty and perform an action when they arrive. Once they reach the end of a trail, hikers can spend tokens to visit various National Parks and earn points. The player with the most points accumulated from Parks, photos, and a personal bonus at the end of the 4th season wins.

To start the game, players receive 2 hiker meeples and a campfire that they will control during the game. The board is set up so all players can access it. The board contains Park cards (3 face up to start the game), canteen cards, 4 seasons cards (out of a larger selection of possible seasons, so you won’t encounter the same set of seasons every game), and gear cards (3 face up to start the game). Players receive 1 canteen each. A year deck is shuffled and 2 cards given to each player. Each player selects 1 as their personal bonus and discards the others.

The first trail is created by placing the trail head card on the far left and the 5 basic site tiles along with one advanced site tile shuffled together and laid out, followed by the trail end card.

The first player receives the first hiker marker and the 2nd (or next, for people playing with more than just one other person) player receives the camera.

The 4 seasons cards make up the 4 rounds of the game. Each season affects gameplay and a season ends when all hikers reach the trail end tile. To start the season, see how the season affects gameplay and resolve any immediate affects. Each season has a weather pattern, and starting with the second tile the weather pattern is laid out and then repeated on subsequent tiles until the trail end is reached.

The 1st player take the 1st turn, selecting one of their hikers to any site to the right of the hiker’s current location (no moving backwards). When the hiker lands on the site, the player performs the site’s action. Play then passes to the next player, who repeats the process, and so on, until the season ends. Hikers cannot land on a site occupied by another hiker, unless they use their campfire ability to do so. This extinguishes the campfire, which is not relit until the player’s first hiker lands on the trail end.

If a hiker is the first to land on a site with a weather token, the player takes the token into their supply as a bonus.

On basic sites, players do one of the following: a) gain a forest token; b) gain a mountain token; c) gain 2 sunshine tokens; d) gain 2 water tokens; e) draw a canteen card or turn in 2 tokens to take a photo tile and gain the camera; or f) (4+ player games) gain 1 sunshine token and 1 water token.

At advanced sites, players do one of the following: a) turn in any one token to gain a wildlife token; b) turn in any token to gain any non-wildlife token, repeatable once; c) reserve or visit a Park or buy a gear card; or d) turn in a water token to copy an action from another trail site occupied by a hiker.

Wildlife tokens serve as “wild” tokens and can be used in place of any other token to visit Parks, take photos, buy gear, or visit the river. They cannot be used to fill a canteen.

Players can have up to 12 tokens. If they end a turn with more than 12 tokens, they must discard down to 12.

When a player draws a canteen card, they place it face up with the water symbol showing. A canteen can only be filled with a water token gained that turn to take its action. To fill a canteen, players place a water token gained that turn onto the canteen instead of placing it in their supply and perform the canteen’s action.

When trading 2 tokens for a photo, players return any 2 tokens of their choice to the supply to draw a photo tile. Photos are worth 1 point each at the end of the game. After taking a photo as a site, the player takes the camera card. While a player has the camera card, taking a photo only costs 1 token instead of 2. At the end of the season, the player with the camera can take a photo at the reduced price.

Upon reaching the trail end, the player’s campfire is relit and the hiker is placed in the right-most slot of one of the available areas.

At the trail end, players may: a) reserve a park by choosing 1 of the 3 available parks or drawing the top card of the Parks deck. The Park is placed horizontally in front of the player, separate from any vertical “visited” Park cards. If the card was drawn from the display, a new card is drawn to replace it. When visiting a park later, players can visit their reserved park or draw one from the display; b) buy gear by trading in the appropriate number of sunshine tokens. All gear has an ongoing action and some gear has an immediate action; or c) visit a park by paying the appropriate token cost. The park is then placed vertically in they player’s supply area. The point value will be scored at the end of the game. When a Park from the board is visited, a new Park is drawn to replace it.

Once both of a player’s hikers are on the trail end, they do not take further actions that season. The last hiker on the trail is then moved to the trail end and chooses an action.

At the end of a season: a) the player with the camera may buy an additional photo for 1 token; b) all canteens are emptied, with the water tokens returning to the supply; and c) all hikers are returned to the trail head.

To start a new season: a) the trail tiles are shuffled and an additional advanced site is added to create the new trail; b) the top season card is put on the bottom of the season deck and the next card is displayed; and c) the new weather pattern is applied.

The game ends after the 4th season is completed. Points are tallied and the player with the most points wins.

Color commentary: The artwork in this game is absolutely gorgeous, and the way everything fits in the box precisely is a masterpiece in itself.

Typing out the rules, it feels like it will be a very complex game, but after the first couple turns, it feels pretty simple and intuitive. Gear cards can definitely help, as I purchased a couple that reduced the cost of some parks and let me use some tokens to replace others when purchasing a park, which definitely increased the number of parks I was able to buy. We had no use for canteens in the first game, and the more I think about it, I can’t really see a use for canteens in general, because you can only fill a canteen with water gained during that same turn. Because the canteen trail tile doesn’t provide a resource token as its action, the only way you would even earn such a water token would be through the weather pattern. Even if that happens to align, which of course is a chance in itself, then only the first player to encounter the tile would be able to purchase a canteen. That adds up to a generally unlikely possibility that you would be in a position to make use of the canteens.

I liked this game a lot. It felt relaxing to play, and I think I was lulled by the beautiful artwork and general construction. The resource tokens were shaped like outdoorsy things, and the 12 wildlife meeples were adorable. I think it took about an hour to play, but it didn’t feel like it took that long. I’m definitely looking forward to playing again at some point.

Thoughts from M: I really like the artwork. I don’t know yet what the best strategy is, and while the game felt overwhelming at first, it got easier and became a lot more fun as it went on. I think I had the hang of it by the end of the first season, for sure, which meant 3/4 of the game went fairly smoothly.

Petra’s rating: 9/10
M’s rating: 7/10

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