Parks, last year’s board game about visiting famous US national trails, is getting a spin-off in the form of this year’s Parks: Memories - and Dicebreaker has had the chance to play the upcoming release before it launches on Kickstarter on February 4th.
Despite being incredibly straightforward in terms of gameplay - players move their two hikers along a trail of tiles to collect resources and buy park cards - playing Parks was a really engaging experience, in no small part thanks to the game’s beautiful artwork and high production value; that camera tile really does feel good in the hand.
My fondness for Parks meant that when Keymaster Games - the publisher for Parks - announced it would be releasing a spin-off, I was intrigued to find out more. I was invited to play a digital demo of Parks: Memories via PC board game sandbox Tabletop Simulator, with a representative from Keymaster guiding me through the new gameplay elements.
Designed by Kyle Key, rather than Parks creator Henry Audubon, Memories once again features artwork from the Fifty-Nine Parks series, the set of US national park art prints that inspired the original board game.
It’s in terms of gameplay that Memories stands apart from the previous game. Memories is a strategic matching game inspired by people’s experiences of meeting fellow national park lovers and is specifically intended to be taken by players on their various travels. As with Parks, the spin-off maintains the theme of collecting memories by having players searching for and taking select tiles, with each set representing a particular US national park.
Memories is a game designed for two players - though it also works with two teams of people - wherein tiles are separated into three equal piles and then laid in a three by three grid, with the remaining stacks of tiles being placed at the head of each column. All the tiles are placed facedown, with the game starting once the first player chooses to flip two of the tiles in the grid face-up. The main objective of the game is to find matching sets of tiles.
Should a player find two tiles with matching resource symbols, including sun, forest, mountain and water, then they gain access to the corresponding special ability. Memories is split into three separate sets - the Midwest-set Plains Walker, mountainous Mountaineers and a third set with a water theme - with each set containing a unique collection of special abilities for players to use. During the demo I played using the water set and had access to that selection of abilities, though some had not yet been entirely finalised.
One of the abilities - using the sun resource - allowed me to flip four tiles instead of just two, whilst the water resource gave me the option to swap one of the tiles in my collection with one displayed in the middle. This ability is particularly useful given that players can only take a single tile each turn, meaning that any matching tiles within the grid could be under threat of being taken by an opponent. Luckily enough, players can also place a token on a single face-up tile before the end of their turn - meaning that the other player cannot take that tile during their turn. Once that player has flipped their tile and chosen which one to take, they then have to move the token to another face-up tile and flip the previously locked tile back down.
During the game players will have to pay close attention to which tiles have been taken by their opponent as there are only two of the same tile, which forces players to plan ahead and change their strategy should their opponent take a tile they were looking for. Also featured in the game are wildlife tiles which match any resource shown on the other tile the player flips over and, if taken, allows them to access a resource of their choice, but cannot be used as a matching set.
Should a player successfully collect three matching sets of tiles then they are immediately declared the winner as, unlike the original Parks, there is no victory point system in Memories. Each of the three sets of Parks: Memories can be played either separately or together if players want a larger selection of tiles to choose from or wish to elongate playtime.
Although the representative from Keymaster informed me that Memories has been explicitly designed with families in mind, as Parks’ gameplay could be considered a little too complicated for children, I have to admit I was left a tad disappointed with how underwhelming I found the gameplay.
There’s nothing wrong with a family-friendly board game that focuses on simplicity, but there has to be some unique element to get me interested - and from what I played of Memories it felt like it lacked that. I enjoyed using the resource abilities as they elevated the experience above being just a memory game, but I was admittedly hoping for something a little more like the original Parks - and, at least from the demo I played, Memories doesn’t appear to be that.
However, Memories’ simple rules and quick play time could make it a good filler game to play between sessions of Parks and its newest expansion, Nightfall - and although I couldn’t judge the production value given I was playing a digital prototype, the illustrations looked just as gorgeous as you’d expect.
It is possible that the other sets of Memories could bring something exciting to the table, as there will be abilities not seen in the game I played. Nevertheless, Memories isn’t quite what I expected from the follow-up to a game I enjoyed so much.
Parks: Memories will be available on Kickstarter from February 4th alongside the Nightfall expansion.