Parks, one of the most beautiful games of the last decade, is beloved for its complex, well-balanced gameplay. But like many European-inspired board games, it can be a little too complex for families and newcomers. That’s why publisher Keymaster designed Trails, a game inspired by Parks but streamlined for more general audiences. The pint-sized package is due out on June 20 for $19.99. Polygon has the exclusive first look at Trails, plus an interview with Keymaster Games founder Kyle Key.
Parks turned heads in 2019 with its non-violent gameplay and stunning graphic design. Polygon called it out as one of the most ambitious new games of the year. In it, players hike across the country, purchasing camping equipment, starting campfires, and contending with hostile weather over four different seasons. Trails uses the same core concept, but streamlines it greatly. Players simply hike across the table, and collect acorns, rocks, and leaves along the way.
Like Parks, Trails employs gorgeous artwork from the Fifty-Nine Parks project, a print series that celebrates America’s National Parks. The series features a bold visual style from an amazing collection of artists (and, better still, a portion of sales benefit The National Park Service).
Playing Trails with my own family, I was taken aback by the simplicity of the system. Once players move their hiker to the end of the trail, they can turn in their resources for badges. Those badges, in turn, function as a small engine to generate victory points. There’s even a way to score bonus points by spotting the most birds along the way. Sessions lasted no more than 20 minutes each (games of Parks run between 40-70 minutes), and the rules were simple enough that I could easily explain them to my seven-year-old daughter.
Kyle Key said that his team could have made a game about the art and science of hiking; packing your load, choosing a route, and finding shelters along the way. Instead, Trails designer Henry Audubon chose to focus on the more inspirational aspects of being outdoors. The game’s low level of complexity also leaves room at the table for conversation, and for making memories with those closest to you.
“We’re just there to help you connect with the people around you,” Key said. “If we made a super heavy game, then they’d walk away saying, ‘I really don’t want to play that ever again.’ I think one of the most fascinating things with Parks, Parks Memories, [and] now, what we’re hoping with Trails, is that people can’t help but sit there and share stories together.”
While the original Parks focused on the National Park System, many fans wondered if it could expand to include the National Trails System as well. That was the germ of the inspiration for Trails. As luck would have it, Fifty-Nine Parks has expanded to include unique images of the Trails System, so Keymaster was able to dive right in. The big three that are included in the final game, Key said, are the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail — all of which are part of the National Scenic Trails collection.
Key said that finding the right balance of complexity and design is a big part of his new company’s journey.
“People are playing more games together,” Key said. “Finding the game, and the theme, and the experience that makes that approachable table experience for the family is something that’s important to us. Art, to us, is just as important as gameplay. So we want to make sure that these games have a place on people’s shelves, because they are beautiful as well, and that’s one of the key things that draws people around the table to start sharing experiences.”
You can find Trails for sale at Target stores nationwide later this month.