As we’re actually at the NEC Board Games Expo in just over a week’s time, I thought I had better get our review of the first game we’ve received as part of the Asmodee UK Board Games Club online. In case you’re wondering what we’re up to, well, Gav is introducing people to Disney Villainous and the new Expansion pack which launches in July over here. To say we’re excited it keeping a really tight hat on it. Haha.
Anyhow, I’ve been here, there and everywhere [including on an ACTUAL RIVER in a canoe] since The River board game arrived on our doormat and so when I finally got the chance to sit down and play it, I was bombarded by Jensen who wanted to join in too. So we took it out to the picnic table to set up and enjoy the sunshine whist we have it here in the UK.
The River is a really beautiful game that I’d never chose for myself [which is why I let Gav pick the games we’d like to review] and it’s very fun to play. Let’s get into the details….
There’s a little video coming soon which features the boys as the characters from the River, so watch out for that on our Instagram TV and YouTube!
DAYS OF WONDER
The River is a game created by Days of Wonder, who are famous for winning the Spiel Des Jahres award for Ticket to Ride, a series with which they have enjoyed HUGE success [we have three of the series]. Days of Wonder are known for only releasing a small number of games each year and so any new release from them is hotly anticipated by the board gaming community. With every game they’ve produced, their reputation for high-quality artwork, fantastic design and production values has grown exponentially.
WHAT IS THE RIVER?
The River is a game where the players are pioneers exploring a new and uninhabited land. Exploring, traversing down the river and laying new types of terrain, discovering and storing resources to build settlements, the aim of the game is to construct the most impressive settlement on The River. This is in contrast to other exploration type games as in The River there is no combat, the land that the pioneers are inhabiting is vacant and so you are not killing or displacing other natives or even each other – you are pioneers, not warriors, much to the annoyance of our children who prefer a good old fashioned bit of violence in their games.
The mechanism in The River game is worker placement. Each player has a band of brothers represented by little wooden meeples with big hats who upon each turn are set to work and each Pioneer Meeple completes one of a set of actions which helps to develop their burgeoning settlement.
Each player has a small cardboard ship which holds their crop of Pioneer Meeples, eager to explore and settle on the lush meadows of The River. Each player also has their own player board which features beautiful illustrations of the winding river which they are exploring with space for 12 tiles. These tiles are selected and placed by the player during the course of the game to illustration the types of land they have discovered whilst settling and the types of resources that the terrain can produce for them.
THE MAIN BOARD
The main board is shared by all of the players and is a centre containing all of the different actions that the workers can take during their turn. Pioneer Meeples can gather resources, reserve building blueprints, construct buildings by trading in resources and explore new terrain tiles which are then placed upon their player board. They can also take a special token which will allow their Pioneer Meeple controller [that’s you, the Pioneer Meeple Overlord] to go first in the next round.
The overarching idea of The River is to gain victory points by constructing prestigious settlements and by exploring pleasing combinations of terrain on your own river player board. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?
HOW TO PLAY
So, each turn, players take it in turns to place one of their Pioneer Meeples on a spot of their choice to achieve selected actions.
The resources in the game are: wood, clay, stone, and turkeys [food]. These are collected, stored and saved up in barn spaces which can be found on your player board and one terrain tiles chosen during your turn. Once enough resources are gatherer, players can build different types of property as part of their settlement on the River as dictated by each property blueprint chosen.
It all sounds easy so far, right?
In common with other worker placement games, the interest and tension in the game is generated by the limited number of spaces for workers to chose to complete certain actions – so players must take the difficult decision as to which actions they should take according to their own priorities whilst balancing the need to block other players from getting ahead.
THE TERRAIN ON THE RIVER
The placement of the terrain tiles chosen by players also presents a conundrum because the empty spaces on the player’s River board can also generate resources [depending on the icons present] or offer storage barns for the players to use. The placement of new tiles on these spaces can potentially decrease or remove these icons and replaces them with new ones, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the needs of the player throughout the game.
So, players must carefully decide how to use their limited supply of Pioneer Meeples – to gather resources, or to buy buildings, or spend a precious turn in reserving a building card which will later allow you to construct the building at reduced resources cost – or if you’d rather take the first player pawn and prepare yourself to be in the the best position in the next round.
THE MECHANICS OF THE RIVER
Playing time for The River is estimated to be around 30-45 minutes by the creator. For experienced players, who understand the rules, this could be completed within the time frame – but getting used to the rules does take some time.
The game plays between 2, 3 or 4 players and there are different sides to the main and player boards. The helps to make the two player game more interesting and tense as these boards are designed with a reduced number of worker locations and Pioneer resources that are generated.
The game is rated for players aged 8 and over. It seems about the right sort of age as an 8-year-old who is experienced in playing board games with the help of adult players can join in and enjoy the game – like Jensen!
There are a number of ways to gain points to win the game which joyously allows for players to attempt different strategies to win. The main route to glory is through the construction of advanced buildings which require many resources to build but give many victory points.
Points can also be gained by constructing a board displaying a pleasing array of terrain tiles in matching columns and there are also special meadow tiles amongst the terrain tiles which give you ways of scoring additional points at the end of the game.
An interesting twist of the worker placement part, if your strategy involves growing your settlements as much as possible by placing many tiles along the riverboard is that your Pioneer Meeples are settlers. As the game progresses and more tiles are laid out, Pioneer Meeples are enticed along the way to settle and leave your workers boat for a place in the sunshine on terra firma. Losing the Pioneer Meeples as the game progresses at certain places along the river can make your decisions towards the end of the game even more weighty as you have even fewer Meeples to do your Pioneer bidding for you.
So, essentially half of the game is worker placement and resource management – in collecting and storing the different types of resources you need to save up for buildings with delicious victory points.
The end of The River can become a challange – it’s a race to try and work out if you are in the lead and need to end the game as quickly as possible by constructing the last building or whether it’s worth nabbing the last few terrain tiles to fully settle your stretch of The River instead.
The River gameplay ends when at the end of the round in which either someone has either placed all 12 terrain tiles along their River or constructed four buildings in a two player game [five buildings in a 3/4 players game]. Points are then collected and scoring takes place.
THE RIVER VERDICT
We’ve played The River a few times now – so what do we think? Well…….
Overall, The River is a fun and quick introduction to who Euro-style worker placement games operate. It’s a game which doesn’t overstay its welcome with relatively short playing time, it looks good on the table and on the shelf, AND has enough variety and different strategic options to keep it interesting for players of all experience levels.
The quality of the components in the game is very good with both linen textured main board and player boards, constructed from thick sturdy cardboard. There are wooden painted Pioneer Meeples and resources including the elusive and sparse white turkey flock – [a resource you can use to purchase other resources].
The artwork is superbly high quality, features clear and easy to understand icons with colourful and adorably cute illustrations. In terms of gameplay, it’s a Euro-style game which means that there is no direct player interaction or attacking of other players – but you can make their life harder by stealing tiles and worker locations from under your opponent’s nose if your turn happens to fall before them, and so it’s not all rainbows and sunshine.
The River is reasonably priced, usually less than £30 when we’ve scouted about, which is fantastic value for money for a game with high-quality components and which is easy to get to the table, with quick play time and players are eager to have one more go when it’s over.
The rules are printed in a beautifully illustrated and themed booklet, with clear diagrams and the River theme is woven through the game and expressed brilliantly by the funny Pioneer Meeples in their huge hats, the highly detailed pioneer boats [which are all different] that the Meeples sit in before they go out to work for you each round and return to when each round is over, and the cute illustrations of the building blueprint cards. The clever design engages children with the storyline who feel enticed to get into the spirit and story behind the game. If you’re not sure as to whether our Jensen enjoyed The River, check the box and his costume for the game…twins. haha.
A much loved favourite already, The River is on its way to Granny’s house for family games’ night over half term!