Friday, 8 February 2019

The River

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

The River is published by Days of Wonder. It is a light worker placement game. You are pioneers developing a new land. You develop plots of land to produce resources and to store them. You use them to construct buildings. Everyone has a personal board to work on. The game ends when someone develops his 12th plot of land, or when someone constructs his 5th building. Whoever scores the most points wins.

This is the main board. It is divided into many sections, each section allowing players to place workers under different rules to gain different benefits. Let's look at them one by one.

This section of the main board lets you develop land. You pick a land tile to place onto your player board. Everyone can send at most 2 workers per round, so there is no risk of running short of land tiles. However if you are slow you may not get what you want. So you still need to compete.

The top left section is for constructing buildings. There is no limit to how many workers may come, as long as they can afford the building materials. Whenever you construct a building, you collect one of these round tokens. They have different values, and you always take the highest valued token remaining. The section with a ship is for claiming the first player token. The bottom left section lets you swap land tiles. This is meant to help your land tile scoring at game end. The four sections on the right are for producing resources. The number of each resource type in the game is finite. If there is not enough in the supply pool (i.e. on the main board), you will not be able to produce to your full capacity. Your production capacities for wood, bricks and stone depend on your player board. If you are first to produce a certain resource type, you get to produce an extra one. A turkey is a wild resource. Each worker sent to catch turkeys catch exactly one turkey.

This section holds the buildings you may construct. It is refilled at the start of every round. When you send a worker here, you don't construct a building. Construction is done in another section (photo above). When you send a worker here, you claim one building card into your hand. You are reserving the building so that no one else can construct it. In future when you construct it, you pay one resource fewer.

This is the player board. From the river mouth to the source, there are 12 plots where you can place land tiles. You must develop land starting from the river mouth and moving step by step inland, following the river. The resource icons are your production capacity, and the barn icons your storage capacity. Some of these are pre-printed on your board. The player boards have different distributions of these pre-printed icons. When you place tiles to cover such icons, you lose the benefits accordingly.

The five circles on the right reminds you that you may construct at most 5 buildings. The worker on the second circle means once you construct your second building, you get an extra worker. However, you may also lose workers. Notice those worker icons with crosses. When you place a land tile on such an icon, one of your workers will retire at the end of the current round. So you don't want to rush your land development. You need to consider the drop in productivity caused by this retirement mechanism.

If you look closely, you will see the 2VP and 6VP icons at the bottom right of the second and third rows of land plots. These remind you of the end game scoring. For each column of land tiles, if the first two tiles have the same landscape, you earn 2VP. If all three tiles have the same landscape, you earn 6VP. When competing for land tiles on the main board, this is something you need to consider. This is also why there is a section on the main board which allows you to swap land tiles. Resource production and storage are not affected by land tile position.

If you compare this photo with the previous one, you will notice that I have swapped two of my land tiles, in order to help me score points at game end. I'm aligning the tiles in my rightmost column. At this point one of my workers had retired and he was living on the farm at the first river bend. I had constructed three buildings, and they were all tucked under the right side of my player board.

The Play

I did a 3-player game with Allen and Jeff. The max player count is 4. The River is quite light and straight-forward. You develop the land to produce more resources and to be able to store them. You then spend your resources to construct buildings. That's the general flow of the game. However winning or losing is not only dependent on the buildings you construct. The land tile columns can contribute a significant number of points. Those special land tiles worth victory points can give you the critical edge too. When constructing buildings, you face a dilemma between speed and quality. On one hand you want to build early to grab the higher valued tokens, but on the other hand you want to amass more resources to build the higher valued buildings.

The number of barns on your board tells you which buildings you will be able to construct. If you have only 7 barns, it is impossible for you to construct that 9-resource building. You can still go for a 8-resource building, by reserving it first, thus enjoying a 1-resource discount when you construct it from your hand.

I played with a rush approach. I was not picky about which buildings to construct. I just went for whatever was convenient - whatever matched well with the resources I had produced. That was not exactly a good idea. All it did was forcing a quicker game end. By the time I reached the fourth building, everyone knew the end was nigh. Fast did not necessarily mean efficient in scoring points. I should have taken more care in trying to score more points, as opposed to just trying to score points quickly. Speeding up the game turned out to be bad for me, because I was behind in points.

Spending one worker to claim one turkey sounds expensive, but sometimes a wild resource can be very handy.

The Thoughts

I am not the target audience of The River. If you are reading a boardgame blog and you know the term "worker placement", chances are you are not the target audience either. I have played many worker placement games, and if I feel like one, I would pick something meatier. For me, a boardgame hobbyist, a light worker placement game only serves one purpose. I can use it to introduce new players and casual gamers to worker placement games. This game is worker placement for families. It is meant for people who are relatively new to the hobby, and people who prefer light games.

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