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How to Play Riverboat

Riverboat Template

How to play - Riverboat

Riverboat is a 2-4 player game designed by Michael Kiesling and published by Mayfair Games.

The game is set in the 19th century along the banks of the Mississippi river.  You are a farmer, competing with your fellow farmers to grow and ship goods, and employing agents in New Orleans to search out the next big business opportunity.

There are lots of opportunities to score points in Riverboat.  Figuring out how to optimise your engine is really important.  Read on below for how to play and some hints and tips.

Set up

There are two central boards accessible to all players.  The first board (the New Orleans board) is where players take the riverboat tiles from and where they send workers who are going to New Orleans.  The riverboats should be sorted into matching piles, with the top boat drawn and placed on the corresponding place on the board. A worker is placed on each of the spaces of the round track. Finally, shuffle the opportunity card (those with a question mark on the back), place one on each of the designated spaces with the remainder in a pile to one side of the board.

The second board (the crop board) has the score track around the outside and is where the crop tiles are placed.  Separate the crop tiles into one, two and three hex piles and then populate the spaces accordingly.  Again, the remainder of the tiles should be placed to one side of the board.

Put the five phase tiles, in order, close to the players.  Shuffle the cultivation cards (with the worker symbol on the back) and place them near the boards. Separate the coin, wells and barns into their own piles and along with the green surveyor pieces, place them in easy reach of the players.

Each player also has their own player mat. Take a yellow harbour master token and place it on the space labelled with the correct number of players.  Each player receives 13 white coloured workers, 3 coins and 2 surveyors.  Players will also get 2 score markers in their colour, one with a blank space and 50 on and the other with 100 and 150 on.  Place the marker with the blank side face up on the 0 of the score track.

Finally a start player is selected at random and play can begin.


The game is played over 4 rounds.  Each round, apart from the first there is a small element of clean-up for the next round and this will be discussed further below.  Following the setup steps above, you should now be ready to play the first round.

The first player chooses one of the five phase tiles, which means they will go first in that round and obtain a specific bonus.  The player to the left of the first player selects a phase tile, and so on until all tiles have been taken.

The round will then progress through five phases:

  1. Cultivation
  2. Planting
  3. Harvesting and shipping
  4. Opportunity
  5. Scoring

1. Cultivation

If you have the cultivation phase tile, take the worker from the leftmost space on the round track and place it on your board.

All players then prepare their fields for planting, this is done by placing workers on fields as revealed by cultivation cards.  The player with the phase tile draws eight cultivation cards and places them face down in front of them.  They then take one card at a time and read out the colour of the card. Each player who has a worker remaining in their supply places one of their workers on a hex corresponding to the colour which has been called out. You must place a worker if you have one.

Some cards are wild so players can choose where on the board to place their worker.  In addition, if you spend a coin you can ignore the card which has been drawn and place your worker wherever you want.  If you have filled up all hexes of one colour, and a card of that colour is drawn you can instead place your worker on any empty space.

Once all eight cultivation cards have been drawn, play moves on to the next phase.

2. Planting

The player with the planting phase tile receives one coin from the supply.

Players then take one of the crop tiles from the crop board and place it on their player mat, underneath their workers placed during the cultivation phase.  Crop tiles are either one, two or three hexes big and they must be placed fully on tiles with workers on.  You cannot place a tile if all or part of it would be on an empty hex.  The crop tile should be placed underneath the workers so they are then standing on top of the tile.

Once a crop tile has been placed it cannot be moved again.  Whilst there is no requirement for crops to be grouped together by type, it can be beneficial for hexes to be placed in this way.  If you place a two hex tile or a three hex tile you immediately score either one or two victory points immediately.

The planting phase continues, with each player taking one crop tile and placing it on their board.  If a player has no workers left in an empty field their turn is skipped.  The phase is over once all workers from the cultivation phase have been placed on crop tiles.

The crop board is not refilled during this phase.  The only exception to this would be if a player could not place any of the remaining tiles on their board (usually if all of the single hex tiles have been taken).  If this were to happen the entire crop board would be refilled.

3. Harvesting and shipping

If you have the phase three tile you move your harbour master one step on the harbour track.

Players then can harvest their crops and claim riverboat tiles to ship their crops.  To harvest a crop, you simply remove a number of workers from tiles of a single crop type anywhere on the board.  The workers return to your personal supply.  You then claim a riverboat of a value equal to the number of workers you just removed.  The capacity of the riverboat is shown at the bottom of the tile.  Place the riverboat tile in the leftmost slot at the top of your board.   The capacity of the boat is also the number of points you will score (either in whole or in part) at the end of the game if your harbour master has reached or passed that boat.

After placing the riverboat, players then get the bonus printed on top of the tile.  These benefits can include coins, victory points and moves for your harbour master.

You can spend a coin to take a riverboat from any draw pile.  This can be useful as only one riverboat of each type is available each round otherwise.  Each player can claim up to two riverboats in round one, two and three, and three riverboats in round four.  Players can also pass if they do not wish to claim a boat.

Some boats give you an opportunity to send a worker to New Orleans, which can come in use in end game scoring.  The worker must come from your personal supply and should be placed in the space on the New Orleans board matching your player colour.  Details for how these workers score is discussed further below.

Some boats also give you the ability to obtain estate features - barns, wells and surveyors.  Players can also obtain an estate feature as a harvesting bonus if they have harvested at least 9 hexes of any crop type, from anywhere on the board.  Barns are placed on an empty field space on a players mat.  They are scored for the most crop hexes of a single type surrounding a barn.  Wells are placed on a crop hex. You cannot place a well on the same type of crop hex as another well.  They score for the number of crop hexes of the same type in a group, including the hex with the well tile on.  Surveyors are used to score barns, wells and opportunity cards.  A little more on scoring estate features can be found in the scoring phase.

4. Opportunity

The player with the opportunity phase tile receives one victory point.

Starting with the player who has the phase tile, each player in turn then selects an opportunity card, either from one of the four placed face up or, if they spend a coin, they can take a random card from the draw pile.  If a face up card is taken, the player also gains the benefit from that spot - move two steps with your harbour master, obtain a surveyor, send one worker to New Orleans or take one coin.  There is no benefit if a random card is taken from the draw pile.

The opportunity cards give points either for having/harvesting a number of items or crops, for example, 1 victory point for each of a specific crop harvested or 2 points for each coin in your supply or a set number of points and a bonus, such as sending a worker to New Orleans or moving your harbour master.  However, the points are not scored immediately on taking the card. You must first put a surveyor on the card and this is discussed more below in the scoring phase.

Once all players have selected an opportunity card, any remaining cards are cleared from the board and placed at the bottom of the pile in any order.

5. Scoring

If you have this phase tile you can choose between receiving a coin, moving your harbour master on one step or sending one worker to New Orleans as your bonus.

Then players take it in turns to place surveyors, from their supply, on any barns, wells or opportunity cards they have and score that feature.  In the first three rounds you can only place up to two surveyors, but you can place three in the final round.  You can only place one surveyor per feature.  As surveyors are a limited resource (you start the game with two and there are only a few ways to obtain more) you may decide to pass rather than placing surveyors.

Surveyors only score when they are placed.  You cannot get additional points by adding to a feature once it has been scored.  Surveyors placed on a barn score two points for each adjacent crop tile of the same type, up to a maximum of 12 points.  If you place a surveyor on a well you score 1 point for each crop hex of the same type which the well sits on, which are in a group (i.e. that are all touching).  Opportunity cards are scored based on the requirements shown on the card.

Finally, once players have placed their surveyors or passed, there is some additional scoring.  Players score one victory point for each active surveyor (one which has been placed on a feature) and one point for each agent in New Orleans.

End of round clean-up

At the end of the round, pass the first player marker to the left and set up for the next round. (In a three player game, the player who is the furthest behind on the points track becomes the first player for round four). Place crop tiles face-up on any empty spaces on the crop board. Place opportunity cards on each of the spaces on the New Orleans board. Make sure there is one riverboat of the correct type on each space of the New Orleans board.

Play then continues as above until the end of the fourth round.

Game end scoring

At the end of round four, complete the end of round scoring as detailed above in phase 5.  There are then some additional points scored at the end of the game.

Players receive one point for each remaining coin, two points for each unscored feature (barn, well or surveyor) and seven points for each colour of hex which is completely covered with crops and/or a barn on his board.

Points are also scored for how far the harbour master has advanced along the track, based on the points value of the boats which have been arrived at or passed. However, only the player whose harbour master has advanced the furthest along the track will score full points for their boats.  All other players only score half points.  If there is a tie between players as to who has advanced the furthest, the player with the earlier phase tile from the final round will be considered to have advanced the furthest.

Finally points are scored for the agents in New Orleans. The player with the most agents will score 20 points, with 10 points for second, 5 points for third and no points for fourth.  A player must have at least one agent present in New Orleans to score points. If there is a tie for number of agents then, as above, the player with the earlier phase tile from the final round will win the tie.

After all points are added up, the player with the most points is the winner.

Hints and tips

  • Make sure to advance your harbour master.  You can miss out on a lot of points by not moving the harbour master.  Remember, only the player who has advanced furthest along this track gets to score full points for the boats they have arrived at or passed.
  • Don’t be afraid to spend coins.  Coins are worth one victory point at the end of the game, using the during the game can yield more points.  For example a coin could be used during the cultivation phase to change a card to a wild card, enabling you to cover all the hexes of one colour.
  • Acquire extra surveyors.  You start the game with 2 surveyors, however, you have the opportunity to score surveyors nine times during the course of the game.  Whilst it is rare to actually score all nine times, you definitely want to score more than 2.  Therefore, you need to make sure you pick up extra surveyors to maximise the points you can score.
  • Make sure you don’t run out of workers.  Sometimes it can be really tempting to leave workers on crops rather than trading them in for a riverboat, or to send as many workers as possible to New Orleans early on in the game.  However, if you have less than 8 workers during a cultivation phase, you only get to place workers until you run out.  This means you miss out on opportunities to place crop tiles and possibly to complete an area of the same colour.
  • Grouping workers and chaining crops.  When placing workers in the cultivation phase, make sure to group them together as this enables you to place the two or three hex crop tiles which are worth points.  When placing your crop tiles, try to group crops of the same type together to maximise scoring for wells and barns.