Riverside is a 1-6 player game published by Chili Fox Games. You are working as tour guides who are trying to encourage tourists to see the spectacular sights of the arctic circle. At the centre is a modular board. This represents the ship’s journey over the course of the game. Because it’s modular, you can change the locations of villages each time you play.
Dice, Dice Baby
A round of Riverside is played over three phases. The first of these is rolling the dice and moving the ship. There are six different coloured dice, each related to a type of excursion. Firstly, the captain rolls the green dice, which represents the Northern Lights. They then place this over the top of the captain’s tile, which represents the heating area. The other five dice, known as the “base dice” are then rolled separately. Once this is done, you place the base dice in numerical order and find the median value (the middle dice value).
This does two things: it represents the temperature, but also tells you how far to move the ship on the main board. Any dice which exceed the median value are placed in the heating area. They represent tourists who think it’s too cold to go on an adventure! All other dice stay at the bottom of the captain’s tile.
The next phase is choosing dice and filling seats, which you have on your player sheet. Each sheet has five boats, matching in colour to the base dice. They also have four rows of seats, which vary in length and value. Each person can choose one dice (or two if combined with the green dice) to cross that number of seats off a boat. All dice at the bottom of the captain’s tile are free to use, but the ones in the heating area cost you fire symbols. You only have 14 fire symbols at the start of the game, so they need to be used carefully. Once you complete a row, you get a ticket. As well as a ticket, you will also get a bonus which allows you to cross seats out on another boat. It’s quite possible to cause a chain of bonuses to activate and cross seats out on multiple boats.
Each boat also has two royal seats. If you cross these seats out, it gains you an additional bonus. The bonus might be adding an extra score to a die or going on an additional excursion. The addition of the royal seats adds an extra puzzle to the game. They are on the longest rows, but their tickets are worth the most points. Do you try and complete easier tickets, or try and get higher scoring ones?
The final phase is going on excursions. This allows you to go to a village three spaces or less from where the ship is docked on the board. Each village has colours related to the dice and boats. If you go to that location, you multiply the number of tickets by the number on the village to give you excursion points. Be warned: if you go on a second or third excursion with that boat in a later round, you need to exceed the excursion points from the last trip. There are also two stave church locations at opposite ends of the board. These work slightly differently from the other villages and can only be visited a maximum of twice. However, they go some way towards your captain points.
The game ends immediately once the ship reaches the anchor symbol on the centre board. You add each of your ticket values to your total excursion points for each boat. This gives you a subtotal. Then, you add your stave church points to the lowest of your five boats to get your captain score. If you have the highest captain score, you get 15 bonus points, but lose 15 if you have the lowest. Then you add your subtotal from the five boats to your captain score. The person with the highest score is the winner.
Riverside, Let’s Go!
There are a lot of things to love about Riverside. The first thing is the ease to teach and play. The second, which is true of roll-and-writes in general, is that there’s no downtime between turns. Taking turns simultaneously means that the pace of the game isn’t lost with an increase of players. I also like how there are chances to mitigate bad dice rolls. This can be done by using the various bonuses you have on offer, as well as using fire symbols to add the green dice to your total. Again, a perk of roll-and-writes is that a bad roll has the same impact on everyone. There’s also elements of push-your-luck. Do you risk using up too many fire symbols? What if you run out too quickly? Do you go for the higher value tickets or lower value ones? There are lots of crunchy decisions here.
I know that some people can be put off by a large point salad at the end of the game, but I personally like that. I love the suspense of having no clue who has won right until the very end. I’m not a massive fan of the potential thirty-point swing at the end of the game for the captain score. It just feels a bit mean spirited in an otherwise joyful game. I have to say that as soon as I’d finished playing Riverside, I had shuffled the board cards up and was ready to go again straight after.
As well as the thirty-point swing, some people might not enjoy that, even though there are steps to mitigate luck, it does still play a major role. Don’t get me wrong, this is true of all roll-and-writes. It’s especially noticeable on the solo mode. My best score is over 400 points. It was nothing to do with me playing the game well. Every time I looked for the median die, it was a low value, meaning the ship moved around the board slowly. The next time I played, I wasn’t so lucky, and the ship zipped around. Games like Railroad Ink have a set number of rounds, so generally your scores tend to be around the same region. Games of Riverside can have high fluctuations in what your final score will be. Having said that, none of this stopped me from wanting to play it again immediately… and then another couple of times after that too.
More Than Roll-And-Alright
Roll-and-write is a mechanic in board games that I have come to appreciate in the last few months. I enjoy the simplicity they offer at times when you don’t want to spend ages setting up, reading rules, and finally getting round to playing. Riverside is a welcome addition to the roll-and-write family, and would be an excellent addition to your board game collection too.