Days of Wonder don't release as many new titles as other well-known publishers but when they do come out with a game you know it's going to be good. The River is the latest game to join the industrious line up that includes Ticket to Ride, Five Tribes, Small World and more. I got the chance to play through a couple of rounds at Tabletop Gaming Live, which gave me enough of a taste to share some first impressions.
The River Overview
Designed by Sébastien Pauchon and Ismaël Perrin, The River sees 2-4 players competing to build the best settlements along their personal stretch of river. Points are scored for building buildings and for developing your settlements further along the river.
Within the game itself, the core mechanic is worker placement. Everyone starts the game with four meeple workers who will be sent out to gather resources (wood, brick, stone and turkeys), collect tiles which will be used to help you settle further along the river and construct buildings.
Buildings are one of the key ways to get points. Each building scores a certain number on its own, with players also claiming bonus tiles that diminish in value as more are taken. Buildings are constructed with combinations of the three main resources, with turkeys available to be used as wild resources. I'm not sure how it works, but the idea of substituting your nice slate roof for a turkey tickles me.
The improvement tiles that you can add to your riverside lands also have a few functions. They can increase the number of resources you're allowed to collect and store, as well as scoring extra points for having columns of matching terrain. As you settle further along the river, you initially unlock an extra meeple, though as you get towards the end, your meeples will start to settle permanently and be removed from play.
I played through a couple of rounds and really enjoyed the game. One of the most noticeable things is the good pacing. With players placing one worker per turn, even in a four player game turns move quickly. When you reach the end of a round (with all meeples placed) there is minimal setup for the next round and no fiddly mid-game scoring.
I'm new to worker placement games and The River felt like a very enjoyable introduction. It wasn't super heavy or dry, with Andrew Bosley's art doing a great job of bringing the theme to life even if many of the actions were fairly abstract.
I enjoyed the choices that were available every turn and the level of interaction was high enough to be noticeable without feeling restrictive. Most worker spots had two spaces open, which meant they could get filled up but it was rare that you couldn't get your first worker into one if you prioritised it.
Components and Iconography
The iconography of the game is also clear and text-free, making it easier to see everything across the board with a quick look. The player mats that everyone has don't have any instructions on them, but they give enough information to make it clear what you're capable of at any given time.
Finally, the components themselves are the combination of functionality and visual appeal that I love. They're a mixture of wooden meeples and resources with thick wooden tiles, with each one serving a clear purpose. The resources are all different colours and different shapes, making it really easy to see what you have and what's available. The tiles are for your settlements and buildings are also big, easy to handle and do a good job of conveying essential information through colours and iconography.
Final Thoughts on The River
Having played a single demo of a few rounds I can't yet say how the gameplay will hold up over multiple plays, but I was excited enough after that one experience to pre-order the game. The River feels like a nice game to have in my collection that will appeal to both newer and more experienced players. And, at the price it's available for, you get a really solid amount of game for what you pay.
I can't wait to get my hands on my copy and play The River many more times. For some more thoughts on the game, read The Game Shelf's preview.