Review: The River
|Release Date||Fall 2018|
Every year, Days of Wonder has some big release that gets the hype train rolling. They spend so much time making their games look big, bold, and beautiful, that the entire industry has to take notice, particularly with how often the formula has worked (Ticket to Ride, Small World, Five Tribes, Memoir ’44). This year, they applied their design skills to a smaller, faster worker placement game, although they kept in that same familiar big box. Does The River live up to Days of Wonder’s legacy? Let’s find out!
It’s just about people working on settlements. Pretty unoffensive.
Initial expectations can really change whether or not a game is a disappointment, so let’s start there. Don’t go into this expecting a 90+-minute main event for your gaming night. Games of The River only last 20 or 30 minutes—even for beginners. Experienced players could play this very quickly as an opener on game night. It’s not a surprise, then, that the components are a bit smaller and simpler than Days of Wonder’s usual (more cardboard; less plastic and wood), and the price is lower than usual too ($40 instead of $60). That classic big box can be deceiving, though, and problematic. I’d much rather take a lunchtime filler game to work in a way, way smaller box.
Still, Days of Wonder gives the game its same classic treatment. The game looks gorgeous, with bright colors and entirely unnecessary components (the boats don’t even go on the river!). The iconography is also crystal clear, with important reminders on the boards—several initial player questions were answered simply by looking down, with no need to consult the rulebook. The gameplay is concise, clear, straightforward—you might say, “smooth”.
And for worker placement fanatics, that might be enough. I played this with two groups—in particular, with one group of friends whose favorite games are heavy worker placement games, and they were the most keen on it. Don’t have time for Caverna or Agricola? This would be a great opening game, closer for a game night, or a lunch-time game. It’s easy to jump in and jump out, and the game does have some strategy. But for me, it’s not quite enough. I am incredibly sick of board games with themes about doing old-timey physical labor (seriously, people), but that’s not the main issue.
While it’s true that I’m primarily a card gamer (Star Realms, Magic, 7 Wonders, etc.) over a board gamer, but it’s really about variety. Games like Lords of Waterdeep and Isle of Skye become favorites because of how much they can change from one game to the next. The River has enough moving parts coming in and out—different buildings and different tiles with different effects—but overall, there are two main things you are doing for points, and none of the variety feels very different. I can hardly differentiate between one game of The River and the next. With so many board games coming out these days, I want everything The River has—beauty, elegance, efficiency—but I also want more, and I can get it elsewhere. But I will say that for worker placement fanatics who only want small changes from game to game, like Rosenberg’s two-player series (Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, Le Havre: the Inland Port, etc.), this might be exactly what they want, as a kind of 2-4 player variation on that series. But to me, The River is merely good, not great.
Thank you to Asmodee North america for providing a review copy of The River.
The Bottom Line
The River is a fast, straightforward worker placement game that would do well as an appetizer, but it comes up short when you're looking for a main course.