Full disclosure: A review copy of Riverside was provided by Kolossal Games.
Well, it’s finally starting to get cold around here, so I figure the least I can do is start trying out reviews for more wintery-themed games! I probably had a few of those already with the EXIT Advent Calendars, but I’ve got even more! This time, we’re going to be checking out a roll-and-write from Chilifox Games, courtesy of our friends at Kolossal Games. I played that at PAX Unplugged a few years ago and have been excited to be able to check it out again! So let’s dive right in.
In Riverside, players take on the role of tour guides, offering exotic tours to locals who aren’t afraid to brave the frigid temperatures for a good time. They might even see the Northern Lights or a polar bear or something, which is fun. Naturally, the cruise can’t last forever, so you need to make sure to make the most of it for your guests so you can call yourself the greatest captain in the north! Will you be able to show your guests the best time?
A surprising amount for a roll-and-write game. First, give each player one of the included player sheets:
Then, assemble the river! This is done by shuffling up the ten included river tiles:
If you want, you can include the extension pieces in, as well. This will make the game slightly longer.
Place the two end tiles such that they sit on either side of the river, creating one long path:
Then, place the ship token on the ship space:
One player gets to be the Captain (or you can take turns). They’ll handle the dice for the game, so give them the dice and the Captain Tile:
You should be all set to start!
Your goal is to show folks the best time on their riverside trip! This is done by taking tickets, taking guests on excursions, and earning Captain Points. The best Captain wins!
A game is played over several rounds, and each round is made up of three phases. Let’s dive into each!
Roll Dice / Move Ship
This first one’s pretty easy. The Captain starts a round by rolling the dice. Set the green die above the Captain Tile in what’s known as the heating area. For the other dice, order them by value. The median die (the middle value) is the round’s Temperature. All dice higher than (but not equal to) the Temperature get placed above the Captain Tile. Sometimes no die will be placed in that heating area! It’s fine.
Then, the Captain moves the Ship token X spaces, where X is the Temperature.
Choose Dice / Fill Seats
Now, all players perform this next phase at the same time. To start, they choose a base die (one of the five non-green dice). If you choose a die from above the Captain Tile (in the heating area), you must cross off fire symbols equal to that die’s value. If you can’t, you can’t take that die. If you’d like, you can choose to add on the green die’s value, which will add to your base die (and require you to cross off fire symbols equal to the green die’s value as well).
Then, cross out seats on the boat whose color matches your base die’s color. While you cross out seats from left to right in a row, you don’t have to finish a row before starting another, even on a given round! As you cross out seats, you may cross out the Royal Seats (the purple ones) as well. If you cross both out for a boat, cross out the square with two purple circles in it above that boat’s ability; you’ve unlocked it as a one-time use during the next phase. Two Royal Powers can be used during this phase: Yellow, which adds 3 to your die value for this round for free; and Blue, which lets you use the green die without crossing out any fire symbol. All Royal Powers can only be used once per game, after unlocking them, and these abilities cannot be used in the round they’re activated.
If you cross out all of the seats in a given row, you gain the corresponding ticket (the box to the right of the row) and bonus seats, which are immediately crossed off of the corresponding boat. This may cause you to finish additional Royal Seats or gain additional bonus seats. Combos!
Go on Excursions
This next phase is also performed simultaneously by everyone. To start, every player chooses a village that’s at most three spaces away from the ship token. Players may choose the same village. Each player starts with three “+1” symbols on the top of their player sheet that they may cross out to extend their ship’s range. Then, each player multiplies the value of each color on their chosen village with the number of tickets they have of that color, writing the value in the leftmost available circle in that boat’s excursion area. One caveat: if the number you’re trying to write is not strictly higher than the previous number, you can’t write it in! Some villages have multiple colors on them; you score both. You may also score the same village multiple times, provided the number increases every time.
There are two special rainbow villages, known as stave churches; if you choose to visit them, multiple their value times your total number of tickets, writing that value on the boat at the bottom of your player sheet.
Three Royal Powers may be used during this phase: White, which lets you visit two different villages in one round; Brown, which lets you add one ticket to one color of your choice for this round only; and Pink, which increases the ship’s range to 6 for this round only (you may still use “+1″s to extend it even farther).
End of Game
As soon as the ship is moved onto or beyond the anchor space, the game ends. Notably, this means that you do not get to fill in any more seats in that round; the game is just over.
Total the points on each of the guide boats! Sum that up. Then, determine your Captain Points. You do this by adding up the points you got from the stave church villages and the lowest value of your five guide boat points. Then, compare with all other players! The player with the most Captain Points gets +15 points; the player with the fewest loses 15 points. Sum up your guide boat points, your Captain Points, and any bonuses, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Functionally none. The only thing multiple players serve to do is to potentially outscore you on Captain Points, which may or may not cost you 15 points towards the end of the game. It’s a bit more painful at two players, since that means it’s effectively a 30-point swing between the two, but with more players, even being the player who doesn’t get 15 bonus points can be pretty rough. Beyond that, though, players don’t really interact in any major way. You might keep an eye on other players’ sheets just to see how they’re doing, and I suppose that’s harder to do subtly with more players, but that’s … about it. There is an included solo mode (and some achievements, which I appreciate), but it’s essentially “Score > 300 to win”, with an additional caveat of “subtract 25 points from your score at the end of the game if you use the extended river tiles”. Not too bad. I don’t have a strong preference for player count, here, though I may stay away from five or six players, just to keep the game running smoothly. I find that a lot of games get a bit top-heavy with that many folks.
- Know when those Royal Powers will dovetail nicely together! A few of them really work well together, like the one that lets you hit two villages and the one that extends your range. The one that gives you a free bonus ticket is just fairly generically good; you can use that to create an effective “fifth ticket” which can give you 50+ points in the right circumstances. You may not just be using Royal Powers together to get tons of points; you might need to think about when the best situation to knock out a Royal Power is. For instance, if you’ve got a “take the green die for free” and the green die is a 6, this might be the best time to avail yourself of it.
- It’s not the worst thing to cross out a few fire spaces early in the game; just don’t leave yourself without the ability to take any more too quickly. They’re a very good way to quickly unlock a few tickets so that you can place some low-value scoring spots on your player sheet. You just don’t want to overcompensate and cross out all of them! Having some late-game flexibility can really help you maximize your overall score (or, critically, your Captain Points).
- Sometimes you just want to score the same village multiple times. There are some high-value villages that you may want to score as the ship approaches and leaves. Just make sure you focus on unlocking additional tickets if that’s the direction you’re going in! Sometimes the smaller rows are worth it so that you can just get a quick ticket to boost the multiplier.
- It’s sometimes worth not getting tickets, so that you can get a low value in place and then increase it. You may not want to overfocus on one guide boat just so that you can gradually build up points across all of them (and, more critically, so you can always ensure your excursions score you points). This isn’t necessarily me saying “try to avoid scoring
- The multicolor villages can really boost you. If you get them early, they can provide a pretty robust floor for you to start building up from. Try to go to them if you can, but keep in mind that they generally have lower values than the single villages, as you might guess. The extension module offers a three-color village, which is fun.
- Don’t underestimate the stave church villages! You can use them to get an edge on your Captain Points. The stave church villages are a pretty good way to make use of all of your tickets, and if you’re worried that one of your guide boats is going to be particularly low-scoring, you can hedge with these villages. That said, they’re not the highest-scoring villages around, either, so don’t rely on them for boosting your score a ton.
- Similarly, don’t neglect any of the excursions! You don’t want to have a low-scoring guide boat. There are a few different places you can visit on any given turn! Try to direct your attention somewhat evenly so that you’re filling up tickets on the regular. That’ll help you gradually increase the value of excursions to certain villages, which you can string into increasing point combos. It’ll work out! Just make sure you’re taking advantage of them when you can; you can’t always guarantee when the dice are going to roll in your favor.
- Keep in mind that you also score your ticket values when you score a guide boat; you might be able to get a leg up in the Captain Points race if you get all the tickets. I occasionally get a bit worried because I’m not making big moves on my guide boats, but having 10 or so extra points from tickets can be pretty helpful! That gives you a good edge on making sure all of your guide boats are worth something.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I find the theme of this game very pleasant. You’re just taking a nice ride down the river and showing guests a good time. It’s a very smooth and charming game, given that. Plus, if you score highly enough, the achievements praise you as the attraction! You’re just very good at your job. There’s also really no conflict to speak of, so, that’s also nice.
- It’s a relatively soothing game. I think the combo potential would normally make the game feel a bit more stressful, but just moving the boat down the river kind of relaxes me, to some degree? Despite the combo-heavy nature, it’s not an aggressive game in the slightest. You just kind of do your own thing until you compare Captain Points towards the end of the game.
- I also like the progression of the little ship as a way to track rounds remaining in the game. It’s cute on its own, granted, but I also think it’s a nice way to highlight the visibility of the impending end of the game. A lot of games you can just kind of forget about the ending of the game and it’ll sneak up on you; here, you can very much check the boat and where it is relative to the anchor.
- The determination of the Temperature each round is interesting. Calculating the median can be a bit annoying, sometimes, but thankfully, it’s not too hard here. Using it to drive gameplay is fun! I like that the higher values all get set above the Captain Tile and you can only use them sparingly. It offers a way to force players to diversify, to some degree
- I also like the high potential for combos in this game. You can really string together a couple interesting turns if you place your seats right, which is fun, especially since completing a row lets you fill in other rows on other boats (or the same boat, sometimes). It’s harder to chain together multiple combos in a single turn, just because you don’t get a ton of additional marks as a result of completing a row.
- I also appreciate that the combos aren’t super complicated. It’s a pretty straightforward way to create a combo. You don’t need to fulfill any specific criteria; you just need to fill out a row of seats and then you get a few additional seats to fill in somewhere else. It doesn’t ask too much of you, the player, beyond just figuring out where you’re going to place the additional seats you’ve earned.
- The art is nice, too! I find it soothing. Very blue, very colorful, and nice.
- I think the modularity of the river is interesting, especially given how it affects the Excursions. You’ve got a very different river every time you play, which is mostly fun. It changes the order in which you go through villages, and as a result, you’ve got to reevaluate the process by which you go after tickets and fill seats. You’ve still got the same middle and endpoints, but everything in between those spots gets mixed around every game. I like that! It offers some variety each time.
- The little expansion included is nice. It gives you a couple more river spaces, including one that does not connect through the middle, which is fun. Adds some length to the game and gives players some new options. I enjoy the occasional micro-expansion.
- Your score is bound to be a bit swingy across games, just because there’s a somewhat-random number of rounds. I find that to mean that you can’t always rely on the exact same strategy across games, just because it’s totally possible that, say, the white die will always be above the median, meaning you will struggle to complete any tickets there. It can happen! This can be frustrating when trying to figure out what score you need to beat other players (or even to win in the solo mode); a skilled player can make the best of a bad situation, but you might still find it somewhat frustrating.
- It may have been helpful to have some indicator on dual-color villages that you can score both; it’s easy to forget and think it’s an either / or. Just a symbol or something would go a long way; I definitely forgot that in one of my plays!
- The player sheets can be pretty crowded; I suppose a larger sheet would have helped? There’s just a lot of information in a fairly small place, so the player sheets end up feeling a bit dense and cramped. I’m not sure how you can make the player sheets much larger without making the box bigger, but, it would be nice.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think Riverside is a blast! It’s pretty much exactly the right weight for what I’m looking for; it’s not so heavy that I struggle to play it after work, and it’s got enough combo potential and strategy management to keep things interesting. Roll-and-write games are some of my favorites to play, so I’m always on the lookout for things. This one drew me in to start because of the theme. The idea of one of those northern excursions is a pleasant one, and I really liked how pleasant the art was on top of the theme. The whole game is soothing and pleasant, aside from the strategy of it all. That’s a bit tougher, but that’s also where Riverside becomes interesting. Getting stuck with all dice less than or equal to the median each round is pretty neat, too; while it can be occasionally swingy, it keeps two or so dice out every round, advances the game towards its end, and forces players to do a lot with a bit less than they might have expected. I do love a game that only lets you score points if you can score strictly more than you did last time, though! That in particular forces players to weigh trade-offs, and I love games that force players to make some complex decisions. The one thing that gives me pause is that the reliance on the median of the die values makes the game a bit uneven between a couple plays; some games will be long (a bunch of low medians) and some games will be much shorter (a bunch of high medians). It’s more funny than annoying, unless you’re really committed to winning the solo game, I suppose. But I think Riverside is a nice compromise between a simple roll-and-write and one of the heavier, more complex ones. Maybe a nice way to ramp up into it! If that sounds up your alley, you want a roll-and-write with some light combos, or you’re just looking to guide a boat around, I’d recommend trying a play of Riverside! I’ve quite enjoyed it.
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