That one not so much
Ohh that tickles
In my reviews I concentrate on two aspects of the game. A look at what you actually get in the box. The components of the game, and a look at both the quantity and quality.
Secondly, my experiences with the game including what I like about it and anything I don’t like about it.
This time I am going to be looking at Riverboat. It's a game designed by Michael Kiesling and published by Mayfair\Lookout. He has previously designed a ton of games including Azul and Heaven and Ale. He has also co-designed many games with Wolfgang Kramer. This however is a solo design.
It's a game for 2 to 4 players with a play time of around 90 minutes depending on the number of players. I think this is a pretty good estimate. Most of my games have taken around 90 minutes.
The game is played over four rounds. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game is the winner. Each round though is divided into five very different phases. Players can earn points during the game and there is also end game scoring.
The theme of the game is that each player is a farmer producing crops along the banks of the Mississippi river and then sending those crops up river to New Orleans.
The box is typical Mayfair\Lookout bookcase style size. It features (as does the whole game) the distinctive art of Klemens Franz. The cover shows a couple of boats meeting and the boatmen on them. The boat in the foreground also shows an open sack of potatoes, one of the crops you will be dealing with during the game. The overall look of the cover is very green, a soothing colour. I think it is a reasonably attractive cover, which does a good job of fitting in with the theme of the game.
So what’s in the box?
There is a rule book. And as has thankfully become fairly common it’s well done with lots of illustrations and examples. Riverboat is not an overly complex game but it does have a lot of moving parts that are all interconnected. Making it quite a tricky game to teach, as you really need to understand all the parts to see how they fit together. You may need to read it, as well as it is done, at least a couple of times to really grasp the game.
These are the riverboats. There are nine different riverboats with values from 1 to 7. There are two different boats with a value of 2 and 3. The players will acquire these boats during the game, two boats on rounds 1 to 3 and four boats on the last round. Each boat gives the player who acquires it a bonus.
You can see both of the different value 3 boats in this photo. One gives a player 3vps and a coin, the other one gives the player 3vps and allows them to move their harbour master one space. In the bottom left of the photo, you can see a value 5 boat, this one gives the player that takes it a surveyor and the option to send one of their workers to New Orleans.
The numbers on the boats as well as determining which boat you can take, also represent the points that you may score at the end of the game.
These are the pieces all of the players will start the game with. Each player gets 13 white workers. These will mostly be placed on the individual player boards, to allow the player to plant and then harvest crops. Some may also be sent to New Orleans to score both in game points and end game points.
Each player also gets 2 green surveyors. The surveyors are used to score points during the game. They can either be used to activate scoring cards or board features, that is sheds and wells. Although you only start with two of them you can (and will need to) acquire more during the game. You can play up to two surveyors a round except for round 4 where you can play three of them.
Each player gets a yellow harbour master. The harbour master is placed on a track on the player’s individual boards. The final position of the harbour master will determine how many points are scored for each player’s boats at the end of the game.
There are two double sided markers for the score track in the players colour. There is one plain side and one for +50, +100 and +150. Each player also starts with three coins.
These are some examples of the scoring cards used in the game. Each round there will be four cards available. The players draft them and then during the scoring phase they will have the option to play cards from their hand and activate them by placing a surveyor on them. Each card can only be scored once.
The cards here score as follows:
1. 3 points for every full set of the five different crops the player has harvested. (Maximum points you can get from this is 15)
2. 1 point for every radish the player has harvested. (Maximum points you can get from this is 15)
3. 5 points for every well the player has built. (Maximum points you can get from this is 15)
4. Score 5 points and send two workers to New Orleans
The game features two central boards, here is one of them. Along the top of the board are spaces for the Riverboat tiles. The tiles are stacked above the board in position above their matching spots of the board. Each round one riverboat of each type is available on the board, these are the riverboats available for the players to acquire each round.
You can see four small windows at the top of the building featured on the board. Four white workers are placed on here at the beginning of the game. One of the start player bonuses ( A full explanation of this coming soon) allows a player to take one of these workers each round and place them on their player board. This Is the only way to get extra workers during the game.
Below the small windows are four large windows, in fact these are holes in the board which you need to punch out before playing. Each window is where the players store their workers that have been sent to New Orleans. There are different coloured stairs leading to each window, this shows the colours of the players who own each window.
To the right of the large windows is a reminder of the end game scoring for most workers in New Orleans. In descending order from 1 to 4 players score 20, 10, 5 and 0 respectively.
Underneath the building are four spaces featuring a crest with a question mark on it. Scoring cards are placed here. All of the cards are shuffled at the start of the game and four cards are chosen at random will be available here each round. In player order, the players will pick a card. Each space also has a bonus attached to it, which the player will gain when they chose a card.
The bonuses are from left to right.
1. Move your harbour master two spaces
2. Gain a surveyor
3. Send a worker to New Orleans
4. Gain a coin
This is the other central board and it serves two different purposes. Around the outside of the board is the victory point track. Players will move their score tokens along this track during the game.
This board also has the crop tiles that players will acquire to place on their individual player boards. Each space on the board will contain one crop tile of either one, two or three hexes. This board will be refilled at the beginning of each round and also if a player needs to take a tile and there are none available.
These are the player aid cards. They show the numbers and composition of the crop tiles. These are very useful for working out, what tiles are still available.
These are the single crop tiles. Each tile has just one crop on it.
These are the double crop tiles. Each of these tiles have either two different crops or two of the same crop. When you place one of these tiles on your player board, you score one point.
These are the triple crop tiles. Each of these tiles have two different crops with two of the same crop and one of a different crop. When you place one of these tiles on your player board, you score two points.
These are the extra surveyors that can be acquired during the game. Also the four extra white workers that are placed on the New Orleans board at the start of the game.
This is the Red player’s board. Not at first obvious, but the colour of the roof of the shed in the bottom middle of the board shows the player colours. Here is where the players will plant and harvest their crops.
From around halfway up on the left hand side and all across the top of the board is the harbour master track. This is where you place and move your harbour master. You can see the start positions depending on the number of players. You can also see nine semi-circles across the top of the board. This is where players place the boats they get during the game. Boats are placed from left to right in these semi-circles in the order they are acquired.
At the end of the harbour master track, there is a reminder that the player whose harbour master has advanced the most on the track, scores the value of all the boats they have reached or passed. Whilst all of the other players get half of the value of all the boats they have reached or passed.
The main central part of the board is where players will plant their crops. Each player has five different fields. They are differentiated both by colour and by symbol. As the colours are quite similar, the symbols are very useful. During a round players will place up to eight of their workers in the fields (Possibly nine if they have the extra worker that round).
In the bottom left corner are reminders of the end game scoring. Seven points for every field that is totally covered, either by workers or sheds. Each coin you have left is worth a point. Each unused\unscored surveyor, shed and well you have left is worth two points.
I mentioned placing workers in their fields, but you can’t put them just anywhere. Each round eight of these cultivation cards are drawn and played in order. The players place a worker in a location of their choice but on the terrain matching the card. The card on the right is wild, when that is played you can place a worker anywhere.
If you have less than eight workers, you cannot hold back on any of the cards waiting for a terrain type you prefer. For instance if you only have six workers to place, you have to place each of them as the first six cards are played. You will not place any workers for the last two cards.
In most games the start player is the start player for a whole round. Riverboat does it a bit differently. Each round in Riverboat is broken down into five phases. Each phase can have a different start player.
These five tiles represent the five phases of a round. At the start of a round and with the start player having first choice, the players choose which phases they want to be the start player in. They then take the tile for the phase they want and pass the tiles onto the next player to choose. Depending on the number of players, players may be the start player in more than one phase.
Going first in a phase in addition to letting the player do the associated actions first also gives the first player a specific bonus. In each phase the players can spend one coin to perform an alternative action. Let’s look at the phases, the bonuses and the coin actions.
1. Cultivation Phase
Bonus, the start player takes one of the white workers from the central board and places it anywhere they like on their player board.
Action, The start player draws the top eight cultivation cards and reveals them one at a time. All players place workers on the revealed terrain type if they have any workers left.
Coin action, on their turn players may pay a coin to place a worker on a terrain of their choice rather than the terrain that was drawn.
2. Planting phase
Bonus, the start player gets one coin from the general supply
Action, players take it in turns to take one crop tile from the central board, either a one, two or three hex tile and place it on their player board. You can only place crop tiles on hexes that have one of your workers standing on. You score one or two points if you are able to place a two or three hex tile.
Coin action, on their turn players may pay a coin to choose a one or two hex crop tile from the supply rather than the central board.
3. Harvesting and Shipping phase
Bonus, advance your harbour master one space
Action, remove one or more workers from tiles showing the same crop. (The tiles do not have to be contiguous) Take a ship (if available) of the value matching the number of workers you removed from the central board.
There is also a reminder on the tile, that when you have harvested nine tiles of the same crop type (It does not have to be on the same turn and can be done once for each crop type), you get to take either a surveyor, a shed or a well.
Coin action. on their turn players may pay a coin to take a boat from the draw pile if the available boat for this turn has already been taken for the cost equal to the workers they removed.
4. Opportunity Phase
Bonus, score 1 vp
Action, Choose one of the scoring cards from the central board and get the applicable bonus.
Coin action, on their turn players may pay a coin to choose a card from the draw pile rather than taking one from the board.
5. Scoring Phase
Bonus, choice of one coin or advance harbour master one space or send one worker to New Orleans.
Action, choose to play one or two surveyors (Three on the last round) Surveyors can be played on scoring cards, which are played from the players hand onto the table. Place the surveyor on the card and score however many points the card gives at that time. Or they can place a surveyor on a Shed or a Well on their individual player board to score it.
At the end of the scoring phase players score one point for every surveyor they have played and every worker they have sent to New Orleans. That is not just ones placed during the current round, but all of them.
Coin action, there is not one for this phase
There are three different types of tokens in this photo. The start player token, that does exactly what it says, and sheds and wells.
Sheds and wells are acquired either when you have harvested nine or more crops of the same type or as bonuses when you take the higher value boats. They both give the owner points when activated by placing a surveyor on them during a scoring round.
When a player acquires a shed, they immediately place it on any empty field space on their board. When activating a shed the player chooses a type of crop. The shed scores two points for every crop of that type adjacent to it at that time. Sheds do count as covering the hex they are in for end game scoring for completing whole areas. If a player does not activate a shed during the game they are worth two points at the end of the game.
When a player acquires a well, they immediately place it on a harvested crop tile. When activating a well the player scores one point for the tile the well is on and one point for every other tile with the same crop type that is connected to the tile the well is on. If a player does not activate a well during the game they are worth two points at the end of the game.
So what do I think of the game?
I really like this game. It probably takes a play or two to really get your head around it properly. It’s not that it’s a particularly complex game, it’s just that nearly every decision you make in the game has repercussions and it may take a play or two to fully appreciate all of them.
Whilst it’s not unusual for a game to have several different phases in a round, I don’t know of another game where you have a different start player in every phase. All phases however are not created equal.
The cultivation phase is usually the most popular, as you get an extra worker. Although you start the game with thirteen workers, between sending some of them to New Orleans and some of them being left on your fields, you will soon find you don’t have eight workers to place on your fields, so an extra worker is very valuable.
The opportunity phase is another popular one. The cards are put out before the players choose when to go first, so there may be times when the perfect scoring card for you is there. If you don’t want to risk someone else taking it, you might need to go first.
The scoring phase tends to be the least popular. Although it is a very important phase, the order of playing your surveyors really does not matter. This will only get picked if the player needs one of the available bonuses.
Of course none of this is fixed, picking what phase you want to go first in can be very situational. You need to consider both the action you get to do first and the bonus. It will sometimes also depend on how many coins you have and if you intend to take a coin action.
As is often the case with a Kiesling game, the boats offer an interesting trade off. The smaller value boats are easiest and most useful early on in the game, but they give you less points. If you only get the high value boats later in the game, you might not get your harbour master far along the track to score all of them (Or even half of their value). But if you try to get the higher value boats earlier, you might fall behind the other players in other areas.
In my first game it seemed like filling a whole area on my player board was very difficult if not impossible to do, but with experience of the game I realised that with careful placement of sheds, extra workers and spending a couple of coins to pick where I placed during the game it is very doable. In my last game, this won me the game. The player in the lead had calculated that he was going to win, by around ten points, so he did not take the scoring card that would have actually given him the win, choosing what he thought was a safer option. He had not noticed that I had filled two whole areas and the fourteen points I got from them was enough to give me the win.
The harbour master is a bit of a do or die option. It can net you a lot of points, as long as you win it and get high value ships. But it can be a bit of a killer though if you go for it, spend a lot of effort during the game, but don’t win it.
There are a lot of points to be had in New Orleans, twenty points if you have the most, but how many workers to send and when? Send too many too early and you will have less workers to harvest your fields, don’t send enough and they are wasted.
When to use your surveyors presents some very difficult decisions. Pretty much every scoring opportunity you have is better played later in the game, but you are limited as to how many surveyors you can play each round. It can be hard to do, but you really have to activate some scoring opportunities before you really want to or else you will waste them. Deciding which ones to use early and which too keep is such a critical decision.
Coins are a valuable resource, they can be fairly hard to come by. Each coin you have at the end of the game is worth a point. But the coin actions you can do in most of the phases are also very powerful and can net you more than one point if used at the right time.
Overall the quality of the components are good. A mixture of wooden and cardboard pieces. Am I the only one who finds it interesting that Kiesling made two games with sheds (Heaven and Ale is the other), maybe he is a fan of Tony Boydell’s blog.
The theme, whilst not strong is there and it all hangs together well.
As I said at the beginning I really enjoy this game. It’s not that complex and it’s not that long but throughout the game you are making so many critical decisions. At the moment I would say this is my second favourite game I have played from last year’s Essen crop. (Santa Maria being the first in case you were wondering)
Great review of a really enjoyable game that seemed to fly under the radar at Essen. Played 5 times now and love it. The game is choc full of a million difficult little decisions. It is amazing how hard it can be to decide which field to place a meeple in or which phase tile to draft. But somehow it never becomes stressful. A very relaxing form of angst.
- Last edited Thu Feb 8, 2018 7:33 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Feb 8, 2018 7:30 pm
I will not rest until Biblios is in the Top 100. - Steve Oksienik
Well I been watchin' while you been coughin, I've been drinking life while you've been nauseous, and so I drink to health while you kill yourself and I got just one thing that I can offer... Go on and save yourself and take it out on me
I really want this one. I fear it will never make it to America thanks to the Mayfair debacle.
We’ve really enjoyed this one too! This was the game I was most interested in out of Essen and it lived up to my expectations.
Thanks for the great review.
“Brothers, oh brothers, my days here are done, the Dornishman’s taken my life, But what does it matter, for all men must die, and I’ve tasted the Dornishman’s wife!”
"Oak and iron guard me well, or else I'm dead and doomed to hell." - Andal proverb.
While it wasn't a bad game, I felt like it would eventually get repetitive. I say this because you will go through all but 1 of the bonus cards (I believe), The boat tiles are always the same, and you seem to need to either: win harbourmaster, win new orleans ot at least get second in both to have a shot at winning. The board element was what I thought would keep me coming back, but even then, you simply try to make rings of the same kind of harvest tile that touch one another (so you need less tiles to make the rings for the barns) so you can do both barns and wells with the same crop. Also, aim to harvest 9 of two kinds of harvest tiles to get green guys. It sounds like a lot, but after a few games, I feel it would be same-y. I thought Heaven and Ale was better and that game also allows you to play Azul (with some ingenuity )
I think an expansion that increases the replay value could make this a great game however.
- Last edited Fri Feb 9, 2018 9:30 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Fri Feb 9, 2018 7:53 pm
Nebraska - NE
Great in depth review. Sounds like a lot of similarities to Heaven and Ale both in strategy and mechanisms. Are you able to compare the two?
Excellent overview and review. I'm also really enjoy Riverboat more and more with each successive play. I've played 6 times and don't see replayability being an issue, it is the direct competition with other players for the boats/scoring cards you want that give the game legs. It's also excellent with two.
I too am really interested in Heaven and Ale, but worry that the 2p experience won't be as good.
Nebraska - NE
Surprisingly, you don’t feel like you miss much at all at two player. Unfortunately, I just don’t like the game. But two others in my play group do so...
Joe Lansdale Rules!
If you ship those crops UP river, you aren't going to make it to New Orleans...
When I saw the title to this game and the box cover, I was intrigued by it. However, when I read the description of the game, it seemed to be about farming as opposed to river-boating and my interest dropped. I have not played the game nor read the rules yet. How does this play? Is it interesting and does it have challenging decisions and interactions between the players?