I had a chance to spend some time with an advance copy of Dos Rios recently. It's a fun game with some superficial resemblances to Settlers, and may satisfy folks who'd like a little more bloodletting in their resource collecting/building games.
The game is excellently produced, and the first thing that will have you thinking about Settlers is the modular hex board with hillls, forests, and crops. The board fits into a frame that snaps together. At one end of the frame is a town, and at the other is the mountains from which the game's namesake two rivers spring.
At the start of the game, after the board is assembled, the rivers flow down from the mountains. They always flow into one of the three "downhill" hexes, away from the mountains. They also always flow into the "lowest" terrain available. Forests are lower than hills, plains are lower than forests, and lakes (of which there are two near the town) are lower than plains. For any hex to produce, a river needs to be running through it.
Each player starts with six workers. Three start in town at the bottom of the board, and the other three are placed, one at a time in turn order, anywhere on the board. Each player also starts with two dams. Dams, predictably, are used to alter the flow of the rivers. Off the board, each player starts with four houses and one hacienda. The object of the game is to build all of these buildings (or all but one house if the four buildings are all on river hexes).
Each player turn has two phases, movement (which may or may not include building) and production. In the movement phase, each player gets six moves that can be split among his workers any way he likes. Workers can also attack other workers, and this costs no additional movement points. Two workers beat one worker. One worker beats one worker if he comes from higher terrain. Two workers beat two workers if both come from higher terrain. Three or more workers in a hex are not allowed. Workers in a house or hacienda cannot be attacked. Defeated workers go back to the town at the bottom of the board.
At any time during the movement phase, a worker can build a dam to change the flow of the river. The river's flow is determined by the same rules used at the start of the game, but the person that built the dam can choose where the river flows in case of ties for lowest downhill terrain. A player can also build a house for $500 or a hacienda for $1,000. More on these below.
After all moving and building is completed, the player decides whether to produce. Production is dictated by a series of cards. Some of the cards produce for every hex of one entire river. Others produce for every hex of one kind on the map. Forest tiles produce one dam. Crops (tobacco, corn, and wheat) produce $100 each. Every worker, house, or hacienda on a producing hex will produce for the player that owns it. You start the game with no money, so you need to spend your turns getting your workers into irrigated hexes that will produce while kicking your opponents out of same so that you can build.
More on buildings. Houses, haciendas, and dams, once built, are never destroyed. A worker may pass through an opponent's house, but may not end a turn there. Workers may not pass through an opponent's hacienda. If you have a hacienda, you can take one of your workers from the town to that hacienda for two movement points.
So that's how it works. How does it play? Pretty well, really. I love the mechanic with the dams; how one move can change the look of the board pretty dramatically. It makes for some pretty interesting tactical plays. The way the production cards work is that you not only see your own production card, but there's a queue. You see what you opponents will be playing for, as well as what your next production will be. Even so, however, long term strategy isn't really feasible. With six moves and chaos-inducing dams for each player, it's fruitless to think you can expect to know what the board will look like when it's your turn again.
As such, luck is maybe a bit too much of a factor for my tastes. You always have the option whether to produce or not at the end of your turn, and you may decline to if producing will help your opponents more than it will help you. But ultimately the production card you draw is the one you have to play, and if your workers are nowhere near corn at the beginning of your turn (it's not at all uncommon for all six of your workers to start in town after getting beaten down in the last turn), then tough cookies.
There's also a catch the leader issue. Since buildings produce and get you closer to victory, the leader has easier work on his turn than everyone else. Say wheat is producing. If I have a house already on wheat, i can perhaps move one of my workers up the mountain to a wheat hex and play a dam along the way that channels the river into the house. Can you gang up on the leader? Certainly. But due to the production cards, you'll have to get quite lucky to have the opportunity to attack the leader forcefully and get on to production hexes at the same time. If you choose to just annihilate the leader, your opponents benefit for not having to do it, but you've essentially just sacrificed your turn, and all turns are precious in this game. Mixed in with the production cards, there are two desparados cards, one for each river. Desparados start at the top of the mountain and take out up to three workers as they come down. This seems designed to mitigate the rich get richer aspect of the game, but really doesn't go far enough.
In the end, I like this game. I give it a seven. I only played four-player games, though, and I think it's probably better with three, and I hope to give that a try. The gameplay is fun and I can get past some of its frustrating aspects to enjoy it.
Thanks for a good review.
While a player can collect income from buildings, there are many intricate balancing mechanisms which prevent the runaway leader problem. A player gets into a clearly winning position not just by being lucky and building a few buildings first (unlike Settlers), but rather by brilliant strategic and tactical play.
First, the fact that a building cannot move once it is built. The first buildings are more easily dammed off, but once more dams have been built, it becomes easier for the later builders to choose a location which is easier to securely receive income, by making use of the dams already built.
Second, the victory conditions. Because of point #1 above, it is more likely that the trailing players need one fewer building to win. So they have a better chance of catching up.
Third, the tradeoff between the two seperate types of resources. Getting money allows one to build buildings, while getting wood allows one to build dams and control the river flow. One has to manage the tradeoff between the two. Building a casa at the top forest will secure a steady income of wood throughout the game, but this does not necessarily win the game for you. You need to raise money from scratch again to build more buildings in order to really take advantage of your dams. Meanwhile an opponent who saved his money can build his hacienda first in a good location and take control of the board with his campesinos. The player who has buildings in fields, and thus a higher income ability, is usually not the same player as the one who has dedicated more towards collecting wood and has better control of the river flow.
Fourth, the tradeoff between the two different types of buildings. The hacienda costs twice as much but is useful in subtle ways, while two casa has double the harvesting ability for the same cost. Thus if the leader builds his hacienda first, it is possible for the trailer to catch up by building two casa and thus collecting double income; while if the leader builds a casa first, it is possible for the trailer to catch up by building his hacienda first and thus taking control. It is not the simple (relatively) linear progression in Settlers (building a new settlement or building a city are more or less similar: they both increase your income ability); in some cases one way is better, in some cases the other is better.
The game is far more intricate than the simple "income buys more income" situation in Settlers.