I was recently playing with Niagara with some friends of my 9 year-old, Taiwanese friends, and didn't have the rules handy. Ended up making it up as I went, and simplified some aspects so I wouldn't have to figure out how to say so much in Chinese, and could just get the kids playing.
As such, there was no clear rationale for why the changes were made, and the desire was not to "fix" or improve the game. It really was me just trying to make it simpler to explain and play with English as a 2nd language kids when I didn't have the rules with me.
In the end, I liked it enough to share.
Set up is the same except:
- Put out all 8 gems of each color (I forgot how many to put out so just put them all out)
Play is the same with the following exceptions:
- Pulling gems off the side of the river costs one paddle point instead of two (again, forgot)
-If you go over the waterfall with a gem in your boat, you pay that gem as a penalty to get your boat back. If you fall off empty, you pay one from your stock pile. (This rule I did change to keep the kids from feeling too bad during their learning curve).
Instead of reaching the games set victory condition, the game is over at the end of the 3rd round of play (when the 7 paddle cards have been cycled through).
Each Purple and White gem = 1 point (easy to get)
Each yellow and blue gem = 2 points (harder to get)
Each Pink gem = 3 points (bloody difficult to get)
This made for a less "strategic" and more enjoyable game for the younger players. In fact the youngest player won (obviously, not me).
The first round is usually kids figuring out the movements, and going for the purple and white stones.
By the end of the 2nd round, everyone has figured out the mechanics, and the one point gems are gone, and some of the two-point gems as well. Now it is figuring out how to get the pink ones without falling off.
Note: this worked well with 5 players (have played it twice with two different groups). With fewer players would probably reduce the number of gems.
I often cringe when people start changing up the rules to fix things that really don't need fixing.
However, I really liked how you state that the changes you made were due to memory issues (boy, I can relate to that) and language issues and age issues. I think it's neat that rather than trying to improve upon the game, you were attempting to be able to get playing quickly and easily with a minimum of confusion.
In other words, your goal was to have fun, and you were able to slap together some rules on the fly and accomplish exactly that.