The first snow of winter had fallen. Underneath the cosy blanket of snow, new life was stirring. The land was coming alive with creatures trying to carve out a life. It wasn't long until the warm sun melted the snow atop the giant mountain overlooking this realm. A slow trickle soon turned into a stream, which grew and grew and threatened to flood the animals with a giant River Wild by Steven Aramini from Button Shy.
Yes. I know. Here is another review for a solo game appearing on the blog. It was only two weeks ago when I reviewed Crumbs!. Yet, as you probably know, I'm not really very much of a solo player. So something must be in the water to make me want to play these games, so I can cover them here. Well, yes, there is. For one, I have more time to play games by myself, for another, solo games have really matured in the last so many years. Gone are the days of Patience or other games of its ilk. There are now many clever card games out there that really challenge you and quickly become rather addictive.
Clever Addictive Buttons
Button Shy is known for wallet games. These are generally 18-card games that squeeze out every last drop from every card to create really interesting and often very different games that fit into this rather restrictive category. You'll be surprised how much game there is in 18 cards that fit into a lovely plastic wallet, which easily fits into every coat, jeans or other pocket. In fact, you can often fit in two or three games, often even more. Not only that, many of these games also require little table space, so are ideal to be played while out and about.
River Wild is the latest in Button Shy's product line. However, unlike many of their other games, it does require a good amount of table space. So you won't be able to play it on the train, let alone a plane. A picnic table should be more than enough room though. River Wild only takes 15 minutes or so to play, which is perfect because it takes a good few attempts before you get the hang of it. At the same time, immediately after your first play, you can see what challenge the game is throwing at you. You realize what you should do differently next time, so that you get a better score. That's what makes River Wild pretty much addictive from the get-go, which really surprised me.
I expected to play this game and enjoy it, maybe play it another time and then put it away. Four games later, I was still going, desperately trying to figure out how I could place the cards in better ways to reach a higher score. At some point, I was done, but River Wild came out again the next day for another four or so games. I was hooked.
Let the River Flow
Let me describe what River Wild is all about though. At the end of the day, you've got a deck of double-sided cards depicting parts of the river, which sometimes just flows straight down, other times narrows or even widens. Every card also has a section of land on it, as well as a number of animals and a scoring condition. You need to place cards so that you extend the river, creating forks and merging the flow of the water later on as you go. That placement will carve out little islands that are enclosed on all sides by the river. If you manage to build an island with a certain scoring condition and the required number and type of animals, you will get points at the end of the game.
It sounds a bit abstract, as I write it down, but will make perfect sense when you play the game. Let me give you an example anyway. So there might be a scoring condition that asks for a dragon and a frog to be on the same island as the scoring condition itself. That most likely means you'll need at least three cards: the card with the scoring condition, another card with a dragon on it and another with a frog. You'll most likely need a fourth to close the island off. If you manage that, you'll get a certain number of points at the end.
It might sound simple, but it's a lot trickier than you think.
Taming the Wild River
First of all, you are unable to plan ahead very much. On your turn, you get to choose one of three cards. Additionally, you can see the next card on the draw deck. That's not a lot though. More often than not you think you've got a plan, just for the cards you need not to come out until later. So you give up on plan A and go for plan B.
There are also times when you get the animal you need to score lots of points, but it's on the wrong side of the river. To give you a little help, all of River Wild's cards are double-sided, where the back is the same as the front, but flipped around. So if you turn the card over, the animal will be on the side you want, but unfortunately, the river now flows in the opposite direction. It's really tricky and will take a while to get to grips with.
Actually, the thing I had the most trouble with was how to create forks in the flow of the river and then join them back together again to form an island. It's more difficult than you might think. I kept looking at the rules leaflet that showed an example, but even then I found it hard. I got better at it, of course, the more I played River Wild. Even so, it's not easy and I think mastering this part is key to scoring highly.
The aim of the game is quite simple really. Score more points than before. Breaking your own high score is what you aim for. There is a table at the end that tells you how well you did based on your points as well of course.
Row, Row, Row
I think you already know my verdict for River Wild. I can see myself playing it quite regularly. Instead of scrolling through social media, I will get out the little wallet and play two or three games of this really addictive and rather clever game. Like other people might play Patience, I would play River Wild. So I suggest you get yourself a copy and see how well you fare. After all, Button Shy now have a UK store, so you don't have to worry about shipping from the US. Go for it. I'll see you down the river...