The basic idea of the game is that you are making four columns of cards and you get to wipe and score a column if it equals exactly twenty-one. But here’s the clever bit: the face cards don’t add to the total but subtract one, two or three from said total. You also get bonus points from columns having sets or flushes but the face cards subtracting numbers is the actually interesting mechanic.
I am of two minds about The Blackjack River. On the one hand, it didn’t really grab me. On the other hand, I actually found it more mechanically sound and it felt like I had more control over the game than I expected.
Non-traditional games that use traditional decks of cards have a bigger hurtle to overcome than games with specialized components. And that’s coming from a guy who lives game systems and PnP and Cheapass Games. The fishing theme of The Blackjack River works but it doesn’t really create a real hook. The Shooting Party, in comparison, isn’t as good mechanically but the theme does keep get me more engaged.
On the other hand, I was surprised at how much control I felt I had with The Blackjack River. I half expected the game to play itself. But between the multiple columns and the flexibility the face cards offered, I felt there were meaningful choices. Yes, luck of the draw is king but my score would be much worse if I just randomly tossed down cards. The game did give me something to do.
The Blackjack River is more interesting than I expected. I feel like it is 95% of the way to being an engaging solitaire game.