Friday, June 16, 2023

River Wild: Build valleys for fantastic beasts

When I first looked at River Wild, the first game I thought of Dos Rios. Which is completely silly because, apart from being themed around rivers, the two games have nothing in common. That said, I think Dos Rios is a lost gem so good for River Wild for making me think of it.

The game that it should remind me of is an earlier Button Shy game, Insurmountable. Both are 18-card tile-laying game that don’t use any other components. However, one is about building a mountain up with special powers while the other is building down a river with special scoring. 

As I already mentioned, River Wild is a tile-laying game. Cards are placed landscape-style. While you have to respect orientation, the flip side of each card is a mirror so it’s not that big a restriction. You have a hand of thre cards and you are building a river system that is flowing downstream from the source. The river can (and must if you want to form valleys) fork but it can never flow upstream.

The goal of the game is to form valleys, which are also the only thing that gives you any points. I honestly think they look more like islands but the rules call them valleys.  Valley cards have ore of two different things on them: either mythical animals or scoring conditions. Scoring conditions are sets of mythical animals that have to be in that valley to count. More than that, you will get fewer points if it’s your biggest valley so building a giant valley isn’t an automatic strategy.

Okay. Because it’s an 18-card solitaire game with no other components from Button Shy, I can’t help but compare te River Wild to both Scott Almes Simply Solo series and Aramini’s own Sprawlopolis series. (Yes, Sprawlopolis and it’s many kin can be played multi-player but they work solitaire very well as well)  And honestly, I’d say it isn’t as strong as most of those games. (Sorry Ugly Gryphon Inn)

But that’s comparing it to what I feel is the cream of the crop. Sprawlopolis is largely considered one of the best micro games and the reason most people have even heard of Button Shy. It’s like saying someone isn’t LeBron James. It still leaves room for a game to be excellent.

One of River Wild’s greatest strengths is how tight the margins are. Aramini helpfully supplies a scoring chart and it takes some careful planning to do well by its standards. It is mechanically simple but still requires some real thinking.

If you want to only have one game by Steven Aramini, you got to go with Sprawlopolis (which is really three games and a bunch of expansions lol) But if you’re willing to have more than one, River Wild is a good game to get.

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