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The River: Hyping Up a Board Game that Can Speak for Itself

The board game media world is rife with exaggeration, hyperbole, and puffed-up language of the worst kind. Meeples are never “nice,” they’re always “dazzling.” Details are never “fine,” they’re always “astonishing.” You’d think, given the word salad, that every board game sold makes the Crown Jewels look like thrift store costume jewelry.

Yet, amidst this barrage of superlatives, the phrase “solid” provides a surprising respite. The River, the latest board game release from Days of Wonder is yet another solid release from the company. “Solid” sounds so unassuming in this context. But, of course, that’s exactly what The River is.

I didn’t used the word “essential,” “perfect,” or [shudder] “awesome”, but that’s not to say that The River is any old board game. Far from it. But describing a board game exactly as it is runs so counter to the core philosophy of copywriting, that one wonders how a straightforward term slipped through.

We’re so accustomed in 2018 to hearing how every new board game is the best new board game, that it’s easy to forget how absurd that claim is. When “everything is awesome” then nothing, of course, is actually awesome. There was a (brief) time when the job of marketing was to highlight the aspects of a product or service that made it stand out, not to treat every new product like a miracle.

So, rather than treat The River as the greatest thing since sliced bread, I want to highlight what a solid game it is, then go on to give you several reasons why you absolutely should buy the game and add it to your board game library.

The River board game from Days of Wonder

If you aren’t familiar with the publisher, Days of Wonder typically releases just one board game a year. That largely means that their catalog is all killer, no filler, which is the first indicator why The River is such a “solid” board game.

Days of Wonder’s measured release schedule means that game play and production are honed and polished, meaning there is nary a rough edge with The River. It’s the kind of board game where you can bring it home and have it punched, set up, and be playing with a thorough understanding of the rules in 15 minutes.

In terms of theme, The River is akin to Stardew Valley, the board game. Each player has a board in front of them and they take turns placing their worker meeples in order to collect stone, food, wood, or clay. Players then turn those resources back in to purchase building cards that supply them with end of game victory points.

There is a bit more going on, but you get the gist of The River. And although the gameplay is simple, it’s very engaging. There is always something interesting to do and player turns are snappy, engaging even the squiggliest board game players like my 10-year-old.

(I will add an exception to this. I greatly preferred the 3 player to my 2 player game. It’s rare that I’d think a game goes too fast, but I felt that way with 2 player. The 2 player setup narrowed the options so by the time you felt like you were getting going, the game was suddenly over.)

Simply put, The River is a solid game. Perhaps it doesn’t have cyborg flamethrower-wielding zombie clowns, but the theme is thoughtfully implemented and can appeal to anyone. Perhaps it doesn’t feature twenty pounds of stretch goal miniatures, but it has high quality components that set up quickly, store easily, and offers a price point that will be attractive as a gift purchase.

The River is the kind of game that belongs in every board game collection alongside other games like fellow Days of Wonder title Ticket to Ride. The reason being that it’s a light-weight, highly accessible, thoughtfully designed gateway game that provides enough depth to get repeat play by anyone from kids to grandparents.

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Maybe I should emote more. I know that’s what the hip Twitchers are doing. Perhaps I could stand to use more flowery hyperbolic language and lay on the compliments a little more thickly. Just ask my wife.

Yet, when I comes down to it, I want something solid under my feet. I want meat and potatoes; something I’m going to enjoy every time and be able to share broadly with others. The River from Days of Wonder is a solid game that solidly fits in that category for me.