I realized something recently. I am a shameless fan of Rio Grande Games. I looked in my game closet, and I noticed that a substantial chunk of my games were by them. Dominion, Power Grid, Havana, Niagara, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico… What can I say? They make great games!
Anyway, I recently got Niagara in a trade through BoardGameGeek. I love 3D games, and I had had my eye on this one for some time. The premise is this: You and up to 4 other players are explorers on the newfound Niagara River, created by resting a high-quality game board onto the top and bottom of the game’s box. Brilliant. Your goal is to be the first to collect a certain number of gems, all the while staying away from the deadly waterfall at the edge of the board. There are 5 colors of gems (7 of each color), and the win condition is that a player collects either:
1) 4 gems of one color
2) 1 gem of each color (for a total of 5), or
3) 7 gems total, any colors
Each player begins the game with 7 “paddle cards.” They are not actually cards as much as little rectangular tokens, but I digress. Before a round begins, each player selects one paddle card and places it face down on their indicated spot on the board. Starting with the first player, each player, in turn, flips their paddle card, revealing, in the base game, either a number between 1 and 6, or a cloud card.
That player then normally moves both their boat pieces up or down the river, only one direction per boat. Players must spend movement points equal to the number indicated on the paddle card (i.e. if a player played a paddle card numbered 5, each boat must spend 5 points of movement). Picking up or dropping off a gem from/in a gem deposit costs 2 points of movement.
In the above image, for example, it is green’s turn. The green player has a few movement options. The boat in the water must move, and the green player has the option to redeploy the green boat on the shore back into the water (which would most likely be a good idea). With the boat already in the water, the green player may begin his turn by moving or picking up a gem. As picking up a gem costs 2 movement, he could begin by picking up a purple gem (2 movement points) and move 1 space in either direction. Alternately, he could begin by moving 1 space downstream to join blue and red, and with his two remaining movement points, pick up a clear gem. Had the green player played a 5 or 6, he could pick up a purple gem with for 2 movement, then proceeded to move out of the water (the exit point is where the rope graphic is, just above the red boat on the shore). He could not, however, have played a 5, spent 2 to pick up a purple gem, moved 1 downstream, and dropped off the purple gem into the clear gem deposit for his final 2 movement points. While gems of any color may be placed in any gem deposit, a player must do all his picking up/dropping off at either the beginning or end of his turn, not both. Exiting the river is the only time a player is allowed to waste movement points.
After each player has taken their turn, the best part happens. Looking at the lowest numbered paddle card played, the river moves that many spaces. See those clear discs in the pictures? The players push them from the base of the river (right side of the above image), causing all of them to move, and some to fall off the other side! This is my absolute favorite part of the game. Obviously, you don’t want to get too close to the waterfall, or else you risk going over with it! If one of your boats goes over the waterfall, it costs a gem to get it back! Ouch! Generally, the river discs alternate directions in the river fork, but sometimes, two discs will go left, for example, possibly discounting a careful calculation made by a player.
The cloud paddle card creates a modifier for the movement of the river. On the board is a table with the numbers -1, 0, +1, and +2. Any time a cloud card is played, the active player gets to move the included cloud marker 1 space up or down on the table. For example, the blue player plays a cloud card. His boat doesn’t move, as he has no movement points, but he can move the river modifier up or down by 1. At the end of the current (no pun intended) turn, the river moves according to the lowest numbered paddle card played that round, plus or minus the modifier. This creates a great opponent screwing tactic, as you can imagine. There is nothing quite like watching an opponent go over the edge. 🙂
Paddle cards are played on top of previously played cards. In this way, no paddle card can be used twice until each has been used once. Thus, on turns 1-7, players must select from a diminishing selection of numbers, and on turn 8, everyone gets all their cards back.
No game would be complete without a way to steal your opponents’ stuff. In Niagara, if a player plays the exact amount of movement points it takes to land them on a space with an opponent’s boat containing a gem, they may steal that gem, putting it in their own boat. It is important to note, however, that gems can only be stolen by boats moving upstream (away from the waterfall). I have seen gems change hands three or four times in one turn!
Rio Grande Games’ Niagara is a real standout among other games in my collection. It is quick and easy to learn, and seriously fun to play. I highly recommend looking into it. Get ready for fast-paced, whitewater fun!
Overall rating: A