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Riverside - Solo Review

Designers: Eilif Svensson, Åsmund Svensson
Artist: Gjermund Bohne
Publisher: Chilifox Games, Stronghold Games
Player Count: 1 to 6 Players
Play Time: 15 to 30 Minutes

It’s wintertime on the river and that means eager tourists! In this review of the family-friendly Riverside, I cover gameplay and give the stock dice the classic float test. Read on to see if they passed.


Riverside board game review roll and write. 6 differently colored dice show different values inside a blue box with the word "riverside" printed inside.
Five base dice and 'Northern Lights' die

The Gist: Riverine Wonderland Tours


How does a sightseeing cruise on an idyllic wintertime river sound? Catch a glimpse of a polar bear (from a distance) or grab a pole and go ice fishing. Cold, right? Well now you can do all that and more from the warmth of your own home. In Riverside players are riverine tour guides offering unique excursions to cruise ship passengers in a remote wintery realm.


As tour guides, players sell tickets for sightseeing outings to passengers as the cruise progresses down the river, stopping in quaint Christmastime villages along the way. The guide who can plan out the best tour and attract the most tourists to their excursions will be the winner, earning the praise of the boat captain (and hopefully some nice tips). 


Board game tiles, dice, pencils, and score sheets on a wooden tabletop. Riverside board game review roll and write
Riverside comoponents and box

Gameplay: Roll, Warm-Up, and Write


Riverside is a roll and write game, and dice feature heavily throughout gameplay. Each turn begins by rolling a die to see how many spaces the cruise ship travels down the river that turn. Five other colored dice, representing parties of tourists, correspond to five matching colored guide boats on the score sheets. Each turn, these dice are rolled to create the pool from which all players will select one die and fill seats in their corresponding guide boat equal to the value of the chosen die. But some tourists get cold in the harsh Northern climes. Dice in the pool with values higher than the median of the five dice values can only be chosen if the player expends available fire symbols equal to the value of that die to warm up the frozen tourists.


The guide boats usher passengers to unique excursions at towns along the river—a polar bear safari, mountain climbing, reindeer trip, ice fishing, or a local brew house. Players will need to select a variety of dice over the course of the cruise to fill seats in all their guide boats in order to score points for each different outing. Tour guides score excursion points by visiting riverside towns with symbols matching an excursion type for which they have filled enough seats on a guide boat. The more seats a player has filled, the more points that excursion is worth. A multicolored sixth guide boat can only make excursions to the stave churches at the far ends of each board, and uses filled seats on all guide boats for scoring.


Differently colored dice on game tiles with rivers and open spaces on a wooden tabletop.
River tiles and base dice

Once the cruise ship reaches the end of the river, players tally their points earned from each guide boat. Then players determine their Captain’s Points by adding the sum of their stave church points (from the sixth guide boat) to the total from their lowest scoring guide boat. The player with the most Captain’s Points will add an additional 15 points to their total, while the player with the fewest Captain’s Points will lose 15 points. The tour guide with the highest total score after all math is calculated is the winner, and every player can compare their score to the score table in the rulebook to see how well they performed.


Solo


Riverside features native solitaire playability and does not require any rules or gameplay changes to support a solo experience. The only change is in how Captain’s Points are scored at game’s end. Instead of the players with the highest and lowest Captain’s Points earning and losing additional points, the solo player will earn an additional 15 points if they have 50 or more Captain’s Points and lose 15 points if they have fewer.


Solo play also significantly cuts down on the play time, bringing it to approximately 10 to 15 minutes per game.


Differently colored dice with game tiles in back ground riverside board game review roll and write game
Base dice

Thoughts: Frigid Family Fun


The wintery Riverside is ideal for a family game night. The turn sequence for each player is very straightforward: select a die from the pool, fill in seats on the color-matched guide boat, and make an excursion to a nearby village. But there is also a great deal of strategizing. Players need to carefully consider the excursion type in upcoming towns and ensure that they have enough tickets sold of that type in order to score it once the cruise ship is within range. Despite the lack of interactions between players, gameplay is quick. All players take actions at the same time, so players are not left waiting idly for others to take their turns. This is ideal for younger players that may have a shorter attention span.


One of my favorite elements of this game is the creation of the dice pool at the start of each turn. The five colored dice represent groups of tourists who the tour guides are attracting to their guide boats. The higher the die value, the more seats the player can fill. But large groups can be difficult to convince to join an excursion! All dice with a value higher than the median value of all dice in the pool are sent to the heating area. These represent tourists that are just too cold to go out ice fishing or mountain climbing right now. Players will need to expend fire symbols equal to the value of the die they want to pick from the heating area, and players only get 14 fire symbols to expend over the course of a game so they need to use them sparingly.


Booklet of sheets with river boats and fillable spaces on game tiles riverboat board game review solo games roll and write
Score sheet

This dice pool design is rather clever as it prevents every player from just taking the same highest value dice every turn. Then there would be no game! It also offers players tough decisions. Do I take a low value die and fill only a few seats, or do I spend fire symbols now to go all-in on a high value die to fill many seats? Players will need to pay close attention to the excursion symbols of upcoming towns if they are going to plan their dice selection strategy for maximum point scoring.


Riverside’s Failed Float Test


A roll and write game needs to really nail it on two components: the dice (roll) and the scoring sheets (write). The score sheets in Riverside coherently deliver a lot of valuable information, with informative symbology and clear coloration (which is important since the guide boats need to color match other components). Unfortunately, the dice are not as impressive. The pips on all the dice are printed slightly offset from the center. Cosmetic imperfections are not usually something I comment on, but I would not have even noticed this error had I not already been closely examining these dice after suspecting that they did not roll properly.


After just a few games, I noticed some dice were hitting numbers with higher frequency than normal. Since distributed dice values are really important to this game functioning correctly, I performed what’s known as a saltwater balancing test, or a float test to determine if there are imperfections that render the dice predisposed to landing on certain numbers. The test works by floating a die in a glass of highly salinated water. A balanced die should resurface on a different number almost every time after you push it down into the water. An unbalanced die (due to air pockets, imperfect molding, poor plastic distribution, etc) will show the same one or two numbers every time it resurfaces. Most of the dice in Riverside were coming up somewhat unbalanced towards one side or the other, while the pink die had an obvious air pocket and was resurfacing on “2” every time. The green translucent die appeared to favor the edge between “2” and “5.” This isn’t a gamebreaker and I was able to sub in other dice from my collection. But in a dice game, I would have liked to see more attention given to the quality of these primary components.


dice float test multicolored dice in cloudy water in a small container riverside board game review solo games
Riverside dice in salt water

Scoring Is All About The Speed Of The Cruise Ship


Scoring in Riverside is fair, but extremely variable due to the randomness of the dice. The scoring table in the back of the rulebook presents ranges for final scores between 199 and 400. A score of 300 or more is considered a victory for the solo player. Most of my games end in the 170 to 200 range with a fluke maximum of 324—my lone win! I have tried navigating a few different strategies to maximize scoring and I look forward to trying a few more, but at the end of the day, scoring is just as much determined by the actions of the player as they are random dice outcomes. And the first roll of each turn—determining how many spaces along the river the cruise ship moves—has the greatest impact.


Page 5 of the rulebook suggests that games typically last between eight and eleven turns, but I have found this to be a slight overestimation. Let’s break it down. There are 33 spaces along the river that the cruise ship can move to over the course of a game (35 if using the extension variant). If the average speed die roll is 3.5  it will take 9.43 turns to reach the end space of the river (33/3.5). You can’t have a half turn, so this rounds down to 9 turns. However, since the game end is triggered immediately as the cruise ship reaches the final space on the board—meaning players cannot fill seats or score excursions that turn—the average number of playable turns in the game is actually one less: In practice this means the typical game is more likely to be in the range of 7 to 9 turns. This is not a huge difference but the fewer turns there are in a game, the lower the point totals are going to be.


River tiles riverside board game review solo game
Long view of the river

Games with a lot of high speed rolls are going to fly by and players will not have as many opportunities to fill seats and score excursions, resulting in low scores. This is especially noticeable when the player hits a few high rolls in a row and completely speeds through a portion of the board, missing the villages there completely. On the flip side, consistently low speed rolls are going to give players more opportunities to fill seats and take excursions to score more points on each guide boat. Either way, the dependence on a single die roll to pace the game ends up taking some of the agency away from players to determine their own success. A house rule that allows the speed die to be rerolled may make gameplay more enjoyable. For example, I started playing where I could reroll the speed roll once each turn, but had to accept the rerolled value. This added a slight push-your-luck element to the first turn phase.


Final Thoughts


Gamers who like roll and write style games will find Riverside an enjoyable addition to the corpus. The way the dice pool is differentiated is original and clever and the scoring breakdown definitely leaves ground to be made up through successive gameplay trial and error. But this wintry game will also be a winner on a family holiday-seasonal game night, with straightforward rules and non-antagonistic gameplay. The modular board will change things up just a bit every time you play.


a green six sided die, a pencil, on a booklet of colored score sheets
Score sheet, die, and pencil


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