Carcassonne: The River
Time: ~20 minutes
Times Played: ~40
The River is an expansion for Carcassonne that replaces the normal starting tile found in the base game. My copy of Carcassonne came with The River included but there are ways to purchase it separately.
The River expansion contains twelve river tiles. There are six straight river tiles, four curved river tiles, one lake, and one spring.
To incorporate The River, play will begin with the spring tile being placed first. Players will continue to place the additional river tiles until they run out, concluding the river with the lake. When placing, the only rule that applies (besides normal placement protocols) is that the river cannot bend back over itself. All tiles have to be placed and if it ran over itself, the expansion wouldn’t work.
The introduction of The River expansion ensures that a larger footprint is created for the landscape that comes from tile placement. The board becomes split into a North/South or East/West alignment that affects Farms and their potentials quite directly. The River can lead to large, oversized Farm fields that allow for multiple cities to be scored but it can just as easily result in those Farms being cut off by players playing around the river tiles. I tend to see much larger Farms than not however.
The base Carcassonne can have issues where the player that is able to grab the centralized location can lay a Farmer there and reap the benefits of the map revolving around this one tile. The River mitigates that slightly by creating a larger landscape to start the game but the spring and lake also allow Fields to expand great distances as they’re not true “end” pieces. It should fall to the players to police the act of mega-farms being created but that doesn’t always happen.
The River allows players to expand much more easily than compared to the base game starting tile. This allows players to have a less cutthroat experience if they want as it’s easier to have your own half or section of the game as opposed to breathing down one another’s necks.
The River can be slotted into any expansion Carcassonne offers or be removed just as easily. The changes it makes are the same for each expansion; it won’t play differently if used with Princess and the Dragon or Inns & Cathedrals. It might however impact the benefit that another expansion offers, such as making it easier to create several large Cities to possibly include a Cathedral due to the expanded landscape.
The River rules are ambiguous as to how the placement of the lake tile occurs. We have always played that if you’re the player to place the lake tile, you immediately draw from the Carcassonne tiles and play the first tile from that pile. The only action available for the lake tile is to place a Farmer and sometimes that action is unavailable. Not allowing that player to immediately go again basically has them wasting a turn. On the off chance that they place the lake tile, lay a Farmer down, and go again? That’s the luck of the draw and honestly hasn’t negatively impacted our games much, if at all.
I loved The River…until I didn’t. It creates the same starting set-up every game and in a two-player setting, it felt like we knew exactly what the other player was going to do. It also tended to create two distinct sides of the board so we had to actively engage in interaction instead of it being more fluid. When we started out, we enjoyed the wide-open play style that The River offered but over time we grew to enjoy the tight quarters the starting tile provides now.
I do think The River is great for teaching new players how to play as not only does it create a wide open landscape, it also introduces players to all types of tiles available (in the base game) before the real game kicks off.
It’s such a small inclusion that we might play back-to-back games where in one we utilize the river tiles and in the other we jettison them to the box. The rules upkeep is minimum. It’s nice that in came in the box with the original Carcassonne but I don’t know if I would have gone out of my way initially to purchase it if it stood on its own independently.