Rivers bring life. They supported the earliest civilizations with food and the water to sustain crops. They even support transportation to this very day. So we find ourselves in modern day Europe. A vast network of commerce depends on a particular river. It’s a resource that still proves valuable. This is Rhein: River Trade.
How it Plays
Players take on the role of the head of a freight company that moves goods to cities along the Rhine. You’ll take orders that designate which city to deliver the containers and how long you have to do it. You, along with the other players, will charter planes, trains and ships along with your own personal fleet of trucks to deliver these goods and collect money on the contracts. Whoever can earn the most capital by the game’s end is the winner.
To begin each round, players take turns selecting an order card from the market row. Each card is a contract that dictates where you promise to deliver goods and how long you have to do so. When taking a card, you’ll put a number of time markers on it as indicated by the card you choose.
Players then take turns loading containers from their warehouses in Basel onto the available transports. There are four types of transports: trains, boats, planes, and trucks. Each transport has a different capacity and can travel different distances. Loading goods will cost you money, but hopefully you’ll make it back later.
After the goods are loaded, players take turns reserving stops for the various transports. The transports will only move if there is a reservation and will only stop at the cities that have those reservations.
Once reservations have been made the transports will begin to do what they do best: transport. If a transport has its minimum number of goods loaded and has a reservation it will move along it’s path, stopping at the reservations spots where players can decide to unload their goods at that city. After all transports have moved, you can complete their orders if your goods are in the appropriate cities. You’ll collect the money and remove a time marker from any remaining orders you have. If you remove the final marker on an order, you have failed to complete it in time and you must pay a penalty and discard the order.
The market row is reset and players pay a fee for any goods stored in the cities and a new round begins. Plays continues until a certain number of rounds are played (dependent on the player count) and the player with the most money is the winner.
Rhein: River Trade is a game of logistics that asks you to plan ahead and juggle many spinning plates. The very first decision in the game asks you to plan for the future. By selecting an order card, you are declaring to the table what your intentions are and setting yourself up for the next few rounds. You must consider how much the initial investment in the card will be, which transport to take, and how long it will take you to accomplish it. This in and of itself isn’t the easiest task, but if you take your time you can puzzle out your moves in the most efficient manner. What makes River Trade a game are the other players at the table.
Very few of the decisions that you make in the game should be made without careful consideration of the other players at the table. Transports can be loaded with goods from multiple players. The absolute ideal situation is loading your goods onto a transport that has a reservation to the a city you want that was paid by another player. Riding on coattails is the name of the game. It doesn’t often work out exactly like this, but you always try for it.
So from the very first decision you’re looking for synergy. If there’s an order that aligns with another player’s plans you should consider it. How likely is it that you can hitch your ride to their wagons? This is where turn order comes into play. The turn order advantage works in favor of the player with the least amount of cash. Going first means picking the choice orders. It means loading the transports before they fill up. It means setting reservations in the cities you need. It means that turn order is huge. But cash is victory. Stay in the rear for too long and you risk losing the game altogether.
Trying to leech off others is fine and dandy, but it has its risks. Think you’re going to squeeze on that plane headed to London? Too bad. It filled up before you even had a chance and you don’t have enough capital to charter another. Think you’ll be able to drop your goods at Dusseldorf as it makes its way to Rotterdam? Too bad. All the reservation markers have been used and the train has no intention of stopping there. But it wouldn’t be any fun if it were easy, would it?
There’s real satisfaction to lining up your ducks and knocking them down. When you can align multiple orders to be completed on a single order there’s real accomplishment that follows. But it can only take you so far. There’s a sense of fatigue that set in as I realized I would just be doing the same basic actions and employing the same strategies over and over. There’s no sense of escalation or sense of improvement. Instead it’s about putting your head down and pushing forward. Always pushing forward. It’s just missing that spark of visible improvement that I’m always after in my games.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy my time with the game, just that it isn’t something I’m looking to continue exploring. The only real variance in the game is the order that the market cards come out. And it does change your approach from round to round, but the analysis of the card choice is always the same. Which order card can I complete and how can I make my opponents pay for my ticket? I just wanted a little more self improvement from the game.
It’s hard to stand our in a crowd of thousands. I was initially drawn in by it’s esoteric premise and was further intrigued by its player driven choices. It certainly held my attention for a the first game or two, but by the third I was left wondering if there would be anything new to explore. I’d never claim to master any game, but I just didn’t see any new layers surfacing at that point. It did what it did and not much more. Coupled with an overall bland presentation, it’s game that I can only muster a mild recommendation for.
Review copy provided by Devir Games.