Updated: Sep 19, 2019
Yes, this really is a review of what is, in effect, a starting tile, however the River and the River II, when combined do something really interesting.
The point of the Rivers is to replace the original starting tile in Carcassonne offering players more options from the start of the game as well as helping to spread them out.
So what do you get in this tiny little box?
Yup, twelve, very nicely made, tiles. There is a spring, which is identical to the one that comes with River I. I wish they had included the spring from the mini expansion instead though, not only for variety but because the road on that tile would help eliminate larger fields. Also included are two lakes. The first ends with a City which is useful for reducing the size of the fields, the second ends with a Volcano which is good for getting the Dragon into the game straight away.
The rest of the river tiles feature, an additional Inn, a Pig Farm (making fields worth a bonus point and which stacks with the bonus point gained from Pigs in Traders and Builders.) and finally a branch. Of all the tiles included in this set the branch is the most important and I’ll explain why in a moment.
The point of the original river was to offer you more choices at the start of the game, however you could only place your river tile in one place on the board, so the choices were really only an illusion. With the addition of River II, choice becomes a reality. If you combine both rivers and the branch, every time you draw a tile you will have three choices of where to place that tile. This has the effect of making the opening game feel much more strategic and much more like Carcassonne. It also reduces the likelihood that the player who places the lake tile will be unable to place a meeple, therefore people are no longer forced to waste a turn.
Combining and Randomising
I always use both spring tiles in our games now. What is nice about this is that you can orientate them in any direction, meaning that each game will be different. Sometimes I start the two tiles touching each other, other times I will place them with a one tile gap. The second configuration allows for more devious play with farmers. I then mix the other 22 tiles (including the three lakes) into a pile.
In this way the rivers can end up being of a variable length and no one can guarantee which tiles they will end up with. Each turn, until the branch comes out, the players will have two options as to where to place their tile, this could be very important when playing with the Princess and the Dragon as you wouldn’t want to place the volcano right among your own meeples.
All in all I think, for the price, the River II is an excellent expansion, I might even go as far as to call it essential. The additional choices it offers during the set up phase are very welcome, plus the additional features such as the city that stretches over the river, or the Pig Farm all make for more interesting and strategic games. Playing with combined and varied length rivers means that from now on no two games of Carcassonne with be the same.