Updated: Sep 19, 2019
Rivers of Catan is another of the “reprints” included in the Traders and Barbarians box, although as I understand it the scenario has been updated enough for it to count as new. It is also responsible for the fastest game of Settlers I’ve ever played. The game took 25 minutes, no sevens were rolled and my opponents continually argued over who was building to the contested Wheat port first. Doubtless to say, I won.
While some settlers have totally committed themselves to fishing, others are settling near the rivers of Catan. These rivers are proving to be the true lifelines of the island. The river trade is flourishing particularly well—as reflected in profits of sheer gold!
No wonder that soon roads are appearing along the rivers, and mighty bridges are crossing the water. Everyone wants to be the wealthiest settler of the island. But it often happens that, while one gets rich, many others get poor. How will you fare?
With this scenario it makes more sense to talk about the bits before I explain how it works.
Two rivers (in three pieces)
Two Frame Pieces
12 Bridges, 3 in each colour
1 Wealthiest Settler Tile
4 Poorest Settler Tiles
All these pieces are nice, the rivers add some very nice variety to the game, you could easily include one without using the rules for them just to change the look of the game board. The frame pieces are rather unnecessary and are included for aesthetic purposes only, they are also not double sided so can’t be used as extras for seafarers. The bridges are the usual solid wood bits you’d expect from Settlers although if they had been a bit longer they would have worked better in my opinion (plus you could have used them in the latest Carc expansion instead of the ridiculously tall ones RGG are using,)
As with all Settlers scenarios the rulebook is well laid out and all questions are answered. Also on the Catan website you can find rules for combining the River with other T&B scenarios as well as with Seafarers and Cities and Knights.
So what about the Rules then?
First off remove 2 mountains hexes, 2 hills hexes, 2 pasture hexes, and the desert hex. Build the frame and place the rivers in both of the four hex rows.
Then fill the gaps with the normal hexes. When placing the numbers place the 2 on the 12 tile, that hex now produces resources on a 2 and a 12.
Then players places their settlements in the usual way. If you place a settlement on any intersection on a river hex you receive a Gold Coin. If you place a road on any path on a river hex you receive a Gold Coin. You cannot build roads on dotted lines (across the river) only bridges and you cannot build bridges as part of your starting settlements.
During the game there is a bonus victory point for the Wealthiest Settler, the player with the most Gold Coins. Only one player may own the title, if there is a tie for most gold neither player gets it. The opposite is true of Poorest Settler, the player or players with the fewest number of Gold Coins get minus 2 victory points.
Thus gold is a valuable resource. Gold Coins can be traded at 2 for 1 with the bank but only twice during any one turn, after that the market is flooded with gold and the exchange rate rises to 4:1 until the next players turn. You can earn extra Gold Coins by building settlements and roads along the river or by building bridges. Bridges cost 1 wood and 2 clay and immediately give you 3 Gold Coins.
Building on the Swamps at the end of the rivers still generates Gold Coins, but like the desert they give you no resources. The game is played to 10 VP.
Rivers looks very nice, all the pieces are fun to use, I like the coins and the idea that you are taxing people for using your roads and bridges. Like I said before I wish the bridges had been as long as the side of the hexes just from a visual perspective.
As for game play, I find that Rivers makes for a shorter game in general, you can decide for yourself if that is a bad thing or not. 2:1 trade on Gold makes finding resources faster and means you don’t need to have a settlement on every resource. Also that bonus victory point makes a lot of difference and you will find yourself weighing your decisions on how to build and spend resources and gold against the possibility of having to take that –2 VP penalty.
Overall I think Rivers is a great addition to the game. For simplicity you could remove one of the rivers and the wealthiest/poorest cards if you wanted a small change to the core game.
I combined this variant with Seafarers (Scenario 9: New World) placing the rivers one on either side of the map so that they flowed into the frame. The game was played first to 12 VPs and I found it to be a really enjoyable experience. The pressure of Gold Coins and Wealthiest Settler was diluted slightly by the ability to expand on the larger map, but this made the rivers feel like part of the game rather than a focal point and I enjoyed that.
The only thing I will say about this was that it did become possible for one player to continually generate gold by building a ship by on the River and then moving that ship on their next turn and building a new one the river. It was an interesting scheme but it was not in any way game breaking though. This is definitely one scenario I will be trying again!