SNAP Review – River Wild
This is a SNAP review for River Wild, a solo game by Steven Aramini and published by Button Shy. River Wild is intended for one player, age 8 and up, to play in under 15 minutes.
Let’s start by talking about the art here.
Milan Zivkovic illustrated River Wild as a land at twilight. Under a starry sky, the water looks pink and the land is a dusky purple.
Every card in the game depicts one of four fantasy animals: dragon, unicorn, jackalope, or frog. There’s a scoring condition for some other animal type on the opposite side of the river that runs down the middle of each card.
The animals are clear, detailed outlines but without faces, so they don’t have much of a personality. They feel more like the idea of an animal to protect, rather than a tangible thing. The scoring goals are the most saturated things on the cards, naturally drawing my eyes, so I spent more time looking at those.
So, let’s talk about the mechanics – how do we play this game? The goal of River Wild is to direct the path of the river in such a way that the wildlife will thrive.
Start with just the river source on the table. Leave plenty of space below it, because this is where you’ll be building out the path of the river.
Then draw three cards from the deck to be your hand. You’ll draw a new card after every turn as long as there are cards left.
Play a card from your hand onto the table, connecting its river with either a river or a mountain on the card above it, and its land with land (or a mountain). A card can either be directly in line with the card above, or offset by half, like a pyramid layout.
You must place the card upright – water only flows downhill of course! But you can use either side of the card – they’re mirror images of each other.
You are trying to create “Protected Lands”. These are gapless areas of land that are completely surrounded by river and possibly also some mountains.
Once you’ve played all 16 cards in the game, it’s time to score.
Each protected land scores 2 points. Then it scores any goals within that land that are fulfilled by the animals in that land. There are also “runestones” that act like an animal of your choice for the two lands that they’re adjacent to.
The largest land scores only half points for all of its fulfilled goals. That’s what this smaller upper number means.
Check your score against the ranks in the rules – did you make an “embarrassing environment” or a “sublime sanctuary” – or maybe something in between?
What did I expect from this game?
As a solo game that’s basically about laying down cards in patterns to fulfill goals, I can’t help but compare River Wild to the Sprawlopolis series, which Steven Aramini also had a hand in.
It seemed like this would be a more straightforward puzzle than Sprawlopolis, but also a lot more restricted – you can only ever place cards downriver, and only in one specific orientation.
Saving fantasy animals is a pretty unusual theme though, and I liked that.
Let’s talk about what surprised me in River Wild.
First of all, the rules. I am used to Button Shy rules, they’re usually these little pamphlets. This particular game uses lots of examples in the rules – which is great, and helpful – but the pictures are tiny! I had to go online to find a copy of the rules that I could enlarge, so I could actually interpret what these examples were supposed to mean.
It also took me a while to begin to understand the balance of selecting high point-value goals to fill and closing off as many lands as possible. I still feel like I’m not really great at that. The balance is not quite there for me.
There’s a lot of constraints on how to place cards, and you can easily make a bad choice that limits your future placement options. There’s only a few basic layouts of the river and land on the card, so you could have three cards with functionally identical layouts, where none of them are a good fit for what you’ve already built.
I also found it frustrating that I could only use the animal or the goal on most cards. These outside edges that define the map can’t ever be part of a protected land.
In all, the design of River Wild leaves me feeling vaguely uncomfortable about the choices I have to make – abandoning some creatures (and goals) to try to save others.
Would I recommend River Wild?
I think it’s an interesting puzzle, but I don’t love it. There are a few twists in how the game works, and not everyone will enjoy figuring out the puzzle, or having to leave some creatures behind.
It is still a pretty good choice for solo gamers who love fantasy creatures and don’t mind playing over and over again to try to improve their score.
I’m going to rate River Wild 3 fantasy creatures out of 5.
You can buy it directly from Button Shy Games for about $12.
And that’s River Wild – in a SNAP!
The Family Gamers received a copy of River Wild from Button Shy Games for this review.
SNAP review music is Avalanche, provided courtesy of You Bred Raptors?
Age Range: 8+
Number of Players: 1
Playtime: under 15 minutes