Review of Rhein: River Trade [#JonathanFranklin]
Rhein: River Trade
- Designers: Marco Canetta and Stefania Niccolini
- Artists: Alan D’Amico and Mirco Paganessi
- Publisher:Arclight, Devir Americas, Giochi Uniti, Stratelibri,and available for sale in the GeekStore
- Players: 2-5
- Ages: 12 and up
- Time: 60-120 minutes (First play will be ~30 minutes per player)
- Times Played: 3
- Game provided by Devir US for review purposes
Image by BGG: draghetto
Rhein: River Trade
Have you ever wanted to cruise on the Rhein/Rhine river? If so, do I have a game for you.
To prepare for your cruise, you need to know what is along the Rhein and this game will teach it to you while making deliveries to many of the places you will stop at and eat.
At the same time, do you like What’s Your Game? Games like ZhanGuo and Railroad Revolution? This game was designed by the pair who did those. This game is lighter than games from WYG, but it has almost that same level of crunch, so if you are looking for a 45 minute snack of a game, this might not be the right appropriate.
In Rhein: River Trade, the players are manufacturers in Basel who are trying to deliver their goods to cities all along the Rhein (and London – more about that later). The downside is that all you have is two trucks that hold two crates each. Many of the contracts you will be picking up want at least 5 crates delivered to a certain city. Here is where the fun comes in.
A brief summary of the game.
The game is between seven and ten rounds. The player with the most money at the end of the game wins. Each round is made up of six fairly simple phases,
- Take Orders
- Load Goods
- Reserve Transport Stops
- Move and Unload Transports
- Fulfill Orders
Taking orders means taking a card from the available orders, Each order has a few different aspects. The city delivered to, the number of crates they want, how much they will pay, how long you have to get them there, and a penalty if you fail to deliver them in time. You may take at most one order each round. As the game approaches the end, you might not want to keep taking orders for fear you won’t be able to deliver them all in time.
Image by BGG: yakos
Loading goods is the heart of the game. Each player has their two small trucks, but the key is that there are 9 transports to get goods around, 3 planes (red, white, & black), 3 trains, and 3 ships. These are not owned by any player. They are common carriers. I could load 3 crates onto the white plane and load 4 crates onto the black train. I would then pay $7, $1 for each crate loaded. You choose which mode of transportation and which color to based on a few factors, how fast is it? Some planes, ships, and trains are faster than others, but also cost more to reserve a transport stop for in the next phase. Some planes, trains, and ships might already have left Basel, and hence be unavailable for loading except in special cases. Some might not have room for additional crates, so tough luck.
Image by BGG: Capo Oro – Note how Basel can handle freight from all four types of transportation – because that is where it all leaves from – no other city has that.
After all crates are loaded, players need to reserve stops for each of the nine transports. The fastest plane (white) costs $12 per reserved stop while the cheapest ship (black) costs only $1. At the same time, the white plane can move 9 spaces per turn while the black ship can move 2. This means if your order has time pressure, you might not be able to afford to take the slow boat and still get there in time. If you load a ship, for example, and there are no reservation tokens out for that ship, bad news, it goes nowhere. There is a bit of tension here we did not anticipate. If two people have crates on a transport, the first person to reserve might decide not to, forcing the second player to do so if she wants the transport to move. Freeloading is definitely part of the game.
After all the reservation tokens are out, all the transports move in order, from the fastest plane to the slowest plane, then the fastest train to the slowest train, then the fastest ship to the slowest ship, and finally the trucks. Each transport has a maximum number of stops it can make, so even if the train has a speed of four, if there are two reserved stops at the first two cities, it only goes two spaces, not four. At each stop where there is a reservation marker, the player may choose to unload crates there. If I have an order for City #2, Karlsruhe, then if there is a reservation marker there, and the train stops there, then I can unload the crates there in anticipation of filling the contract in the next phase. At this point, it is important to note that trains can go to every city except London (no Chunnel in this game). Ships can stop at even numbered cities + #11 (Rotterdam). This means that if you want to deliver crates to #3 (Mannheim), you might want to have your goods on a train rather than a ship. Finally, planes only stop at 5 (Frankfurt), 9 (Dusseldorf), and 14 (London). You can see the downside of a plane if you want to get something to 10 (Duisburg), as you have to fly it to Dusseldorf, then get it from 9 to 10 on trucks or trains. Since trucks move last and can start anywhere, you can always load from any other transport onto your truck in that city, but trucks can only hold two crates each.Candidly, we thought there would be more clever moves where you fly the cargo in and then put it right on the train that happens to be sitting there, but these were extremely hard to coordinate given all the other players affecting these connections. Relying on clever moves like this were riskier than we imagined they would be because the rules are clear that loading costs $1, but moving an item from one transport to another is free. Of course, if a ship stops where it cannot load or unload, you may not remove your goods or load them.
The last major phase of each round is fulfilling contracts. They are resolved starting in London and moving down to Strasbourg, right next to Basel. If you have enough crates in the city where you have an order, you may fulfill the order and gain the money on the order card.
The final housekeeping phase is mostly refreshing the orders and removing time tokens from all undelivered cards to keep track of how long you have to fulfill each one. We did not find there was much time pressure in the games so far. No one failed to deliver an order on time.
If you unload goods in a city and do not fulfill your order for some reason, you have a warehousing cost. If you have spent all your money on reservations and loading, you may be broke, in which case you can mortgage a truck for $6, but need to repay $9 to get it back. We never mortgaged a vehicle, so I think the debt spiral is likely due to first play exuberance, rather than being a part of the game.
This should give you the basic idea of how it all works. The rules cover a variety of edge cases and BGG covers some super edge cases not covered in the rules.
Ok, if you don’t like pick-up-and-deliver games, don’t bother playing this game. There is no worker placement, deck building, or dice chucking here. It is a matter of freeloading on the expenditures of others while preventing others from doing the same to you. There is quite a bit of balance, so our scores have always been quite close.
I like PU&D games, so this was a natural fit for me to review. At the same time, I have a bit of feedback about how the game felt.
- Most actions in the phase are taken in reverse capital order, so the person with $1 goes first, then the person with $10, then $20. This means that there is a disadvantage to being in the lead. It is particularly a disadvantage because if others use all the forms of transportation that can get the crates where they need to go, you will be scrambling. Planning ahead was pretty hard because you really want to put three crates on the red train and the player before you fills it up. I should mention that each transport has two aspects – minimum number of crates for it to leave Basel and a maximum number of crates it can hold. We rarely had an issue with the minimum number of crates because once you are paying for the transport, you sort of want to fill it up to prevent others from jumping in. A few times, we saw the first player putting in only the minimum and then another player putting in far more. It was those times when we had the game of chicken with the reservation tokens.
- This led to a strategy of paying for as many reservations as you could as early as made sense so that you would have less money and therefore go earlier in the turn order. Slightly Power Griddish, but there was no benefit to having more money on hand other than winning the game at the end :)
- Slightly wonky first and last round – In the first round, orders are auctioned off. That worked well, but doing it every turn might have slowed the game down too much. An order that is synergistic for one player might not work for another one, so I am not sure how worthwhile the auctions were just for the first round. Similarly, in the last round, you may reuse one of your completed orders for a diminished payoff. This means you can plan ahead for the final round, but if a lucky order comes up and you get it, that might be the difference between winning and losing.
- The art in the game is fine, but the heart of the design really four lines (road, rail, river, and contrails) with appropriate stops noted, so the art does not inherently give the game much more theme. At the same time, everything is clear, so we had no ambiguities.
In summary, Rhein: River Trade is a logistics puzzle that requires multi-turn planning and coordination of filling multiple orders before time runs out without necessarily getting your ideal transports. If this sounds like a fun puzzle, I think you will enjoy the game. If you are playing to win, rather than to enjoy the challenge of playing, there may be situations where the indirect choices of others can affect the game’s outcome.
- I love it!
- I like it. Jonathan F.
- Not for me…
Have you ever played Mine a Million? (The Business Game) It is a 60’s era british game with some kind of eerie similarities in terms of structure and objective. The original replaces the auctions with lots of random events, blocking, and overt maliciousness.
I played Mine a Million all the time growing up, Frank! It was enormously ahead of its time and, by my recollection, one of the best games from its era. I should point out that while there were lots of random events, they were exposed, so the players always knew what was slated to happen and they could try to adjust to it. That’s an example of the refined touches in this fine design, which could probably lay claim to being an early example of a Eurogame.