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Tim Rogers
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Review of Dos Rios

If you've made it past the title without cringing too much then you're doing well, and hopefully this review is right up your alley.

In short, Dos Rios is a great game with a few really neat mechanics, but suffers a little from the risk of over-analysis. I'll discuss the few mechanics that I think make the game standout, have a look at the components, do a brief analysis of the winning conditions, then list a few complaints followed by a conclusion that you may feel like skipping to.

Mechanics:

I'll get right to the point. The reason you'll enjoy (or dislike) this game is because of the river alteration mechanic. You're a bunch of farmers trying to harvest various tiles, but those tiles only harvest if the river flows through them. One can change the course of the river by the use of dams. The river always flows downhill (defined by the gameboard orientation) from higher to lower terrain (with mountain > forest > plains > everything else), and the person laying the river chooses how to resolve any ties (i.e. with 2 different plains to flow into he/she can choose which gets watered).

An example of a game with A LOT of dams. Here the rivers merge rather high up the board.

The damming is really fun, and choosing how the river gets re-directed is often a process requiring a bit of forethought. If this idea doesn't appeal to you, you may as well stop reading right here.

The high/low terrain serves the additional role of meeple dominance. Meeples of different colours can't share the same space. If you want to move through an enemy meeple you need to move onto his spot either from higher terrain, or with more guys, which then causes the enemy meeple to run to town. This is a neat way to keep things on the board moving, as your turn pretty much consists of using 6 APs to move guys around (akin to moving guys around in Tikal, but every move costs 1AP), and if guys weren't getting chased back to town this would get very boring.

Components:

This game has awesome components! Ok, the money is flimsy and sucks, but you can use something from another game if you like. Aside from the money, the bits are just great. All the player pieces are quality bits made out of wood. Your meeples look like cowboys, and the hacienda building looks like a hacienda! The river bits are made of nice cardboard and look great, and the tiles that make up the gameboard are sturdily made with nice artwork in my opinion. On top of which, this game has a modular board, so every time things look a little different. Even the front and side of the box looks nice.

Nice wooden pieces for the players and for the dams.
Tiles that can be placed however players would like, making each play different.

Game End:

The game concludes when a player has bought and placed all of his 4 houses and hacienda, or when a player has his hacienda and 3 houses all watered. This player now wins, and the game is over. It takes quite some time to get all the money required to build all of your buildings and some skillful negotiating of the waterways if you want to win with fewer buildings but have them all watered. The advertised game length is probably right for 2-3, or 4 players playing quickly, but if you have a close 4 player game where everyone has a good chance at winning, expect this game to take at least 1.5 hours.

Criticisms:

I have two major criticisms to level against this title, and ironically it's impossible to run up against both in the same game, but likewise impossible to avoid at least one of them.

My first criticism is that in the midgame a few players can take a substantial lead, and others can fall substantially behind. This results in a few players giving up, and the others duking it out for the win for the second half of the game. Of course this gets boring for the players not in the running, but usually ensures a pretty quick game.

The other problem is that in a tight game the moves become increasingly calculational near the end of the game as every player tries to ensure he/she doesn't give other players close to winning any advantage. This means turns start taking a very long time, and the game can drag on for some time. A potential way to avoid this is to have money secret so players can't plan too precisely.

Conclusions:

A fun game with neat mechanics, great components, interesting decisions, but an ending that could have been better engineered.

Fun/Theme: (did I forget to mention there were bandits?!)
Mechanics:
Components:
Weight:

Final Rating: 8/10
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L. Stitz
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Lüneburg
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Tee-hee-hee-hee-hi-hihihi-hu-hua-huar-huarrrRRRrrrrrr.
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Concerning your two points of criticism:

1) We usually "solve" this by ganging up on the leader. Whoever leads early in the game, or substantially, should be in deep trouble. Choose your allies, play along, give tit-for-tat, and secure the win in the by drawing the bag shut. This can lead to kingmaking situations, but which confrontational multi-conflict game doesn't?

2) Analysis paralysis can be a problem, but I'd advise against keeping the money secret, as it makes the competition less tense. Rather, require the people to already plan in advance of their turn. When the players get more comfortable with the different terrain and meeple dominance rules, turns will speed up vastly. Also note that there is nearly never an optimal move, only several very suboptimal ones you should not take. ;-)
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João 'Finding a new way to make you WTF today' Marum
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My group throughly enjoys this game but considers it extremely cutthroat in nature. I enjoy it for my part, I find it a pleasant game though there are much better out there. However there are also a lot of worse games out there as well.
 
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Tim Rogers
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Some good points Stitz. It's interesting you mention ganging up on the leader, as this has been the theme in our more recent plays of Dos Rios. This inevitably leads to my second problem where everyone is so close, no one wants to give anyone else the advantage, so analysis paralysis ensues. Although I haven't seen it, I expect this could even lead to an eternally delayed harvest, where every player always delays the harvest as everyone is 100 or 200 away from finishing their last building, and no one is willing to throw away the win (since they can't use the money they collect until their next turn). Have you ever seen this happen? If so, what's the fix?

Cheers.
 
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Chris Salvato
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Drez wrote:

I have two major criticisms to level against this title, and ironically it's impossible to run up against both in the same game, but likewise impossible to avoid at least one of them.

My first criticism is that in the midgame a few players can take a substantial lead, and others can fall substantially behind. This results in a few players giving up, and the others duking it out for the win for the second half of the game. Of course this gets boring for the players not in the running, but usually ensures a pretty quick game.

The other problem is that in a tight game the moves become increasingly calculational near the end of the game as every player tries to ensure he/she doesn't give other players close to winning any advantage. This means turns start taking a very long time, and the game can drag on for some time. A potential way to avoid this is to have money secret so players can't plan too precisely.


I played my first game of Dos Rios last night (4 players), and we actually encountered both of these issues in our game.

Indeed, near the midgame, we had a pretty obvious split between tow players who could win and two players who probably wouldn't. However, this was due mostly to to the fact that the rivers merged very close to the sources and the two winning players managed to hold onto their income-generating engines through several whole-river harvests, while the other two didn't collect much.

Then at the end, the turns began to drag as it was pretty well determined what each player's optimal turn would be, and left the two losing players in the position of deciding which winning player to help.

In fact, the final round of the game was a mere formality, as I had collected enough to build my Hacienda, and noone else could win before I took my next turn. Problem was that there were still three more meaningless player-turns to go before I could buy the winning piece. In the end, we just called that game with my victory, without playing the final turns - a very unsatisfying outcome.


I enjoyed the game, but it does have some big flaws:

- I am not a fan of completely open victory points. Even only a few potential hidden VPS (a la Settlers' VP development cards) amongst other, open VPs can lead to uncertainty about who can win, and would help the game immensely. Additionally, since resource collection is only slightly random (as you can see the next 5 harvest cards), there isn't even the Settlers-esque tension of being at the mercy of the dice to gain the cash you need to win.

The only exception to this is the potential to win by getting 3 casas and your hacienda on the river. However, that would require very careful placement and manipulation of the river rules, which I'm not sure is all that realistic to orchestrate outside of luck, especially with table talk between players and ganging up on the leader tactics.

- With no way to destroy dams, it is possible to build a casa where the river cannot be diverted away; that was key to my victory. I'd like to see an expensive but fair way to destroy dams, in order to break up monopolies. Perhaps spend cash or get rid of a worker.

- Initial placement of workers must be increasingly defensive the later in turn order you place. This is because your workers will be vulnerable to attacks before you even get a chance to move them. Our last-to-go player lost all of his initial workers to agressive moves buy the first few players before he even got a turn. In this way, I think the last player has a disadvantage. Perhaps it plays better with 2, but with 4, the 4th player is on the defensive almost immediately.

In all, it's an interesting exercise, and plotting thew best placements of dams is an fresh and enticing mechanic, but ultimately I fear the game will fall flat over time. It seems that the game of maneuvering is over near the late middle of the game, and then it's just a matter of who gets enough cash on their turn to buy their last few buildings.

Well, that went longer than I thought it would.
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Chris Salvato
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Drez wrote:
Although I haven't seen it, I expect this could even lead to an eternally delayed harvest, where every player always delays the harvest as everyone is 100 or 200 away from finishing their last building, and no one is willing to throw away the win (since they can't use the money they collect until their next turn). Have you ever seen this happen? If so, what's the fix?


We considered that as well during our game, and I think the answer lies in the alternate victory conditions - 3 casas and a hacienda on the river.

Once you have people constantly delaying the harvest, you have to play a game of maneuvering the river and dams to try to grab your buildings. However, that could easily lead to one or more players being prevented from winning at all, and the endgame fizzles once again until someone decides they want to play something else and makes a kingmaker move.
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P. oeppel
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shidara wrote:

- Initial placement of workers must be increasingly defensive the later in turn order you place. This is because your workers will be vulnerable to attacks before you even get a chance to move them. Our last-to-go player lost all of his initial workers to agressive moves buy the first few players before he even got a turn. In this way, I think the last player has a disadvantage.


I think you played this wrong. During the first round, you can only chase off people from players who already had their turn.

Furthermore, I prefer to play it with fewer players, because with full player count, the board changes too much between my turns to allow any planning.
 
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