Thomas Liesching

ZOCH 2006




In the year 2004 Thomas Liesching had published his award-winning game Niagara, and as it seems it has become good practice for a publisher to benefit a bit more from the popularity of an award winning game by releasing an expansion pack. However, this does not mean that the expansions released for this reason are redundant or full of controversial rules. Quite the opposite, games like Carcassonne or Die Siedler von Catan have shown that expansions really can enrich a game, and thus I was eager to see if and how the award-winning playing mechanism of Niagara profits from the new Flussgeister am Niagara expansion.


Although the box of the expansion is comparatively big, it does not include too many new playing pieces but instead just a few components which are needed to introduce some new twists to the game.

  • The first novelty worth mentioning is that the game contains playing material for a sixth player. Thus, it is up to six players now to engage in the risky hunt for gems at the upper stream of the Niagara river.
  • Having mentioned this more or less generic enhancement, let us now turn to the really new inventions. Here, I want to start with the whirlpool which comes as a sticker which is mounted on one of the river playing pieces. This whirlpool space is used like a normal river space, with the notable exception that it influences the movement of any canoe trying to cross its space. Thus, a canoe moving down river and ending its movement on the whirlpool is directly moved one space further down the river, whereas a canoe moving up-river has more difficulties to overcome the whirlpool and thus needs two paddle points to cross the whirlpool space. If a player moving upwards is forced to end his movement on the whirlpool space since he lacks enough points to cross the whirlpool, his canoe - like a canoe moving down-river - will be moved one space down the river to represent the currents of the whirlpool.
  • As the next innovation come the true River Spirits which have led to the naming of the expansion. On the one hand, we have the Bathing Beaver, a wooden beaver-figure which waits at the base camp and which is placed on the river space adjacent to the camp as soon as a player puts the weather-conditions-marker on "heavy rainstorm". When the beaver reaches the waterfall and goes over it the weather calms and the weather conditions change back to "normal". The other spirit is Hurried Elk, an elk which is trying to cross the river which waits for the first player to reach the source of the red gems directly next to the waterfalls. A player getting there may pick up the Hurried Elk token and place it below his canoe, thus giving this canoe an additional two movement points until is has reached the base camp. Both Hurried Elk and Bathing Beaver are returned to their initial positions when they have been used, thus making them available once again.
  • Also included are three new paddle cards which give the players some more options for moving their canoe. The "7"-card allows a player to spend seven movement points, the "Lasso"-card removes a player's canoes from the river until after the river movement phase, and the "1/2/3"-card allows the player a flexible move worth either one, two or three movement points.
  • Finally, the expansion also features big canoes, having a capacity for carrying two gems instead of one. Each player exchanges one of his normal canoes for such a big canoe.

A great eyecatcher upon the opening of the box definitely is the cute, small wooden figure of the Bathing Beaver, since such a playing figure so far was unknown to the game. All other components are more or less know, and of the same high design standard as the other playing pieces of Niagara. Coming to a judgement for the expansional rules, I once again could confirm my initially mentioned observations that in most times an expansion of a successful game is not an unnecessary surplus but a nice extra for fans who want to experience one of their favourite games in a different way. Although the game is named after the River Spirits, it is especially the whirlpool who has a major impact on gameplay. By the use of this new river space you somehow get the feeling that you have to think in one more dimension than usual, since now you have to plan even more how the river will develop and which cards you need to play for a successful move. Next comes the big canoe, offering great possibilities and time savings for a player willing to take risks, but also being a dire loss when going down the waterfall loaded with two gems. The River Spirits themselves have a slightly less profound influence on the gameplay. Here the Hurried Elk may offer some advantage at a crucial time where speed is needed, whereas the Bathing Beaver serves as a general equalizer, straightening up the course of the game by re-setting the speed of the waterfall. Overall, I really liked Flussgeister am Niagara and I can recommend it without reservations too all owners of Niagara.

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2006 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany