Author: Thomas Liesching

Publisher: Zoch 2004

Spiel des Jahres 2005



Niagara - the name stands for giant waterfalls and for the seemingly limitless power of nature. However, it now also stands for the new game by Zoch, since the author Thomas Liesching fittingly has chosen the name Niagara for theme and background of his new game.

In Niagara, the players take the roles of daring adventurers who try to explore the upper stream above the fabled waterfalls. They use their canoes to master the waves in order to get to different sources of gems, and only by most careful navigation a player will be able to get those valued stones instead of going down the waterfalls.

Already the preparation of the game reveals that this game is quite unlike anything else on the games market. The boxes of the game will have to be placed on the table, and the "gameboard" will be spread over them, displaying the upper part of the river above the waterfalls. A flap of the gameboard will go down the side of one of the gameboxes, representing the falls themselves. The gameboard shows the river with a base camp for the player's canoes and five different places along de river where differently coloured gems can be collected. The river splits into two arms directly in front of the waterfall, and the river itself in so far is special as the riverbed is deepened so that a number of round, glass river playing pieces can be placed in the bed to form the river itself. To finish preparations, each player receives the two canoes and also seven paddle-cards of his colour. The canoes will be placed at the base camp, whereas each player keeps his paddle-cards hidden from the other players.

The game is played in rounds, and each round is split into a total of four phases:

  • Playing a paddle-card
  • Movement of canoes and weather change
  • Moving the river
  • Passing the starting player token to the next player
  • In the first phase each player secretly choses one of his paddle-cards and places it face-down in fron of him. Six of the seven cards have a number printed on them which will be used for moving canoes, whereas the seventh card shows a cloud which means a weather change will take place.

    Once all player have chosen their cards, the next phase takes place. In turn, each player now reveals his paddle-card and either moves his canoe(s) or changes the weather. If the player has played a card with a number, he may either move one or both of his canoes (depending on whether they are both in the water) for the FULL amount as shown on the paddle-card.

    Very important is the fact that a player must obey a number of rules while moving his canoe(s). First off, he may not have any unused "paddle-points" left - he must always use the full amount of his points. Also, a canoe may only be moved in one direction during the turn. Thus, a player may only move it upstream or downstream, but not in both directions in the same turn. Next comes the rule that the loading (or unloading) of a gem always takes two "paddle-points", and the loading or unloading may only take place before moving or after the whole move is completed.

    Since each canoe only has enough space to carry one gem, a canoe will have to be returned to the base camp in order to unload its carriage there before the next gem can be placed on board. However, there is also the opportunity that an empty canoe moving upstream can steal a gem from a canoe in the same space - provided the stealing canoe ends its movement in the same space as its victim.

    However, the movement of his canoes is not the only option a player has for his turn's action. As said above, each player also possesses a paddle-card with a cloud, and if it is played that will mean a change of the weather and correspondingly a change of the current of the river. The card entitles the player who has used it to move a cloud-shaped token for one space on the weather-bar. This bar has a total of four spaces which show different weather conditions between burning sun and a heavy rainstorm, and the river will have a current this turn which depends on the weather conditions as indicated on the weather-bar.

    Once all players have acted on their cards, the river will be moved by pushing round river playing pieces into the upper end of the river, moving all other pieces downstream and pushing a piece down the waterfall. How many river player pieces are added in this way depends on the paddle-cards and the weather conditions. Basically the river will be added as many pieces as the number shown on the lowest paddle-card which was played this turn, but this number will be either increased or decreased depending on the weather conditions.

    The river playing pieces will not always split evenly between the two arms of the river, so there is always an element of uncertainty as to which arm of the river will be moved. However, if a river playing piece containing one or more canoe(s) is pushed down the waterfall, that canoe (and its freight) will be lost and a player must buy a replacement for one gem.

    After the river was moved, the round ends with the starting player token being handed over to the next player, and then a new round starts.

    As for winning the game, the players need to be the first to fulfil one of three different winning conditions in order to become the winner. Thus, a player needs either...

    • to return four gems of the same colour to the base camp;
    • to return five gems of different colours to the base camp;
    • or to return a total of seven gems to the base game - regardless of their colours.

    As can be seen by reading my outline given above, Niagara offers a new playing concept which challenges the players to think in a somewhat multi-dimensional way. The players need to speculate on the river's movement in order to decide about their own move, but still an element of uncertainty remains due to the fact that the players all reveal their paddle-cards at the same time. To my mind, the game offers a well-done balance between bluff and tactics, and this should make the game attractive to beginners and seasoned players alike. However, the positive facts to say about Niagara do not stop here, since the game's attractiveness is strengthened further by its unusual design with its clever use of the different box components and the overall good artwork which can be found in the game. Myself, I am looking forwards to further rounds of the game, and thus I can recommend Niagara throughoutly.

    Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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    Copyright © 2006 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany