Warriors collect colorful pearls that roll down the valley-like game board.
It is said that in the parallel universe, there is a different world in which human beings and Nature can co-exist peacefully. The God of Nature provides abundant resources year after year, and the grace from Nature spreads to the ground through the running rivers.
People view the resources in the River as "Nature's Bounty." People move along the River with alpacas to collect enough resources, ideally returning to the Village with enough resources to start a prosperous year.
In 12 Rivers, players lead one of four tribes and take turns sending warriors to climb the mountain. The warriors camp near the River to collect Nature's bounties and bring these resources to villagers in need. Warriors can collect more valuable bounties if they move toward the origin of the River, but more camp tools have to be paid for as well. After five rounds, the bounties to the villagers will be scored for players based on rarity.
—description from the publisher
12 Rivers is played over five rounds (years). Each round is split into 3 phases:
During the preparation phase, one pearl is added to each River depending on the number of players (6/9/12 for 2/3/4 players). These pearls are blocked by a large barrier spanning all rivers. Fairy tokens (one-time bonuses) are placed beside the River based on the current round.
During the camp phase, players will take turns based on the tribe token track placing their tribe tokens into one of the notches along the River or at the Village. Each placement spot has a cost or bonus paid/received using camp cards. Spots higher up the River costs more than spots near the end. They may collect the fairy token (if present) if they are the first player to visit a camp space. This continues until all tribe tokens are placed.
Next up is the reward phase. The barrier is removed, and the pearls will roll down the rivers until tribe tokens block them. Tribe tokens are now evaluated from top to bottom and left to right. When a tribe token is evaluated, a player may choose one of the pearls blocked by that tribe token. Once assessed, the tribe token is placed back on the tribe token track (ready for the next round). The pearls still blocked by the tribe token will move further along the River. Tribe tokens at the Village can be retrieved to gain villagers that provide scoring opportunities for the end of the round. Also, pearls placed on those villagers are worth points as indicated on the board, with gold being the most valuable (5 points).
After five rounds, final scores are calculated, and the player with the highest score is declared the winner!
One of the most incredible things about SPIEL is seeing new innovative games from lesser-known publishers. 12 Rivers is a perfect example of that as it's the latest game from BGNations, a Tawain board game publisher trying to break through in the western markets.
While 12 Rivers wasn't gaining that much buzz in the days leading up to the convention, it did gain some during the convention because of its beautiful presentation. This drew many people to their booth interested in 12 Rivers, and there also got an introduction to the vast catalog of BGNations of other exciting titles.
12 Rivers is a reasonably light set-collection game with a unique element of pearls rolling down the 12 rivers. You try to place your tribe token to collect the pearls you need for your villagers. You balance your camp cards by placing up the mountain (high costs) or near the lake (lower costs). The tribe tokens placed high on the mountain (gaining pearls first) will be placed at the end of the tribe token track for the next round (meaning they will go later in turn order for the next round). This creates an exciting battle between players competing for camp spots, turning orders, and getting the correct pearls.
Getting the correct pearls is very satisfying, and fulfilling villager contracts is an interesting puzzle. Each villager also has a unique scoring condition and tribe associated with it. Matching scoring conditions with your collected pearls and creating sets of different tribe tokens is well implemented.
The artwork in 12 Rivers is phenomenal, almost anime-like, making it unique in the vast board game hobby. It's also very colorful and vibrant, which makes it a pleasure for the eyes.
While I like the 3D river element, it did hinder gameplay a bit. Pearls are placed behind a barrier during the preparation phase. It is hard for all players to see what kind of pearls are behind that barrier, having to stand up awkwardly during each round to see what's coming up. This is a crucial bit of information for placing your tribe tokens. I wonder if it would have been better to have a transparent barrier that you could see through. With all 3D elements (also in Everdell, for example), there is also the fact that it can block the sight of players sitting behind the River; this is more of a problem when playing with 3 or 4 players. The pearls are also tiny; I think they could have made them larger and easier to handle.
👍 Innovative rolling pearls mechanic
👍 Refreshing and vibrant artwork
👍 Satisfying feeling
➖ Little production flaws that could have been prevented
➖ 3D river element blocks sight for some players
12 Rivers is a beautifully produced, light-set-collection game with interesting and interactive gameplay. While it has some flaws that could have been prevented during production it's a worthwhile experience that is a pleasure on your gaming table.
Looking for alternatives or similar games? Have a look at Potion Explosion