Whitewater – A Written Review
Whitewater By Frederic Moyersoen – Art By Patricia Raubo – Published By Mayfair Games
Swift or smooth, broad as the Hudson or narrow enough to scrape your gunwales, every river is a world of its own, unique in pattern and personality. Each mile on a river will take you further from home than a hundred miles on a road.
– Bob Marshall
The mark of a successful man is one that has spent an entire day on the bank of a river without feeling guilty about it.
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Whitewater, is a racing game of daring and adventure on a raging river for 2-6 players ages 8+. Players will race a raging river built from a variable game board full of rapids, whirlpools, rocks, and treacherous river snags in an effort to be the first to get their raft across the finish line! Of course no sane person white water rafts alone and Whitewater is no different because each player has to share their raft with one of the other players. Secretly place your bets which of the 2 Rafts you control will make it across the finish line first but don’t place all your eggs in one basket because your second raft might need to score a higher position than your partner’s secondary raft or you risk losing in the final scoring.
Shoot the rapids, avoid losing your oar’s, keep your rafters in the raft, and avoid flipping your raft in the class 4 rapids because racing is easy but surviving the hazards are an adventure in and of themselves!
What’s In The Box
Whitewater comes in an 11”x7.5”x2.5” box that is devoid of a box insert of any kind, harkening back to the Ziploc bag days of old. Luckily the cards are small enough to fit in the provided dice bag and that just leaves a couple dozen tokens in need of a single Ziploc bag. The box itself is made out of decent and sturdy cardboard and shouldn’t pose any problems when stacked on the board game shelf.
12 Raft Cards
24 Action Cards
18 Energy Cards
14 Scoring Tokens
10 Paddle Tokens
14 Energy Tokens
12 Rafter Overboard Tokens
3 Place Tokens
6 Raft Tiles
3 Specialized Dice
9 River Boards
All of this danger and excitement can be yours for the MSRP of $35.00. You could even avoid the snags of full retail and try to find it cheaper on the internet without getting soaked!
Cardboard Tokens: Whitewater comes with a decent amount of cardboard tokens. The tokens are thick and durable with simplistic family friendly artwork on most of them. While nothing is overly extravagant and a lot of the artwork is recycled, the game pieces are more than functional.
Cards: The cards are smaller than average game cards but not quite as small as the mini cards found in some games. The cards are made of decent card stock that should last a long time (especially since this game doesn’t require the cards to be shuffled). The artwork on the cards, like the tokens, is very family friendly showing what appears to be younger teens paddling solo in rafts (which is slightly odd considering the cooperative mechanic of the game). While the art is repeated quite a bit, it is thematic (ignoring the bunnies with lightning bolts for a moment) and very child friendly.
Dice: Whitewater uses 3 unique engraved 6 sided dice that have a decent heft to them. The images on the dice are large, clear, and easily legible from across the gaming table with symbols that are easy to comprehend.
River Board: Whitewater comes with 9 full color rectangular game boards that can be laid out in various patterns to create a new game play experience each time the game is played. The tiles do not interlock but they are made of thick cardboard and I have not experienced any warping issues. The artwork and symbols on the board are very easy to make out and are large enough to be visible from across the table. The boards have extra artistic additions such as trees, rocks, sunbathers, and a bear who has taken to a sunbathers backpack. Unfortunately the board is not colorblind friendly and requires a player to be able to differentiate between the colors of blue, red, black, and to a lesser extent yellow and green. It is a minor oversight but a crippling one if you cannot tell red and blue apart when you enter whirlpools and need to roll the whirlpool dice. Black shouldn’t be a problem though since black whirlpools are always on rocks.
Rulebook: The 8 page rulebook does a good job of explaining the rules using full color diagrams and examples. The rulebook is broken down into basic rules and advanced rules with a few optional rules and sample board layouts on the back page. The game really isn’t that complex and the bulk of the basic rules take up a mere 3 ½ pages.
Components and Presentation Verdict: 8.0/10 – The components are nice and use good quality cardboard for the board and all the various tokens. While nothing is overly extravagant it is functional and accomplishes their purpose. Although it would have been nice to have actual plastic rafts for each player, maybe those will come with the eventual second printing.
How Does It Play?
Each player has vested interest in 2 rafts that they are trying to get to the finish line, the trick is each raft is controlled by 2 different players! In a 4 player game player A might control Rafts A and D, Player B might control rafts B and A, Player C might control Rafts C and B, and Finally Player D might control Rafts D and C creating a fun mechanic where your partner has a partner that is out to see you lose! Players will use Action Cards and Energy Cards to move their rafts down the river avoiding snags, surviving rapids controlled by a random dice roll, and bumping into each other to force opponents into those snags and rapids. The game is played until 3 rafts cross the finish line taking 1st-3rd place, secret score multipliers are revealed, and the player with the highest score is declared the winner.
Action Cards: The double sided action cards have artwork depicting a active rafter on the front (blue bordered) side and the same rafter is depicted as being tired on the back (orange bordered) side. Each player has 2 Action Cards attached to each Raft they control for a total of 4 Action Cards. At the beginning of each player’s turn all their Action Cards are refreshed (turned face up to the blue bordered side) so they can be used again. A player can turn an Action Card face down to perform 1 action with the raft the action card is attached to. Do note that your partner also has 2 Action Cards attached to the raft you share giving each raft up to 4 total actions per complete game round.
Dice: The three colored dice match various whirlpool locations on the game board. Blue Whirlpools are the least dangerous and players roll the blue die any time their raft enters a hex with a blue whirlpool. Red whirlpools are a little more difficult and require a player to roll the red die any time they enter a hexagon with a red whirlpool. Finally black whirlpools are the most dangerous and require players to roll the black die any time they enter a hexagon with a black whirlpool symbol on it. Blue whirlpools generally just change the facing of your raft but can cause you to lose an oar. Red whirlpools are a little tougher and can cost you an oar or toss a rafter overboard. Black whirlpools are the most dangerous and can actually flip the entire raft 1/3rd of the time!
Energy Cards: Each player has 3 energy cards which like Action Cards have a blue border on the front and an orange border on the back to signify when they are used. A player can use an energy card to gain an Action for any raft they can control or to help a partner they share a raft with. Unfortunately Energy Cards do NOT refresh at the start of a players turn. The only way a player may refresh an Energy Card is by spending an Action Card to do so. You can spend an Action Card from one raft you control, to refresh an Energy Card, and then spend that Energy Card on another raft you control.
Raft Cards: The raft cards remind player’s which rafts they control. Each player starts the game with a random matched set of Raft Cards. At the beginning of the game the youngest player hands a raft card to another player, who then has 3 Raft cards. This player then passes 1 of his matching cards to a player who has not yet had cards passed to him. This process is repeated until all players have had cards passed to them, leaving each player with 2 different rafts.
Raft Tiles: Each Raft Tile is hex shaped to fit on the board and has a definite facing. Rafts can turn, move forward, or move backwards by spending Action Cards and Energy Cards. Once a Raft moves off the game board it is out of play and its attached Action Cards can no longer be used to refresh spent Energy Cards
River Boards: Each game begins with the River Board marked “Start”. Players then set up a game board using 2-4 of the remaining 8 boards. The more boards used the longer the game. The boards depict straight arrows (Rafts landing on this space immediately move 1 space in the direction of the arrow), curved arrows (Rafts rotate 1 turn in the direction of the arrow), whirlpools (roll the matching colored die), and snags (spend an extra action to break free of the hex).
Scoring and Place Tokens: Crossing the finish line gives both controllers of the boat 3 points for being 1st, 2 points for being 2nd, and 1 point for being 3rd. Before play starts players receive a 1x and a 2x score multiplier token to secretly place face down on their 2 rafts. If they manage to cross the finish line in 1st-3rd place they multiply their score by the multiplier token on the raft.
Advanced Game Tokens: For brevities sake I am not going into great details about the advanced rules but I did want to include pictures of them for the sake of completeness. Simply put these tokens assist in making the rules for lost oar’s and rafters seem a little less abstract.
The following is based on the standard rules for 3-6 players. 2 player games and the advanced rules are slightly different.
1: Create a path for the race out of the River Boards making sure to start with the “Start” board, and then adding 2 to 4 more boards. The more River Boards added the longer the game will take.
2: Each player takes a random matched pair of raft cards and then the youngest player hands a Raft Card to another player. The player with three Raft Cards then passes 1 of his matching cards to a player who has not yet had cards passed to them. This process is repeated until all the players have traded off one Raft Card.
3: Each player takes 3 Energy Cards, 4 Actions Cards, and then places 2 Action Cards Face up on each Raft Card.
4: Place the Raft Tokens on the Start Tile in their designated starting positions and then place your Scoring Tokens face down on your Raft Cards.
5: The youngest player goes first
Rulebook Turn Summary.
The actual rules for the game are very simple.
On your turn, you use cards to take actions. When you use a card, turn it facedown to signify it has been used.
Action Cards may only be used for the Raft they are attached to, but they recover at the beginning of your turn.
Energy Cards can be played on any of your rafts, but they are only recovered when you use (turn over) an Action Card to refresh them.
Locked Cards occur when you lose a paddle, have a rafter fall overboard, or flip your raft. Locked Cards do not automatically refresh at the start of your turn and are turned sideways to signify they are locked. Locked Cards are unlocked by spending an Action Card or an Energy Card to do so but unlocking cards does not refresh them.
On your turn:
◈ ◈Recover Action cards: Turn all facedown Action Cards or your locked cards faceup. Remember Energy Cards are not refreshed automatically!
◈ ◈Move your raft(s): Spend Action Cards and/or Energy Cards to move your Raft(s). You must complete your actions with one raft before moving on to the next raft. Moving a Raft forward requires 1 Action. Turning a Raft 60 degrees requires 1 Action (facing of the raft is important in this game). Moving a Raft backwards requires 2 Actions. Moving off of a snag requires 1 extra Action.
Game End: The game ends when the 3rd Raft crosses the finish line. Scores are then tallied up based on place and score multipliers to decide a final winner!
A sample game might look something like this:
It is Bob’s first turn and he controls Raft A and Raft D. Bob Decides he wants to take an early lead and cause a few bottle necks in the hopes of maybe getting a few helpful bumps. Bob spends his 2 Action Cards to move Raft D 2 spaces and then spends 2 Energy Cards to move an additional 2 spaces ending up between a Snag and a Black Whirlpool. Bob then moves Raft A 3 spaces by spending his 2 Action Cards and 1 remaining Energy Card to end up just behind Raft D in an effort to create a nice little buffer. Bob’s turn is over and the next player takes their turn.
Simplicity of the Rules: 8.5/10 – While the rules might allow for some card juggling, the rules are overall really simple. Spend Action Cards to perform Actions. It can get a little bit more involved when the advanced rules are factored in especially with recovery of the oars but the basic rules are simple enough that even a 5 year old can grasp them.
Daddy Why’s This Guy Got A Sword In His Belly?
As a father of 2 future board gamers, a large concern of mine is how secure am I in letting my eldest son play and or rummage through a game box. Granted, BGG and board games themselves very clearly tell you a minimum age, they don’t tell you exactly why that minimum age was chosen. My hope is to arbitrarily tell you why I think this age range was chosen for this game and then hopefully give a few ideas I might have for a game to make it easier on the young ones. Finally I will close with what seems to be the “sweet spot” for number of players and if the game has solo rules I’ll comment on those too.
Whitewater is a racing game of Partnerships and Action Point Management for 2-6 players ages 8+. All the artwork and images on the board and cards is extremely family friendly (especially the cards, come on what could be more family friendly than a white bunny? Monty Python jokes aside). The basic game is simple enough that my 4 year old son figured out how to play the game with minimal instructions, of course this is using the basic rules only. The advanced rules add a little bit of complexity and book keeping to the game which raises the minimum age up to about 7 or 8. Players will be required to manage Action points between 2 separate Rafts while using teamwork and trying to jockey for optimal positioning. This leads to what can be the only problem for younger players; to really win you need to be willing to screw over the other players by knocking them into whirlpools and snags. This kind of confrontation can be frustrating to younger players who may not like this direct opposition. If the child is mature enough to handle this aggressive gameplay then they could easily enjoy Whitewater
Family Friendliness Verdict: 8.5/10 – Whitewater is very family friendly artistically and complexity-wise. The only thing that will hinder it for younger players is how upsetting it will be for them when other players aggressively hinder them.
Describing the average game length in Whitewater is tricky due to the many options included in the game. From the optional advanced rules to the inclusion of 9 river boards game duration can be tailored to suit your needs. An average game using the basic rules and 3-4 River Boards should take less than 60 minutes but a game using 5 River Boards (or more) with the advanced rules will easily surpass the 90 minute mark. Whitewater is designed to accommodate 2-6 players but in my opinion games that allow direct player confrontation are best with more players and Whitewater is no different. As a 2 player game Whitewater uses slightly modified rules and minimizes the games biggest strength; the team based mechanics. With 3 players the partnership/team rules start to come into play but they really start to shine with 4-5 players. 6 player games can get chaotic due to the chokepoints on various parts of the board though so if that is something that bothers you keep to 4 players.
* Variable game board layouts.
* Very family friendly.
* Simple mechanics that are easy to grasp yet offer strategic gameplay
* Randomness of the whirlpools and team mechanics add variety to what could have been a staid racing game.
* Adjustable game length.
* Advanced rules for deeper more strategic gameplay
* Direct player confrontation.
* The randomness caused by the dice may be a turn off for some.
* If you are against confrontational game play you may want to try before you buy.
* Some of the components are on the simplistic side.
* Loses something as a 2 player game.
But Is It Fun?
Whitewater is part of Mayfair’s line of Fun Fair family games and it is definitely a great entry to the series. Whitewater takes some less common but entertaining mechanics to create a fun racing game that can be fun for families or competitive friends. The team based game play may not be unique but it is what makes the game really standout. Bob may be teamed with Pete but Pete is also teamed with Sarah who wants to see Bob lose and it just gets more chaotic with 5 or 6 players. The game does promote table talk between team mates which encourages opponents to get into it “Bob if you move your raft here and bump Pete you will take the lead with our raft!’ which is quickly followed by Bobs other team mate quickly pointing out how conveniently that also puts you in the lead…
The adjustable game length is also a plus making Whitewater an option as a filler while you wait for other members of the game group to show up or a full game for the night. This is also really helpful in making it a family game for all age ranges. Younger children can get in on quicker games while families with older children/teens can increase the game length and depth of the rules.
There are some things with the game that are going to be polarizing though and this is where the negatives might come in. The game is at its most enjoyable when you are trying to screw over your opponents whether by bumping them into the black rapids, forcing them into snags, or simply blocking them so the only way they can move is to also move you closer to the finish line. The game is strategic with its action point system but even the best strategies are no match for the capriciousness of Lady Luck and her effect on dice. It is impossible to make it to the finish line without encountering a few whirlpools. Sure you can take the longest routes and simply contest with the weaker blue whirlpools, but each whirlpool die has a symbol that if you are unlucky enough to roll requires you to roll the next difficult whirlpool die. It is possible to enter a blue whirlpool and through 2 bad die rolls end up rolling a black whirlpool die which has a 1 in 3 chance of capsizing your raft. Which leads to a final issue that will be polarizing, the game rewards the brave (foolhardy some would say). The game is called Whitewater after all, not canoe around grandma’s back yard puddle. Some players are going to be aggressive, get the lucky rolls even on the black whirlpools, and win the game.
The bottom line though is if you like player opposition, don’t mind the fickleness of lady luck, enjoy games that promote table talk, routinely have 4-5 players at game night, and want to be occasionally rewarded for taking risks, then Whitewater is a game you will enjoy. My only real complaint I had with the game is that they used cardboard tokens for the rafts. I have seen the quality plastic components Mayfair has used in the past while still keeping a games price down. Some plastic rafts would have added to the game and they wouldn’t cover the symbols on the board the way the cardboard boat tokens do now.
Overall Final Game Verdict: 7.75/10 – Whitewater is an enjoyable confrontational racing game with interesting partnership mechanics that encourage table talk between the players and offers great replayability.