Tuesday, October 12, 2010

#86: Niagara

  • designer: Thomas Liesching
  • publisher: Rio Grande
  • date: 2004
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 527/6.62
  • position on my top 100 in 2005: did not appear
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 2-5
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $29.95 (Cardhaus)
Back in 2005, I handicapped the race for the Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) between Niagara & Around the World in 80 Days with these words...
Frankly, I'll be happy if either of them win, but I'd probably choose Niagara as my personal favorite. And, just to be consistent, I'll make it my prediction.
I was correct - Niagara went on to win the award... and over time, I've proven the truth of the rest of that statement - both games are in my top 100 list. (As you can tell, dear reader, since Around the World in 80 Days hasn't appeared yet, I've grown to favor it - but only slightly.)

Niagara is a stunningly beautiful game of gem collecting on a moving river... and lasts about 45 minutes. A nifty set of clear discs simulates the flow of the river towards the waterfalls, while wooden canoes & plastic gems round out the excellent presentation. Surprisingly, there is no actual "luck" in the game - only the randomness of the players choosing their actions at the same time.

I've come to believe that the expansion, The Spirits of Niagara, is darn near essential to the game - it adds some interesting wrinkles that increase the number of decisions you must make without noticeably lengthening the game. (It also can increase the number of players to six, but we don't use that much.)

I'd also recommend the
Diamond Joe expansion - though all you really need is a single canoe of a non-player color & the rules, available on the Geek.

While some have decided that Niagara didn't "deserve" to win - [whine] "There's too much luck! It's just about the pretty bits! The jury could have awarded Power Grid! I'm ugly & my mother dresses me funny!" [/whine]... I'm still a fan. My boys & I played again just this last weekend - and while Braeden & I worked to trash each other with speeding up the river, Collin simply collected seven gems (with some skillful elk manipulation) and won the game.


huzonfirst said...

I continue to feel that this was one year where the SdJ Jury really screwed up. 80 Days still gets steady play in my group and every time it comes out, at least one player will shake their head and say, "How could this not have won the SdJ?". While from my point of view, Niagara seems to have disappeared everywhere but in the Jackson household.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

I think the key things are:

1. Niagara has gorgeous production.

2. Niagara is more family-friendly in outcomes... in other words, it's easier to play Around the World (esp. in the early turns) in such a way that you have NO CHANCE for the next 45 minutes.

Joe Huber said...

FWIW, Larry, I haven't seen 80 Days come out in ages; about the same frequency as Niagara, really. But given the explicit and implicit goals of the jury, I think that Niagara was the right pick. Neither game is an evergreen, but the jury didn't have an evergreen to pick (relative to Germany; I believe Power Grid is only an evergreen game in the US). But there's only an all-time game every five years or so; I don't think it's fair to fault the jury for picking any one non-evergreen game over another.

Now, if they fail to pick the evergreen - if Dominion hadn't been picked, for instance - that's another matter. But if the jury has ever failed on that count - again, relative to Germany, so that Puerto Rico and Power Grid and Race for the Galaxy don't count - I don't see it.

Jonathan said...

It's pretty regular at my house too.