Skip to content

The Meeple Guild: Realism permeates this game

This is a game everyone should sit down and play for the learning experience.
game-that-river-1
We All Take from the River  by designer Ben Hammer.

YORKTON - Ah the games which create a conundrum for the review always prove interesting.

Such is the case with We All Take from the River  by designer Ben Hammer.

“I wanted to capture the kind of thinking that goes into policy-making,” he explained via email. “When you live in a shared space you’re always going to run into problems where each stakeholder has a different interest. It could be as small as a shared house, or as large as a country, but the dynamic of how people interact is the same. They need to figure out how their actions will impact each other and how to balance each others’ desires. Maybe they can find a cooperative solution, or maybe they can’t. I wanted to make a game that represented that dynamic.”

On the one hand this game does a rather fine job of creating a game experience where players realize through game play just what sort of impact human activity has on a river.

Through the game players cut trees, dig for gravel and watch how such activities send debris to the river and ultimately may even kill off fish populations you have been trying to catch.

While a game that is a tad too complicated for younger students this could be a good tool to teach older students about human impacts on a river system.

So Hammer gets big marks for realism here.

“We All Take from the River is a game built around a simple simulation of a river environment where each player has a unique pair of goals,” he said. “They will have to build up their industry to shape the environment into something that helps them achieve those goals, while negotiating with other players doing the same thing. That will likely lead to conflict when players take self-serving actions that impact the rest of the community. Those conflicts might be resolvable through diplomacy… or maybe not ...

“I think I was very successful in the thematic design of the game. Every mechanic feels intuitive to the river environment and the decisions players make feel very real. The game lets you find out the consequences of your actions for yourself. You can deforest, overfish, or pollute all you want, but you may discover that these behaviors cause problems for you later on.”

But, on the other hand a game needs to be fun, and realism does not always provide fun.

As a group we said that about Stone Age. It might have mimicked a tribe’s life in the Stone Age – the challenges and hardships – but there was little joy in the game.

We All Take From the River is much the same.

Yes, you learned a bit more about what we do to a river, but there is an inevitability here – the river generally deteriorating each round – that is frankly sort of disheartening.

Certainly, that would have been part of the message the designer entwined in the game, but the fun factor is rather low here as a result.

“I wanted a game that captured the uncertainty of real life policy and diplomacy. When I couldn’t find anything that fit what I was imagining, I started thinking about making it myself, and We All Take from the River emerged,” noted Hammer.

Still, this is a game everyone should sit down and play for the learning experience, but it likely wouldn’t hit most game tables very often.