Era: Medieval Age – Rivers & Roads is a brand new expansion for the roll and build board game from publisher eggertspiele. Designed by Matt Leacock, featuring artwork from Chris Quilliams, the expansion sees 1 – 4 players return to the medieval age to build out their cities in new ways. A range of new structures from quarries to bridges are included, alongside the new disaster of flooding. However, do these add to the experience or is it going down the wrong road? Let’s find out!
Rivers & Roads are the two main new elements, but they are far from the only additions. 11 new structures and features are included in the expansion, from whalfs which sit over rivers to quarries that must be placed around the edge of the board. These new structures aren’t all instantly thrown into the mix. A few scenarios step players into the new content, with roads then rivers separately before combining and opening up the opportunities for randomising the available buildings.
Taking the Across the River scenario as an example it introduces the rivers, new disaster type of flooding and more. There is always some consistency as 5 core buildings, marked with an infinity symbol, are always used. These are the likes of the Farm, Longhouses and Keep – so for the most part the starting setups aren’t changed. In Across the River though players must, instead of playing scorched earth tiles, place a river and two flooded tiles. In this scenario flooding replaces scorched earth as a disaster.
The river cuts across the player board, being a straight piece that stretches from top to bottom or side to side. During play the river is there to block some spaces on the board but it does offer a new scoring opportunity. Any structure adjacent to the river scores double points, with walled in structures that also touch the river scoring triple points! Flooding works a little differently from scorched earth, having to be placed adjacent to the river or other flood tiles. This can see players lose buildings to flooding if they don’t plan ahead accordingly.
The first scenario introduces roads, which impacts the experience slightly less. While new structures like the joineries are introduced, which gives players a build action each round, the disaster type isn’t changed. Roads score points based upon the number of structures they are adjacent to, with a road network bonus. Unlike the river, roads can almost be forgotten about if you don’t mind losing the opportunity to score in that way. It is almost like it is just another structure to choose whether to build or not, taking up valuable space, rather than something forced onto players that they have to adapt to.
To help players fully wall in areas and to connect all of the roads are gates and bridges, both of which are built over features. Gates are instantly involved in the first two scenarios, with bridges not needed until scenario 3. Aptly named Rivers & Roads this is when both are included at once. The gates almost complete the look of the city walls, making it hard to go back to not including them, even if roads and rivers aren’t included. The bridges make the roads have more verticality to them, breaking up their otherwise flat appearance.
By design the expansion both increases the variety whilst adding a limiter within a single game. As scenarios introduce the new building types they also remove some from the available pool that come in the base game. Some will see this as the scenarios restricting players from building whatever they want. It is however a way to force players to think differently and it keeps a stable core to build on top of. All of a sudden in scenario 1 players can no longer build a hospital – which we found to be commonly built when playing the base game to negate disease. Therefore, it isn’t just a new direction for players to go, they must adapt to what is available in each scenario. It matches the puzzle of the base game but some may long for their favourite unavailable buildings.
To make it easy to keep track of all of the new buildings, their costs, abilities and point values the expansion includes handouts. With enough for each player, there are 2 double sided cheat sheets, which list the included structures for each scenario individually. These are helpful during setup, alongside the deck of structure cards, making the process of finding which buildings to use a breeze. The deck also allows players to easily randomise the included structures, when wanting to fully randomise the experience. One odd, briefly mentioned, aspect in the rulebook is the ability to play without the grey Extort based dice. Other than suggesting to remove structures using the grey dice this idea isn’t really explored in the rulebook. It is an interesting concept, making the game a touch less confrontational. Yet, with no explanation on how to adapt the setup (as keeps would be removed) it is left up to players to guesstimate.
Just like the building pieces from the base game those in the Rivers & Roads expansion are stunning. Each has a great sculpt that allows the silhouette of the building to be instantly recognisable. Combine this with the differences in colour and you can read the board at a glance. The rivers even use slightly transparent plastic giving the board that extra flair, on top of the 3D city that is slowly being built up before your very eyes. The base game of Era: Medieval Age could have been cheaper if it didn’t include these 3D plastic buildings – simple cardboard tiles would see the gameplay unchanged. The same thing can be said about the expansion, it could be cheaper and more accessible. For consistency sake it is great that the expansion has continued the 3D buildings – despite potentially pricing some gamers out of the experience.
The Rivers & Roads expansion isn’t exactly a small one. 6 different structures, 4 different road lengths, rivers, flooded areas, gates and bridges are included and they need to be stored somehow. This makes it a little awkward if you want to combine the expansion into the base game box. It is certainty possible and even without ditching the insert, though that would make it easier. If you already own the other micro expansions, it might be best to keep this expansion in its own box – else the lid might lift a little. Thankfully, with just the expansion and base game it can just fit into the original box.
The added variety from the new structures in Era: Medieval Age – Rivers & Roads brings with it a wave of new things to learn and determine. From the best places to use the structures to what they do. Rivers & Roads doubles down on the spatial puzzle, not with additional complexities but the possibilities of points. With this comes more analysis paralysis potential. For many, the base game will offer more than enough variety for games to feel different from one to the next. For those that get Era: Medieval Age to the table time and time again, Rivers & Roads adds in a new wave of freshness. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the additions of the gates, roads and more make the created cities look even more epic!
(Editor’s Note: Era: Medieval Age – Rivers & Roads was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The expansion is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)