The Great River - an oldie, but still a goodie

The Great River of Catan is one of those unusual smaller Catan expansions that has been released in different formats and with different rule variations. There are single river hexes, double hexes, triple hexes and even quadruple hex versions. There are rule sets in the original release, Atlantis, T&B and also an alternate fan-made set too.

The original expansion consisted of a single tile with three hexes (ore, brick and swamp) with a river running through them out to the sea. This was first released in French and German in 2005. The earliest English version was as a giveaway in Games Quarterly magazine in 2006.

In this first version the swamp replaces the desert and the robber is placed on the swamp at the start of the game. In his 2005 book "Im Zeichen Des Sechsecks" (translates to "Under the sign of the hexagon"), Klaus Teuber has a footnote regarding the placement of the robber on the swamp that when translated reads "Connoisseurs of classical Chinese literature immediately recognized that this robber was Sung Kiang, called "The Raingiver of Shan Tung", the legendary leader of the robbers from the Liang-Shan Delta."

In 2006 Catan: Atlantis was released in German and Czech. This boxed set of Scenarios and Variants included a version of the Great River using the same rules as the original release.

The big rule change came with the release of Traders and Barbarians in 2007 (2008 in English). Now renamed "The Rivers of Catan" the release included both a four hex and a three hex river, while the English 5/6 player extension included a single ore river hex and a double pasture hex. The significant changes to the original rules included the introduction of bridges as well as the Wealthiest and Poorest Settler tiles. NB, I would note here the English 5/6 player river is broken into two parts simply to fit the smaller box used. The German TB release (Handler & Barbarian - Ergänzung 5-6 Spieler) offers a single three piece hex as the box is similar in size to the expansion - just thinner.

The new rule for the Wealthiest/Poorest Settler introduced new tiles. Players still earn gold when building roads and settlements (no gold for cities), but now the player with the most gold gains 1VP (0nly while they alone are the wealthiest player, ie has the most gold coins). Meanwhile the poorest settlers (possibly multiple players) lose 2VP's. Many feel the 3VP point difference is too excessive. Some variations I have heard of include making the poorest settlers only lose 1VP, while a much more interesting variation said that the wealthiest/poorest tiles only affected those who have built by a river and are eligble for gold. Choosing to avoid the rivers, also means avoding the penalties. Another variation I have seen used is that a bridge not only earns you three gold pieces, but also adds two to your total road length, rather than just one.

On BGG there is also an alternate set of rules for the original version of "The Great River", that was uploaded by Phil Smith back in 2010. In his introduction he outlines how he felt the rules of the river are "fairly simple" and so has created alternate rules. The main feature of this rule set is the introduction of flooding. The swamp becomes a field hex and is assigned a number. When not flooded the hex produces whenever the number assigned is rolled AND whenever a 6 or 8 are rolled too. However it produces nothing regardless of the number thrown if flooded. The status of the hex changes from flooded to not flooded (and vice versa) whenever a 7 is thrown. The robber cannot be placed on the hex when it is flooded. If he is on the hex when it floods he drowns. He is removed from the board until the next 7 is thrown and he returns (or presumably a relative of his returns since he drowned!!)

As this set of rules is for the original 3 hex board it refers to using two roads to build a bridge, but these alternate rules could easily be adapted to use the T&B bridges if using the T&B Rivers. I must admit I think these are a good spin on the original rules and plan to try them out in our next game.


In reality the original mini-addition version of the river is not really a game changer in terms of game play. Especially in the base game, I think a player's focus will be on the resources needed rather than seeking to claim a single gold chit.

As to the Traders and Barbarians version, I admit I am not a big fan of the Wealthiest/Poorest Settler part of this scenario. It is often a distraction rather than an enhancement. Even with such a massive swing of 3VP on offer I do not conaider this scenario a game changer. I cannot recall anyone claiming they won the game because they focussed on the river for points.

At our table we tend to play the originl rules, but will be trying the alternate ones too. We like that the river is simply a fun addition that adds some variation. An indication of my like of the river is that I made my own 3D version of the original river for my 2005 3D game (see bottom image below). Using hexes from a spare set, I cut a river through the hexes and then painted the river in. An amateurish effort in terms of workmanship, but worth it for the fun it gives. I am now trying to figure out how I will repeat this with the plastic 2021 3D hexes which are hollow.

Finally, while The Great River may not be a massive game changer, all I can say is if you are thinking about playing it, I really do recommend it.

A selection of the river hexes in my collection - click the image to see a larger version in a new window.

river 3d

My homemade 3D version of The Great River - click the image to see a larger version in a new window.

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