Game: Waterfall Park

Release Year: 2023

Publisher: Repos Production

Designer: Karsten Hartwig

Player Count: 3 to 5 players

Play Time: From 30 to 90 minutes, depending on how "into it" your group gets with negotiation

Rules Complexity: Very simple

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"Well, these games were... OK," said my friend.

We had just finished playing Sushi Roll, Mille Fiori, Project L, and Wingspan (all games that I thoroughly enjoy), but my friend was craving something less puzzly and more... visceral. Punchy. Interactive. A game that pits players against each other rather than against the game itself.

So, I brought out a game I was itching to play for a while: Waterfall Park, a remake of an older game called Chinatown that still gets a lot of praise for how much direct player interaction it has despite its extremely simple ruleset.

And what did my friend say after we played Waterfall Park? "Oh, this one's a keeper, for sure." I'm right there with him!

Keep reading to see how Waterfall Park plays, what makes it so good, and whether this game might be worth adding to your own collection.

This review is based on my own personal copy of Waterfall Park, which I bought with my own money (meaning this was not a free review copy).

The Gist of Waterfall Park

In Waterfall Park, you play as real estate developers who have been invited to build out Waterfall Park, the world's most amazing amusement park. (It is, after all, a multi-story park located in the middle of the ocean!)

An overview of Waterfall Park's game board. Infinite possibilities await within these squares.

Over the course of 4 rounds (representing years of development), you'll be acquiring plots of land across the park and building attraction tiles on those plots. The attractions you own will produce income for you at the end of every round, and whoever has the most money at the end wins.

The goal, then, is to build large groupings of the various attraction types because larger groupings produce more income for you. (A grouping is a cluster of tiles that are all connected by adjacent edges. Some attractions have a max grouping size of 3 tiles, others 4 tiles, and the rest 5 tiles.)

The goal of the game is to create groupings of the same attraction tiles. Beneath each tile is a colored base that indicates which player has ownership of that particular tile.

Now, here's the catch: at the start of every round, plots and attraction tiles are randomly distributed to each player.

So, to get the attraction tiles you want and the right plots of land in which to build those tiles, you'll have to trade with other players. In Waterfall Park, you can trade pretty much anything, including:

  • Your money
  • Your attraction tiles in hand
  • Your ownership of plots of land
  • Future promises of attraction tiles and plots of land

This trading and negotiation is totally free-form. Anyone can offer anything to anyone at any time, and the round ends when everyone agrees to move on (i.e., it's clear that no more trades are going to be made).

By the official rules, attraction tiles in your hand are face-up and open for all to see, so you can easily make trade proposals. I prefer to play by the Hidden Attraction Tiles variant, which you can read about below in the "Variants" section.

The Core Experience

Right from the beginning, Waterfall Park pulls you in with an interesting decision. You get a handful of starting plots—between 5 and 7 depending on player count—and you have to discard 2 of them.

An example first-round distribution of plot cards for a 5-player game. I have to pick three of these to keep and discard the remaining two. But which ones?

Plots have no value at the start, so you need to give them value. Are you going to pick plots that are close to each other and hope to connect them through trades? Or are you going for plots around the park, hoping to trade them away to set yourself up for future rounds?

Then, everyone reveals their chosen plots simultaneously and you're immediately assessing the board for opportunities. A gentle excitement buzzes in the air as everyone mentally develops a plan while trying to infer what plans others might have, even though absolutely nothing is set in stone yet.

Everyone has chosen their first-round plots. Right off the bat, you can start to see which plots players will likely want to keep and which ones they're probably willing to give up.

But before negotiations can begin, you have to get your attraction tiles! You get between 4 to 6 starting tiles depending on player count, and what you do with these tiles will be the flapping of the butterfly's wings that determines where you end up by game's end.

And so, trading begins.

Everyone hesitates at first. No one has committed to any of their plots or tiles yet, so everything is potentially up for grabs. Will you be the first to make a move?

It doesn't matter. As soon as someone—anyone—makes a move, the floodgates will open. Even a question as simple as "Hey Adam, do you want to keep Plot 13?" will spark a response, and that response gives you information. If he wants to keep it, maybe you start thinking about trading Plot 12 to him. If he doesn't want to keep it, maybe you try to get it from him for cheap. But what would he want for it?

Any time adjacent plots are owned by different players, the potential for trading is there. Yet, while single plots don't have much value on their own, you don't want to give them up for cheap.

That's what Waterfall Park is: a constant series of probes to find out what others want, what they don't want, what they're willing to give up, all while deftly responding to their probes without giving away too much yourself.

Many trade offers will fall apart, but some will go through—and it's oh-so-satisfying to hear someone say "...Okay, deal!"

But there's another layer to Waterfall Park: the game state is ever-evolving.

At the start of every round, the distributions of new plots and new attraction tiles instantly puts everyone in a new position. It's not just that you have more stuff to trade with, but you have new opportunities altogether.

That plot you were so desperate to acquire last round? You might not even need it anymore because you drew a better plot. Meanwhile, your lonely plot that no one wanted might now be highly valuable to Barney, who just drew a bunch of plots in the vicinity and needs yours to complete it.

My Red plot is just the thing that Yellow needs to complete his 5-tile Bowling Alley attraction. Now I just have to figure out how to wring the most value out of this trade...

And it's not just about new rounds, either. Every single trade that goes through during a round—no matter how big or small—marks a new game state because that trade represents a change in what people have, what people want, and what people might be willing to trade next.

You're constantly re-evaluating where everyone stands, and that keeps you engaged even when you aren't participating in a trade yourself.

What this means is that the value of any given plot or tile is fluid. That tile in hand, that plot on the board, that opportunity you see before you? All of it could shift in the blink of an eye with one big trade.

And that's what makes Waterfall Park so thrilling. There's an undercurrent of gambling in every decision you make.

If I have these attraction tiles, which ones do I want to build myself and which ones do I want to trade away? Well, the "right" answer is never quite set in stone.

When choosing your plots at the start of each round, everyone does it simultaneously, so you have to pick plots without knowing which other plots are entering the equation. You might get blocked. You might end up isolated. You might take a plot thinking it'll be valuable to someone, only for them to not need it anymore. These are risks you have to consider.

When trading, you aren't just trading for now but also for future potential. You need plots that are grouped together and you need enough attraction tiles to fill them out, but trading for plots and tiles is mostly done piecemeal. At any point along the way, your plans could be catastrophically disrupted.

I committed too early to building this 5-tile Bowling Alley attraction. Now Blue and Green have blocked me and there's almost no chance I'll be able to complete it.

When someone offers you a trade, you might decline in hopes that you'll get a comparable plot in next round's distribution. But if you don't get it, will they still be willing to trade with you then? Or maybe you make a counteroffer, only for them to feel insulted and move on altogether.

When you have attraction tiles you want to build, you have to decide if you're going to build them now for income this round (which gives others leverage when trading those tiles to you) or hold them to build later and miss out on the income.

In short, Waterfall Park's nagging threats of backfire make it riveting.

The Repeat Experience

When you play Waterfall Park again, you quickly notice that everything is different... yet everything is the same.

There's variable setup with random plots and attraction tiles distributed at the start, so your situation is never the same. But your actions, strategies, and thought processes generally are the same from game to game.

Which is totally fine because the process itself—of probing, assessing, offering, rejecting, pivoting, risking—is the fun.

Ultimately, you're playing the players, not the game. The variable setup and round-to-round distributions are just there to provide imbalances. The crux of Waterfall Park is working out those imbalances in your favor, which hinges on your ability to schmooze, persuade, and exploit others.

This means if you play with the same group over and over again, it might lose its luster. We all have our own personality quirks and preferred ways to negotiate, and we usually don't stray from our tendencies. So, even though the game setup changes, the dynamics don't really change.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Maybe you like the dynamics of your group and you enjoy knowing everyone's strengths and weaknesses and how to press people's buttons to get them to trade with you. You could argue that learning these things and exploiting them are part of the game. In that sense, there are rich layers to explore even if you play with the same people on repeat.

But if the game ever does start to feel stale? You can always inject freshness by incorporating even just one new player you've never played the game with before. That human element is what makes Waterfall Park shine, and you can have infinite replayability just by changing who you play with.

You can also wring out more replayability by changing how many you play with because Waterfall Park feels distinctly different at each player count.

Thoughts on Player Counts

The number of plots and attraction tiles every player gets per round in a 3-player game.

At three players, Waterfall Park feels kind of like a puzzle where you have more control, more opportunities to get what you want, more likelihood of actually completing your attractions. It's less likely that people will betray you and it's more likely that people will accept trades. For gamers who dislike chaos and find enjoyment in the completing of things, this might be the best player count.

The number of plots and attraction tiles every player gets per round in a 4-player game.

At four players, things get a little more chaotic. Two trade proposals can be going on at once, so you might miss out on what Adam and Barney are discussing while you try to land a deal with Clark. Also, it's more likely that someone might swoop in and undercut you while you're in the middle of negotiating. And while you'll still be able to complete attractions, getting the tiles you need will be tougher.

The number of plots and attraction tiles every player gets per round in a 5-player game.

At five players, Waterfall Park feels like the trading floor of a stock exchange. You can sense the desperation. You get fewer plots and tiles per round, so you need to work harder to secure trades if you want any chance of completing even one attraction. And with tiles spread across more players, you rarely have exactly what someone else needs to get them to give you what you want from them, so your trade offers need to be even more creative. You have the least amount of control at this count, but it also provides the most level playing field because everyone is in equally dire straits.


Hidden Attraction Tiles (Unofficial)

Normally, everyone can see everyone else's attraction tiles. If I need Gift Shop tiles, I can immediately scan to see who has them. Meanwhile, if someone is storing up Theater tiles, I know they're probably going to want more. This makes it easy for anyone to initiate trades with anyone at any time.

But this detracts from what I think is the ultimate draw of trading and negotiation: exploiting gaps in information to get an edge up on your adversaries.

Which is why I prefer to play with hidden attraction tiles where you know what you're holding but you don't know what others are holding.

It slightly lengthens the game, but the benefits are many:

  • You can't calculate the value of tiles. If you know that I have 4 out of 5 Pool tiles, then you know how much extra income a fifth tile will bring me, so you can price it perfectly. With hidden tiles, players have to deduce what tiles are worth through negotiation, which is way more interesting.
  • You can choose when to engage in trades. With open tiles, you can see what I have and what I want, so you can throw all kinds of trade proposals at me. With hidden tiles, I have to reveal what I have before anyone can offer anything to me—and maybe, for now, I want to act like I don't have a tile.
  • You can make deceptive plays. For example, bluffing that you don't have a certain tile in hopes that someone will trade you that very tile for less. Another example, having two players enter a bidding war for one of your tiles, trading it to one of them, then revealing you had another copy of that tile all along and trading it to the second player.
  • You have another bargaining chip in the form of information. When tiles are hidden, knowing someone's tiles is a small but real advantage. As part of negotiations, you might offer to reveal your hand to someone to bolster trust and make future trades more likely.

I will always play Waterfall Park with hidden attraction tiles.

Timed Rounds (Unofficial)

I think Waterfall Park really benefits from a timer. The free-form nature of negotiation means time can really get away from you as dozens of trade proposals are offered, countered, rejected, and re-offered in a single round. I've even played a game where the third round itself lasted almost 45 minutes.

If you play by normal rules, I recommend a 2-minute-per-player timer for each negotiation round. If you play with the Hidden Attraction Tiles variant, I recommend a 3-minute-per-player timer. You can, of course, adjust these times to whatever works best for your group.

Don't like timed rounds? At the very least, use a timer for the final round! If you don't, players will spend way too much time calculating every last detail of every trade proposal, which totally sucks the fun out.

I will always play Waterfall Park with timers.

Waterfall Park vs. Chinatown

Given that Waterfall Park is a remake of Chinatown, it seems prudent to address the elephant in the room: How does Waterfall Park compare to Chinatown?

I personally haven't played the original Chinatown, but I've seen it played and the differences aren't huge, so I feel like I can extrapolate enough to comment on it. Still, take this section with a grain of salt!

Chinatown plays over 6 rounds while Waterfall Park plays over 4 rounds. The result is an increased sense of urgency as each tile can only pay out a maximum of 4 times, so you want to trade for them sooner than later.

Chinatown's board is split into 6 smaller regions while Waterfall Park's board is split into 2 larger regions. This is, to me, the biggest impact change. In Chinatown, each region is mainly fought over by two people, so they have ample reason to work together and work out a deal. In Waterfall Park, you have more flexibility because you have more potential trading partners, so you can usually pivot your strategy if certain negotiations fall through.

Chinatown has 85 total plots while Waterfall Park has 78 total plots. Not a huge difference here, especially when you consider the next point...

Chinatown's board uses a square grid layout while Waterfall Park's board uses a hexagonal grid layout. This is, to me, the second biggest change. You have slightly less incentive to trade for any given adjacent plot because you have more options. On the flip side, you're also more likely to be adjacent to multiple players, which can spark bidding wars if multiple people want your plot.

In Chinatown, every business type only has enough tiles for 1 full grouping except the 3-size businesses, which have 2 full groupings; in Waterfall Park, all attraction types have enough tiles for 2 full groupings. My thoughts on this change go hand in hand with the next change...

Chinatown has 12 business types ranging in group sizes from 3 to 6 while Waterfall Park has 9 attraction types ranging in group sizes from 3 to 5. Overall, I like these two changes because it's less clear who "owns" each type, which encourages players to clash and fight over the same tiles. You're also more likely to have tiles that multiple players want, so you can participate in more negotiations.

Chinatown uses paper money while Waterfall Park uses token chips. While I don't hate paper money as much as some others do, I do prefer token chips for currency. I also like the shrunken scale, from thousands of dollars to 1, 5, 10, and 20 chips.

Chinatown uses colored discs on tiles to represent ownership while Waterfall Park uses colored bases on which you install tiles. Trading ownership is a lot simpler with Chinatown's discs, but I really like the fact that Waterfall Park's bases slot into the board and don't move around. Plus, they just look nicer.

Chinatown's theme is about businessmen trying to set up businesses in New York City's Chinatown while Waterfall Park's theme is about real estate developers trying to build attractions in an amusement park. Racial controversies aside, Chinatown was pretty drab to look at. It inspired no excitement in me and there's no way I ever would've gotten it to the table with my family. And while Waterfall Park might not have a strong or unique identity, it's bright and cheery and widely accessible. I can suggest this to anyone and not feel weird about it.

All things considered, Chinatown and Waterfall Park are both great games and they're more similar than they are different when it comes to gameplay, but I'd rather play Waterfall Park.

What's in the Box?

Box contents layout WITHOUT the money tray.
Box contents layout WITH the money tray.

Waterfall Park is a simple game without a lot of pieces:

  • 1 game board
  • 78 plot location cards
  • 72 attraction tiles
  • 24 colored bases in 5 different colors
  • 100 coins (in 1, 5, 10, and 20 denominations)
  • A rulebook, a player aid tile, and a round marker

Overall, I love the production for Waterfall Park.

Most impressive is the box insert. It's thoughtfully designed so that every inch of space is used well, including racks for the colored bases, a money tray that comes out, and another tray for the cards and tiles. The lid comes raised due to the punchboards, but once you've punched it, it sits flush. Perfect.

The income for complete and incomplete attractions is printed right on the board.

I appreciate the printing of gameplay details—the amount of plots and tiles per round as well as the income for different attraction sizes—directly on the board. The colored bases are plastic but not cheap, and I like that they lock into the board. The attraction tiles are thick cardboard and easy enough to handle.

I really like how the colored bases have little nubs that slot directly into the board. In case the board ever gets knocked, everything will stay in its place.

The rulebook is clean, organized, straightforward, and easy to parse. I haven't had to reference it once since my initial read-through.

I also appreciate that each plot card has an indicator of where that plot is located on the game board. Thoughtful little touches like this may not seem like a big deal, but it keeps the game running smoothly because you can glean everything you need to know right in your hand.

Since the plot's location is highlighted right on the card, it's easy to figure out which cards work well together without constantly glancing at the game board.

The artwork is warm, bright, inviting, and inoffensive. But if there's a negative, it's that it feels incongruous. By the box art and components, you wouldn't know this was a negotiation game—and that can throw people. Sure, it all fades into the background once you start playing, but it does seem... off.

This cover looks nice, but it doesn't really match the gameplay that awaits inside.

Setup and Table Footprint

Waterfall Park sets up in just a few minutes.

After you pull out the game board and money tray, each player takes a rack of colored bases for themselves and 5 starting coins. One person shuffles the plot deck and deals cards out to everyone. That's about it.

As for the attraction tiles, I like to throw them all face-down into the box lid and mix them up by shaking it around. Then, players can draw their own tiles.

My only complaint is with the teardown. Since tiles nestle into the colored bases, it's kind of a chore to take them all out when the game's over. Not a huge issue that affects my enjoyment of the game, but still noticeably annoying.

Waterfall Park takes up a moderate amount of table space, and most of that is due to the central game board. The game board measures just under 22.5 inches by 22.5 inches, so it should fit comfortably on any card table.

Apart from the game board, all you need is a bit of space for the money tray, plus room for each player to keep their rack, coins, and tiles in front of them.

All in all, no more or less than what you'd expect from a family-style game with a central board like Catan, Ticket to Ride, or Pandemic.

The Bottom Line

Waterfall Park

Recommended Score Guide
  1. Pure negotiation and player interaction throughout
  2. Easy to learn, lots of replayability
  3. Constant engagement with exciting highs
  4. Players can be creative with trade proposals
  5. Beautiful production, box insert makes setup and teardown fast and easy
  1. Unstructured trading can be hard to wrap head around
  2. Louder players may dominate negotiations
  3. May induce AP because trade values are calculable (unless playing with the hidden tiles variant)

I'll say it again: Waterfall Park is a keeper.

It stands out as a game that's super streamlined yet still able to rouse so much interaction between players, to the point where we can be so engaged in trading that we don't realize half an hour has passed.

It's sleeker than Catan, more exciting than Bohnanza, shorter than Cosmic Encounter, and easier to convince people to play than Chinatown.

With just enough randomness to feel fresh every time, it's a timeless addition. Whether you play it every week or only bust it out for yearly family gatherings, Waterfall Park is worth having in your collection.

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