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Rurik: Dawn of Kiev Kickstarter Preview


Quick Look: Rurik: Dawn of Kiev

Designer: Stan Kordonskiy
Artists: Yorgo Manis, Finn McAvinchey, Yaroslav Radeckyi, and Kali Fitzgerald
Publisher: PieceKeeper Games
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 1-4
Ages: 13+
Playing Time: 30 minutes per player

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Rurik: Dawn of Kiev. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.


Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is live on Kickstarter July 10, 2018.

Review:
I’m going to be very upfront with you. This game I’m reviewing takes place in 11th century Kievan Rus, and I know absolutely nothing about this part of the world’s history. I know lots of other stuff about European history, sure. World War II is a favorite topic of study, and I know more than any sane person should about Celtic legends, stories, and history. Heck, I can even tell you—in excruciating detail, I might add—all about the origins of the heavenly sport of rugby. But Kievan Rus?

Never heard of him.

Fortunately, history lessons are only important if you want to be the first player in Rurik: Dawn of Kiev (it’s true; it says so in the rule book). Now, this preview of the game is not intended to be a history lesson (you have Wikipedia for that). I’m just saying that the history behind this game is indeed fascinating stuff. And the solo variant (which I will discuss more in depth further down) makes use of that history quite well.

Initial Impressions


Rurik Dawn of Kiev Board Game by PieceKeeper Games Gameplay mini miniatures

Full disclosure here. I’ve been following the progress of Rurik: Dawn of Kiev since PieceKeeper Games announced it seemingly forever ago. Watching the art take shape and the mechanics come together was fun and exciting. I was intrigued by the theme (I’m a theme guy to the core) and I wanted to know more.

Color me tickled when I found out I was going to be reviewing this game. I was nervous at first, much like one might be before a first date. Will said date like me? Will said date be the person I’ve envisioned all this time as I’ve watched from afar, or will there be some fatal, tragic flaws that send me running? Fortunately, my first date with Rurik went well.

In fact, we’re now going steady.

I was impressed, first of all, with the component quality. Yeah, yeah, I know, this is a prototype and everything, but guys. There were actual minis included in this prototype. I understand that they may not be final quality, but the fact that PieceKeeper Games included 3D printed miniatures in a prototype-preview copy tells me how much they care about their games. As if the game itself wasn’t exciting enough, these minis make me even more excited for the Kickstarter campaign!

Let’s be honest; I’m a sucker for maps. I mean, I read epic fantasy, which, as I’m sure many of you are aware, contain highly detailed maps of the fictional world in which the books take place. And I pour over them. My wife may or may not make fun of me for spending a long time looking at a map in a book, but that’s beside the point so we won’t go there. The point of all that is this: the detail of Rurik’s board is beyond inviting, and I was excited to learn about this new land in which I would be playing from the moment I first laid eyes on it.

To avoid any more rambling on my part, let it be known that I was impressed from the start. Now, did the experience hold up to first impressions? Spoilers: Oh yes.

The Experience


Rurik Dawn of Kiev Board Game by PieceKeeper Games Gameplay mini miniatures board

Let me start off by talking about the mechanics. For me, the mechanics of a game are what really make an experience memorable—in either a good way or a bad way. Rurik’s mechanics certainly left an impression on all those who played, and in the best way possible. In fact, during our first play, one of the members of our group, upon learning about the bidding mechanic for action selection, kept saying, “This changes everything!” over and over and over again. Needless to say, he enjoyed how this mechanic “changed everything” about action selection.

Decisions in first round were relatively simple, but with only four rounds in a game, making the most of each round—including the first—is crucial. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind making a variant where there are eight rounds instead of just four. And you know what? Maybe I will someday soon.

I want to mention all the actions as a whole. While vastly different, each action captures the essence of what it might be like to do something similar in real life (assuming real life was 11th century Kievan Rus). It’s easier to build buildings or tax the people in a land you rule. Likewise, those same actions become more difficult if someone else rules the land. Scheme cards make it easier to get things done (as all scheming does), and warfare is nifty as all get out. Instead of rolling dice (i.e. Risk) or comparing powers and/or resources (i.e. Scythe, Tiny Epic Kingdoms, etc.), it’s up to the luck of the draw (sort of; more on that below). As with any good form of combat, there is a way to mitigate losses—or make it more likely for the attacking player to lose a troop or two during an attack. It’s incredibly effective and so simple my dear old mother could even understand it (love you, Mum!). While dice have their place in combat, I was pleased to see combat in Rurik used no dice or resources from other players. It makes fighting a risky prospect for anyone, regardless of power.

Rurik Dawn of Kiev by PieceKeeper Games Player Leader Board Goods Inventory
Having a full column of a certain type of good is rewarded with money at the end of each round. Of course, you could always spend the goods in order to fulfill certain cards and get bonus actions, among other things.

I mentioned above how I love reading fantasy novels. Well, I love the Mistborn series. The first three are exceptionally good. Those books discuss not only what it takes to take on (and down) and empire, but also the intricate details, problems, and politicking of holding a newly conquered empire together. Rurik: Dawn of Kiev puts that theme into perspective nicely, as it’s not just about the number of troops a leader possesses, but how resources are managed, as well as effective scheming through card use and auctioning for much-needed actions. I love it when mechanics, resources, and other elements of a game fit in with the larger whole, and in Rurik: Dawn of Kiev, everything seems to have been woven together in such a way to craft not only an effective gaming experience, but a detailed and believable story as well. (As it should be, considering it’s based off history.)

Lastly, I need to talk about the solo variant of this game. Rurik: Dawn of Kiev’s solo AI was still in its beta stages when I played it, but that didn’t stop me from being impressed. The artificial intelligence was everything the “I” stands for in “intelligence.” It felt like the dummy player (and no, I’m not referring to myself) knew where troops needed to be placed, where buildings needed to be built, and which lands needed to be conquered. The way the AI carries out actions is done in a way I’ve never seen before (using a deck of Rebellion cards in which certain actions happen depending on various aspects of the real-life player’s current standing in the game). And these decisions change frequently. I’ll be honest, I didn’t fare so well against the “average” difficulty AI (so maybe I am the dummy player after all…?).


Rurik Dawn of Kiev by PieceKeeper Games Rebellion Card Deck for Solo mode variation
This deck of Rebellion cards (printed by me and still in development, so don't judge) dictates which actions the AI takes and in which order, which buildings are built, and in which locations actions happen. While you can't tell from this image, the specialized AI actions are quite smooth.
I love solo games, and when one comes off as too easy or too programmed, it tends to hurt the solo experience. Despite still being in its beta stages, I felt like the solo variant for Rurik was smooth and appropriately difficult with a unique and rather intelligent AI player. I’m very excited to see how the fully polished solo rules play!


Rurik Dawn of Kiev Solo mode variant AI Leader Board PieceKeeper Games
The AI's Leader board has unlockable bonuses for actions taken, making him much more difficult as time goes on. It's really quite terrifyingly effective. (Note: This player board was printed on regular paper by yours truly. The actual AI Leader boards will be on the reverse side of the player Leader boards.)


Now that you’ve delved into and explored the deep, dark recesses of my personal thoughts and experiences with Rurik: Dawn of Kiev, it is now your turn to decide for yourself if this would be a game in which you would be interested. Without further ado, I give you: The Technical Stuff.

Setup:


Rurik Dawn of Kiev Board Game by PieceKeeper Games Bear First Player Token

Players begin by choosing a Leader and taking all the components in their chosen color. Each player receives two Agenda cards (choose one to keep and return the other one to the box) and three coins. Place one Rebel in each region, according to the number of players. Place a Good on each region you are using that matches that region. Place the Claim the Throne board and Strategy board beside the main Game board. Shuffle the Deed cards and place three of these cards face-up near the board. Place the crown marker on the Round 1 space on the bottom left of the game board. Next, beginning with the starting player and going clockwise from there, players take turns placing one troop on any region of their choice. Troops can be placed in regions that currently have other troops, including troops from other players (this makes things very interesting right from the get-go). Finally, players place their Leader minis in a region occupied by at least one of their troops.

This may look like a lot (especially since it’s all just one big block of text), but setup is pretty straightforward.

Gameplay:



There are three phases in a round: Strategy, Action, and Claim to the Throne.

Strategy Phase


Players bribe their way to the actions they want most. Notice how one of the Yellow #2 advisors (top left) is ahead of a #4 advisor. This is due to the many coins played alongside the Yellow #2 advisor. (Note: Components are prototype only.)
During the Strategy phase, players take turns (beginning with the starting player) placing their advisors on one of the six action columns on the Strategy board. The advisor with the lowest number will take its action first during the next phase, whereas the advisor with the highest number will shift all lower-numbered advisors down a space—and thereby claiming the better actions for themselves—thus allowing players to jostle for position on the action columns.
When placing an advisor, any amount of coins can be added to that advisor, and that advisor gains one power (e.g. +1 to its printed number) per coin. This means a #1 advisor with five coins would overpower a #5 advisor with no coins. In addition, the #1 advisor would still take its action first. As I heard countless times during that initial play, “This changes everything!”

Action Phase
Beginning with the starting player, each player takes turns resolving their actions as chosen on the Strategy board. The first player would resolve the action associated with advisor #1, the next player would do the same, and so forth. Next, players would resolve actions associated with advisors #2, then #3, and continue in this manner up through advisor #5.

There are six actions to choose from: Muster (place troops), Move, Attack, Build (e.g. construct a Church, Market, or Stronghold), Tax (gather resources on occupied regions), and Scheme (draw/keep a Scheme card). Of note, players move their score markers up the Warfare track (on the Claim to the Throne board) one space for each enemy troop defeated (not including Rebels). This is important for endgame scoring.

Aside from those actions, players may convert goods into either troops or build-points once per turn. This can be handy when you desperately need to build a structure or muster a troop, but weren’t fortunate enough in your action selection to be able to do so otherwise.

Deeds, acquired after rounds one through three as well as through Scheme cards, may be completed at any time on a player’s turn (but only once per turn, or in other words, each time an advisor is resolved). Deeds grant immediate bonuses, as well as points for endgame scoring.

Rurik Dawn of Kiev Board Game by PieceKeeper Games Accomplished Deed Cards
The Deed is done.

Claim to the Throne


Rurik: Dawn of Kiev Board Game by PieceKeeper Games Claim to the Throne Board

This final phase is where scores start to rise. There are three columns on the Claim to the Throne board: Rule, Build, and Trade.

Rule refers to the amount of regions ruled over (e.g. by having more troops in a region than any other player, including rebels).

The Build column refers to the amount of buildings in adjacent regions.

Trade refers to the amount of Goods players have in their boats (on their Leader board).

At the end of the game, the Claim to the Throne board is where most of the points will come from. Fortunately, players can never go down on the track once they reach the next level. So, even if a player is reduced from ruling five lands to only two, that player would still receive five points at the end of the game (eight if they rule over Kiev and Novgorod as part of their five ruled lands).

At the end of round four, the game is over and scores are tallied. Points are awarded for defeating other players’ troops (Warfare track), Agenda cards, Deed cards, and of course, Claim to the Throne points.

The player with the most points is crowned victorious and rules the world! And by world I mean all the lands/areas shown on the game board.

Theme and Mechanics:


Bidding for position is a brilliant way to shake things up. It also encourages good resource management. (Note: Components are prototype only.)
The theme follows the heirs of Vladimir the Great who, following the death of Mr. Great, are vying to become the new leader of all Kievan Rus. While maintaining a powerful army is important to success, the words of Yoda echo in the mechanics of Rurik: “Wars not make one great.” While there is combat—and you will engage in combat—the fighting in Rurik almost tends to play a secondary role to resource management and finding the best balance while selecting which actions to take and when.


Rurik Dawn of Kiev by PieceKeeper Games board round tracker advisors
As the rounds progress, each player receives more advisors, thus granting more actions. (Note: Components shown are prototype only.)
The auction programing mechanic for taking actions is one I have not seen before. Players place an advisor (essentially a worker), numbered 1-5, onto a specific action they want to take. A #1 advisor takes an action before advisor numbers 2-5, whereas a #5 advisor will take its action last. However, the higher the advisor number, the more precedence it has on the action selection board, and the better the action they get to take. If someone placed their #4 advisor on the top space of an action column, a #5 advisor would outrank the #4 advisor and take the top spot on that action column. It’s a neat way to select actions, but things get even crazier when money is involved. Players may opt to add any number of coins to their advisor, and by so doing, increase their advisor’s influence by one influence per coin. I’ve seen super-rich players place a #1 advisor, along with heaps of coins, at the very top of an action column, which ensured they would perform their action first, which action would also be the most powerful (of that action type). This versatility makes resource management all kinds of important, since those with the most money will have an advantage when it comes to selecting which actions to take.

Combat is done differently in Rurik than in any other combative game I’ve played. In Rurik, you need combat points in order to fight. One combat point equals one attack. When an attack happens, the defending player loses a troop, no questions asked. The attacking player isn’t out of the woods, however, as they must draw a card from the Scheme deck. If the card drawn shows a casualty icon, the attacking player loses a troop. If the defending player rules the area in which the combat took place, the attacking player must reveal a second card (unless the first card showed a casualty icon). If the defending player has a tower in the area, an additional card is likewise drawn. This can make attacking other players a risky venture. Of course, there are ways to stack the deck in your favor (so long as someone else doesn’t come in and mess with it before you can get back to attacking), and a great ruler will use any method to gain the upper hand.

Artwork and Components:


Rurik: Dawn of Kiev board game by PieceKeeper Games Box Art

I love the artwork of Rurik: Dawn of Kiev. From the box art to that of the various leaders and everything in between, the art really sets the tone for the game. In all honesty, I wouldn’t mind taking the box art as-is, framing it, and hanging it on my wall. It looks that good. The artist(s) did a fantastic job and they get my highest praise.

The components are prototype and pre-Kickstarter, so I can’t speak much about them. That said, and as I mentioned above, this review copy included 3D printed miniatures, and they look wonderful.

The Good:
Phenomenal artwork
Auction programming for actions is wonderfully unique
Various strategies for acquiring points
Solid solo variant
Easy to learn
Beautiful minis
Varying player abilities
Combat is innovative and simple, yet serves its role well

The Bad:
I’m trying to think as to what could use some work, and aside from the beta solo rules (remember, they were still being polished when I played them), I can’t think of anything. The mechanics feel smooth; the balance feels, well, balanced; and the art is drool-worthy. That said, I understand that this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. What’s a flaw to one person could be brilliance to another (I mean, have you seen the internet’s fractured, love-hate reaction to The Last Jedi?).

Final Thoughts:

Rurik Dawn of Kiev by PieceKeeper Games solo game mode
Solo game of Rurik: Dawn of Kiev. It may look like I (Brown) am winning, but don't let the close-up fool you. I got my 11th century butt whooped. 
really like Rurik: Dawn of Kiev. Even though I’m not familiar with the history in which this game is set, it didn’t take long for the theme to draw me in. I appreciate the design choices, and the way action selection happens makes for some intense and interesting decisions and gameplay. The artwork is gorgeous and compliments the theme oh-so well. I love how balanced the combat is along with the resource management. And let’s not forget the wonderfully challenging and intelligent AI in the solo variant. In all, Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is a fantastic game that, as I continue playing, I have no doubt will end up becoming a favorite. Rurik is a beautiful and inventive game that shakes up the meaning of action selection in the best way possible.

Players Who Like:
Fans of 4X games, resource management games, and area control games should certainly check out Rurik: Dawn of Kiev. I’ve even had it compared to Scythe, so if you like that one, Rurik may be another one to add to your library.


Check out Rurik: Dawn of Kiev on:

              

Coming to KICKSTARTER July 10, 2018.


About the Author:



Benjamin Kocher hails from Canada but now lives in Utah with his wife and kids. He's a freelance writer and editor, as well as a budding game designer. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

Check out Benjamin's reviews here.
Rurik: Dawn of Kiev Kickstarter Preview Rurik: Dawn of Kiev Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on July 09, 2018 Rating: 5

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