Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday, 5 September 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Rurik: Dawn of Kiev

Game: Rurik: Dawn of Kiev

Publisher: PieceKeeper Games

Designer:  Stan Kordonskiy

Year: 2019


Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is a realm building game set in Eastern Europe where each player is working to expand the control and prowess of their leader by controlling the lands with troops and buildings. You'll be accomplishing great deeds along the way, by taxing the lands you control and fighting off the troops of other players. After funding with a very successful Kickstarter in 2018, Rurik is now back on Kickstarter with reprint and an expansion, called Stone and Blade.
 
Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is not a game we would immediately jump to play, because it has some roots in area control, but we're glad we got the chance to give it a try because it's actually got a lot more going on than simply area control. With some very smart actin programming and lots of in-game and end-game goals to work towards, there's a lot of fun euro-game mechanisms, alongside the conflict-driven area control. Were those euro aspects enough to win us over?

 
Gameplay

In Rurik: Dawn of Kiev you have four main goals to perform, each of which rewards points for your highest achievement during the game. In order to win you'll need to combine ruling the most areas on the map, building vast areas of buildings, filling your trade boat with goods and waging war on your opponents. You do this by placing four (and later more) workers during the start phase of each round. These workers are numbered 1, 2, 4, and 5 and this number will determine the order in which you do the actions you placed them on, with the 1 going first, then the 2 and so on. But the number is not just about order, but also about power, if an opponent places a 1 at the top of an action column you can place a 2+ in order to bump them down a slot which in turn gives them a weaker version of the action. You can also use money to artificially boost the power of a worker, helping you secure the more powerful top slots. Finding a careful balance between getting the powerful actions and programming your actions in a meaningful order is important in the first phase. The game escalates in later rounds with each player getting two additional workers as the game continues.

 
Once the workers are placed actions will be taken in numerical order, with all players taking turns to do the action of their 1 worker before the 2 workers start resolving. The different actions are all relatively simple. Muster lets you generate more troops onto the battlefield, while move lets you move your troops from one area to the next. Fighting lets you slay rebels for resources, or other players for end game points and area control, though it becomes more dangerous when you are outnumbered or they own a fort, with the threat of retaliation. Taxing lets you take resources from a location, which is easier if you control the area and more profitable if you've built a market there. Building lets you build one of three building types which can help you profiteer/defend/attack areas. Finally, scheming grants you scheme cards which let you perform the aforementioned actions out of normal turn order, surprising your foes.

At the end of each round players will assess how well they have done by moving their crown markers up (but never down) on the three columns. To this end someone who has conquered enough land early in the game can essentially ignore that objective (other than stopping their opponents from having an easy time) for the rest of the game. Additionally, at the end of each round, players get a chance to gain bonus objective cards which can be completed during the game, typically by spending resources or sacrificing troops, in order to get minor benefits and end game points. At the end of the fourth round, the game ends, and each player earns points for their position on the three victory columns, plus any points for objectives, their personal objective and their position on the warfare track.

 
Amy's Final Thoughts

 
Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is a misleading game. At first glance it looks like an area control game through and through, with soldiers moving around a map and each player having a leader figure that looks imposing being three times the height of a normal soldier. But while area control is a part of the game and certainly often the end the result of your actions, the core of the game isn't the position of the soldiers on the map, but the position of the workers on the action board. My first game I severely underestimated the importance of placing my workers on the action board, but by the last game every choice felt decisive, influencing further choices and my potential abilities. 
 
You see placing your 5 on attack almost guarantees you the top slot which grants a couple of attack points. Not only this but it also means your opponents are limited to fewer attack points, Your offensive action is also a defensive action. However the fact that your placed your 5 means that your opponent can place a lower number their to act before you do, which means the troops you want to use might be dead. So earlier in the turn you'll want to muster to get more troops out to replace that casualty, and move to get those troops in position. Suddenly the one action you wanted to do has cost your three of your four workers and you don't have the time to tax or build! That's a key part of Rurik, you can't do everything, at least not in one turn. However due to the points being rewarded for your highest ever position that means you can choose to really focus on one section of the victory track early on in the hop of capping it out before moving onto the others later once you gain more workers and more actions.
This "auction programming" system works fantastically, making the selection of what you are going to do as impactful as the actions themselves.
 
 
The presentation here is also great, while the minis for the standard soldiers are a little lackluster, the sculpts for the heroes are great (though I have to admit some of the heroes powers are less than fantastic). The board is simply designed but wonderfully functional, with a small world style map that enlarges with the player count. Playing with two? You only play on the green grassy fields, adding an extra player? Add the yellow wheat fields to the playable area. There's also a fantastic insert including the best player boxes I've seen, storing the buildings and workers in a hidden compartment under the storage for your armies. I though that was simply fantastic, at least after the panic attack I had thinking half our components were missing.
 
Ultimately Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is a great game with meaningful choices to be made at every moment and a great escalation as the game goes on. Conversely I don't think it's necessarily for me, the constant feeling of thwarting your opponent is fantastic for some game groups, but when it comes to one on one gaming with my wife I need a touch less immediate conflict. However if you do want to see your opponents dashed before you in a game where every move matters then Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is the game for you.

 
Fi’s Final Thoughts
 
Area control is possibly my least favourite mechanism in modern board gaming, right up there alongside social deduction and auctions. We have Smallworld on our shelves and I think that works because being removed from the map is not really a problem for most factions. Rurik: Dawn of Kiev definitely looks a lot like an area control game when you set it up on the table. You have a bunch of soldiers - a board split into eight regions (or more with higher player counts) and, out of the four objectives, one rewards you for  controlling regions and another rewards you for attacking other players. However, alongside this area control game is an extremely smart action programming element to each round of the game that really won me over.
 
Planning out every turn is full of so many interesting decisions. You need to make sure that you'lll be taking your actions in the right sequence, while still ensuring that you get enough actions to spend. You might want to tax early in your turn, but desperately need the action that allows you to tax twice. One way to accomplish this would be spending a lot of coins to boost that value 1 meeple into a 5, but have you correctly predicted whether another player might be willing to pay six or more? Planning out your turns in the most effective way to race to the top of the end game scoring objectives, as well as complete some deeds along the way is definitely a tricky puzzle to optimise and one I love to try and get my head around.
 
 
So that's the great bits of this game, and they are really, really great. We played two games where the area control didn't feature much - I could peacefully work towards my own objectives, gathering goods on my  boat, fulfilling a few objective cards and enjoying every minute of it. Then, in our third game, it got ugly. All four rounds felt like a fight for control. In order to build a building in a region you8 don't control it costs more build icons and so, where building had previously felt like something I could do peacefully, I not struggled with Amy gaining control in areas I wanted to build. That meant that the action programming I had painstakingly planned didn't work and lots of actions were pointlessly wasted. Everything I loved about the game unraveled as the game showed its dark side. What's sad for me is that I have a theory that the game got more tight and conflict focused because we were getting more familiar with how it worked. It seemed to me like the more we played the game, the less I'd enjoy it, and that's such a shame since there's another part of the game I enjoyed so much.
 
If Rurik: Dawn of Kiev sounds like your style of game then I would not hesitate to recommend it. It's extremely rare for a game to get stuck in my head, so much that I think about my moves the following day or plan a strategy I want to try ahead of time. Rurik did that for me and I had a couple of great games. It's just a shame that I had some really miserable games too because of my dislike for area control and conflict.


You Might Like...
  • The action programming feels really fresh and unique - trying to balance your choice of turn order or more powerful actions is a real brain-burner.
  • There are only four rounds and every single one matters.
  • The game has fantastic production, from the individual player trays, to the lovely wooden tokens - Rurik looks great on the table.
You Might Not Like...
  • We were lulled into a false sense of security and then hit with a conflict heavy area control game, which isn't our thing.
  • Making a mistake in your action programming can be game-changing.

The Verdict 
Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is a fantastic game, that I'm sure would be an 8 or 9 out of ten for euro gamers looking for conflict in their games, but that's just not us. The games that we managed to get through without conflict were a really awesome action programming experience with lots of short term and long term objectives to enjoy playing for, but the game with conflict were just not fun for us.
 
 
Rurik: Dawn of Kiev was a review copy kindly provided to us by PieceKeeper Games.

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