Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Rurik: Dawn of Kiev from Piecekeeper Games.
What is this game about?
Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is an area control game set in Kievan Rus, an area you and your fellow players all seek to rule. Your goal is to earn points in the game and bolster your claim to the throne, something you can achieve by controlling multiple areas with your soldiers, building across regions, and collecting large amounts of goods.
The heart of Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is without a doubt its "auction programming" mechanic. In this game, actions are taken in a specific order, and players may carry out more or less powerful versions of the same action. That is because players bid to take actions by placing their advisors on the auction/action board. Advisors are labeled 1–5, and you'll need both high- and low-value helpers to advance your cause in Kievan Rus. A 5-level advisor is more likely to sit at the top of a turn track, ousting other players and allowing you to take the most potent version of an in-game action. However, lower-value advisors get to act first, meaning that you can sneak in and beat someone else to the punch—plus, you can use coins as bribes to give even the lowliest advisor a significant amount of clout. Scrambling with other players to carry out specific actions on the board is one of the most exciting and frustrating aspects of Rurik: Dawn of Kiev.
How does it play solo?
Real thought went into the solo mode of Rurik: Dawn of Kiev. In a solo game, you play against Sviatopolk, who is leading a rebellion in the area and who will do his best to give you a run for your money. There are four difficulty levels, which means you can ramp up to a higher level of challenge. The game also comes with an AI deck that allows you to place Sviatopolk's advisors according to his shifting priorities, which change from round to round depending on how he is doing against you.
Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is a solid game overall. The auction programming aspect of it is unique and adds some drama to the proceedings, especially in multiplayer. I appreciate that the game's solo mode does a good job of mimicking the surprise, frustration, and tension of placing advisors on the action track, and that while the AI cannot act as intentionally as a human, most of what Sviatopolk does in a solo game at least makes sense according to his priorities of the moment.
However, I am also not convinced that Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is a keeper, particularly for solo. It's a solid game, but it hasn't made much of a lasting impression on me—aside from the auction programming, the game feels fairly generic, and the awesome theme (paired with awesome art) doesn't come through in the gameplay. And while much of the solo game works well, the rebellion's attack and movement actions are a little clunky. Movement, especially, is odd, in that the way your AI opponent moves troops actually changes according to his priority. I found myself checking the rulebook more often than I'd prefer.
Do I recommend it?
In the end, while Rurik: Dawn of Kiev is a solid game, I would not purchase it specifically for solo play. There are wilier and less cumbersome AI opponents out there. That said, it's a solid experience, so if you are super in love with the theme or particularly into area control games, you might enjoy it.
Overall Rating: 3 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.