It's not often a game goes from completely off my radar to top 10 material within one play. Even games that head to top 10 after one play generally spend time on my horizons for awhile. Like Too Many Bones for example, I agonized over getting it for months, tortured myself over the rulebook for weeks and finally played it. Even then it took 2 plays for it to solidify itself as a potential top 10 candidate.
Not Rurik. Rurik: Dawn of Kiev went from a game I literally never heard of, a game someone offered in a trade as a kickstarter address change to lock in another game he wanted. I took a look, thought it sounded interesting, and decided to try it myself. When it arrived two weeks ago, I looked at the rulebook and with only a handful of quick and easy rules, I figured I'd give it a go this week.
Now here's where the problem sets in. The reason I was interested in the game is because I heard it touted as 25% Lancaster, 25% Inis and 50% its own thing. The good news is that I love Inis and Lancaster. The bad news is that meant it was comparing itself against giants of my collection, a high bar to meet. I reluctantly shared this assessment with my game group and launched into a game I fully expected to be "totally fine" but not worth keeping compared to others in my collection.
Wow was I wrong. The game lasts 4 rounds, but by the end of round 1 we were all standing, being unable to sit due to the sheer tenseness the decisions induce. Every round you place between 3 and 6 advisers (depending on the round), that decide your actions for the round. With two twists. Twist 1: Each adviser has a number between 1 and 5. The higher the number, the more power to displace other advisers and get the stronger actions....but the lower the number the earlier they act in turn order which is just as important if not more so than a better action. Twist 2: You can add coins to each adviser to increase their power to displace, without compromising on how early they activate.
The end result is that every round of placement is a mental mind game of who will do what and when. It's incredible. Actually carrying out the actions is fun and everything, but the real game is in the placement. Ultimately your goals are to achieve points through taxation, buildings and area control with a few other small point opportunities thrown in. The various options in front of you blend fairly well together, allowing every action to complement a few different paths to victory.
There's a lot to do in Rurik, you can often choose what or when....but you can rarely guarantee both, and that's what makes this game amazing.