Each month, the Indie Spotlight highlights a new game that exemplifies the creativity, cleverness, and beauty of today’s independent games market.
This month’s Indie Spotlight is:
Rurik: Dawn of Kiev
With the summer months waning and people slowly, begrudgingly, wistfully turning their attentions back to more real world matters of home and hearth, autumn change has begun to stir in the air. It’s a sense of returning to regular school or schedules. It’s a sense of the impending harvest season. It’s a sense that fosters an almost instinctual drive to begin preparing any last minute projects over the next couple months before the inevitable winter sets in.
How this natural cycle manifests for each person and community varies wildly depending on vocation, age, career, and geographic location. Winter for a 25-year-old actor in Los Angeles is not quite the same as a winter of a 55-year-old fisherman in Newfoundland. Yet the pull of this annual cycle of decline and renewal affects us all in some way, shape, or form. It forces us to be ever so slightly more forward thinking than during the middle half of the year, when things like schedules and obligations are a tad more flexible. We may not need to be stockpiling acorns, but we all experience this rudimentary shift, however minor. Enough to be mindful that as has been touted ad naseum in recent years, Winter is Coming.
Of course, most of us don’t live and die by the seasons anymore, and we typically think of what hardships that do exist with our own modern sensibilities. As far as historical comparisons go, we have it about as cushy as could possibly be. History, on the other hand, is littered with centuries upon centuries of hardships affecting the progress of human civilization, and it doesn’t take much effort to recall some examples. From Egypt and the nascent kingdoms of the Mediterranean, to the decline of Rome, to pretty much the entirety of Middle Age Europe, there are plenty of famous examples of tumultuous times to reference.
But there are equally as many that we never learn about in grade school, especially if we move outside of the orbit of a Western European vantage point. In fact, you only need to go a few hundred miles east, to the territories of Eastern Europe, to find a historical record equally riddled with conflict, intrigue, and continual hardship.
Consider, for example, exploring the fascinating and fractious tale of the federated states known as the Kievan Rus. Or at least, consider a game taking place during that era, with Rurik: Dawn of Kiev.
Rurik, the third title from publisher PieceKeeper Games, focuses on a particularly turbulent time in the Kievan Rus, a land stretching from the White to Black Seas and whose people fostered the cultural foundation for many, including the Baltic States, Ukraine, and what we now know as Russia. Set circa 1015, the king has died, and it’s up to the players to become the next ruler.
In this clever area control game, however, timing your moves properly is as equally vital to your odds of success as the actions themselves.
Spanning four rounds, each player in Rurik takes a number of actions designed to solidify your claim to the throne, including constructing buildings, attacking enemy units, holding and taxing territories, and encouraging regional trade. All of these are actions are laid out in a gridded series of columns on the board, with spaces offering those actions in descending order of efficacy. In Rurik, taking those actions is determined by allocating a handful of numbered advisors each round. Placing a higher valued advisor in a column will bump the lower numbered ones down, denoting their degree of influence (obviously). However, advisors are resolved lowest first, meaning that although less potent, they could still accomplish their objectives first. Which may be all the time needed to accomplish your tasks in that moment.
And, naturally, because such times were rife with scheming and corruption, if you want a lowered value advisor to overrule a higher one in placement…why all you need is to pay extra coin as a bribe, miraculously boosting their influence.
Strange how that works.
Thus, Rurik: Dawn of Kiev offers up an unconventional action taking system it calls “auction programming”, forcing you to rely not only on managing your resources and timing your moves to beat out your opposition but also opens up degrees of dynamic strategic flexibility and tactical feints that you don’t always get with a medium-weight title. And the resulting conflict is quite captivating.
The autumn winds are stirring in the Kievan Rus, and it’s time to get back to work. If, that is, you’re up to the challenge…
Do you have a game that we should spotlight? Let us know at: firstname.lastname@example.org!
Previous Indie Game Spotlights:
August 2019: Re-Chord | Review | Developer’s Site
June 2019: The Valley of Alchemists | Review | Developer’s Site
April 2019: Mountaineers | Review | Developer’s Site
January 2019: Good Dog, Bad Zombie | Review | Q&A | Developer’s Site