Rus was designed by Randy Moorehead and published in 2000 by Simulations Workshop. It is designed for four players with modifications for play by three. It takes more than four hours to play.
What You Get
This is a DTP quality game, coming in a ziplock. You get a couple sheets of color copy markers mounted on cardboard to be cut apart (and plan for it taking some time, and a few blisters). There are several sheets of nation cards that need to be cut apart. There are a few photocopied sheets depicting order of play and scoresheets. There is a thicker paper sheet to keep track of the population units, and a two page map on gray parchment paper. The design of the map is very functional and thankfully unambiguous, and as so is quite readable but nothing too exciting to look at. The nation cards are only functional, but the units are colorful, although the population markers have some odd color choices. In all, more or less what you come to expect from Simulations Workshop where there comes more from the gameplay than components, but there are no real ambiguities and the game is not inhibited by the parts. You need to supply your own dice.
What You Do
The mechanics are quite similar to its predecessors, Britannia and Hispania. The basic idea of the game is that you are simulating a couple thousand years of Russian history, as tribes of people appear on the scene, rise in prominence, and then fade into history. The goal of the players is to gain control of as many scoring areas as possible and score additional points based on certain activities (like destroying certain units, building specific cities, or even, for the Vikings, making a voyage of discovery).
Your turn consists of counting the number of areas you control, and acquiring a number of population points. With these it may be possible to ‘purchase’ new units to place on the map. Some of the points not used may be carried over from turn to turn. Possible units are nation dependent, and include infantry, cavalry, elite units, forts, knights, and other possibilities. Then, you expand your units by moving over the map which depicts four types of terrain: open, rough, water, and impassable. Any areas where units from two nations co-exist require combat.
Battles are simultaneous, and you roll d6, one for each unit, the ‘hit’ numbers depending on the units and terrain, and if there are any leaders present, as leaders will appear at specific times allowing extra movement and combat ability. After each round, surviving units of either side can retreat; if not, the battle continues until there is only one unit remaining. In some situations, the assaulted unit may elect to submit peacefully to the invader, saving their units but sacrificing growth and their ability to score. At this point, after all combat you must check to make sure you control enough territory to support all your on-map units: one area is needed for every 2 units, and that no stacking limits are exceeded. Violating units are removed from the board.
The last thing a people do is score, perhaps for area control or for defeating certain units. In addition, at the end of some of the 16 turns there is a scoring round for all peoples still surviving, where they may accumulate points for holding certain areas of the board.
This continues through the end of the game with 32 peoples in total making their appearance during the play of the game. There are several flavor rules to distinguish this game from Britannia and others of its ilk. For example, hoards may form that may ignore stacking and maintenance rules, and the Viking option to go on Voyages of Exploration.
What I Think
I am a fan of the Britannia-style games, and I think this is an entertaining addition. Gameplay seems a little longer, but the additional rules are flavorful and enjoyable. It was quite a search for me to get my copy, and have only been able to play it once so far. I cannot comment on the balance of the game: from what I read and from how our game progresses, I think there may be a bias towards green in the final reckoning. But you know what? I don’t really care. It is fun to see the nations come and go; there is a lot of chatter, whining, and dice rolling, with swings of luck going back and forth. These types of games are scripted, but the script goes through lots of revisions every new play. The components are nothing stellar, but the game actually looks just fine as you play, although the counters are thin, and some of the designs make immediate distinguishing of the different nations difficult from a distance. The historical notes are brief, but entertaining and very informative. I also suspect the three player game is not really a good way to play.
I have been a great fan of Simulations Workshop for its many entertaining titles, and I hope Mr. Moorehead will make a return to the design world, as I will certainly make it a point to get whatever he comes out with next.
Thanks for the review of this neglected game. I enjoyed this different take on the Britannia engine, but I felt that the faction superhighway of the south was a bit too fast, and the northwest a bit too static. It's funny, I think the geography of Britain is ideally suited for this type of game, and the various ports I've seen to different times/places all have their problems, often stemming from the geography itself. Lew Pulispher nailed the right setting on the first try, for sure.
Nevertheless, for fans of the system, this can provide an entertaining experience, though it does run quite long.