Q&A with Kirk Dennison from PieceKeeper Games

PieceKeeper Games Interview

I first became aware of PieceKeeper Games from their Kickstarter for their debut game 'Flag Dash', a great looking family/gateway game of capture the flag. Their second game was completely different - Gearworks was a puzzle game. Refusing to be pigeon holed, their current game on Kickstarter is Rurik an area control strategy game. I got to ask Kirk Dennison a few questions about their latest effort.

This is your third Kickstarter, and all three projects have all been quite different. Was this your intent?

Great question, yes our first three games are all quite different. After our early success with Flag Dash we wanted to try something different than just "family" games and decided to branch out into strategy games. Our publishing philosophy is to create games that bring a really unique and engaging gameplay experience to players. This happened to lead us to creating three different product lines: family (Flag Dash), puzzle (Gearworks), and strategy (Rurik).

Rurik appears to be your most 'gamery' game, how did it come about?

I (Kirk) regularly playtest games in Wisconsin at designer meet-ups and Protospiel events and played a game a friend (Stan Kordonskiy) had created called "The Grand Prince." Going into the game, I told myself that this would be too "heavy" of a game for us to publish, but I was so impressed by the unique mechanics that I could not stop thinking about the game. I ended up borrowing Stan's prototype to playtest and couldn't get enough of it so I knew I should publish it.

The 'auction selection' mechanic is really exciting, can you give us some more details on it?

Yes, the "auction programming" mechanic is what drew me to the game. I have not seen any game mechanic quite like it. Each player has advisors numbered one through five that they take turns playing on a central planning board. You play your advisors into various action columns that have more rewards of one type at the top of the each column and less rewards of the same type further down in the column. You want to sequence both the timing of your actions and how much of a reward you get from the particular action.

The lower numbered advisers resolve sooner in the turn order (i.e. all players resolve their #1 first, regardless of which column they are on) but often get less rewards as they are bumped down in the column by higher numbered advisors. Higher numbered advisors resolve later in the turn order but usually get more rewards as they finish near the top of the column. You can also pay a one time "bribe" with coins to make your advisors have higher numbers for the purposes of determining how much you get, but they still resolve in order of their printed number.

When approaching a campaign like this, how do you decide on the look and components of the game?

I want to create both the best possible gameplay experience and make the game "pop" on the table so people walking by turn their heads. With Rurik, this meant including miniatures. Even though they are not 100% necessary to play the game, we believed it provided the best tactile decision for this particular game. Thankfully most of our fans agreed! We also wanted this to be a beautiful game that has art worthy of hanging on your wall. We're effectively re-telling an old story and want to make the culture and time period look very appealing to players.

Many campaigns are now including solo modes, how important was it for you to include one?  

Players love solo mode. This was high on my list of things that really, really needed to be included in the game. But most importantly, solo mode needed to be really good. I would not sacrifice the quality of the game by including a subpar solo mode. For example, I didn't include a solo mode in our prior game (Gearworks) until I was 100% satisfied the solo mode was great. Thankfully for Rurik, we were able to get to that decision point prior to the Kickstarter launch (instead of partway through with Gearworks).

What are your plans for the future, in terms of your company and of course new games?

Frankly, running a board game business as a side project is really hard. I (Kirk) work A LOT of hours per week on board game publishing - on top of my day job. We'll take some time to re-evaluate where things stand after the Rurik campaign and figure out how to best proceed next - both in terms of the speed of our future releases and the scope of the projects. Our next title, Door Number 3, is a very different type of game. It is basically the "Monty Hall Problem" in a tabletop game.

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It's great to see a new company like PieceKeeper Games have such a wide range already, and those games be received so well. Rurik looks super interesting and I can't wait to try it.