Ryan Laukat is, simply, someone who impresses me. Something of a one-man-band, Laukat has designed, illustrated, and produced some of our favorite games, such as Artifacts Inc., Near & Far, and The Ancient World. Jess and I own virtually his entire catalog. So when we went to the Red Raven Games booth at Gen Con this year and saw Klondike Rush for the first time, I was really excited to see what this incredibly talented designer had come up with next.
Klondike Rush is an economic game with an auction mechanic at its core – players are investors who are looking to strike it rich by investing in (and gaining profits from) several mining companies who are themselves competing to find the gold that is in them thar’ mountains. The board, gorgeously illustrated by Laukat, depicts Mount Titan, an untamed wilderness just waiting to be plundered for its gold and other resources.
Each turn starts with an auction. Starting with the lead player, each player may place exactly one bid on the card that has come up for that turn. These cards represent shares in the mining companies, contracts to build new mines, supply orders waiting to be filled, and investment symbols which translate into dollars for the player who owns them.
Once bidding is complete, the active player may optionally build mines. Players can (and probably should) own shares in and build mines from multiple mining companies (the mine colors are company colors, not player colors), and mines get more expensive to establish the further they are from each other.
Built mines increase the value of the mining companies, and award the active player with supplies which they can spend to complete contracts. Once the active player is done building mines, play proceeds to the next player, starting with an auction.
Andrew: Now, the name of the game here is profit – the winner is the investor who manages to make the most bank they can. However, virtually everything you do in Klondike Rush costs money, so aggressive bidding is sure to end in disaster.
Jess: Right! And outside of completing contracts (which can be pretty capricious, based on the luck of your draw and the luck of which supply tokens you’re picking up), there is only one way of earning cash back during the game – each player has a one time use ‘profit card’. When you cash in that card, you get income based on the value of your investments. Do it too early, and you won’t make much at all. Wait too long, though, and you’ll find your money running thin really fast!
Andrew: And you can literally only do it once in the whole game! If you’re not cautious with your bidding, you can actually find yourself basically unable to play, and certainly unable to win! Klondike Rush is the sort of game that has only a small margin of error – a few bad plays early on and your game will likely never quite recover.
Of course, it might seem obvious that you won’t want to overspend during auctions – after all, it’s a game about making a profit. But this leads us to our major complaint about Klondike Rush. The economy of the game just feels too tight. Discretion may be common sense, but it can feel simply unsatisfying to do nothing for multiple turns while you let your opponents drain their bank accounts snapping up cards at auction.
And the problem compounds itself because unless you are winning cards (costs money) and building mines (costs money) you aren’t picking up contracts or the tokens needed to fulfill them, nor are you gaining investments that will make your Profit card actually turn, you know, a profit. It’s a bit of a ‘rich get richer’ situation that isn’t always a good time.
Simply put, there is something of a mismatch between Klondike Rush’s gorgeous presentation and its mechanical core. We climbed the mountain looking for adventure, and what we found was some bookkeeping.
Klondike Rush has a lot to recommend. For those who really enjoy a tight economic game and the auctions that drive it, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a game that blends these potentially dry mechanisms with such attractive visual flair. If your group can appreciate its somewhat unforgiving nature and embrace its gameplay core, then you’ll certainly find a very playable economic game here. But while it feels odd to say that we didn’t enjoy one of Red Raven’s titles, Klondike Rush simply wasn’t a game for us.
(Gameosity received a review copy of this game. We were not otherwise compensated.)