King & Assassins Deluxe Edition is a two-player asymmetrical medieval strategy board game by Polish designer Łukasz Woźniak. The game was first published in 2013, with the deluxe edition appearing in 2018. It is published by Krakow-based Galakta, who translate and republish several major games in Poland. Don’t panic, the instructions are in English!
This turn-based game involves a mix of strategy, decision making, bluffing and a pinch of luck. It is also the closest thing you will get to a board game version of the computer game Assassin’s Creed.
The backstory is that the evil tyrant of a king has returned with his loyal knights and decided to go for a wander around the city streets, despite the civil unrest. However, there are assassins among the angry mob that are waiting to make an attempt on the king’s life.
What’s Deluxe about it?
This version has a larger double-sided board with new and improved artwork of the medieval streets. It’s also got a bigger box – Woohoo I hear you cry! Perhaps most importantly, the 23 card playing pieces have now become three-dimensional detailed plastic miniatures.
If you are playing as the king your aim is to gain safe passage back to your castle. If you are playing as the assassins your aim is to take out the king or stop him returning to the castle.
Regardless of which side of the board you decide to play, you set-up with playing pieces on designated squares. The pompous king is surrounded by his bolshie knights and the angry mob are placed on their squares. The wannabe killer then chooses three townsfolk that will become assassins in disguise.
The two sides of the board change the set-up ever so slightly. The only real difference is that one board side has the king set-up on one of two locations after the assassins are chosen and has one fewer cards in the draw pile. Ultimately, play is the same on both.
Movement is dictated by a pile of 27 cards. Each card states how many action points the two players can use. The king and his knights go first, and you are off and playing. The king is a bit lame and can generally only move one or two spaces at a time. The knights, however, can jump up and down from buildings and push the miserable protesters around. Some cards allow knights to capture a random citizen who may or may not be an assassin in disguise. Between them, the knights usually get five to seven action points. If you run out of action cards playing as the king, and he isn’t safely back home - the opponent wins.
The assassin gets to move the unruly townsfolk around, jumping up and down buildings if need be too. Via their movements they will try and bluff the king as to who the assassin may be. They can also reveal themselves as an assassin, swapping out the playing piece to attack knights and/or the king and have slightly different ways of using their action points. Movement is a bit more limited as this player will only get four or five action points. Bearing in mind it takes two points to wound the king and a further two to kill him, these get used up pretty quick.
How it Plays
My wife likes winning and she seems to do so disproportionately with this game, so we play it often. When we have finished playing one game, we then turn the board around and adopt the other stance. This, obviously, doubles the play time to about 50 minutes. Having played King & Assassins from both positions I can honestly say that the challenge of winning from either viewpoint is equal.
When playing King & Assassins Deluxe Edition there is a bit of waiting for your opponent's turn. It is trickier to allocate your action points playing as the king as you need to try and protect him as much as possible. The king also doesn’t have many spare moves, so he pretty much has to be travelling towards his destination every turn.
In every game there is a moment when you must leave your king slightly exposed and hope that the Assassin is not about to reveal themselves. Seeing your opponent's moves play out is vital. Assassins will try and gauge which way the king is going and if there is a vulnerability, or a way in which you can position yourself to be a pain. The king will be considering every move of the townsfolk in case they can deduce who the assassin might be. So, there is no down time and concentration levels have to be high. This keeps you constantly engaged.
There are elements of luck that come into play. The knights can capture a player on about half of their goes when a card permits it. It is bad luck if the first person they take is one of your would-be murderers just by chance. Similarly, if they have a 50/50 chance of taking one of two players and they choose your assassin it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth. Playing from the other perspective, the king will probably be vulnerable at least once in the game (more if he decides to push his luck). When this vulnerability presents itself, it will be unknown if the person with the opportunity can strike the king or not.
When I play there isn’t much talking, but I bet with some players a chattier game might allow for other bluffing techniques, you will find your style of play but for me interaction is just a bit lower than some games.
King & Assassins is beautifully themed. You really do soak up the atmosphere of the medieval market town as you move the nicely detailed miniatures around the game board. Both sides of the board look amazing and present their own logistical challenges. The cards have awesome artwork in-keeping with the theme too.
You also get some snap on and off discs that fit round the assassins' bases, highlighting them. The king gets a green and a red disc that you use as a marker for how many hits he has got.
So, this all sounds amazing so far, but there must be a catch, right? Well yes there is a slight hitch. The awesome miniatures are fantastically detailed and all adopt a different pose. However, the first few times anyone plays this, it is really difficult to work out which brown figurine relates to which colourful card. Looking at images of the older version the playing pieces replicated the cards perfectly, so it was considerably easier to pick out who was your assassin in disguise. You do get around this and only once have I inadvertently lost an assassin through mistaken identity.
If you are a dab hand with a tiny paintbrush these miniatures are crying out to be painted. If you follow the colours on the cards, working out who’s who would be ten times easier. Thus, solving the above issue. So much so, I might try it out myself soon.
Final Thoughts on King & Assassins Deluxe Edition
Both my wife and I have played this with our 11-year-old son, he gets it completely. I don’t think he would necessarily be able to play with another 11-year-old, but he might if the other child had previously played with an adult too. The rules are ultimately quite straight forward as there is limited movements and options. As a result, the box suggestion of 14+ seems a tad high. Board Game Geek list it as 10+, so perhaps it has been revised.
I have to say Kings & Assassins Deluxe Edition is a very clever little two-player game. It feels like modern day chess with bluffing. Thematically this game is immersive and you can’t help but care about winning. King & Assassins is quick to learn and there is a handy quick reference sheet showing how all the action points can be used. All positives for me.
Considering the asymmetrical play, this game is superbly balanced. Ultimately, you are engaged and often engrossed when playing, there are times where your pulse might rise a little too. The hidden role mechanism is also an interesting one and really does add to the strategy and tactics that both sides have to adopt. It is a lighter weight game, generally playing around 20-30 minutes – that means you might just have time to do a role reversal!
There really doesn’t seem to be an ideal strategy for either side as something that worked once will not necessarily work the next time, especially if you play against the same opponent. So, you both have to constantly adapt, or try something new as you learn how each other play the game. This, coupled with the double-sided board allows for some pretty good replay-ability.
If you are looking for a new two-player game this has to be a serious contender. In fact, it really should be in your board game collection if it isn’t already. I cannot remember how I stumbled across King & Assassins Deluxe Edition, but oh my, am I glad I did. I think you will too!