King Arthur is dead and Britain stands divided in today's Let's play, as we look at The King is Dead.
Set in the dark ages, players in The King is Dead will be attempting to unify Britain and be claimed its ruler! The game can take up to four players with a playing time of 30-45 minutes, and boasts an impressive 10 minute learning time - so let's see if it lives up to this.
The King is Dead comes with a simple board showing the eight regions of Britain that players will vie for, faction symbols being present for each of their power bases. The detail on the map is limited, showing a city in each region as well as a few hills and trees,but this plays into the theme as apart from major cities it is unlikely that you would have much else on a map during the dark ages.
Coloured cubes are the game's core components showing each player's influence within the factions. These are randomly drawn at certain points of the game so unfortunately it was important that these were not sculpted pieces. The game also comes with 24 control tokens, eight for each of the three factions, as well as four for the Saxons and four crown tokens. Actions and region cards are the last components of the game, the artwork being clear but very simple. This helps to ensure an easy learning experience.
At the start of the game each faction's home region gains two followers(cubes) of their colour. Following this all the followers are placed into the bag provided. Players will now receive their eight action cards and draw two followers from the bag. These starting cubes will form the basis of your court, blue for the Scots, red for the Welsh and yellow for the Romano-British. At the end of game the person with the most followers of the faction in control will be declared victor, so even at this early stage you may have some indication of your overall strategy.
After the building of your court you will now draw followers from the bag until each of the eight regions are occupied by four of them, this includes the cubes placed for each of the home regions. The remaining cubes will now form a common pool on the board.
The region cards are shuffled and laid face up in the positions from one to eight marked on the board. That is the entire board set up, and so far we are looking good on the ease of play aspect, the last thing to mention here is that whoever set up the game will be taking the first turn.
Playing the game
There are two ways for The King is Dead to end, the first and most common way is for the eighth power struggle to be resolved. At this point the faction who controls the most regions is declared in power, and the player with the most followers of that faction gets declared King or Queen of Britain. The second way to trigger the game's end is by there being four Saxon markers on the board. If this happens at any time the game immediately ends.
In this case thematically the Saxons have claimed the throne and the player who fulfils the victory condition in the first instance vows to fight them back, still winning the game but being the leader of scattered people. Ties are also settled slightly differently depending on the circumstance in which the game ended, with action cards determining the victor in the latter and the second most powerful faction settling the dispute in the former.
So now we know how to win the game, let's look at how to play it.
The game consists of eight power struggles. These are for each of the regions located on the board and will be resolved in the order that you placed the cards in the set up. The region in position one will be the staging area for the game's first power struggle. Beginning with the first player and working clockwise, each player has the choice of playing one action card or passing. If they pass they will still have an opportunity to play in this power struggle as the struggle only ends once all players have passed consecutively, therefore it is possible to pass and wait for other players to act first.
If a player chooses to use an action card they select one of their eight cards and carry out its effect on any region they wish, before placing it face up in front of them. That card becomes unavailable to that player for the rest of the game, so timing is very important here. Once you have played an action you must also recall one of your followers to court, this is how you build up your influence with the factions and the cube you bring back can be from any location on the board.
Their are five unique actions among the eight cards, with three having a similar ability one being a duplicate.
- The duplicated card is settlements which allows the player to move one follower of each faction from the common pool on to the board and into an unresolved region. These can be placed together or separately. If no followers are available of a given faction then the action is carried out using those that can be taken from the pool, there is no substitution to fill it.
- Three of the cards are very similar, one being for each of the game's factions and these allow the movement of two followers from the common pool to a region adjacent to an area controlled by the faction in question. So at the start of the game before regions have been resolved these cards are of no use, but they are the fastest way for you to gain the followers you need in an area of your choice.
- The Crown card allows the player to swap the position of any two face up regions, this can even include a region being contested in the current power struggle. The player will also place a crow token on one of these regions, stopping that region from being moved again.
- Garrison enables a player to switch two followers in one region with one follower in another. This however cannot be played immediately after someone else moved the same pieces, so planning ahead is the key to this card.
- The last card is the ambassador, which is a weakened version of Garrison, allowing the swapping at a ratio of 1:1.
As I mentioned these are one use only cards, so you must be cautious in there use, however if the Saxon invasion ends the game it is the player who played their last action card first that wins the game, as the new leader of Britain must be proactive.
Once all players have taken the actions they wish to use this phase, and as such have passed consecutively the power struggle ends and the region card is turned face down and awarded to the faction with the most followers present, enabling their faction's control marker to be placed. If a tie occurs or no factions are present in the region when the struggle ends, then the Saxons have taken advantage of the chaos and their marker is placed in the region instead, getting them one step closer to launching a full invasion of Britain.
The game continues proceeding with power struggles being carried out until one of the game conditions are met, and that is all the rules for The King is Dead.
The King is Dead is exceptionally simple, with 10 minutes being more than enough for someone to be taught the game and formulate a strategy. Knowledge of how each action card works is an advantage but within the space of one power struggle, players will certainly have learnt this and that's the real draw of The King is Dead. A super quick, easy to learn filler game.
The production quality of the game is rather good considering its role. Coming in a lovely book style case which a lot of gaming companies could learn from, and though the pieces are not exciting they serve their purpose. Osprey for me really achieved what they were aiming for with this game, it even comes with a variant which adds the followers of Mordred to the game, creating a new ending condition which I am yet to try but it would appear to change the game up significantly.
The only issue I can see for The King is Dead is getting past its rather drab looking exterior as a really great game lies underneath. Long Live the King!