The King Is Dead is a board game of politics and power struggles set in Britain in the chaotic period following the death of King Arthur. For the good of the country, a leader must unite the Scots, Welsh, and Romano-British — not by conquest but by diplomacy.
Players are members of King Arthur's court. Whether a loyal knight, a scheming lord, or an ambitious noblewoman, you all have one thing in common: power. As prospective leaders, each player uses their power to benefit the factions, gaining influence among their ranks. The player with the greatest influence over the most powerful faction is crowned the new ruler of Britain.
- Ages 12+
- 2-4 Players
- 30-50 Minute Playing Time
My first experience of The King is Dead was interesting. An American friend (Dad of the amazing Dara) ran a three-player game on a google spreadsheet. I'll be honest, I was scared. The game actually went really well and by the end of it I knew it must be mine.
The King is Dead
The box for The King is Dead is one of these hinge open affairs that Osprey Games seem to use when ever they can. If you have the new prints of London, or Escape the Aliens in Outer Space you'll know what I mean. Open the flap and you'll find a smallish board, a load of wooden cubes and draw bag, some cards, and some of the flimsiest punch board on God's green earth. Punching the relatively few tokens out of that wafer thin monstrosity gave me nightmares.
It all seems very minimal and simple. Gameplay follows this pattern, but once you crack the surface you find a much more complex beast. You will play up to eight rounds as you battle, not for control of the UK but for loyalty from the nation that controls most of the country. The nations are the Scots, the Welsh and the Brits. These nations are represented by cubes and placed out on the board randomly (apart from three home locations) and each player takes two cubes to their reserve.
At the end of eight rounds the player with the most cubes of the nation in control of the UK wins. Although if there are four draws for control the Saxons win those territories and then the player with most complete sets of all three nations wins.
He's Getting Better...
To manipulate the nations and state of the board you have eight cards. These let you do things like add more cubes to territories, swap the resolution order and generally change the state of play. Over the eight rounds you can only play each of these cards once. Yes that's right only eight actions, if you don't count passing, for the whole game. You can place cards face down or face up when you play them, depending on how much perfect information you want in the game.
I prefer face-up as then it is a game of total perfect information. You know how many cubes are on the board, how many in the supply and how many in front of players. You know all the cards player and what options players have going forward.
A further advantage to playing a card is you get to take one cube off the board and place it in front of you. This is a really interesting choice as what you take weakens that nation's presence on the board while strengthening your relationship with them! On the flip side playing a card means you now have less options and your opponents know it. This is a game of knowing when to pass and when to gamble and watching people struggle to decide to pass is path for the course.
He's Going to Pull Through...
Of course, holding firm and passing while the other players slap their cards around means remaining resolute. This leads to the first minor complaint - this is a game that favours repeat plays. Someone who is well versed in its systems will undoubtedly beat a new player. It will only take one play to learn and understand the game though, and play is quick enough for a second game to be started straight after the first.
A more limiting complaint is that this is ultimately a three-player only game. Two and four player games do not work out well, or provide the same kind of challenge. Also as I have alluded too the components are not exactly premium, but then neither is the price.
Games are tense tug of wars as players weight up whether they should abandon the Brits in favour of the Scots or Welsh or just to stick it out. You see plays that give factions strength in one region often weaken them else where, and if you do not plan ahead your plans may fail.
The King's Ahead
I'm absolutely entranced with the game and highly recommend it. The three-player limitation doesn't bother me that much because my game nights often end up at three players! Yes I wish the components were better particularly the punchboard, but it doesn't detract too much from a brilliant experience.
The King is Dead plays reasonably quickly and while there is some random set up, the difference each game comes from the players and reading the board. I've found myself watching their moves intently to try and read their plans and adjust accordingly.
Nick can also be found at Board, Deck & Dice