Publisher: Osprey Games
Rules by: Peer Sylvester
Reviewer: Dan Faulconbridge
The King is Dead is Osprey Games’ first foray into the world of board game publishing. It’s not a game that features miniatures so we really have no excuse for covering it in WI, other than because it is by Osprey and Osprey are such a feature on the wargaming landscape we thought we would take a look and report on our findings.
The box looks great; a lovely piece of Peter Dennis artwork on the cover and it’s a solid structure, which flips open horizontally, without detaching. The board and other components are equally ‘hi-spec’. However, I guarantee 90% of first reactions to the folding out of the board will be “is that it!?” – despite its impressive look, it’s size is signally un-impressive. More on that later.
Once set up and ready for play TKID (a very un-fitting acronym!) has eight region cards flanking the board, a set of eight action cards in the hands of each player and a random scattering of different coloured ‘cubes’ populating the eight different regions of the board, with the excess cubes placed in a ‘pool’ at the top of the board.
The three different coloured cubes represent the three different factions which are struggling for control of Dark Age Britain following the death of King Arthur, on the eve of the Saxon conquests. Red cubes represent the Welsh, yellow Romano British and blue Scots.
The game progress through a series of ‘Power Struggles’. Each Power Struggle represents a battle for one of the eight regions of the board, once a power struggles is complete, one of the factions will control the corresponding region.
During a Power Struggle the players take turns in which they seek to manipulate the outcome of the struggle by playing the eight cards they have in their hand. There is no limit to the number of cards each player can play during a struggle and one of the tactics of the game is for a player to decide how many cards he or she is going to throw at a single struggle in an effort to win it.
A key element of the game is that the players do not represent or control any particular faction. As a player you decide which faction you will back as the game progresses. In order to back a faction you remove one of the coloured cubes from the board and add it to your ‘court’ – the area in front of you on the table – players remove one cube each time they play a card.
As the game progresses different factions will take control of the different regions of the board and your court will become populated with the different cubes representing the three factions. At the end of the game (following the final power struggle) the shape of nation will be clear – all the regions will be controlled by one of the three factions. The winner is the player whose highest stack in his court is of the same faction as that which controls most regions on the board.
As you might expect there are various nuances within the game, like tied regions falling to the Saxons and I haven’t explained the intricacies of turns and passes within a power struggle, all these things add to complexity and depth of the game. There is also an ‘advanced rule’; The Mordred Variant, which adds a nice shake-up once you have mastered the basic rules.
Our first game was something of a non-event with both players (we played with two players), learning the ropes, or more precisely the cards – you can only really start to play when you have figured out what each of the eight cards does.
Mastering the use of the cards becomes the key to winning the game, so too does the ability to look ahead. The temptation is to focus on the power struggle currently in play e.g. the battle for Londinium, however you really need to have at least half an eye on the power struggles which are coming up down the line and planning to manipulate those to your advantage.
So, is it any good? Is it challenging and fun to play? The answer to all of those questions is ‘yes’. The initial shock as to the tiny size of the board is pretty soon overcome when you discover A) it doesn’t really need to be any bigger and B) its actually really handy, because you can easily play on a coffee or pub table. The other component parts are functional and of a decent quality, without being particularly flashy or ascetically pleasing (i.e. 10mm miniature Scots, Brits and Welsh would have looks great compared to wooden blocks!). The box itself is nice and study.
The gameplay is very engaging, in order to manipulate the power struggles, and your court, you need to be planning and counter-planning the whole time. It’s a very quick game and the decisions you make need to be swift and subtle, like those of a sprinter rather than a marathon runner.
Each game I’ve played leaves me wanting more, which is always a key sign of a quality, well thought out board game. TKID is a game of thinking on the hoof and reacting to situations as they arise, you won’t spend much time after the game analysing your moves or planning your next play, but whilst you are playing you will find your mind (and brain power!) is totally focussed.
TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE KING IS DEAD
- Start playing as soon as you can – don’t over analyses the rules and feel you have to get everything straight in your head before you begin – use your first game as a rules run-through.
- Get your head around that fact that you are not controlling a particular faction – you can manipulate ALL factions.
- The game is quick, after your first couple of trial games it takes 20 – 30 minutes to play.
- It genuinely plays as well with 2, 3 or 4 players.
- The written rules are not long – they will take about 20 minutes to read through, whilst referencing the pieces and cards.
- You won’t need much table space – 2’ x 2’ will do.
- Don’t worry too much about the confusing looking cards, the pictures/diagrams would actually be better just bearing the name of the action e.g. Garrison, Ambassador etc.
- During play don’t get fixated on backing one particular faction – during the course of the game you will/should switch which faction you will support at least once.
- Make sure you are familiar with the rules concerning ties. Ties occur regularly and if you master the tie-break rules you can often trump your opponent.
Think of The King Is Dead as a casual investment in both money (it’s only $24.99/£19.99) and time. You could play it three or four times during an evening, or play it once at your club and still fit in a proper wargame.