The King is dead and the Kingdom is divided. Three factions vie for control – who will come out on top?
The King is dead! Across eight regions of medieval Britain, the Welsh, Scots and English are fighting for control, and it’s up to you to influence the struggles that will ensue. Over the course of the game players will choose action cards which alter the course of the war, as one by one each region’s fate is decided. The player who holds the most influence with the winning faction will win the game, unless foreign invaders take advantage of the chaos.
The King is Dead is an area control game with more than one twist. First of all, it’s very quick. Most games take around 30 minutes and each player only takes 8 actions throughout the entire game. Second and most importantly, it’s different because each player can control all three factions rather than just one. The winner is not who’s faction wins control, but the player that is preferred by that winning faction. It’s subtle but it means right up until the end the winner can change hands as allegiances switch and plans unravel.
Each player begins with the same hand of 8 action cards, which can be used to manipulate the balance of power across Britain, such as adding reinforcements of a particular faction, rearranging forces from one region to another and so on. On your turn you either play one of these cards or pass- simple as that. If you play an action, you must also summon a follower to court (this is how you gain influence) of one of the three factions, by removing one cube of that colour from the board and adding it to your supply. So by gaining influence with one faction, you are also weakening them at the same time, a really tricky but beautiful mechanic. Whoever has the most follower cubes of the winning faction wins the game.
Power Struggles are the most important part of the game, they occur when every player passes consecutively. Each power struggle resolves one region (in an order randomly determined at the start of the game), and is based on which faction has the biggest force (most cubes) there. If Gwynedd is next and you have a vested interest in the English winning it you could play an action which increases their force there, but beware, once your 8 actions are gone you have no more control in the game.
If no faction has control (due to a tie for number of cubes) then there is instability in that region, with invaders from France sensing an opportunity to take advantage. If three regions become unstable at any point, the game ends prematurely with an alternate winning condition. As there is no winning faction in this case, whoever has the most complete sets of followers wins the game. So while it may pay you to pick a horse and stick with it, that will allow your opponents to deliberately make regions unstable, ruining your plans.
Once all the power struggles have been resolved, or once three regions become unstable, the game ends and the winner determined. With this sort of game you can start off not really knowing what your plan is (or really knowing who you want to win), but once the game goes on a little every single move is crucial because you can alter which faction is winning in many regions with a single move. In our first game, in one move I sneakily made Devon and Essex unstable while winning Lancaster for the Scots- Jess thought that I was gunning for the Scots to win, only for me to cause a French invasion and I won that way instead.
This game has a lot of hype around it and for good reason. The first thing anyone will notice is that it is strikingly beautiful. The art style is one I absolutely love, and I think you will too – the board, the cards and the colour scheme really make it feel thematic to me. The second is it’s really very simple to learn- even if you’re relatively new to board gaming you can pick this up in 20 minutes and for a game of such intricate strategy and intrigue, that is really something. Why would you bother playing a massive 3 hour long game of something far more complicated when you can play this? It contains all the tension, back stabbing and excitement of the best games in the genre, but in a fraction of the time and cost. It’s all the best bits from all those games condensed into a brutal bitesize chunk and I immediately fell in love with it.
The fact that all the players control all the factions is what really makes this game stand out for me – usually you’re thinking ‘if I move these units here, these ones over there then this should happen and make my team win’, but anything you do can be undone by your opponents on their turn, and there is no such thing as ‘my team’! This twist also means in most cases you don’t really know your opponents’ motives until right at the end, you’ll have to second guess them most of the time (and they’ll probably change their mind a dozen times during the game anyway!).
Another thing I love is the way the rounds take place, as you choose whether or not to play a card from your hand. Doing nothing seems really silly, and you feel like you should be adding units or switching them around or something, but the quicker you get through your cards the less chance you have to change things towards the end of the game. As the blurb in the rules says, ‘act too soon and your opponents will unravel your carefully made plans, but wait too long and the fate of the island will already be sealed’, and that really sums up how tricky it can be to time it right in this game. Tense!
It’s worth pointing out that it’s probably best played with three, which for us is a relatively unusual number to have around a table. We’re yet to play at four which plays as a 2v2 but I’m not as excited by that. At two it still works really well, but Jess felt we had a tendency to copy each other’s decisions in terms of which follower to take to court, so that one person doesn’t get ahead in any one faction – this can be frustrating (especially if you’re the one being copied), but that should just make you think harder to try and outwit your opponent (if you’re always one step ahead then you should win, right?). This has put Jess off the game slightly so I am frantically Googling solo rules! One other minor gripe, the box is way too big for what it contains!
So you want an epic game that almost always comes down to the last move? This is the game for you – but if you want my advice – try and be the player that has the last move and make sure it’s a good one!
Prices seem to vary quite a lot from shop to shop and it’ll be out of stock in a lot of places- so do shop around!
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