WBG Score: 8
Player Count: 2-4
Published by: Osprey Games
Designed by: Peer Sylvester
The King is Dead! And since this is a second edition I suppose you could say that the King is Dead Again! Whichever way you look at it, being a male monarch in medieval England doesn’t have the most long term of career prospects. Luckily for the players though all we have to do is deal with the fallout, gain loyalty from a majority of the country and stop the French invading and taking over……..simple really!
You have to know these things when you're a king, you know.
Set up by giving each player a set of the eight cards, everyone has the same cards so just make sure each player has a complete set. Shuffle the region cards and place them randomly face up around the board. Give each player two random cubes from the bag. Then add two blue cubes into Moray, two red cubes to Gwynedd and two Yellow cubes into Essex (my home County) then place cubes randomly into each region until they each have four cubes. The rest go into the general supply.
On your turn they can either play a card from your hand or pass. If you play a card, perform the action on that card. This is either going to add followers onto the board or switch others around but with restrictions. Once a card Is played, discard that card from the game, then take one follower (cube) of any colour from anywhere on the map and add it to your supply. Passing doesn’t end your round however. The round will only end once everyone has passed in succession. This means you can still change your mind and play a card after passing. Once everyone has passed a power struggle will occur. You check the first region card around the board and check which faction has the most followers in that region then place a control disc of that colour in that region and place all the followers into the general supply. If there are no cubes in that region or there is a tie for most then a black French control disc is placed instead.
The game will end in one of two ways. When either all eight power struggles have been resolved or if the French place all three control discs on the board. The game will score differently depending on how the game ends. If by way of a power struggle then determine which faction has the most power discs, then the player with the most cubes of that colour wins. If the game ends in French invasion then the player with the most sets of each colour will win.
You don’t vote for kings!
Now and again a game comes along that I love to explain to people, usually because it has a little M Night Shyamalan style twist that makes people sit up and say “what?!, say that again!” The King is dead is one of those games. Some of you may have worked it out from my brief rules rundown above, if not, don’t worry.
Basically you only have eight cards in your hand and each time you play one you discard it out of the game with no way of getting it back. This means you have a maximum of eight turns in the game and how and when you decide to take them is crucial and absolutely makes this game the little slice of brilliance that it is.
Looking at this game from the outside it would be so easy to say “well just play one card per round then you're guaranteed a turn every round”, but the decisions are so much harder than that.
The first time you play a card you think to yourself “that’s fine, that’s set me up nicely for the next power struggle” and you're all set to pass into the next round. But then someone else plays a card which may put a medieval spanner in the works, maybe for this round or a future round and then the conundrums really start. Do you sit back and let it go and try and push up for future power struggles instead, do you change your follower strategy, or do you play another card to retaliate and then hope that your opponent doesn’t decide to play ANOTHER card to swing the balance back in their favour. Playing that second card this round will mean you'll essentially be skipping a round in the future but it may just be worth it. These are the decisions you will have to struggle with EVERY. SINGLE. ROUND. and it’s brilliant.
The cards themselves give you plenty of options. You have some cards that let you move cubes to different regions either into adjacent or across the map. The trick here is that the next player in turn can’t use the same card to reverse what has just been played. Re- enforcement style cards will add cubes to the board and strengthen a faction's control in a region. Then you have the negotiate card which lets you switch the position of two unresolved region cards and place your white negotiation disc on one which blocks it from being moved again.
I love how an eight region map and a hand of eight cards each gives you so much depth and so much scope to make some really interesting and thoughtful choices. Every card you play isn’t a simple decision and you're never just playing a card for the current power struggle. Since cards are precious and power struggles are public knowledge You are constantly weighing up your options and trying to make your cards work for future rounds as well. It’s not just the cards though because taking a follower after playing cards adds that little extra layer to your choices.
Now stand aside, worthy adversary!
Chances are your best laid plans and strategies will change during the course of the game. Because all your cubes and cards are public knowledge it’s fairly easy to see where people's loyalties lie or if they seem to be pushing for sets and bringing about French victory. Because of that there can be a bit of a mid game panic as you see the loyalties veering away from you and you scrabble to try and either turn the tide your way or try and grab relevant followers. If you do happen to find yourself on the wrong end of a revolution though the game is quick enough and easy enough to set up that you can just go again. The randomness of the set up is where the game finds it’s replayability and for such little effort that is a lot of replayability.
The production on The King is Dead is just fantastic. The tapestry style art on that beautiful box cover and the cards is amazing and I’m always drawn to a beautiful box and board with those shiny surfaces on (I think that’s the technical term anyway!) The art was done by Benoit Billion who has now taken my number one spot as the best name in all of board gaming.
Consult the book of armaments
The King is Dead does come with a small variant which sees you throwing new cards into the mix and it is honestly my preferred way to play the game and require no real effort to throw in or teach.
Remove the three faction support cards from each deck and shuffle up the twelve cunning action cards and deal three to each player replacing those support cards. They essentially do similar things as the other cards but in different combinations and the rule book will give you a run down of each one. Since each card is different the other players can’t easily deduct what cards opponents have in their hands. Some people may prefer the predictability of the original set up while others may prefer the slight randomness of the cards.
The standard factions support cards are good and are great for learning the game. They don’t over complicate things and it’s easier to teach everyone the same cards. They also have their limits though. If you don’t manage to play them at the right time then they may wind up being unusable. The game is so simple though that it will only really take a game or even two to feel confident enough to use the new cards.
I love the fun back and forth and the will they, won't they play another card dilemma. The best thing about The King is Dead though is that it’s a simple to learn, quick and utterly engaging area control game which has a ton of replayability in a brilliantly produced small box of delights.