The King Is Dead Review

01 February 2016
Power struggles and intrigue as Andrew Wormald travels back to King Arthur’s court.

Osprey Games | Historical intrigue | £19.99 | 2-4 players | 30-45 minutes |

King Arthur is dead! You are members of his court, bestowing your favour onto the various factions struggling to gain control of this divided nation.

The game takes place through eight power struggles, one for each region of Britain. Whichever of the game’s three factions – Welsh, Scots and Romano-British – has the most followers in that region, gains control. Action cards allow players to exert their influence over events: adding, moving or removing followers. The player with the most followers from the faction in control of Britain wins the game, unless the dreaded Saxons invade, which cuts the game short and introduces other
win conditions.

The theme is as loose as they come; this is an almost entirely abstract game. Try as you might, it’s hard to imagine the struggle for the future of Britain as you’re swapping coloured cubes. But that doesn’t detract from the game’s engaging puzzle.

The rules are very simple and easy to explain but at first it’s diffcult to work out any kind of strategy. You can move followers into or out of any contested region – not just the location of the current power struggle – and you can only play each of your eight action cards once. This means you’ll need to play the long game; sacrificing power struggles early on in order to secure regions later.

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At first the number of options is a little daunting and we were all reluctant to be the first to make a move. As the game progresses, the puzzle becomes a little clearer and it becomes more obvious what you should be working towards (if not how you’re going to get there) There’s a lot to think about; not only do you have to keep track of your own strategy but also try and work out what other players are trying to do. This is even trickier in the four-player mode where, as in bridge, players sitting opposite each other play as a partnership but can’t discuss their tactics. In one of our games I spent three rounds trying desperately to convey the message “stop supporting the Welsh!” to my partner using only my eyebrows.

The King is Dead is a reimplementation of 2007’s King of Siam, transporting the action from nineteenth-century Thailand to medieval Britain. The game loses some of its historical weight but doesn’t gain any of the mythic allure of the King Arthur legend, which can be found in games such as Shadows over Camelot or Avalon.

The components are generally of good quality but despite the muted medieval colours of the game board’s map, there’s nothing to transport you back to this era of history. Our only real complaint was that certain regions were so small, it was fiddly to move cubes around, especially when a misplaced follower could change the course of history... or at least the game. 

This is a neat and relatively quick abstract puzzle for anyone who values mechanics over theme. It’s accessible but certainly not lightweight: it will get you thinking but not tearing your hair out. There’s also an advanced ‘Mordred’ variant if you like things even tougher.

Buy your copy here.

This article originally appeared in issue 2 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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