Thank you for checking out my twentieth review. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**A copy of this game was provided by Osprey Games in exchange for an honest review.
An Overview of The King is Dead
The King is Dead is a game designed by Peer Sylvester and is published by Osprey Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 30-50 minute play time on the box.
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.
In The King is Dead, 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.
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
There are no major changes in setup for two players, simply the removal of two Followers (cubes) of each faction from the game. Each player gets their hand of eight cards. The eight territory cards are shuffled and placed along the sides of the board to determine the order in which territories will resolve. Two cubes of that color will go on the map in the territories that have the colored symbol on there, which indicates the home regions for those factions. The remaining cubes go in the bag and get mixed up (minus black cubes unless playing with the variant) and each player gets two cubes at random. Then cubes are pulled at random, with every territory on the board getting a total of 4 cubes.
During a player’s turn, they can either play a card from their hand or pass. When a card is played, it can never be played by that player again for the rest of the game. After playing and resolving the card, the player may select a cube from anywhere on the board and remove it, placing it in their personal supply. When both players pass consecutively, the next territory in order gets resolved, with the color having the most cubes in that territory placing their token on the area. If there is a tie for most, the Saxons conquer instead. Once a territory is resolved, its card flips over and all cubes are removed. Play continues until either the Saxons control four territories, or when all eight territories have resolved.
The player who has the most cubes in the color that controls the most territories will win. If the Saxons trigger the end game, then whoever has the most complete sets of 3 cubes wins.
I love the artwork and the theming here. I know, those are subjective, but worth mentioning. The aftermath of King Arthur’s death and the struggle for power…what a great theme!
This game is very unique in its approach. It is an area control game, yet not like an area control game. It is a set collection game of sorts, but not at all like a set collection game. You’re removing followers to gain influence, but those followers reduce the influence that faction has remaining on the board. No player controls a specific faction, meaning any player can hold influence with any faction. I love the twist this game takes on a mechanic we’re used to seeing in games.
This game has no secrets to take you by surprise. Once the board is set up, you know exactly what is available. You can see the order in which things will resolve, what cubes are where, and what eight actions you and your opponent will both be able to do over the course of the game. The only things you can’t predict is when your opponent will play each card and which cube they will take. But even then, as you get experienced you can start to predict some of those things. This game rewards the better player in nearly every play of the game, especially at the 2-player count.
I love the limitation on actions over the course of the game. It makes every decision meaningful. Do you play cards early to try and manipulate the board in your favor, or do you keep most of your cards in reserve to try and control the final territories? Do you sit by and let your opponent gain yet another blue cube while the blues conquer another territory, or do you counter their move? Your eight actions make this play out like a game of cat and mouse, in a way.
The only way to gain influence in your own court is to play a card, which allows you to remove a cube from anywhere on the board. This is great because it encourages you to sometimes play a card that isn’t very beneficial because you can manipulate the balance in a territory through that removal. It also presents interesting decisions. You want to control the most in the color that eventually holds the most territories, yet gaining that influence makes them weaker in areas of the map. Going after a certain color early can tip off your opponent, yet balancing your selections across all three factions will limit the number of cubes you can ultimately hold in that majority color. This is yet another area of the game that provides challenging and interesting decisions for a player.
How the game’s end triggers determines how the game is scored. This is great because it forces you to react to how the territories are resolving. There is a chance that your majority in a faction will be meaningless when the game ends, causing you to lose to collected sets instead. Only once have I seen a game where the Saxons triggered the end, but it has always been in my mind as a possibility. I really like that dual trigger for the end of the game.
I would give this a full star for components, but I cannot. The box is great, and I love the artwork inside the box as well as on the outside. The map is outstanding, the cards are good. The bag and the cubes are a nice quality. But the tokens are so flimsy, they feel as though they will bend and break easily. This is the only component in the game that is of poor quality, and it was a little disappointing in a game where everything else is of fantastic production. I’m hoping a company makes upgraded wooden versions of these markers, as I think this would be a game that I’d jump on that upgrade.
As you can see, it becomes easy to think of the components in terms of the colors rather than the factions themselves. This is the same sort of flaw you see in a game like Lords of Waterdeep. Sure, there are the tokens to help signify, but they don’t include the names of the factions on there, either. So most players will refer to the factions by color rather than by name, apart from the Saxons because they’re the special invaders. Which is a shame, because the Scots, the Welsh, and the Romano-British are important factions from that period of history.
The Mordred variant in the game sounds so interesting, but I found it to be a poor inclusion in a 2-player game. It changes several dynamics and adds a third end-game trigger, but that trigger becomes easy to manipulate in a 2-player game. It rewards the player who acts last, and so the whole game played out in a predictable sequence of events that led to an unsurprising loss. With 3 players, this variant would be a great inclusion. I might try it one more time in a 2-player game, but if it follows the same pattern it’ll likely be reserved for the larger player count.
if you typically play with someone who is analytical then you may run into really long bouts of downtime. There is a ton of open information available, and so a person can sit there and think through every card you both have in your hands and how those are likely to be played and alter the board. If you dislike games that could encounter that sort of downtime, this may not be the game for you. My wife, for instance, would certainly never play this game against someone who overanalyzes their turns. She’d get too impatient while waiting for them to take their turn.
I really like this game. It is a fun, thinky game that plays rather quickly. A person could sit and puzzle out a ton of scenarios, and I’ve been involved in those intense matches. I’ve also played where it was a little more relaxed, reacting to the current situation instead of trying to analyze all the potential options. Both approaches are enjoyable.
This game does play better with three than it does with two, but it still provides a great experience with two players. If you’re wanting a game that plays 2-3, this is a great option. Even as just a 2-player game in your collection, it is certain to see some plays and could provide a lot of good fun. I certainly have enjoyed this game a lot, and will continue to play this game many more times in the future. It is a perfect opener or filler during a game night if you have a small number of people needing a game, and playing this a few times in a row is something I usually enjoy. It plays in the perfect amount of time, and I love the perfect set of information that is available to all players. As mentioned before, I love the twist this game takes on a mechanic we’re used to seeing in games. That makes this game one that should be added to many collections.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.