Saturday, August 8, 2015

Osprey Games: The King is Dead Boardgame Reviewed!

Today we will take a closer look at the first board game of Osprey Games named The King is Dead by Peer Sylvester. 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. 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 will use their power to benefit the factions, gaining influence among their ranks. The player with the greatest influence over the most powerful faction will be crowned the new ruler of Britain. 

Game Overview 

In The King is Dead you play the role of prospective leader looking to gain influence among the three powerful factions which are fighting for the crown following the tragic death of King Arthur. During this strategic game you do not command huge armies and fight bloody battles but instead you choose the way of diplomacy to gain enough influence to be crowned king. The goal of the game is to gain the most influence in the most powerful faction being either the Welsh, Scots or Romano-British by the end of the game. 

Game Components 

Looking at the quality of their huge assortment of military books, it’s very clear that Osprey Publishing knows what they are doing when it comes to publishing whether it are books or board games! The quality of the game is just great, when I opened the package and saw the nice box cover artwork by Peter Dennis. I just couldn’t wait to open the actual board game and check the cards and playing board. 

The most important game component is the gorgeously illustrated map of Britain divided in eight different regions being Caledonia, Din Eidyn, Eboracum, Deva, Ratae, Caerleon, Londinium and Aquae Sulis. Three of these regions are marked as home regions for each of the warring factions: Caledonia for the stout Scots, Caerleon for the daring Welsh and Londinium for the brave Romano-British. Each of these regions is also represented by a region card which is used to resolve the actual power struggles but more on that later. 

You also have the action card deck which is used to gain influence into the factions and regions. The action deck consists out of 32 cards, with eight differently colored decks of eight cards for each player. Each of these four player decks are identical. 

Also supplied are 24 cardboard control markers divided in eight colorful markers for each of the warring factions. Next to this you also receive four cardboard Saxon control tokens and four crown tokens. Last but not least you also receive 54 wooden follower cubes in the three faction colors and a necessary draw bag. Additionally you also get nine black follower cubes to be used in the Mordred game variant for experience players. 

How to Play 

We have played the game with three players, so the actual how to play will be based on our experiences with that amount of players although the game can also be played with two or four players. Also note that not all the game rule details are mentioned but only the main steps but that said the rules are actually very straight forward and easy to learn. 

Quick Setup 

The first step of the set-up is to place two follower cubes of the right color on the three home regions. Then the action card decks are given to the players along with a single crown token. After this each player draws two follower cubes which will form his court. These are not placed on the board but in front of the player. 

Another step during the setup phase is to fill up the board with follower cubes. To do so each players draws followers out of the draw bags and places them on the regions. Do so until all regions including the home regions contain four follower cubes. The last step is to shuffle the region cards and place them face up on the eight spots marked on the playing board. 

Intensive Power Struggles 

The most important part of the game is the power struggle phase in which the factions fight for the control of a region. The order of regions is based on their location starting with the lowest location number. During a power struggle players play action cards and their effects to gain influence and support the faction they choose to. 

When playing an action card, the player must take one follower cube from a region on the board and place it in front of them. The power struggle ends when all players pass in a row. The fight for the region is over and the faction with the most follower cubes on the region is declared the winner, all of the follower cubes are placed in the common pool and the region is marked with the factions control marker. When there are ties or there are no cubes left on the region, the Saxons have invaded and a Saxon control marker is placed on the region. 

Declaring the Winner 

During the game there are eight power struggles, one for each region. When all the struggles are resolved the game winner is declared on the following conditions. 

The faction with the most regions under control is the winning faction and the player with the most followers of that faction in his court is crowned king or queen. If there’s a tie between factions, the faction that last won a power struggle is the winner. If there’s a tie for the most followers of the winning faction between players, the faction with the next most regions is used to declare the winner. If there is still a tie, the player who played an action card as last is loses. 

When the Saxons control four regions, the game is immediately ended and the player with the most complete sets of followers in their court wins. A set contains one follower of each warring faction. If there’s a tie, the player who played an action card as last is declared the winner. 

Game experience 

When I first read the rules, I immediately thought that looks complicated with all those markers, factions, followers but when preparing and setting up the game together with the other players everything quickly fell into place. 

The game play is actually very fast once you know the great opportunities of the action cards. During our game, the first region card being played for was Caledonia won by the stout Scots after that more regions quickly fell to this faction as most players had similar amounts of blue followers at their courts. Although one region was invaded by Saxons in an attempt of one of the players to win by letting the Saxons invade four regions. This attempt failed but in the end he still won the game by gathering the most blue followers as the Scots had almost taken over most of the Britain with the other factions only controlling a couple of regions. 

Looking back at the game, the way you play the action cards is very important but also a strong focus as mine quickly shifted from one faction to another. Honestly wasn’t a very good strategy! It’s probably also interesting to focus on the faction with the most followers already on the board depending on your own small court at the beginning of the game. But that will also be the most logical strategy for most players so only recommended if there’s a lack of focus with the other players present. 


That said, The King of Dead is a great game filled with strategy and daring moves to gain influence. So if you’re looking for an interesting game that doesn’t focus on actual fighting and winning battles this might be up your alley. Although the game can also be played with two players I would recommend it to be played with three or four players as this adds much more depth, fun and intrigue to the game. Eager to grab a copy of your own, the game can now be pre-ordered over at Osprey Publishing for £19.99 with a scheduled release in late September. 

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