GAME REVIEW: The King is Dead

A vacuum of power has been left in medieval England following the death of King Arthur. It falls to you, the faithful members of his fabled court, to marshal support among the people of Great Britain and unite them behind a single ruler to defend your land from the invading Anglo-Saxon armies.

Peer Sylvester’s The King is Dead is an abstract strategy game of medieval politics that pits you against your opponents as you try to gain the support of those Britons who remain in the wake of King Arthur’s demise. It is a re-implementation of Sylvester’s own King of Siam (2007) and was released in September, 2015 by Osprey Games. If you were fortunate enough to have attended Gen Con 2015 you had the opportunity to obtain an advanced copy the summer before its official release.

Osprey recommends The King is Dead for 2-4 players at least 12 years of age and older, and its approximate play time is 30-50 minutes. It is Osprey Games’s first board game.

Over eight rounds, each player must maintain a balance between the amount of pieces distributed on the board and the number of pieces gathered as supporters. Each supporter is a member of one of the three groups of people who primarily populated Great Britain during the middle ages–the Scots (blue), the Welsh (red), and the Romano-British (yellow). (The game features a fourth group, represented by 9 black tokens, who remain loyal to King Mordred; these pieces are reserved for an optional variant set of rules recommended for advanced players.) The three different colored support tokens are randomly distributed throughout the land except for a few loyalists who reside in their respective home regions–Caledonia for the Scots, Caerleon for the Welsh, and Londinium for the Romano-British. It is your job, as a surviving member of King Arthur’s court, to curry favor among the three different groups and ensure that you alone will hold the most influence among the group remaining in power. But be careful: if you and your opponents cannot establish a majority in any of the eight territories, the Anglo-Saxons will claim the territory as their own and your nascent network of influence will weaken.

With a single round of play dedicated to each of the map’s territories, and only eight different action cards for each player to use throughout the entire game, The King is Dead ensures a balanced conflict between the players by tightly limiting each player’s options; however, this does not mean the players are constrained. On the contrary, the ease with which one learns the game, and the diversity of options given to each player within each round, make for a seemingly limitless number of options. Of course, as each action is taken it is lost to the player for the rest of the game, so be careful which steps you make and always be mindful of the opportunities awaiting your opponents. Your options are never limitless, and your opponent is always in search of a misstep to exploit.

I have played this game a number of times with a few different opponents since Austin returned home with an advanced copy last July. All of us have found that The King is Dead is a deceptively simple game that is quickly learned but will never be mastered. The random distribution of the tokens at the beginning of each game presents the players with new territories to secure and new relationships to form. Each player’s starting pieces are assigned randomly as well, preventing someone from approaching each game with a similar strategy.

The King is Dead is an abstract strategy game with an area control mechanic. You will spend your time deciding which action to take, when to take an action, and trying to anticipate your opponents’ next move. In spite of this, the theme of political intrigue in medieval Great Britain lends authenticity to the game and anchors it in a vibrant fantasy world. If you have ever found yourself growing attached to individual pieces during a game of chess, or wondered just what sort of conflict it was that all of those pawns and noblemen were trying to solve on that board of squares, The King is Dead is a game you will likely enjoy. The packaging is handsome, the cards and components are of a high quality, and Peter Dennis’s outstanding artwork all combine to make for a pleasurable playing experience. Osprey Games’s first attempt at publishing a board game release is a success, and I am already anticipating their next game release.

The above image is property of Osprey Games. No infringement of copyright law is intended.