King & Assassins Review

Designer:  Łukasz Woźniak

Publisher: Galakta
Number of Players: 2
Playtime: 20 minutes
Price (approx.): 25 Euro 
An evil king has returned from a pleasant hunting trip, while he just raised the taxes a week ago. His knights are on his side. On the streets, the mood is very agitated. The people are stirring. Riots might break out. Whispers of murder. The king is stubborn, he does not want to see it. He decides to march, through the large town square, to his castle. Ignoring the sentiments of his subjects. People are gathering in the square, shouting, protesting. Hooded men are spotted in the crowd. Will the king survive this reckless operation? 
Overview:
What you get for your money:
A two-sided game board, 12 Citizen, 7 Knight, 1 King and 3 Assassin markers with corresponding plastic stands. 1 King’s wound marker, 2 reference sheets, 15 Round cards, 12 Citizen cards and, of course, the rules. 
How do you play the game:
One player is the King and his Knights and the other player the Citizens with the Assassins hidden amongst them. 
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The objective for the King is to reach the inside of his castle safely or to capture the Assassins. The objective for the Assassins is to kill the King or to prevent him to ever reach his castle.
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The King starts in the lower right corner of the board with a couple of Knights on his side. There are also two Knights posted on the castles towers. The castle has two possible entrances. 
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The Citizens are spread over the board on specified places. Three of them are Assassins in disguise.  The Assassin player chooses three citizens and places the corresponding character cards face down in front of him on the table.
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Then the game starts with the flipping of a Round card. A round card contains three or four pieces of information, it shows the action points of the King, the Knights and the Assassin/ Citizens. In addition, on some cards the shackle icon is present. This means that the Knights can capture one citizen that turn.
The King player goes first and he can spend the King’s and the Knight’s actions points in the following ways. The King himself can only move. The Knights can move, climb on a roof, decent, eliminate a known Assassin and/or he can capture a Citizen (if the shackle symbol is present that round). Knights can, while moving, shove Citizens or Assassins out of the way, which does not cost additional points.
Next, the Assassin player can use action point to move a Citizen, climb and/or descent. He can also choose to reveal an Assassin (replace a Citizen marker with an Assassin marker) and then he can still move, climb and descent, but climbing and descending will cost him less action points. As a known Assassin he can then also eliminate a Knight and/or attack the King.  If the King is attacked once, he will turn over his wound token. The second time he is attacked,  the King is dead and the Assassin player wins the game.
Keep in mind that there are less shackle icons than Citizens and that the available action points for the King allow him to take a small detour, but he cannot fool around a lot.
The King wins if he gets inside his castle or he eliminates/ captures all three Assassins or Citizens in disguise. The Assassin wins if he kills the King or if the round deck is empty and the King is still in the town square.
On the other side of the board there is another map and it plays a little different. It has another roof/street configuration and the castle has only one entrance.
Another difference is that the King can start the game in two different corners of the town square and the Assassin player must choose his Assassins (disguised as Citizens) first, before the King chooses his starting corner.
Review:
 
Theme
There is certainly some theme implemented in the gameplay, but not much. The angry mob enclosing the king round after round. The arrogant King too lazy to fight himself when the need is high. The fact that Assassins can move, better, faster around the board. They also want to simulate an Assassin moving through the crowd by disguising, for instance, a lovely milkmaid as a ferocious killer.
The theme is not really absent, but in the end the game feels more like an abstract strategy game than a very thematic strategy game.
Gameplay
This asymmetrical strategy game is very easy to learn. Clear rules and more important, very few rules. So, you can jump right into the game.
The two different ‘factions’ ( I call them this way because it’s easier), are not asymmetrical because they have many different and difficult cards with special powers, spells or something like that. No, they both have some action points to spend and the difference is they can spend them on a couple of different things.
The fact the Assassin player can decide to keep his Assassin marker hidden and just move with the Citizens until he thinks the time is right, is very nicely done. Assassins can move more easily than Citizens. It give you the choice, reveal your identity and use your action points more efficiently or stay hidden and move like a normal Citizen. It’s like a faction, within a faction.
There are more Citizens than there are Knights. Along the way the Citizens will be captured one by one, but not all are.
The capturing of the Citizens does feel a bit random, especially in the beginning of the game. At the end you might be able the deduce, a bit, which Citizen is an Assassin, but at the start it’s just luck.
Until now the two different factions really felt different. The Assassins feel much more offensive and more strategic. Do I reveal my Assassin earlier? Who are going to be my Assassins? And much more tactical. OK, one of my Citizens in disguise is captured, what now?
The King and his Knights on the other hand feel more defensive and more straightforward. They have to go to the castle, because the King has only so much action points to spend in the game. You choose the shortest path to the castle and capture some guys along the way, if you can. That is your strategy, always. That never changes. You only have to make small tactical decisions, mostly concerning the positioning of your Knights in relation to your King, as a reaction to the Assassin player’s moves. Because a gap in your defence can have major consequences.
The Assassin can choose to be sneaky and take advantage of those gaps or he can choose to take matter into his own hands and create his own gaps by killing the Knights.
The B-side of the board gives the king a bit more different options.
You might play some games where the King, by accident, captures the Assassins in the first couple of turns, but I do feel the gameplay is very tight. It is interesting until the end.  No easy wins.
I don’t know if this comment should be in the ‘Looks’ section or here, but I think the game board is very functional. The set-up time is very short. It is very clear where to put everything. So in addition to the simple rules, you have a very short set-up time. That’s nice.
Looks
The game looks very nice. The game board is beautifully illustrated and the markers are really pretty.Strange how the trustworthiness of the characters influences the choices you make during the game. He looks a bit suspicious, could he be..?’ Do the psychologists among us have an explanation??
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The card illustrations are, like the markers, quite nice.
Quality of the game parts
Everything is OK. The cards aren’t linen, I like linen cards, but that doesn’t matter in this game, because the cards are not shuffled very often. The cardboard quality could be better, it seems like it isn’t compressed very well, I can put my fingernail in between the layers. That might cause a problem when the game is played  lot.
The reference sheets are very welcome, the rules are not very difficult, but they are just handy.
Fun
King & Assassins is quick to set up and easy to learn: a really fun two player game. It’s a game of the hunter versus his prey. The Assassins are always attacking and the King and his Knights always in a defensive mode.
I think, on the whole, it is a bit more fun to be the Assassins, because you’ll have to make more interesting decisions throughout the game. When you are the King, these decision are made later in the game. The deduction aspect comes into play only after some citizens are captured. At the start of the game, your choices concerning capturing are mostly random.
Despite my preference for the Assassin faction, King & Assassins remains exciting until the end. In the first couple of rounds you can make some mistakes, but at the end every move must be a right one. The tension is really building.
Done? Killed the King? Switch sides and see if you are a better one.
Right now, this game is very fun. I do think the game, probably, will feel, if you play it a lot, like a repetition of moves. It will not continue to surprise you, there are a limited amount of strategies. It will take a while, because you’ll first discover the possibilities of the first map and then go on to the second, but it is the reason why I don’t recommend it. It’s a good game, but not enough to deserve a recommendation.

 

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