09th Oct2019

‘King and Assassins’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

king-assassins-box

When it comes to engaging strategic board games, some of the most exciting, intense experiences available can be found when two players face off head to head. Some games are able to accommodate multiple players and yet still appeal to a competitive pairing, but in general, the most satisfying duels are had when a game is designed specifically for such encounters. Today’s review is for King and Assassins, a thirty minute long strategy game that borrows more than just a little of its theme from an unexpected source.

Indeed, if King and Assassins were a licensed game, there is no doubt in my mind that it would be associated with Assassin’s Creed, in particular the games that probably represent the highlight of the series for many, featuring Ezio Auditore that take place during the Italian Renaissance. The concept of the game is simple; one player controls The King and his loyal guards. The other, a crowd of angry protesters, each of whom has their own reason to despise The King, but only three of which are actual assassins out to kill him.

King and Assassins board is double sided with a different scenario on each, and the objective for the king player is simply to make his way from one end to the other, finishing his turn on one of several escape spaces. Each board is made up several streets and buildings (specifically, the rooftops of those buildings) and the various characters in play each have movement rules that consume an amount of actions points as determined by a deck of cards. The King moves slowly and must stay at ground level, but his guards can push people out of the way – or even arrest them.

Normal folk, on the other hand, move wherever they please (including onto the rooftops) and once revealed as an assassin, their ability to descend reduces in cost to zero, allowing them to strike rapidly from above. These different movement restrictions and abilities make up the strategy of the game, forcing The King player to move methodically and guess at which townsfolk are out to get him, whilst the civilian player will attempt to move their three assassin pieces as close to The King as possible whilst using normal townsfolk to block and bluff.

The starting location of the pieces is randomly determined based on a set pattern (the spaces are fixed, but the pieces that occupy them are not) before the three assassin cards are drawn. As you can guess, the assassin player is the only one who knows which pieces are the actual assassins, and in the Deluxe Edition that we received, the miniatures on the board match the card art very nicely. There’s probably only one or two characters you could mix up, and a slight downside of this game is that if you have to squint too close to work out your assassins, The King player will probably notice.

With the setup (which takes all of about a minute) done, the players will begin to draw cards one per turn from an action deck, having set aside the townsfolk deck and left the three assassin cards face down to one side. The action deck simply shows three numbers – one for The King, one for the guards and one for the assassins. On some cards, a shackles symbol is printed, enabling one guard to imprison a single adjacent civilian, regardless of whether they are known to be an assassin or not. Taking turns, the players simply use their action points to move their pieces in accordance with the restrictions shown on two handy player aids.

As an example, if The King player is given five action points for their guards, then they may move The King one space (he always moves one space) and then any combination of guards can spend the five action points. This might mean spending one point on each of five guards, or it might mean having one guard jump onto a roof (for two points) and then moving three spaces (for one point each) into the path of an assassin. If a shackles is shown, a guard can use one action to capture a civilian and remove it from the game – if this civilian was an assassin, then the assassin player is not obligated to reveal it.

King and Assassins is super, super thematic and it really is just a fantastic representation of the Assassins Creed games in board game form. It’s a fast, intuitive and well produced game as well, making it very appealing for people to stop and want to have a go at, as well as being something that can be understood more or less instantly. I can’t think of one single fiddly rule and the worst it gets is remembering to swap the base on The King mini from green to red when he is hit for the first time (the second hit kills him.)

The only downside for King and Assassins is the match between the civilian cards and their models, which, as I mentioned before, is still very good and certainly something you can overcome after three or four games getting used to how things look. One particularly interesting feature is that this game is hard – very hard – to determine a “best strategy” for. Both players will need to adapt based on which pieces are assassins, meaning that the assassin player can never really expect the same strategy to work twice. Similarly, The King player can choose to act unpredictably, choosing an unexpected path or taking a very aggressive approach.

King and Assassins is not likely to replace Chess or Draughts as the classic two player game that everyone runs to, especially seeing as the original has been out for a few years now, but it might well be worth investing in if you often player two player games and enjoy a different take on classic strategy. Excellent production and theme aside, this is still a smart, fun game that I think can appeal to players from a broad range of age groups and skill levels. It’s a natural step for a parent and child of about eight or upwards to jump into, and it is brief enough to be enjoyed as part of a bigger games night before everyone arrives. Recommended.

**** 4/5

King and Assassins is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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