Review: King and Assassins14 Aug 2018 1
Review: King and Assassins
Released 09 Aug 2018
On returning from a hunting trip the king finds his people revolting. Revolting in the social unrest sense of the word to the point that they are threatening to riot over tax increases. Although it is probably true to say that they were also revolting in the physical sense since they only bathed once a year and got by on a diet of cabbages and turnips, which play havoc with the digestive system. The king, refusing to heed the warnings of his advisers, decides to put on a show of strength by gathering his most trusted knights and marching back to his castle through the town square. The crowds are incensed and gather in the square to protest. Just who are those sinister grey hooded figures that lurk amongst their numbers?
King and Assassins is an asymmetric two-player game in which one player will take on the role of the king and his knights, whilst the other plays as the citizens. Amongst the citizens lurk three hired assassins and in order to win, the people must either commit regicide or at least prevent the king from reaching his castle before the game ends. The king wins by reaching the safety of his castle, or by putting down the rebellion by eliminating all of the assassins.
The king’s retinue starts the game in one of the two lower corners of the town square, whilst the citizens will be spread across the square on various specified spaces. Before battle commences, the player controlling the citizens must secretly select three people to be their undercover assassins. These hired killers are the only citizens capable of slaying the king and his bodyguards.
At the beginning of each round, a randomly selected round card is drawn. This card will determine how many action points the king, assassins and citizens will be able to spend during the round. Some cards will also have a shackle icon, which means that on this turn the knights will be able to carry out the bonus action of capturing a citizen.
An overindulgence of the high life means that the king is not in the best physical condition; he has a meagre supply of action points, which can only be used to move slowly from space to space. His knights are much more athletic; they can climb onto the roofs of nearby buildings, shove back any unfortunate citizens unlucky enough to get in their way, kill a revealed assassin or possibly use shackles to capture and remove a citizen from the board. The citizens can use action points to move individuals, who can also scale buildings and drop back down to the ground. They can also choose to reveal an assassin. Once uncovered, an assassin can eliminate a nearby knight, or if close enough, even attack the king. A first attack on the king will only wound him, but a second attack will finish him off.
The rules are simple to understand, as there is no need to remember the abilities of a mass of different unit types or special powers. The tutorial does a great job of teaching you to play using either side, although the addition of an in-game rules reference screen would have been appreciated. Graphics are bright and breezy, although things do get a little messy when units are partially obscured by buildings. Helpfully, the screen can be rotated and zoomed to ensure the optimum view of the action. The interface also works smoothly, although I did feel like selecting and moving a unit takes one more tap than is strictly necessary. Options are a bit sparse; you can play a practice game against the rather poor AI, which really only serves as a means of becoming familiar with the rules. You can try to find an online match, although opponents can be difficult to find. These matches take place in real-time, with each player having a total of twenty-five minutes to complete all of their moves. The final option is to partake in a pass and play contest. Games can be played using one of two different board layouts. The most significant difference being that one layout has an extra exit, making it easier for the king to escape.
Asymmetric board games have their own particular design challenges. Opposing sides need to feel significantly different and offer their own challenges but must also remain balanced. Furthermore, the different factions need to be equally as fun to play. I do not think that King and Assassins entirely succeeds here. The player in control of the king seems to have less strategic options, which means that turns feel rather repetitive. The knights bully the citizens out of the way and ensure that the king is guarded as he slowly makes his way to the castle but there is no real subtlety or bluffing involved. The citizens, with their covert assassins, offer a much more interesting challenge. Sneaking around, using standard citizens as red herrings and deciding when to actually pounce by revealing their hidden killers feels much more satisfying and involved.
The level of luck does sometimes sit a bit awkwardly with the game’s abstract mechanics. It is perfectly possible to get lucky and end the game within a couple of turns. The player controlling the king has no idea when the shackles are going to turn up, which means that capturing a hidden assassin often feels more a case of good fortune rather than good judgement. One thing that the game does have in its favour is a palpable feeling of tension and escalation. The king has so few action points that he cannot afford to dawdle, whilst the citizens must choose the right time to reveal their assassins, who will then immediately become vulnerable to attack.
Much like it’s straightforward, no-nonsense title, King and Assassins is an uncomplicated, quick playing board game conversion. Actually, it is a good job that the game does play quickly, as the app doesn’t save games that are in progress. It could have been a very dry abstract game of moving pieces around a board, but the theme does make sense and works rather well. There is a strong Assassins Creed vibe and the game’s background was obviously inspired by that popular series of games. Overall, it is a neat game that works well on mobile formats but unfortunately feels a little under-cooked.