Updated: Oct 24, 2020
King & Assassins sounds like an award-winning pairing; like Morecombe & Wise or Nutella & Toast. Throughout the ages Kings have oft been associated with the more mirky elements of society. Richard III was rumoured to have had his young nephews murdered, but then the Tudors never did have a nice word to say about the bloke they found under the supermarket car park in Leicester.
Well, in an interesting twist, this time the Assassins aren’t working for the King, instead they are trying to assassinate him. King & Assassins position the King as a vile despot and cast the Assassins in the role of the perfectly chiselled Michael Fassbender in Assassins Creed: the good guy standing up for the ordinary stinking peasants.
King & Assassins is designed by Lukasz Wozniak, with art by Damian Bajowski, Tomasz Chistowski, Michal Lechowski, Grzegorz Rutkowski and Michal Teliga. This is the 'Deluxe Edition' from Galakta so it comes with an attractive double-sided board, good artwork and miniatures for the peasants, assassins, knights and the King. Although the miniatures are of decent quality, they are not quite up to those you’d find in FFG’s Descent or Imperial Assault. However, the sculpts are sufficiently distinct that you can easily differentiate them. And the assassin figures bear a striking resemblance to a certain Assassin-based video game franchise.
King & Assassins has been described as a classic two-player game. Although ‘classic’ is a term that is sometimes banded around a little too liberally these days, in the case of Kings & Assassins it’s not undeserved. The gameplay is simple: the King and the majority of his knights start in one corner of the board and the player taking that role has the objective of safely guiding the King to the opposite corner of the board. Meanwhile, the Assassin player has 12 angry villagers intent on giving their sovereign a good ol’ fashioned kicking. There are twelve cards matching the twelve villagers and the Assassin player selects three of these to be his hidden assassins for the game.
There are 15 rounds and each round the King player reveals the top card which give action points to the King, knights and the villagers. The King moves his knights and King and then the Assassin player responds, moving his villagers. Some of the round cards have a symbol which mean that, during that round, the knights can spend an action point to take a villager into custody. This enables the King to effectively thin the herd in an attempt to uncover the assassins. However, in a strange twist on medieval life, the knights cannot indiscriminately go around killing villagers, they have to wait for the Assassins to reveal themselves and only then apparently are they fair game.
The Assassin player’s role is to use misdirection and place innocent villagers in the way of the knights whilst trying to sneak an assassin close enough to take out a couple of knights or, even better, wound the King. Once the Assassins wound the King a second time, the game ends in defeat for the King. The Assassin also wins if he manages to force the King to stumble around the courtyard for 15 turns without making it to safety.
King & Assassins has a short teach and interesting decisions, which is a feat not all games achieve. The play time is just 20–30 minutes and the theme also comes through pretty well. The inclusion of a double-sided board helps to mix the game up, adding to its replayability. Ultimately, though, it’s the same game each time with the option to set it up slightly differently. However, the game is simple and quick enough that this is not a major detractor and the randomness of the round card draw is probably sufficient to add variability to subsequent plays.
Overall, King & Assassins is a great little asymmetric two-player filler game which, unlike a monarch who firmly believes in his Divine Right to rule at the behest of God himself, doesn't overstay its welcome.
(Review by Jason Keeping)