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The Last Kingdom

Tho' Gamelyn Games are best known for their extensive 'Tiny Epic' range of titles, The Last Kingdom is anything but tiny. It comes in a packed full-size box. It is certainly epic, however. The game represents the struggle between Saxons and Danes in Britain in the latter part of the 9th Century. As is clear from the box, The Last Kingdom is based on the TV series, originally created by the BBC but which subsequently migrated to Netflix. Aficionados will know that that in turn was based on the Saxon Stories cycle of novels by Bernard Cornwell which followed the exploits of Uhtred, the dispossessed son of the Lord of Bebbanburg in Northumbria. Tho' Saxon by birth, Uhtred is captured and raised by Danes, and he has a foot in both camps - with allegiances that shift between Saxons and Danes. Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories are fiction but they intersect with the history of the period, chronicling the rise of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, and the unification of the separate kingdoms that would eventually emerge as England.

John D Clair's game design is faithful to the IP. The 2-5 players each take on the roles of one of 10 leaders. Each starts with an allegiance either to the Danes or Saxons but most can take an action to switch allegiance. The Saxons band together to fight the Danes but they are not a unified group: they are made up of three distinct factions. Your leader will have an affinity with each specific faction and, during the course of the game, that affinity is most likely to rise. As it rises, so will the victory point multiplier you will benefit from for each army of that faction (Dane, Northumbrian, Mercian, West Saxon) that is on the winning side in the five kingdoms on the map...

The contests for each kingdom are battles for area control, with all of the kingdoms contested once in each of the two rounds. Each round begins with card drafting to build your hand of four cards plus the two that are specific to your character. You play these cards, as well as action plaques from a display, in order to move armies and affect the result of each battle. To use an action plaque tho' you need to pay its cost in action tokens, and when you take an action its plaque shifts to the most expensive end of the queue.

Your action tokens are a finite supply and your hand of cards has to last you for the entire round, so you need to pick your battles: if you use more than one or two cards in a contest, you'll leave yourself unable to affect the result on the later battles in the round. But this is a game about shifting allegiances and if your side looks like losing, you usually have the option of switching sides. If your current allegiance is to the Danes but the Saxons have the advantage, then switching allegiance means you'll score for each of the West Saxon, Mercian and Northumbrian army on the winning side in that kingdom. This could mean that all the players end up on the same winning side in a battle and everyone will score some points but that doesn't by any means make this a cooperative game: the real winner in each kingdom will be the player who has the highest relevant affinities because they'll reap the benefit of larger multipliers.

You don't have to know Bernard Cornwell's books or The Last Kingdom TV series to enjoy this highly interactive tactical game but if you are a fan you'll especially appreciate the use made of the various key characters from the series. There will be cards in the draft for all those characters not chosen at the start as leaders, so the majority will make an appearance in the game and contribute their special abilities to the players' shifting causes.

You won't be disappointed with Gamelyn Games' production. There are minis for the 18 leaders and heroes represented in the game, plus plastic tokens to mark the active and upcoming battlegrounds. Good use is made of screenshots from the TV series, and the army figures have the look of Lewis chessmen: not quite the same period (the Lewis chessmen date from the 12th Century) but a nice touch nonetheless.

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