I was approached by Tompet Games a while back after commenting on a Facebook post on their artwork; I was asked to evaluate the game and, if I liked it, to review it. I explained that “it doesn’t work like that…if we get it, we review it.” I also explained that if we are to review it, it must be a 99-100% complete version, with artwork in place and rules complete. Peter, the designer and person I was speaking with, explained that this is a game that he’s been working on for years, and that it’s complete, with art and everything. Seeing as I couldn’t dissuade him from potentially exposing himself to the wrath of the Circus, and took it on for review. As it turns out, we liked the game well enough, although we did see a few things that kind of hurt the design.
Kill the King is a very light, kind-of-asymmetrical, two-player war game set in a feudal age; it has two game modes with the better of the two, and the one I’ll focus on today, depicting a castle’s siege and resultant regicide. There’s all you would expect in a game of its kind – square markers with numbers and icons, dice, and rules. I kind of admire the minimalism of it all, and its complete lack of pretense. It’s very straightforward, although the rules were a bit of a mess as far as layout and some of the verbiage. In full disclosure, I offered to help edit the rules because Peter’s grasp of English is very strong, but some things don’t translate well; I did so with no compensation of any kind, I just had some time and I didn’t want to see this otherwise fun game be shredded due to something as simple as a bit of translation problems. As of this writing, I have no idea if they used the edits or not.
Anyhow, the game is very, very simple. There’s only a handful of unit types, each with their own advantages and a smattering of special rules. In fact, I’d say that the best description of its complexity is that it’s a gateway game into the world of hex-and-counter war gaming. There’s a lot to like here, especially since there’s not that many siege games out there aside from Second Edition Stronghold and the Panic series, which are vastly different types of games. This is a true siege game, where the aggressor has a set amount of time to enter the castle and kill the defender’s king; there’s no victory points system or “streamlined” bollocks. You either kill the king and win or fail to do so and the defender wins.
In this game, facings matter, so tactical options are wide open. Flanking is incredibly effective, for example, if you can pull it off. There’s archers, pikemen, swordsmen, mounted infantry which can dismount to become swordsmen, catapults, and a battering ram, each with their distinct uses and point values for army building. Additionally, there’s leaders who deliver advantages to each army, but when killed, deliver a crippling disadvantage to the controlling player’s forces. For example, if you have an Engineer, your catapults are vastly more effective, but if he dies, you immediately lose all of your catapults. This creates a diverse game space, but I’m not entirely convinced that leaders are worth their cost because when they die, many of them can literally lose the match for the player who fielded them. The penalty can be overly punitive and are not always completely consistent with the advantage given for fielding them.
Despite liking the game quite a bit, there are a few things that stood out as real barriers to enjoying the game more. The biggest is the action system, which is an extended IGO-UGO system. While this is a widely adopted system, in this game it can be onerous because turns are broken down in such a way that the active player gets to move all of his units then attack with all of his units before the other player can take a turn. This led to a massive amount of downtime, even though each attack has a defense roll, which keeps the opposing player engaged to a degree. I would’ve much rather had double-sided chits that indicated activation, sort of like the hats in Flick ’em Up, so that each player could activate one unit at a time and track who has been activated each round, resetting them the next round and beginning again.
Another issue we found to be problematic with the design, but not really a big one, is that attacks can only be done from the front facing, and in the case of ranged attacks, they can only be done in a straight line. I can almost buy that infantry can only attack someone in front of them, but I’d imagine that mounted knights could “strafe”; chopping at heads and limbs while riding by, and I can certainly not envision why archers can only shoot in orthogonal, straight lines to the front. Although you can turn your units to any facing on your turn, as a free action, this really forces you into little boxes when it comes to strategy, and it makes it much harder to engage in groups. It’s definitely a nod to the old-school war games, but at the same time, I think it limits strategy to a certain extent.
All in all, though, it’s a fun game. My 15-year old daughter and wife both liked it, which surprised me, and it’s a fairly fast game so it isn’t something that will take up an entire night like ASL would. Despite the few things that we didn’t care for, on balance, we really enjoyed it quite a bit and I think for the price they’re asking, it’s a solid value.
Why Killing Is My Business, And Business Is Good
– The simple rules but limitless strategy make this easy to play
– The clear, concise unit markers are a victory in graphic design
– I love that the siege theme was effectively delivered
– It’s quite brisk for a war game
Why Elvis Has Left The Building
– The cover art is stunning but that’s the extent of the actual art
– The attacking rules, especially with ranged units, are limiting
– The penalty for dead leaders can be overly punitive
– Downtime during the first three turns can be overlong
I, personally, really liked the game, but I was surprised because I was not alone in it, despite this kind of game not being particularly well-suited for the other people I played with. My only real issue with the game is that the turn phases are such that one player can be sitting for ten minutes watching their units be decimated while awaiting their turn to respond; this is something that really bothered me, but not so much that I wouldn’t buy it. In fact, one could argue that it ratchets up the tension quite a bit, and I can attest that we had some very nail-biting moments due to it. Overall, I recommend it to anyone who wants to get into war gaming but doesn’t want to deal with CRTs or obnoxiously opaque rulebooks.
Superfly Circus Disclaimer:
This is a PREVIEW of a game, and therefore no score will be listed, and the final product may vary greatly from what I just wrote. We did our level best, in good faith, to tell you all what we RECEIVED, and if the game changes during the production or development cycle, take it up with the publisher if you bought it based on this preview. I can only write about what was received, and as far as I’m concerned, Kickstarter projects are vaporware until they are actually produced and delivered. Caveat muh-vuggin Emp-tity-tor. I, as of this writing, have backed only a very small handful of products, so let this be my two cents of advice: Be very careful with Kickstarter “backing” because you can be hosed over just as easily as you can get delivered the game of your dreams. Whatever you do, don’t use the above preview as anything other than a review of a game BEING DEVELOPED AT THE TIME OF WRITING, and the game is just as likely to be completely different than was described as it is to be exactly as described.