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Asymmetry in The King is Dead: Second Edition

In Osprey Games

The King is Dead: Second Edition brings back the critically-acclaimed game by Peer Sylvester, revamping the classic with new artwork by Benoit Billion, and new advanced rules that introduce asymmetric cards to the game.

On the blog today we have Anthony Howgego from the Osprey Games team, who worked closely with Peer to develop this new edition of The King is Dead.

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When doing development work on a game, I’ve found that new ideas come naturally if the core game is solid. It’s the difference between building on sand and building on rock. Working on The King is Dead felt very much like the latter.  The much-celebrated game from critically acclaimed designer Peer Sylvester has really stood the test of time, and was as good a foundation to rest on as anyone could ask for.

The King is Dead: Second Edition in all its beauty - Photo by Ross Connell

We began the process of coming up with an advanced mode by thinking a little more abstractly about the nature of the core game. In the original design, Peer gave players a very limited pool of simple actions to choose from. This design decision means that the core game is quite transparent in the challenge it presents players with. Everyone is looking at the same map, with the same number and same kind of actions, and only a subtly asymmetric start. The skill in the game was in understanding when and in what combination to use those actions, and this was indeed a satisfying and engrossing puzzle.

However, for the advanced mode, as I got more familiar with the game I became more and more convinced that this transparency was the quality of the original design that I wanted to tinker with. We wanted the new game mode to leave room for experienced players to be truly surprised, not just by the way their opponent used their actions but also by the types of actions their opponent took. We also wanted players to build a strategy with the knowledge that they were going to be able to make some moves in the game that could not easily be predicted.

The solution we arrived at was to introduce a deck of 12 unique ‘cunning action’ cards that players would draw 3 card randomly and secretly from at the start of each game, replacing three cards from their normal hand of ten. We felt this new element was an exciting addition to the game for a number of reasons.

 

The Cunning Cards - photo by Ross Connell

First, it opened up the possibility space for the types of action a player can take wide enough that players could be surprised, but not so much that these surprises felt unfair or entirely impossible to foresee. Indeed it is my hope that as players become more familiar with the advanced mode, they will begin to be able to deduce what cards their opponents might have, and plan around them, creating an interesting metagame which leaves room for clever bluffing.  

Second, it made the game more asymmetric. This is something I particularly value in the four player team games, because it lets each teammate feel they are bringing something unqiue and different to the partnership, and gives them the opportunity to save the day with a card their partner didn’t even know they had.

Thirdly, because players receive a random combination of cards, the number of different possible starting cards is large enough that players are unlikely to ever see the same hand twice. This, we think, helps increase replayability and give players another reason to be excited about the next time they get to play, in addition to the unique board setup.

The Cunning Cards section of the rulebook

In terms of the cunning actions themselves, we had a few design goals. We wanted the Scottish, Welsh, and English factions to play in different ways, partly with a passing nod towards historical accuracy, but mainly to add another layer of asymmetry and nuance to the game. We also wanted to explore some design space we’d not yet covered- interacting directly with the supply of followers, in the case of the aid card, with end game tie breakers, in the case of the plot card, and with the other players discard piles, in the case of the spy card.

We're really pleased with how the advanced game came out and are looking forward to hearing all your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

The King is Dead: Second Edition is coming out in October 2020. Preorder your copy today!

 

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