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Reigns is a simple to play strategy game with hidden depths, available now on PC, Mac, Android and iOS mobile devices. Alan Stock dons his crown and wonders how he’ll die this time, with this review for ComiConverse.
Game Review: Reigns
Turns out, being a king isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I had visions of being a loved and respected leader of my people. I would bring peace and prosperity to my kingdom. I’d slap my naysayers in chains, defend my borders valiantly and enjoy huge feasts next to my beautiful queen, as I nodded sagely to advice from my helpful advisors.
Yet here I am in my death throes, being torn limb from limb by savage dogs; my starving citizens broke into the castle and have ended my reign. And this is only my most recent failure. My son’s assassinated me, the church has burned me at the stake, my general has deposed me, enemy armies have stormed my castle, I’ve been banished with not a penny to my name by the cut-throat merchant’s guild. I’ve been impaled by traps in a secret dungeon, murdered by my queen’s treacherous brother, my kingdom’s been ravaged by plague, and to top it off the Devil himself has my number. And it’ll all happen again, a hundred times over. Welcome to Reigns.
You rule a Middle Ages kingdom and the gameplay is incredibly straightforward. Your advisors and citizens come to you with problems, and you choose to say yes or no to them – on mobile devices by swiping left or right. Just like some certain “dating” apps. Almost every choice in the game is tackled in this way – it’s a simple and elegant control method that keeps things moving quickly.
Your objective is to stay in power as long as possible and juggle the four “pillars” of your kingdom – Religion, Citizens, Military and Wealth. Each decision that you make fills or decreases these bars by different amounts. If one gets full or empties completely, your reign ends – usually in a brutal fashion. Each decision marks a year of your life and if you’re doing really well, you might occasionally live long enough to die of old age, but that’s a rarity. It’s perfectly possible to die just a few years into your current reign if you make the wrong choices.
But not to worry, after death you simply assume control of a new young monarch, carrying on where you last left off but with all the pillars reset. This cycle repeats until the timeline eventually ends. So what’s the point? Well, you have a lot of achievements to aim for. Reigns is presented as a shuffled deck of cards, with each choice reflecting a card randomly being dealt from the pile. After certain pre-set events, or significant choices that you make, you’ll unlock new sets of cards to shuffle into the deck. These contain new advisors and events which affect your kingdom. So over time, plotlines start to develop, shuffled amongst the normal juggling of your kingdom’s pillars.
An intriguing overarching quest-line also emerges. Your constant reincarnation is the result of a curse from the Devil, but apparently there is a way to beat him – but you’ll have to discover this for yourself. The achievements and quests are cleverly sprinkled through the game giving you a big hook to keep playing. Meanwhile, although you can’t predict the difficult choices that you’ll have to make, you get better at anticipating the consequences of your decisions, able to juggle those pillars for longer. You also get long term bonuses which last over multiple lifespans, for example investing wealth in a barn to protect against starvation. Some events or decisions lock a pillar in place, fill or drain it constantly over time, changing your strategy. Over the course of the timeline, if played right, your power will gradually grow as you get access to these bonuses, and advisors with useful abilities – giving you a better chance of achieving those overarching goals.
Reigns has a quirky, amusing style – through its angular, colourful art and sharp writing which often puts a smile on your face. There’s healthy doses of wit and dark humour in your advisors and your unfortunate circumstances. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it still retains a good atmosphere with music and sound effects which keep the dark and medieval ambience.
The game’s initial veneer of simplicity and repetition belies its hidden depths. It’s addictive and because each of your reigns will last no more than perhaps 15 minutes, and usually just a few, it’s perfect for mobile to dip in and out of at your leisure. However I often found myself still sitting an hour after booting it up for a quick go, getting engrossed in its ongoing mysteries. Indeed I’ve been through the whole timeline (which stretches to colonial times) three times now, a trail of hundreds of dead kings in my wake, and I’ve still not seen everything the game has to offer, although I’ve come close to reaching the final goal.
Reigns does have a few issues which become more apparent over long play sessions (although the game isn’t really intended to be played that way). The randomness of the cards and events can get frustrating, and often you’ll be thrown situations there’s no way you could have got out of or prepared for. The unpredictability to the consequences to some of your choices can be annoying (until you’ve seen them enough to know the ramifications), but does add spice. The overarching quests and plot-lines can be a little too arcane, sometimes requiring you to make specific choices during events that will only appear every few hundred years.
But overall Reigns is a great piece of game design and especially something original and different on mobile devices. It’s a showcase of how you can add depth, strategy and layers to a very basic idea with only simple controls, and how randomness can be fun, if there are ways for the player to control and manage it. I may hate the sight of my advisors with their constant problems, and my reign is always doomed to failure, but I keep coming back for more.
A wonderful dip-in, dip out strategy game which appears very simple at first but has a surprising amount of depth, addictiveness and intrigue. Perfect for mobile but still good for longer sessions on desktops.