This seemingly simple casual game is to strategy what Tinder is to dating. On the surface, it’s entirely binary and shallow. Trying to balance several factors and rule your kingdom as long as you can is as easy as swiping left or right. It’s frustrating, satisfying, confusing, entertaining and most importantly; an easy way to pass a few minutes. That’s probably why it’s insanely popular on mobile devices, and has been nominated for multiple awards.
All you need to do are balance the four integral pillars of any succesful monarch. Faith with The Church, Strength of The Military, Happiness of The People and Fullness of The Treasury. Each are represented by a separate symbolic bar which fills or depletes with every swipe. Cards appear, which often feature amusing reoccurring characters. They’ll present choices that benefit your reign in one department, but hinder it elsewhere. Annoyingly, the only indication of the consequences of a choice is extremely vague, and not known properly until after the fact. This can ruin an otherwise perfect run, since introducing a new tax might either slightly annoy your populace or send them into a frenzy.
The aim, you ask? To reign as long as possible. You may have noticed that the title is in plural form. That’s because your king will die a lot, and you’ll reign a hundred times under many kings. Some might rule for thirty years, keeping everything balanced. Others, like most of mine, will make the wrong choices and be deposed in two years. Each card will generally represent the passing of a year. The more you play, the more milestones you beat, the more cards you’ll unlock. Meeting the Witch adds a pack of spooky witch cards to the game ‘deck’, and gives us some more choices and dilemmas. Same with discovering new technologies. This is our progression, and is what stops it from getting overly repetitive.
I can’t tell if I’m any good at reigns, but I don’t think it matters. The perfectionist within me wants to max out all the bars because I love the satisfaction the green flashing brings me. Unfortunately, that can have the same effect as letting your stats all run dry. One king ran out of cash, having spunked it all on building a dam to ensure everyone stopped drowning to death. As a result, the crown was broke – and merchants took over, forcing him into exile. After that, I was careful to keep my treasury as strong as I could. My wife decided to throw a party to celebrate our wealth, and I was shot in the eye during a drunken archery contest. One day, everything’s fine, the next; my church decide I’m so beloved and holy that I’d make a great martyr.
There’s a surprise round every corner in Reigns. What may seem a simple decision can transpire to be a ridiculous goose chase a few cards down. Most frustrating of Reigns’ aforementioned goose chases are the dungeons. They’re totally random and very annoying. Until you’ve managed to escape, all of your stats are thankfully frozen. Your decisions boil down to taking different doors and turning around as you hit dead ends. There’s no strategy from it, as far as I can see, and returning through a door doesn’t necessarily take you back to the same room. The dungeon may as well be located in Narnia. Special mention also goes to the duels, which are very arbitrary and I’d say unnecessary. Left to defend, right to attack. I’ve only ever done the latter, and have never lost a fight. These two flaws are the only real pain in the arse, but rare enough that they don’t ruin the experience.
There are goals that persist across all your lives, things for you to gradually aim for. These are often meeting a new character, performing a certain action, or achieving other criteria that are much less sane. Each tend to give the current king a title, and looking back down your legacy of fourty-eight kings will give you a smile as you remember the lunacy that occurred within every bite-sized reign. Mirchaud the Crusader, who brought wealth and culture to his land over a thirty year rule. And his son, William the Lover, who had an affair and was murdered within a year.
I’ve only played a bit under three hours in total, but I feel like I’ve seen a lot of what Reigns has to offer. That said, there’s a tonne of Steam achievements I not only don’t have, but don’t even understand. It’s easy enough to aim towards ‘Reach the year 2000’, but when one of the rarest achievements is ‘Meet the Vase’, where do you even start looking? As it transpires, all you have to do is launch a couple of crusades and make a tiny bit of (mostly) willing human sacrifice.
What I reckon:
Reigns is DECENT
If your intention is to pass the time, then Reigns is 100% worth the buy. It’s accessible, instantly rewarding, and surprisingly very entertaining. I’d say it’s ideal for a casual gamer that’s not looking for anything serious, just after occupying a few minutes in a waiting room or at a bus stop. I picked it up for next to nothing on Steam, and play a few lives here and there while I’m waiting for my girlfriend to dry her hair.