Reigns

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Here is Reigns, a game about managing a series of kingdoms currently available on Steam for a few dollars. (Or £1.99, for those of us buying in the UK.) The mechanics are simple. Each turn you’re presented with a choice, typically presented as a request by someone in your kingdom. Swipe left to refuse; swipe right to agree.

Your decisions affect some or all of the four stats at the top of the screen, which correspond to the well-being of the church, the populace in general, the army, and your treasury. If any of those stats reaches either maximum or minimum states, you will die and be replaced by your heir, who will start from where you left off (but with stats set back to average). Some of those death reasons are pretty contrived: make too much money and your citizens will throw a feast in your honor, where inevitably you will choke to death. But the need for balance makes this much more difficult and interesting than if it were safe to just max out your treasury, for instance.

There are a few minor complications that turn up after you’ve played for a bit: for instance, you can make decisions that add semi-permanent resources to your kingdom, such as a placement on the Silk Road that provides income every turn regardless of what else you do, or a siloing system that helps protect you in the event your kingdom runs out of food. And there’s also a combat mini-game that you can unlock after a bit of experiment.

Still, there’s a heavy component of chance here. You don’t know in advance what cards are going to turn up, and you can never just autonomously choose an action. So you may be able to see that your Treasury stat is edging up and up, dangerously close to triggering the Deathfeast, but not be able to do anything to offload your obscene wealth.

Each card also comes with a small amount of story, and because those stories are dependent on your existing stats, this feels like quality-based narrative — though without the wild proliferation of different stat types that one sees in Fallen London. Like other QBN pieces, this means it offers cause-and-effect chains the authors might not have specifically anticipated. During one of my reigns, I accepted a marriage proposal from an adjoining kingdom in order to avert a war; then I let my new wife throw a feast, but the feast bankrupted the kingdom and brought my reign to a precipitous close. Oops. Did the authors intend that sequence? Not necessarily, but it results naturally from the way stats move.

There is a longer arc that plays out over the course of multiple reigns, but it’s easy to go through a number of deaths without getting any new content for that piece of the game.

Ultimately, the story experience is a little dilute for my tastes. The tinder-style mechanic, the randomness of card availability, and the fact that you die so often, all made me sit back rather than sit forward. After all, the stakes are low (what do I care if yet another king dies of gangrene after an ill-advised boar hunt?) and my control is likewise limited. Still, Reigns is entertaining in short spurts, and I’m always interested to see new QBN-ish pieces, especially ones not written in the StoryNexus toolset.

Disclosure: I played a copy of this game that I bought with my own money.

10 thoughts on “Reigns

  1. I enjoyed it more than you did, it seems, but mostly because I trusted that winning the overall arc was achievable. Now that that I’ve read a walkthrough (spoilers, obviously) I’m a little disappointed. Without undo, I think it’s expecting way too much of the player—fine for an easter egg, but too old-school unfair for me to wade through.

    That said, I’m a sucker for games that seem to be casual but have hidden or surprise narratives (Ridiculous Fishing being my go-to example), and for the couple of days that I played Reigns intensely, I was super into it.

  2. I don’t know if it’s as simple as swipe left to refuse or right to agree. If you tilt the card gently, not releasing it, it tells you the choice at the top. Sometimes it is refusing or agreeing, but sometimes both sides have the same choice. Plus you have the little dot that appears over the section to tell you that the decision will affect that area — though you don’t know if it will help or hinder. There have been times I’ve made the opposite choice because I saw it would affect my money, let’s say, and my money section was already in a dangerous place. I think that part of the game is clever because it makes you think you’re peeking behind the curtain until you realize you have no idea if your choice will backfire on you.

    • I ran into a handful of cases where the response was something a bit more complicated than agree/disagree (or where the two choices seemed to be roughly equivalent in practice), and you’re right that tilting the card gives you a preview of what it’s likely to do. But for the most part it’s consistent on the left/right distinction, which reduces the amount of separate mental processing the player has to do per-choice. (I think this is largely a good thing.)

      And yeah, I definitely made some choices because I couldn’t afford to do the opposite. (“Yup, I’d love to clean up this plague, but our resources do not permit it. Oh well.”)

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