Review by Lindsay M.
Being a king is easy, right? You would make decisions all day while sitting in a big fancy chair and facing little to no consequences. Unless it's that throne from Game of Thrones. Sitting in that one must be painful on the butt. Maybe someone would bring you chocolate all day, or you could bathe solely in soda pop. As it turns out, my dreams of running a kingdom are a little less based in reality than I thought; that is the reason I am terrible at Reigns.
Or at least, I was at first. It was easy to get money-hungry at the expense of the kingdom’s population and even easier to take some bad advice from a untrustworthy bird. While Reigns isn’t the most serious take on ruling a kingdom — in fact, it’s strategy meets Tinder — it certainly addresses the distressing nature of taking on the only job fit for a king. It immediately becomes difficult to balance needs: the church, the population, military, and money. A cast of characters exists to help you along your way.
The king's job is to make choices, and the game gives very little leeway while doing so. There are two options to any issue, and that is it. Making complicated choices binary does little to remove the difficulty of the choice; in fact, the black-and-white/all-or-nothing approach to decision making makes each choice a dilemma worth mauling over. After all, a simple birthday party could land your entire kingdom in hot water.
Balancing the kingdom’s needs can go haywire if you aren’t careful. Money often goes down if the proposal will benefit the church, the population, or the military, which means having to say no despite feeling awful for closing schools or turning away the sick. When one of the needs is either maxed out or bottoms out, your current King will fall to an inevitable (and often ironic) end. The next ruler takes his place, and the kingdom lives on. If the church gains too much power, it takes over the kingdom by force; on the contrary, if the church is ignored your king will be murdered by a pagan mob — an especially painful end if you agreed to spare their lives when the church wanted the lot of them burned at the stake. If you have too much money, your end is met following one heck of a feast where everyone was too drunk to notice he was dying. Greedy gluttons, the lot of them; that’s probably my fault, I liked to sacrifice their welfare to fill my bank account a little too often.
The bulk of gameplay in Reigns comes from the consistent balancing act of ruling many different voices at once. At first it seemed clear that the developer was going for humour over content, but once I got into ruling periods that lasted a half-dozen decades or more I began to stop and truly think about every decision as though it would be my last. Somehow, this funny little game made me learn how to appreciate taking the time to think things through despite it being based on a dating platform where your gut instinct is key. The game also managed to remind me that in my own non-ruling life, every decision I make can and will have an impact on something or someone else (it’s the Chain of Screaming all over again!). In a world where everything — even dating or, in this case, ruling — has been reduced to split-second decisions made via smartphone while barely paying attention, a lot can be said for taking the time to get it right the first time.
Now that I feel like I’ve had a meeting with a psychologist, I think it’s time to forge ahead to the characters in Reign. They are quirky and cute, absolutely not super sad and serious at all! The characters are remarkably animated for ones residing on the face of a card desk, with their eyes always pointing towards the question at hand regardless of whether the card goes left or right. The fine people your kings will encounter include Henry the Bold (very medieval), General Covention (which I consistently read as “Convention”), and Master Ferrarius the doctor, alchemist, and… poisoner?! Oh dear. At least Master Ferrarius looks smart, he must know what he’s doing. There are tasks set along the way to help guide your king and kingdom to milestones. When a milestone is complete, new cards will be added to your deck; the cards can represent people, events, etc. There are also events that add a continuous effect to your deck.
Something I'm slightly less fond of in Reigns compared to everything I've already listed are the dungeons. Exploring is fun due to the right-or-left door scenarios presented. There are also battles, and the battles seem almost out-of-place at first. The more I experienced them the more I was able to win them, however I never quite enjoyed them as I felt it interrupted my actual ruling. And isn't that what the guards are for anyway?
Reigns is definitely meant for a touch screen, but the PC version plays okay. Press the left/right arrow once to view the selection and again to confirm your choice. But choose wisely, as the game reflects real life in at least one way by not providing an undo button. Praying for one also doesn’t seem to work, so I can only assume that along the way I have upset the clergy beyond belief. Reigns is also available on mobile devices, and I am already planning on picking up that version to take my ruling on the road while enjoying some touchscreen action mirroring Tinder itself… not that I’ve ever used the app.
I’m not entirely sure what I expected when I began Reigns, but I am certain that it wasn’t a humorous yet dark trek into my own psyche. In the end, I came out on the side of lightness though: I can now enjoy ruling my people at a leisurely pace. The game functions like Tinder, but you certainly don’t have to use the same reaction time as you would in a case like that. Taking your time to learn and appreciate the nuances in Reigns make it worth returning to time and time again.