As my work life has changed, I have found my available gaming time has changed as well. Where I used to sit down for hours on end to play through a fantasy epic, I now find myself struggling to complete a 5-minute round of Rocket League. Even though my reliance on public transport has risen, my ability to play my 3DS while standing squashed on a peak hour train is being tested every day. So, with these things in mind, you have no idea how pleased I was to fire up Reigns and find a deep yet simple fantasy epic that I can play one handed without elbowing fellow travellers on the train.
Reigns is an
adventure card game where you decide the narrative progression of reigning kings
by either swiping right for a positive outcome, or swiping left for a negative
outcome. So it’s Rogue Legacy by way
of Tinder (TindeRPG?), but instead of swiping to get a potential date, you’re
swiping to help a King navigate through his reign and hopefully have a long
life with a happy, fruitful kingdom to reign over. Of course, the happy,
cheerful, long-living King isn’t always the result of your choices. After all,
there are warring armies, demonic towns folk, the Devil, witches, possessed
dogs, labyrinth-like dungeons, jesters, women to woo and plagues to deal with.
Whoever said that the life of a King was easy has never lived in the 600s,
attempting to rule the wide lands of their kingdom. Death or failure will see the
King’s reign come to an end and a new King ascend the throne.
The strength of the game lies in the fact that the quick
narrative never becomes muddled. As each card is displayed on the screen, you
are given a clear understanding of what decision needs to be made. Initially,
solutions to decisions are simply decided by a yes or a no answer. Yes, I want
to wage a war on the neighbouring land. No, I don’t want to cure the townsfolk
who have become poisoned by spoiled wheat. As you progress further, decisions
become more complex, rising above simple yes or no choices. Moving the card
partially to the right on the screen will give you a guide to what the positive
action will be. Move the card a little to the left, and you see what negative
action may take place.
Most importantly, when moving the card to see what action your
decision will result in, you are clearly informed as to what effect it will
have on the four areas of your Kingdom. The four areas are health, religion,
army and bank. They are always present at the top of the screen and will
fluctuate each round depending on your decisions. When one or more of the icons
hits zero, that king’s reign comes to an end and an heir will ascend to the
throne. The art of Reigns is being
able to manage all aspects of the Kingdom successfully to ensure that King
remains in charge for as long as possible.
Unlike a ‘choose your own adventure’ game, every path you
take has a knock on effect to each subsequent King’s reign, making your journey
forward a difficult one to navigate. For example, early in my third King’s
legacy he was given the option of building a shelter for food. I opted to build
the shelter, which gave the civilians a safe place to store their food for many
years, as well as providing a source of income.
Later on, a possessed dog, who a few hands earlier I had had
a wonderful time throwing the ball with, put a curse on me – the next person I
said yes to would die. Naturally, all the townsfolk chose this opportune moment
to approach me with difficult decisions and issues that needed to be solved
right there and then. The doctor asked if he could help cure the plague
ravaging the poor people, I had to decline. The army wanted permission to
defend the city as someone had blown a hole in the city walls – unfortunately,
that was going to be a matter for another day. Then the Priest came and asked
if he could bless the townsfolk – at which I said, go for your life! Well, he
did and thanks to the possessed dog, my town was suddenly without a Priest.
All of the above decisions happened within a few turns,
making the narrative progression within Reigns
a speedy one. Often with rapidly changing narrative games, the pool of plot
threads or actions appears larger than it actually is. Upon starting Reigns, I was concerned that the
narrative would be limited and quickly loop around on itself, but thankfully
that is not the case. Sometimes, after meeting a new character – a witch for
example – or experiencing a significant event – such as discovering the dungeon
– a new set of narrative cards is added to the pack, opening up your options
significantly as to where future Kings paths may travel. This helps make the
narrative feel as if your decisions are helping it progress naturally. If you
do find yourself getting tired of the narrative progression, then you can
always try to tick off one of the many different achievements that Reigns has.
Sometimes, as a King, you will have to take battles into
your own hands and duel an enemy to the death. It’s a testament to the design
of the game that Reigns manages to
pack in quite an exciting combat system. Utilising the core swipe left/swipe
right functions, you are able to decide if you wish to attack or retreat.
Interestingly, retreating doesn’t equate to immediate defeat, as you battle
your opponent using a set of dots which appear at the top of your screen. The
more you push your opponent to the right, the greater chance you have of
winning. The more they push you to the left, the greater chance you have of
being skewered. Duels pop up every now and again and help change the flow of
the game for a moment before you’re tasked with guiding the core narrative
Of course, this intuitive narrative structure would mean
little if Reigns didn’t look or sound
appealing. The art style is great, with an appealing Tom Whalen-esque
symmetrical style. It’s always easy to discern what is being displayed on a card,
making slipping in a quick round easy thanks to the clarity of the graphic
design. The sound design and music is nice and atmospheric – just loud and
clear enough that you can hear over your headphones what the next stop is on
What impresses the most about Reigns is its deceptive nature – on the surface it seems to be simply
another swipe-app, but look just below the surface and you’ll find a game with
a solid narrative structure that helps provide a great level of context to your
swiping. As someone who yearns to be able to play deep narrative games, yet
can’t due to time restraints, Reigns
is a very welcome addition to my mobile gaming library. Its apparent simplicity
is a front for what is an enjoyable and deep adventure experience.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got a kingdom to run.
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