Constantly hearing about a particular game, wondering what exactly is the big deal? In our regular series, we delve into the hottest community games and ask the important questions: Why do they generate such a devoted following? Is all this fuss is warranted? And if so…are they worth your time?
What is it, exactly?
After releasing to little fanfare last summer, tiny indie title Reigns has gathered quite a bit of critical attention in the months since its launch, culminating in its developers Nerial being awarded Google’s first ever prize for indie games development last month.
So what, exactly makes Reigns stand out amongst the hundreds of thousands of mobile games out there? What makes it worthy of Google’s inaugural honor? Well, it’s incredibly hard to categorize Reigns into a genre. Perhaps the best comparison is to those old-school ‘choose your own adventure’ books, where you’d read a description on the page, make a choice as to what your character should do, then turn to the corresponding page to find out the consequences of your decision. Imagine that, but instead of taking a party of adventurers on a quest into a foreboding dungeon, you take on the role of a king, and the hereditary ruler of a fantasy kingdom, with the decisions you make having a bearing not just on your own wellbeing, but on that of your nation and its people, too.
How does it play?
It’s Tinder meets Game Of Thrones. No, really, that’s the best way to describe the experience of actually playing Reigns — The ubiquitous dating app is all the tutorial you need before taking control of your troubled kingdom. The game begins with your coronation and an extremely brief explanation of what exactly you’ll be doing, and then it's time to rule. You’re presented with a series of static cards, featuring one of your loyal (or just as often disloyal) advisors, and a decision you must make. By swiping right for ‘yes’ and left for ‘no,' you show your royal approval or disproval to all kinds of matters, from building more churches to marrying a princess or starting a war with a neighboring country. Each decision you make moves the game forward one year, and impacts one of four aspects of your kingdom: the church, the people, the military, and your wealth, with each represented by its own little symbol at the top of the screen. Sometimes the consequences are pretty straightforward, like for example if you choose to throw a lavish banquet, your wealth will take a hit. In the simplest terms, the goal of every decision, and the game is to balance each of these four pillars of your kingdom and keep everybody happy for as long as possible.
But nothing in Reigns is quite that straightforward.
If you find the coffers are full enough, it may be an idea to build more places of worship to get the bothersome Church off your back. Likewise, providing your army with a fresh batch of new soldiers may keep the military sweet for a while. But continue to appease a particular party by giving decisions in their favor, and they’ll become too powerful, and usurp the throne from under you. Holding onto the crown — and your life — is a tricky business. Complacency is your enemy.
So, if any of your kingdom’s four pillars gets too low or high, you’re killed, and it’s game over. After swiping away one of the many amusing death screens, you can then continue the game as your own heir, in the same timeline. It’s never a quite a clean slate, either; some of the decisions you made as your predecessor may carry forward to this new reign. My choice to begin a crusade against an enemy nation, for example, brought in extra gold for more than a hundred game-years, outlasting many kings.
In this way, it’s not always possible to know the long-term consequences of each decision you make. Sometimes a simple yes or no can change the whole game entirely in unforeseen ways. Also, during each of your reigns, you’re tasked with completing some semi-randomly generated objectives, ranging from the most basic, like only surviving in power longer than a target number of years, to some that are truly bizarre. Over the course of some plays, you’ll fight in duels, uncover treasonous conspiracies, explore a mysterious dungeon under your castle, and even meet the Devil himself. There are hundreds of more encounters, but to talk about any in detail would be to spoil the reveal. Rest assured, though, that Reigns has some truly abstract situations in store to reward a long-time player. It’s surprising how much narrative emerges from such an unassumingly presented game with such basic mechanics.
Is the fuss justified?
Ridiculously simple in concept but surprisingly vast in depth, there’s nothing quite like Reigns, so it’s not at all surprising it’s attracted the attention it has from the gaming community. It’s unusual to play a game that feels so unlike anything you’ve played before. Even the art style is distinctive: Reigns employs a low-poly aesthetic that is minimalistic and effective, and when combined with the simple choral Disasterpeace score, gives the game’s a uniquely quirky atmosphere. The writing, as well as often being darkly funny, is at times poignant. Lead designer François Allio has mentioned that he wanted to use Reigns to comment on the too-often flippant nature of decision-making in the real world, how some decisions that are barely considered can impact our world in huge ways. It’s a point that certainly hits home, especially after your 30th game ends in tragic death because you naively decided, on a whim, to eat a slice of delicious-looking cake.
Worth a look?
Reigns is without a doubt an oddball classic that should be played by as many people as possible. If you’re in the market for something completely original, but also something that’s easy to pick up and play when you’re on the go, then Reigns is definitely worth your time. And it’s priced to sell too (currently $2.99), so you can indulge those Game Of Thrones fantasies for the price of a cup of coffee. François Allio has also already announced the team at Nerial is working on Reigns 2, so getting to grips with the original would be great preparation for when the new game drops sometime in the future.