Part Rogue Legacy, Tinder, and choose your own adventure, Reigns has you playing the role of a cursed king who makes his decisions with a simple swipe.
Hail to the King
Right off the bat, you learn you are a monarch cursed to remember the past lives of all predecessors. During each reign, you are presented with a randomly shuffled set of cards that represent proposals and decisions that must be made. Each choice can affect up to four categories either positively or negatively. The cross represents the church, the stick figure is the general populace, the sword is the army, and the dollar sign represents the wealth of your kingdom. The basic goal is to maintain the throne as long as possible by maintaining balance in all four categories. Letting any of these four categories max out or empty will typically lead to the death or exile of your king. For example, if the army gets too powerful they will stage a coup, but if it is too weak then your nation will be wiped out by a neighboring nation. Even becoming too wealthy is a death sentence; everyone knows it’s really hard to resist stuffing your face when presented with a lavish banquet.
The Hunt for Challenges
To keep things more interesting, the player is only told which categories will be affected without informing them if the results will be positive or negative. A combination of deduction and trial and error is required in order to figure out all the interactions. It may be obvious that sending the army out to war will deplete it, but how will your response to a dog’s barking affect your populace’s morale?
Eventually, your first monarch will perish, and the game resumes with a new ruler in place. Though most things start fresh, some of the actions of your predecessors will carry over, for better or worse. A hospital that was constructed could later help treat an outbreak of the Black Plague, extending a reign that otherwise would’ve ended prematurely. On the other hand, if your army is still on a crusade the next monarch will have to make his decisions faster to keep his people appeased.
As you begin to learn the consequences of the potential decisions, more cards will be unlocked by completing challenges assigned to you at the start of each new reign. These new cards add more potential decisions to the pool while introducing new game mechanics. Some decisions will lead to events akin to status effects and power-ups, which can impact future decisions and make events easier to cope with. New mini-games are also added, such as a dungeon crawler and a Monkey Island-esque style dueling system, which introduces new ways for our mighty monarch to meet his maker. The challenges gating these new cards are at first very straightforward, but as you play they will become more ambiguous and require some experimentation to fulfill. I found myself turning many of the kings into suicidal guinea pigs to complete some of the more obscure challenges.
The True Path
As you hunt these challenges, the true plot emerges. The devil is the one responsible for the tragic curse upon the monarchy, and the only way to stop him is through trickery. The devil only appears every 666 years, making his final appearance in the year 1998. If he is not defeated by the year 2098, it’s essentially game over, though you can continue playing to perpetuity in order to farm some achievements. Defeating him requires a fair amount of ingenuity, discovery, and off-the-wall thinking. My first ending was not a happy one, without spoiling too much let’s just say I managed to trick myself.
Gameplay – 7/10
Reigns relies on a combination of humorous wit and discovery to hook the player, and it is extremely effective at first. The frequency of discovery early on makes it genuinely fun experiencing new interactions. However, the simplicity of the game becomes its downfall after a while when challenges become more difficult and obscure. I found myself swiping left or right like a drone through many cards I’d seen several times, waiting until RNG blessed me with the chance to complete a challenge to continue my story.
While Reigns can be completed in one sitting, the monotony really makes it difficult. If Devolver Digital ever adds more cards and intermediary breadcrumb challenges, it would be a smoother, more enjoyable experience the whole way through.
Innovation – 7/10
Well, I never thought I’d get to use Tinder to dictate the fate of a monarchy. The idea is a hilarious one, however, Reigns never really expands upon this concept, nor does it try to. Borrowing elements from several games, Reigns doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but instead creates a polished product.
Learning Curve – 8/10
The game is extremely simple to control and mainly relies on trial and error in order to teach the player how to approach future situations. At first, the easily completed challenges give the player a very reasonable amount of time to adapt to the new cards and progress. When the game’s pace slows down, oddly enough the curve steepens. The introduction of status effects cuts down on the potential thinking time for the more complex puzzles, which are encountered at completely random times.
Graphics/Sound – 7/10
Despite their simplicity, the graphics are aesthetically pleasing, similar to a carefully crafted construction paper project. The background music is surprisingly good, but the timely sound effects and Simlish-esque language really drive the game home. The sounds are exaggerated just enough to be consistently funny. Reigns won’t win any awards for its graphics, but it does a great job with what it’s given.
Value for Money – 10/10
Despite the above concerns, Reigns is an absolute steal at $2.99. Sure, it might take a few sittings for some to complete the game, but it is perfectly designed to accommodate this. I enjoyed Reigns for several hours, which is a fantastic value in this age of gaming. Even now I’m tempted to go back and discover all the secrets I missed, something that definitely can’t be said about many other games that I’ve played.
Overall – 8/10
- Excellent humor and charm.
- Perfect for short gaming sessions.
- Deceptively complex, with a lot of clever solutions to problems.
- A bit repetitive due to limited cards.
- Game slows down a bit too much in the midgame.
- RNG can be a cruel mistress.