Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform: PC, Mac, iOS, Android
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I’ve never been a very big fan of Tinder or anything of its ilk. It’s probably killed any chance I had of a love life, but, to me at least, the idea of instantly judging someone based on a (probably fake) picture of themselves just cheapens the process of dating—I’d prefer to just meet someone at random and hope there’s a spark there. If I ever need to make an instant decision, it had better be for a life and death situation.
While that probably won’t happen, Reigns is a fantastic way to simulate that experience, with an entire nation’s fate at stake. You are a newly-installed king in a medieval land and everyone is coming to you for help. You are tasked with imposing your will upon the kingdom, fulfilling (or ignoring) requests from your court, keeping the peasants happy (or crushing them for their insubordination), and just trying to stay alive with your enemies knocking at your door. You can crawl through dungeons, fight monsters, wield magical powers, and establish a dynasty that can literally never end.
And how do you do all this? By swiping left and right, just like Tinder!
I cannot believe how engaged I was with such a simple concept. The world-building that would take an experienced Age of Empires player many hours to pull off takes just minutes in Reigns, and with far less stress on your fingers. Each decision has weight that can affect one of four areas: the church, the peasantry, the army, and the treasury. The key to staying alive is to balance each of them. There is quite a lot of fun to be had in trying out different tactics each time a king dies, but you will have to be careful, because the actions of previous kings can help to influence the outcome.
While the swiping can get a bit old, much of the real meat of the gameplay is in fulfilling the different objectives and unlocking everything from new citizens and members of your court, to experiencing the numerous ways that you can die. On that front, the old standbys of overthrow, assassination, and choking on your pie are there, and you’ll probably get these more than anything else, but I’ve enjoyed trying to find new and interesting deaths. That said, the gameplay is at its best in short bursts; it’s what I call a ‘loo game’.
I appreciate the visual design quite a lot, as well. The game lays out its propositions for you much like a deck of cards, giving further credence to the gamification of power and absolute control. With a minimalist art design, perhaps inspired more by the technology that influenced it rather than the period it is set in, it certainly is not difficult to look at. The weird language spoken by the characters adds a bit of eeriness to the intrigue, as does the music.
Reigns is ultimately just a fun, simple game that will no doubt make you hungry for power and eventually go mad, before dying a violent death at the hands of the peasants, before doing it all over again. It’s good to be the King, indeed.