Hold on, let me get all the jokes out of my system. Singing In The Reign, It’s Reigning Men, Let It Reign, Learning The Reigns, and so on and so on. Good. Now I know that if I have to, I can reign it in. AW CRAP.
I must say, the new iPhone game “Reigns” (which no longer looks like a real word to me anymore) rather took me by surprise. There’s something on the App Store that overtook Minecraft? That overtook Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, those driving test practising thingies and all the others? I guess even the most well-fortified castle can’t stop one or two unkempt peasants from climbing over the wall and disrupting the natural order of things. I give it a month at best before he’s tossed out on his ear to start digging for scraps again. Oh, wait – it’s already been booted back down the ranks.
Which basically brings us to the idea of Reigns, which would present the above scenario as: “Sire, one of the peasants has broken into the thrown room! Should we throw him out?” To which you can swipe right on your advisor’s image for yes and left for no.
Yeah, you heard me right. I saw the comparison too, as a couple of minutes in I thought to myself: “well, it seems like somebody has weaponised Tinder, or at least found a non-sexual use for it.” Whether this is a vast improvement on the formula or defeats the point entirely is kind of up to the individual’s taste, but for the record the game is aware of the comparison, parodying the dating app openly when it comes to picking your new bedtime buddy. And like Tinder, this also ended in my character developing an STD. Damn it, even my fantasy escapism seems to be following the patterns of sucky real life.
The basic premise is that you are the king of some vaguely medieval, pre-Renaissance fantasy world and you must make choices in order to preserve your own power and the state of the Kingdom. There’s four separate stats you have to manage with those choices, and picking certain options will unlock new cards that show up later, in vaguely simplified version of the gameplay that Hand Of Fate was peddling. And before you decide you want to roleplay Robert Baratheon and let the whole thing slide into ruin whilst you gorge yourself into oblivion, the game will contrive an explanation to kill you if those stats mentioned above should ever go too low or two high.
Doesn’t really matter if you do die, though. If his lordship should ever suffer a mild case of daggers to the back, or forgets the basics of economics to such a degree that he allows the Shadowrun MegaCorps to overtake everything, the game just coughs up a new king to play as afterwards, usually with most of the choices that dead ol’ dad made still intact.
Let me put down a flag here so we know where we stand – I don’t actually like Reigns and I certainly won’t be recommending it when this review is over. It’s not dreadful and it’s by no means offensive, but twenty minutes in I suddenly realised that I’d really like to be clipping my toenails, or deciding on a meal for that evening, or taking potshots at the postman with a crossbow now that he’s brave enough to approach the house again. And when a game can’t even distract me from my underlying urge to kill and cause misery (an urge shared by all critics at heart), I feel that it’s not worth the £2.29 entry fee to get in.
Honestly, I was just bored by the thing. There’s no sense of stakes to anything I do when I know that Kingly junior is waiting in the wings to take over the second my head gets lopped off, and you never get to see the Kingdom itself, only the square heads of your advisers coming to you with constant problems or useless trivia. So why should I care about the state of something I can’t even see, and don’t really believe even exists in the context of the fantasy the game is presenting?
And when it’s not being boring, it ventures into the frustrating. Listen Reigns, if you’re going to have stats changing, either tell us exactly how they’re going to change or keep it completely secret – don’t do this annoying half-measure you’ve come up with. Observing one option without picking it will show how much of an impact it’ll have on your stats, but for some reason it doesn’t tell you whether the impact will be positive or negative. Some of these are easy to guess – obviously building more monasteries will increase church influence, no shit Sherwood – but some are a lot harder to pin down or easy to guess. Does marrying somebody help the treasury when you receive a dowry, or does a royal wedding cost too much to make a profit? I could see justifications for both, which means a large part of the game is just trying to read the developer’s mind. And that, without meaning to be confrontational, can bugger right off.
But the game isn’t without its positive qualities. The visual style is amusing and it was a nice change to play an iPhone game that didn’t have micropayments, a constant need for Internet and a decent file size, as well as controls that actually feel as though they were working with the design and not against it. I also liked certain elements of the writing (like the first appearance of the Devil, partly because I love a family reunion), but it’s hard to say if the game is written well when everything is conveyed in short sentences and factoids. A lot of writing, but sadly no prose to make anything of it.
Like I said, I can’t really recommend this game. Like many, many iPhone titles it feels too insubstantial and flimsy. The idea of running a kingdom through direct orders without seeing the immediate consequences over a long time does have potential as a concept, but it’s not utilised very well here. Try something like a Telltale game if you want more in the way of impactive storytelling, rather than reading the same Munchkin cards over and over.
Reigns has an initial interest as you look to see what choices it might throw at you, but it diminishes fast and ends up becoming too dull to recommend. At least Hand Of Fate let you stab people between sessions.