The Simple Beauty of Reigns

Decision-making creates chaos and misery more often than not

When travelling I realise how much I take for granted the power and convenience of gaming. Not possessing any portable consoles at this point, I’ve found myself in the unfortunate position of having little access to the games I love and play on a regular basis. Yet this has thankfully given me the opportunity to try a whole bunch of games and titles I probably wouldn’t normally think twice about. One such game is Reigns.

Games often bombard us with endless opportunities. Indeed, the focus of many modern games is either the expansion of possibility or possibility facilitated by the growth and development of gaming technology available to the industry. Many of the presently popular titles require either a great internet connection or a powerful PC, and more often than not, both of these. Yet, the focus of Reigns rejects these growing trends. Gameplay is reduced to a laughably simple mechanic — binary choice. This may at first thought seem uninteresting (perhaps even outright boring), but the importance of cause-and-effect creates a unique and entertaining experience.

Published in 2016 by Devolver Digital, Reigns places you on the throne as a medieval monarch.

Each card-based scenario features some problem or event which you, as the all-mighty monarch, must react to. Offered only two choices to each card, you have to ensure balance between four different sectors of your kingdom: the church, the people, the army and the royal treasury. Sometimes you might have to build a dam, other times you must balance the interests of your people and your army. The cards vary in difficulty and importance. One wrong step and you might find your kingdom being invaded by the neighbouring nations because you paid little attention to what your subjects wanted. Likewise, thoughtless pandering to the wishes of the military results in bankruptcy.

At first glance, I was struck by the basic and plain design of Reigns. It took me a while to come around, but I soon appreciated the minimalist and sleek artwork. It hearkens back to a simpler time of gaming, like the text-based adventure games that once relied wholly upon imagination and ingenuity. While Reigns is still clearly a visual experience, the developers’ goal is player focus on being a benevolent(or evil) monarch. Your “score,” if that’s the right way to describe it, is measured in the amount of years you reign. If your monarch is overthrown or dies, you simply move onto the next successive ruler.

Now of course, what makes Reigns so interesting and fun is also its biggest limiting factor. The gameplay ultimately is shallow, which isn’t necessarily negative. It’s an easy game to play, one that doesn’t require excessive reaction speed or cognitive function. Also, at only $2.99 on the Steam store, you can’t really expect to get much more value for what you’re paying. So, while it might have a baked-in expiration date for each person that plays it, this is mitigated by the value it presents. It’s unlikely any other full-priced game at $2.99 on Steam provides such an unique experience.

Undoubtedly, if its popularity and success can’t be believed based on my words, simply look to the recent release of Reigns: Game of Thrones, a licensed version of the original game based on the hugely popular HBO phenomenon. Prospective players can decide themselves which version of Reigns they wish to experience, but the game is still the exact same in terms of visuals and mechanics. I’ve only played the original, and personally believe it is more interesting due its random and fresh content.

This all goes to show, that while I may be abroad experiencing new places and people, games have the power to follow me and you wherever we go. Reigns poses a valuable and fun experience for only $2.99. It might be inherently limited by its simple and casual nature, but perhaps this is exactly the point of it. It isn’t built for longevity. It’s built for the five minutes you have before starting that essay, the hour you have before you leave for work, the week you have on that cruise ship where the WiFi prices are egregiously overpriced. The modern trend may be moving toward ever more technically demanding games, but at the end of the day, simplicity can still reign.