The most immediately striking thing about Reigns: Kings & Queens is how simple it is, so much so that at first you’ll probably find yourself waiting for some new mechanic to drop in that will completely change the way the game is played. Its simplicity makes it hard to sort into genre. It’s a kingdom simulator by way of a choose your own adventure novel. It’s a game that is entirely made up of being asked questions and choosing one of two responses, over and over again. Subtle variances flow in and out, and there are some very complex systems working away beneath it all, but it never really deviates from the core gameplay of swiping left or right. It might sound incredibly boring on paper and yet, it’s a surprisingly fun and unique experience.
Originally designed for mobile, Reigns on Nintendo Switch is a compilation of two games – the original Reigns and its sequel, Her Majesty, both of which have been retitled Kings and Queens here. Depending on the game chosen, you play as a King or Queen and find yourself presented with a deck of cards, each card representing a member of your court coming to you with a decision to be made. You go through each card, one after the other and choose one of two answers which effect various stats. If one of your stats gets too low (or in some cases too high), you will be rather violently killed off and begin again as the next ruler in line. Certain events will give you a new deck of cards and new events to play through, driving you through an overarching story that spans the combined reigns of all the rulers you play. A number of smaller systems are introduced using the same card mechanic including combat and duelling and you sometimes acquire items that can be used at key events to grant new outcomes.
Swiping through the cards can get repetitive quickly, but it can also be surprisingly tense experience as you move from making decisions based on your own judgements to carefully juggling the statistics, nervously watching as they fall lower and lower. Its oddly captivating. The game’s surprises come through its narrative rather than its gameplay and its ability to tell a sustained story through a randomly generated deck of cards is worth a lot of praise. There’s some great humour displayed throughout, particularly in Queens which is the more satisfying of the two games presented here though both are very funny thanks to their recurring characters.
All that said, Reigns can be a punishing experience. There are times when the game simply seems to up and kill you for no reason at all. There are ways around this, particularly in the late game, but when you get killed for the fifth time because your subjects love you too much, it can be a little frustrating. It’s also, as mentioned previously, quite repetitive and you’ll see the same cards and decisions come up time and time again, sometimes with no discernible effect. It’s a game that’s clearly been designed for mobile, with its swipe left and right mechanics and best played in short bursts as opposed to hours on end where you can end up feeling like you’re being punished. The Switch is a great platform for it but it’s very much a title you’ll jump in and out of as a nice little diversion between bigger games.
Reigns is the very definition of a niche game. It lacks a certain mass appeal but those who love it will love it completely. It’s clever and surprisingly deep for its simple swipe mechanics though it can be a repetitive experience. Of the two games presented here, Queens is the superior one simply because it tells a more interesting story but both are packed with humour and funny little things to find. It’s by no means a masterpiece but it’s a fun and original little game to swipe through for a few minutes here and there.
Review by Matt Russell
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