For years, it seemed the only format worthy of HBO’s global TV mega-hit was a consequence-driven point-and-click adventure from Telltale Games. That prayer to the Seven was finally answered in 2014, but a second season was eventually cancelled amid internal collapse and we were soon left with nothing more than cheap mobile tie-ins and a terrible action-RPG that no one seems to remember exists. Doesn’t the biggest TV show in the world deserve better gaming representation?
Well, yes it does, and indie studio Nerial just happens to have just the game worthy of inheriting the digital Iron Throne. Enter Reigns: Game of Thrones, a card-swapping narrative adventure full of twists, turns, wildfire, dragons, betrayals and rains all the way from Castamere. By taking the simple binary choice system and randomised storylines of the original Reigns and its brilliant sequel, Reigns: Her Majesty (which were previously bundled together on Switch in Reigns: Kings & Queens) and splicing it with the dark fantasy world of George R.R. Martin’s literary saga, you’re left with something so perfectly suited it’s practically offensive.
For those who haven’t played the series before, Reigns: Game of Thrones is the bastard child of Tinder and a choose-your-own-adventure book. Told through the visions of red priestess Melisandre, you begin your reign in the shoes of stormborn dragon mama Daenerys Targaryen as she claims the Iron Throne. You’ll also unlock eight other major characters from the saga as you meet certain objectives generated at the start of each run. While the game doesn’t drop you into a specific era of the books or show, it does use events from the latter seasons as narrative anchor points so certain story beats mentioned should be considered highly spoilerific for those who haven’t watched season seven.
So you begin each run already in possession of the crown, but keeping it on your head (and your head upon your shoulders) is another matter entirely. What lies ahead is the rigmarole of royal diplomacy (receiving ambassadors and establishing treaties), the cloak-and-dagger game of inter-house politics (using the Iron Bank to cut off credit to your enemies and exploiting Varys’ little birds to seek powerful secrets), the protection of your borders (dealing with the always rowdy Iron Islands and keeping the troublesome Dornish at arms length), the waging of war (leading armies into battle and orchestrating them from afar) and so much more. Cersei wasn’t kidding when she explained the rules of the titular game. And dying is often far more common an outcome than victory…
Each action is presented as a card. You can either swipe left to deny or right to agree with certain options. There’s no right or wrong option here, and each new binary choice is often based upon the ones you’ve made previously. You might decide to decline the advances of one of the Sand Snakes, but by doing so force her to return home embittered, planting the seeds for a future attack. You might choose to spend coin rebuilding the Great Sept, but run out of funds later down the line when you need to properly arm your military. Tactics play a vital role, but chance and luck are also along for the ride.
Each character begins with their own specific conditions or narrative backstory (Tyrion’s history as Master of Coin sometimes affords him a stronger relationship with the Iron Bank, and thus a much healthier set of coffers), while Jon Snow and Sansa will respectively begin with a greater set of alliances among those in the North. On top of this, you’ll need to balance four metres at all times – military power, religious purity, popularity among the people and royal wealth. Each decision will increase or decrease each one, and should a single metre be completely drained, a grisly end is usually not far behind.
Sometimes, your demise will come about because of a particular decision you made previously. Heading on a ship to Dorne to settle a potential war might see your monarch disappear on the journey, never to be seen again. You might arrive in the north to aid your allies in Winterfell, only to be slain and resurrected as a wight. You might demote a certain lord and suddenly find yourself being filled with blades in a bloody bout of political restructuring. Death is a constant companion, always lurking out of sight, but always ready to embrace you. In that regard, Reigns: Game of Thrones is less about winning and more about surviving enough moons to die with pride.
As as the case with previous versions of Reigns, the game's biggest weakness is its longevity; while there are a dizzying number of potential routes through the story, after a few days of solid play you'll have exhausted (almost) all of them. This was less of an issue on smartphones, where you'd play in short bursts, but on Switch, the game's lack of staying power is more cruelly exposed. Having said that, it's so well-written and downright unpredictable that you'll readily forgive this shortcoming.
As an officially licensed game – complete with character likenesses in Reigns’ angular portrait format and Ramin Djawadi's instantly recognisable score – Reigns: Game of Thrones is about as close as you’ll come to living the day-to-day life of a Westeros monarch, short of visiting the Seven Kingdoms for real. By bringing in key characters and events from the books and show, you’re given enough authenticity that exploring storylines only ever teased in the source material (such as seeing Jamie on the throne or a more compassionate version of Cersei) feel just as meaningful.