T’was the year 600 and King James did sit upon the accursed throne and verily decree that the age of darkness was at an end; henceforth, he would steer the kingdom away from the rocks of corruption toward prosperity. Forsooth, a kind and noble sovereign was he! Unfortunately, the harvest was an absolute disaster, all his investments went sideways and he was swiftly beheaded by merchants and noblemen after three short years. Next!
Welcome to Reigns: Kings & Queens, where good intentions will be your undoing 99 percent of the time. This Switch edition combines Reigns and Reigns: Her Majesty, two games previously released on PC and mobile platforms. They present binary options brought to you by advisors and subjects, loyal and otherwise, and as monarch, you must survive and break a curse put upon the throne by the Devil himself.
The kingdom is represented by four meters at the top of the screen: church, citizens, military and economy. As though from a deck of cards, decrees are made by pushing an analogue stick left or right and confirming your response to propositions by hitting ‘A’, ‘L’ or ‘R’ (or swiping on the touchscreen). Meters fill or empty accordingly; after agreeing to a hunting trip (assuming you aren’t mortally wounded), you may choose to host a banquet (benefiting your church and army cronies) or give your food to the needy (increasing the happiness of your citizens).
Elements of text adventures combine with resource management and a Tinder-like interface. One year passes with every decision and a long, productive reign depends very simply on keeping the four meters in balance. Should one fill or empty completely, your reign is over, whether through revolting peasantry, foreign invasion, patricide, military coup or sheer gluttony. You soon realise that longevity and benevolence are rarely compatible. Plague? Thank God! – the population needs thinning out. Costly war in the Far East? We’ve got to burn money on something, quick-smart!
Unlockable perks appear as icons at the bottom of the screen and usually remain after the current ruler kicks the bucket. Building a bank, for example, enables the crown to mint new coin when the treasury’s depleted, and stockpiling supplies in a barn grants a reprieve if the ‘Citizen’ meter bottoms out – a life-saver when the Black Death rolls into town.
Some deals, however, have consequences. If the church bankrolls your exploits, you’ll be unable to deny requests from the Archbishop. In this context, even Machiavellian swindlers in your court can prove useful in keeping the church in check. New ‘cards’ become available as centuries pass and you follow certain narrative paths. The writing is excellent, and the simple binary decisions lead to complex situations.
After prolonged play we slid into a Matrix-esque ‘zone’; the veil lifted and we saw only the numbers behind each decision (indeed, a temporary ‘Clarity’ perk even reveals the hidden numbers and how your next choice will affect the meters). Once you’ve seen each card multiple times, decisions become arbitrary. Yes, the detachment cleverly mirrors the apathy brought on by absolute power, but the game inevitably turns more mechanical the longer you play.
At a certain point, the Devil makes his final appearance. Defeating him requires navigating dungeons and other tricky scenarios. Should you miss your window of opportunity, you’ll have to reset the game for another shot or be forever cursed. The reset is inexplicably hidden – Google told us it existed on other platforms and following a quarter of an hour fumbling with the controller, we stumbled on the screen (hold down both ‘ZL’ and ‘ZR’ for a few seconds on the pause screen and it appears). It's strange that such a fundamental option should be buried.
Reigns: Her Majesty not only addresses the gender imbalance of the original but adds an extra layer of strategy with special collectable objects kept in a small inventory (accessed by pressing ‘X’). Scenarios can be altered by the timely deployment of an object, unlocking new cards and opportunities. It’s a welcome expansion of the concept, but it’s otherwise more of the well-written same – a booster pack, if you will.
It’s hard to argue that this Switch edition really enhances the experience over, say, the mobile version. It has an exclusive two-player mode which simply activates two controllers in the normal single-player. A short countdown bar appears when one player makes a choice – the other can either confirm or overrule before time’s up and the game continues. It’s a welcome little ‘co-op’ extra, but in truth, it’s barely a feature.
While its short-burst gameplay is perfectly suited to phones, Reigns: Kings & Queens arguably works just as well lying on the sofa with a single Joy-Con. It’s addictive with plenty of depth to its deceptively simple systems, although like the mobile edition, it really is best enjoyed when played in small chunks. After several hours, repetition inevitably dulls its initial appeal, but if you haven’t played it elsewhere, this is a great package that’s well worth swiping right on.