Control bards and barons in iPhone app Reigns


Carsten Savage


Video game developer Devolver Digital released the app Reigns on the iTunes and Android markets this August. Set during medieval times, Reigns sees the player role-playing as a king, forcing him to make tough decisions and attempt to retain the throne as long as possible. While the app eventually becomes repetitive, it does offer an enjoyable simulation of royal life.

Screenshot: The justice system has become distracted. It is up to the king to decide whether to permit the decrease in the number of executions, or to crack down on the executioners (BluePrints Photo/Carsten Savage).

In Reigns, a card appears on the screen and presents a character with a situation. To make his decision, the player must either swipe the card left or right; if the player swipes the card left, for example, the king sends an army to fight the Vikings, and if the player swipes the card right, he decides to keep his armies cooped up in the capital. Although there are hundreds of different cards that the king will be presented with, the player will find him or herself getting the same cards over and over, repeatedly making the same decisions as a result. When the king dies, a new king will start where the old one left off, but he will still receive many of the same cards, characters, and situations as did his father. Getting new cards becomes a rarity, and the game eventually does lose its replay value.

Screenshot: One of the king’s subjects has created drama in the court, and has come to the king for a solution (BluePrints Photo/Carsten Savage).

To create a sense of realism, Reigns increases or decreases the strength of the church, people, army, and bank based on the player’s choices. When these institutions get too weak or too powerful, disaster will strike the kingdom. If a character notifies the king that a deposit of gold was just discovered, for instance, the king can decide to share it with the people or hoard it for himself; if he chooses the former, his popularity with his subjects will increase, and if he chooses the latter, the people may riot and overthrow the palace. This survival mechanic makes the player careful when playing, but does restrict his or her choices; if the player wants the king to have a legacy of evil, the game will become much harder, making death more frequent than ever.

Screenshot: The money symbol has run out after the player has spent too much of the treasury’s money. Now, the current monarch no longer owns property, which ends the game (BluePrints Photo/Carsten Savage).

The art style and music fit the game perfectly. Characters are made out of triangles, trapezoids and squares, which gives them a unique appearance that distinguishes Reigns from other smartphone games. As the king makes his choices, a well-done, atmospheric soundtrack- which is a mixture between medieval street music and Christian hymns- plays in the background and further transports the player into the Gothic setting.

Screenshot: The court jester offers the king an easy way to earn money, but this action will anger the church (BluePrints Photo/Carsten Savage).

Reigns is an impressive, unique decision-making game that suffers from repetition and limitations on the player’s choices. Yet, for a three-dollar smartphone game, which is made to be played a few minutes every once-and-awhile, Reigns provides an entertaining version of the Middle Ages and allows the player to shape it.