What is it like to be a king? It's an awful lot like Tinder actually, if Devolver Digital's mobile monarch simulator Reigns is anything to go by. Instead of being bombarded with Snapchat filter selfies and unsolicited penises, however, players are presented with a succession of subjects demanding decisions from the throne.
In Reigns players play as a succession of kings ruling over the same kingdom, with the goal of lasting as long as possible by balancing the needs of the people, church, military and the monarchy's coffers. A deck of some 800 cards determines the problems and possibilities that each king must address by swiping either left or right, with decisions influencing any number of the four core pillars negatively or positively.
The status of each is marked by a simple bar at the top of the screen, and keeping them balanced is key. Simply ensuring none of them run out would make Reigns all too easy however, so the game requires players to keep each in check as well: keeping the populace happy but reminding them who's in charge.
Should any metre run out or max out, the player's reign will end in morbid fashion. Running out of money might force you into exile but have too much and you'll eat yourself to death at a lavish party. If the army grows too strong the general will organise a successful coup but if there's no army to defend your borders you'll be invaded and die on the steps of the castle.
Reigns is built on a great concept kept fresh by good design that creates a nice flow despite simply swiping to the left or the right. A dark, absurdist sense of humour, which brings to mind Monty Python and the Holy Grail, gives Reigns personality too. It's possible to meet the devil in an unexpected form, duel skeletons, decide what do with your salmon-fishing general and get high on mushrooms.
Reigns would have quickly grown boring if each card required a simple yes or no response, so the developers at Nerial keep things fresh with mini games and plot lines that break things up. These include simplistic sword fights that require left-swipes to defend and right-swipes to attack and labyrinths in which players must remember the routes they've taken to work their way through and escape.
The outcomes of each decision made and path taken is rarely made clear. Players will remember the effects some cards have after they appear several times – for example, marrying a princess from a far-off land raises every pillar or lowers them if you decline but there's enough uncertainty to keep players on their toes.
This is further aided by a deck of cards that grows when certain objectives – set out in threes prior to each new reign – are completed. These guide the player through the game, often without overtly telling them what to do or what the consequences might be: 'Govern like a winner' and 'See the future' are two examples.
Reigns is designed for play in short bursts, as most mobile games should be. Its form is perfect in many ways, with simple gameplay given legs by smart design and life by great writing. A single reign can take 30 seconds, with most successful runs taking five minutes or more. The length of each reign becoming the score inspires players to try again, and last just a little bit longer than 'Edward The Lover' or 'Gerald The Ancient'.
Likewise, counters displaying how many cards you've unlocked, objectives you've yet to complete and deaths you've yet to experience, coax players to find all the game's twisted secrets and jokes. Reigns could have been too simple for its own good in less capable hands.
The notable omission of queens feels like an own goal given the opportunities for new cards and stories it would afford, but also the inclusionary aspect. It seems, looking at the game's website, that queens may be added in the near future. Repetition is a bit of a problem for Reigns as well. In the short bursts its designed for it isn't really a problem, but it makes longer sessions unappealing.
Reigns is a Python-esque text adventure rougelike played out with the swipe-mechanics of Tinder. If that sounds at all appealing, then Reigns is absolutely worth the small investment. Light and undemanding, it offers short, great bursts of play perfect for the mobile platform.