Your people are starving following a harvest, and your adviser begs you to lower taxes, even if it means damaging your nation’s finances — do you do it? A mysterious explosion has rocked the capital city — do you close your gates? Your executioner wants time off to study horticulture — do you let him?
These are the kind of questions that you face in “Reigns,” a quirky indie strategy smartphone game. It places you as king of a medieval country, and asks you to balance the various competing needs of of your kingdom: Church, people, military, and finances.
Dating app Tinder popularised “swiping” as an interface — swipe right for yes, or left for no. “Reigns” takes this design and catapults it in a zany new direction, parading an endless stream of advisers in front of you, and making you chose from two binary answers to their often-bizarre requests.
Building a dam to collect water will help your people, but harm your finances. Agreeing to negotiate a ceasefire in a war will boost your coffers, but damage your military’s standing. If anything gets too low — or too high — you invariably come to a “Game of Thrones”-style grizzly end.
Dying isn’t the end, though. In fact, expect to die a lot. Each time you shuffle off the mortal coil, you start again as the dead king’s heir — learning to avoid the same mistakes, and aiming to achieve new objectives before you kick the bucket.
It’s fun, and funny. What more do you want?
“Reigns,” created by independent development studio Nerial in the United Kingdom, was originally launched in August 2016. But on Wednesday, it won first prize in a Google contest to find the best indie games available on Android. (It’s also available on iOS, for all the iPhone users out there.)
I had a chance to play the game at the event, hosted at the Saatchi Gallery in London — and I found it terrific. It was my favourite of the 20 finalists in attendance, and I’ve downloaded it and continued to play it since.
It’s simple, fun, easy to play in short bursts, and marked by a distinctive and surreal deadpan humour. One moment you’ll be negotiating a bethrothal, and the next you’ll be talking to a vase.
The gameplay is reminiscent of the throne-room scenes of console game “Dragon Age: Inquisition,” while the art-style is delightful in a simple, Dwarf Fortress-esque way — though without the mind-bending difficulty.
It’s inspired by Tinder — and Brexit
The game is available on Android, iOS, and Steam on the desktop. It’s not a free game — it will set you back about the price of a coffee: $US2.99, or £2.89 in the UK. This means the game is free of ads, and there are no in-app purchases to try to entice you to pay to keep playing — it’s all about the gameplay.
Along with Tinder, one of the developers told me that an inspiration for the game was huge, world-shaking binary choices we’ve seen recently — like the Brexit vote by Britain to leave the European Union. It’s an almost unfathomably complex issue, boiled down into a yes-or-no question, with hard-to-predict consequences.
“Reigns” forces you to make the same reductionist decisions, again, and again, and again — but have fun doing so.
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