A review of Reigns (PC/iOS/Android)

The King is dead, long live the King

I’m not usually interested in mobile games.  Angry Birds and Candy Crush can go to hell for all I care (especially the latter, after developer King was put in the media spotlight for its bullshit legal shenanigans directed against far less successful game developers in 2014.  And yes, I’m positive they would not have backed down if so much public pressure hadn’t been put on them.  Their “haha no, we’re not an evil company! We were just kidding!!!” open letter was just a reaction to the public outcry.)

But occasionally there’s a mobile game that really interests me.  One of these is Reigns, a game developed for iOS and Android and most recently released for PC.  Reigns is described everywhere as “Tinder for medieval monarchs”, and that description is sort of true, if kind of misleading.  Because yes, the game does use a “swipe left or right” mechanic, but that mechanic is used almost entirely for choosing between different social, military, religious, and economic policies to maintain the balance in the kingdom that is essential to the monarch’s survival.  (Though there is an extremely Tinder-esque choice buried in the game’s many cards – you’ll probably find it at some point if you play long enough.)

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Reigns is a card game that allows you to build your deck as you unlock new paths.  Each card contains a proposal made by one of dozens of characters – one of your subjects or courtiers, along with a handful of more interesting people – and each proposal requires a yes or no answer (though it’s not always strictly yes or no) that will will either increase or decrease the happiness/size/effectiveness of your population, coffers, religious organization, and/or military.  The level of each of the four factors is measured by the bar above the main screen, where the curiously origami-looking characters appear.

Therein lies the danger.  If your king’s policy choice ends up driving one of the four factors too low or too high, he is is horribly killed and his heir (or whoever is most convenient) takes the throne after him.  Yes, even having too much money will kill you.  Therefore, the standard goal is to live as long as possible by balancing all four factors, which takes a steady hand and some good luck.  Sometimes, the cards you draw will help you perfectly balance the factors – for a while, anyway.  At other times, your king will start out with a miserable set of cards that will drive him to a very early grave.

One of the many ends that your king can meet. This one was achieved by building too strong of a military.

One of the many ends that your king can meet. This one was achieved by building too strong of a military.

It’s hard to talk too much about this game without spoiling parts of it.  Your line of monarchs has a list of achievements to fulfill, and many of these are story-related.  Even though each king is replaced immediately after dying and the game continues from there, the decisions of previous kings can affect future outcomes – the game (and particular characters) will remember the choices of past monarchs.  The process of uncovering the mysteries in Reigns makes it somewhat more than just a simple kingdom-maintenance game.

Reigns is also interesting because it depicts the king not as an all-powerful ruler, but rather as the one who everyone else in the kingdom places their hopes and expectations on – the one who has to try to hold the state together and to defend against invasion, rebellion, hunger, and discontent.  Every game of Reigns is a frantic balancing act, and far from feeling powerful while playing the game, I felt vulnerable and nervous.  Whole strings of monarchs only managed to survive for a few years before being murdered or dying of awful diseases, and even the long-reigning kings eventually met terrible ends.  Many historical kings also met terrible ends – just look at how many of them were murdered or executed.  And those are just the monarchs – plenty of dictators also left this world in a brutal fashion.  It really makes you wonder why anyone would ever want to be a ruler.

Thomas the Musician was a boss, though.

Thomas the Musician was a boss, though.

Reigns is only three dollars on the Steam store.  I don’t know its price in mobile form, but it’s probably the same.  For a few hours of bloody royal choose-your-own-adventure action, Reigns is well worth its price.

Games for broke people: Princess Remedy in a World of Hurt

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My first impression of the free game Princess Remedy in a World of Hurt was that the creators thought of the title first and then came up with the concept to fit around it.  Being “in a world of hurt”, if you’re not familiar with the term, means that you’re either getting physically beaten or you’re just generally in serious trouble.  In Princess Remedy, you play as the title character, a magical nurse princess who literally goes to a “world of hurt” where all the citizens suffer from horrible ailments.  Your task is to defeat their illnesses by shooting manifestations of those illnesses with medicine while they chase you and shoot back at you.  (What all that means is that Princess Remedy is a kind of bullet hell game, although one that looks like an adventure game or an RPG at first.)

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The look of the game is interesting.  I guess it’s trying to evoke memories of 8-bit games on the NES and Master System, though the graphics look simplistic even for that period.  That aside, Princess Remedy is pretty fun.  The shooting sections scale up from stupidly simple to fairly difficult, but the game offers health, regeneration and shot power-ups to help the player.  Eventually, though, you’ll have to rely totally upon your dodging and aiming skills to win.  One unusual point about this game is that Princess Remedy can’t seem to control her shot – she’ll simply continue firing her medicine capsules or sparkly bullet things (not sure what those are supposed to represent) in whatever direction she’s facing, which can cause otherwise dormant enemies to fire back at her.

Princess Remedy is worth a play.  It only takes about an hour to beat, but it’s a solid option if you’re looking for a reasonably good free game.

Games for broke people (8/6/2016)

The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us.

– Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

The above statement is as true now as it was when Melville wrote it over 160 years ago.  Paying for things is terrible, and it’s especially terrible when you don’t have a steady job or a consistent source of income.  So while I look for a job and wait the three months it takes the state bar to grade exams, I’ll also be looking at some free and free-to-play games on Steam.  I can’t expect anything amazing from a free title – what I’m looking for is not necessarily a full meal, but more of an hors d’oeuvre.  And since you don’t pay to eat hors d’oeuvres, that analogy really works, doesn’t it?

Today, we’ll look at two puzzle-platformers featuring blocky protagonists.  But these two games are totally different in every other way.

Mandagon

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The things I know about Tibetan Buddhism can be counted on no hands, because I don’t know anything about it.  So I may be missing a lot of meaning in Mandagon, a very short game whose developers claim is inspired by Tibetan theology.  However, I don’t think you have to be an expert in that field to appreciate this game.  Mandagon tells the story of a sacrifice, and the player has to explore what seems to be a large temple sitting on a mountaintop to make that sacrifice.  The one puzzle in the game is extremely easy to figure out – it hardly even counts as a puzzle, and the whole experience only lasts about half an hour, or an hour at the very longest.  But the point of Mandagon seems to be in the exploration itself rather than in finding the goal.  The art is good, and some of the visual touches are very nice (the flags and chimes that flutter in the wind, for example.)  Together with the background music (really more like ambient sound) the atmosphere created is both ominous and strangely relaxing.  The mention of theology in the game’s description put me on my guard, but Mandagon isn’t preachy or heavy-handed either, so don’t let that scare you away.  It’s well worth a play.

You Have 10 Seconds

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The simply and honestly titled You Have 10 Seconds could not be less like Mandagon.  Where the focus in Mandagon was on exploration and relaxation, the focus in 10 Seconds is get to the goal NOW.  YOU DON’T HAVE ANY TIME TO SIT AROUND AND LOOK AT SHIT.  GET MOVING!

10 Seconds requires the player to take his nameless block of a protagonist to the goal on every map within ten seconds.  If he fails to do this (if time runs out or the player runs into a hazard) one life is lost.  While extra lives can be gotten in some levels, the combination of time pressure and obstacle-dodging makes 10 Seconds a fair challenge.  It’s very simply animated, and the music can get annoying, but the game is basically effective at what it tries to do.  For a total cost of $0.00 and at a tiny 33 MB, it’s worth at least downloading if you have any interest in games of this sort.