Reigns: The Council Review

Regins: The Council is on Kickstarter for 10 more days!

What kind of bizarre, hilarious thought process resulted in the creation of Reigns? This quirky indie game combined witty storytelling with the user interface of tinder and it somehow worked. You play a monarch trying to manage the crises of your fantasy medieval kingdom. Advisors, military leaders, and the occasional talking bird petition you for various things, and you’re trying to not let your standing in any of the four metrics–military strength, church strength, reputation among the people, and finances–get either too high or too low. It’s actually fairly accurate, commenting on the fact that stability is often more important to sociological strength than growth.

I’ve had my fun with Reigns, certainly getting my $3 worth. But I hadn’t really thought about it for a couple of years until I got an email about the board game adaptation. I was about to dismiss it like I do so many party games that are sent to me. (I’m picky, and so many party games leave me perplexed) Then I saw that Bruno Faidutti was involved and decided to give it a second look. With such a seasoned designer involved, maybe it’ll be a surprise hit.

The first thing you’ve got to understand is that they sent me this game with a glittery tiara in the box. I don’t think the game’s actually going to come with a headpiece, but if you’re not willing to find some ridiculous headwear, you’re not in the spirit of the activity. I’ve grown to wear the tiara upside down, like a spiky goatee. There was also a tiny bag of German gummy bears in the package, and I still haven’t figured out what that’s about.

Reigns: The Council is a surprisingly straightforward port of the digital game with the players acting as the storytellers. One person is crowned the monarch, and everyone else takes a hand of cards and a secret motive. The motive shows which two of those four metrics you want to end up positive or negative. The other cards are proposals you give to the monarch. From their position, the monarch can only see the goofy character on the front of the card: maybe a knight, or a hobo, or a hippy-Jesus figure, or one of those annoying talking birds. The front of the card also indicates which of the four metrics would be affected by an acceptance. The backside of the card shows specifically how they’ll change with either an acceptance or a rejection. It also provides a couple of images to help the presenter tell their story.

Reigns occupies an odd space in the gaming world, as it provides a lot of subtle incentives for the players, but expects them to buy into the premise of the game and create a kind of social contract of acceptable behavior. This isn’t unique to gaming, but typically this social contract doesn’t go beyond basic decency, playing fair, and perhaps not kingmaking. Reigns requires that people understand and accept that it’s a storytelling game without the most airtight rules. 

Technically you can say whatever you want when you deliver your proposal to the monarch. Reigns is better if you use the suggested images and retain some kind of truth about the effect of the card. The monarch should have some idea of what the card could do, and sometimes the image is enough–if there’s a pope-like figure on the front, it’s probably going to be something that will positively affect the church.

If you were really driven to win, you’d be more deceitful and the monarch would probably be confounded. At this point I don’t know if Reigns survives as a fun experience. But why would you play this with a competitive spirit? The point is to tell silly stories and laugh. The suspense that drives many great party games is there as the cards are flipped over: first the rejections, then the accepted proposals. As soon as one of the metrics hits the end of the line, the monarch is ousted, and the next person gets a turn.

I could probably go on, talking more about how it captures some of the subtle details of the digital game, how the art direction supports its gently irreverent tone, or how the point system actually feels pretty fair. But that’s not really the point, now is it? Did we tell silly stories? Yes. Did we laugh? Definitely. It’s not going to surpass more intellectual party games in my estimation, because that’s the kind of person I am, but for a few amusing evenings? You could certainly do worse.

Review copy provided by publisher

Score: 6/10

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