Running a medieval kingdom is hard. Even when boiled down to simple yes or no questions and decisions from your many advisors, you’re bound to annoy someone, become too powerful, speak a peasant revolt or, um, get lost in your own castle and die from starvation…
Last year’s Reigns quite brilliantly imagined this through the lens of Tinder, asking you to swipe left or right to make decisions, while weighing up the potential consequences and how that would affect the balance of your kingdom. Instead of simply being able to do what you want, you’d often have to make a tradeoff to keep the church happy, avoid running out of gold or whatever. You can always see the potential impact, but have to guess and reason whether that will be positive or negative. For the sequel, Reigns: Her Majesty, you’re no longer a king, but a queen.
That simple twist makes this a little bit different from the first game. While your decisions all have a decided impact on the balance of the kingdom, you do so as the spouse of the King, and this colours everything that happens. There’s a wry twist of dark humour that pokes and prods at current affairs – well, not too current – and many of the things that women have to put up with in real life. An advisor asks you to smile, your told to dress up or down, you get demeaned for actually making decisions, the King condescendingly tells the advisors to do what you tell them because “what harm could it do?”
The knee jerk reaction is to just think “Hey, screw you, I’m the queen!” and push back… and while doing that might be satisfying – there’s one or two moments where you get to send people to be executed – more often than not, it sets you on the path to your own demise. There’s a handful of special event deaths in the game, but most commonly it will be that one or two decisions you made threw the balance with the church, the people, the military or the treasury out of whack, whether filling or emptying the meters. I’ve lost count the number of times the Cardinal has had me burnt at the stake for being a witch or I’ve been trampled to death by an adoring populace.
That’s alright though, because every time you die, you’re reborn by the All Mother as a different princess being married into a position of power. Across these many lives you have a number of overarching objectives and puzzles to solve. You have three objectives every life, and while they’re largely about waiting and being attentive enough to interrogate the Church’s prisoner or invite the Merchant to court, longer term goals are more nuanced and less sign posted.
There’s a gentle imbalance here sometimes, as a new queen takes up the reigns and is immediately dropped in at the deep end, which doesn’t make sense when you consider she’s probably a bright eyed teenager looked down upon by everyone, but helps keep the game and your progress feel like there’s forward momentum.
Despite the reset button being hit every once in a while, a number of key factors do persist from one reign to the next. Wars will carry on until you sign a peace treaty, for example, but you can also grow the range of advisors, who will then stick around for later and if you’re asked for your input on state finances, to sit in on trials, and so on, then that privilege is also afforded to later queens.
One of the complaints of the original was that, while there are hundreds of cards, you’d soon fall into a trap of having the same more common situations popping up time and again. Her Majesty tries to solve that in a few different ways, both by simply having quite a lot more cards – around 1200-1300, up from 800 or so in the original –and seeming to be a bit smarter in how cards and situations come up to try and avoid too much repetition. Additionally, each queen is given a sign of the zodiac, which can play into how events unfold and allow you to shape her destiny.
There is still some repetition to be found, but it’s almost a relief at times to know what’s going to happen. Thankfully, the time-based puzzles of the first game have been all but banished, and you’re given a way out whenever you do venture into this game’s maze. Common sense prevails in general, but trial and error certainly plays a part in learning the deck, figuring out the puzzles and trying to ensuring a queen’s longevity.
Reigns’ devilishly simplistic game of Tinder-like kingdom management feels just as inventive now as it did in 2015, but Reigns: Her Majesty fixes some of its more poorly considered design choices while also putting a refreshing spin on the challenge you face by casting you as a (very powerful) woman in a man’s world. The king is dead. Long live the queen!
Version tested: iOS, PC