Swipe right. Long live the king! Swipe left. The king is dead.
I just got done spending an hour with Reigns, a fun little Steam/iOS/Android game where you swipe right and left to make decisions that will ultimately save or ruin your entire kingdom. Oh, and your life. The game can be quite treacherous (I’ve died eight times so far), but Reigns is just as much about the surrealist story trainwrecks as it is living long and prospering.
In order to avoid getting sliced open like a mouldy blood sausage by The Church or ravaged by a disease unleashed by your mad scientist doctor, you’ve gotta keep four meters at the top of the screen balanced. They represent the church, the people, the military and your money. Most choices move one or two meters down and one or two up while also advancing your reign by one year. If any of them bottom out, so do you, usually gruesomely.
So much weird shit happens in this game, though, that sometimes it’s hard to resist just going with it, especially when all you have to do is swipe, and information comes to you in satisfying bites. For instance, immediately after giving orders to my military general to quell a peasant uprising, my dog started talking to me.
So, in a single swipe, I followed him. This led me to a pulsating orange mushroom, which, at my dog’s behest, I ate with just one more swipe. I figured I’d die horribly, but fuck it, because dogs.
Instead, I unlocked the most powerful ability I’ve come across in the game so far: Clarity, a numerical indicator of exactly how much each decision would move various meters. I survived a whopping 20 in-game years with my newfound magical eyeball.
Ultimately, I died after getting lost in a dungeon and talking to a skeleton about how much his un-life sucked, all via swipes. He complained that he was dead and trapped in a shitty cave. I countered that life was overrated. He countered my counter by murdering me. In hindsight, I suppose it was all pretty fitting.
Reigns is very silly, and yeah, you’re ultimately making a series of A or B choices, but it’s also uniquely compelling. Swiping right and left to make kingdom-shattering decisions is such a satisfying motion, and the game’s randomised stories are full of surprises. In the span of a few minutes, you can make a lifetime’s worth of decisions.
And then you die.