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A Royal Bummer

A Royal Bummer

Monarchs get all the glory in the history books. They lived
lavish lives of luxury, and their daily whims could reshape nations. Like its
predecessor, Reigns: Her Majesty examines the lives of medieval rulers, and explores
how their impulses allow nations to flourish or bring them to their knees. However,
navigating the chaotic social structure of a medieval kingdom is no easy task, and
the day-to-day life of a queen is not as glorious as it first appears.

Her Majesty was built with a mobile interface in mind.
Players are presented with a series of decisions, such as sending huntsmen on
quests to find exotic animal pelts, bailing local dignitaries out of financial
jams, and make the final ruling on legal matters. All of your advisors are
presented as playing cards that pose simple “yes” or “no” type questions, and you
make your decisions by flipping those cards left or right. This simple
interface and bite-sized narrative sequences offer a relaxed experience, but
the longer I played, the shallower it felt.

Each decision has different effects on your standing in one
of four categories: church, populous, military, and finance. If you make a
decision that benefits your army, for example, you might end up emptying the
coffers or losing face among your loyal followers. You don’t want any of these
categories to rise too high or low; a strong army can initiate a revolution, and
a neglected church can burn you at the stake. When one queen’s reign ends, you
jump into the role of her successor with no penalty. All of your influence
meters are reset, but the decisions of previous queen carry forward.

In principle, this push-and-pull dynamic is ripe for thoughtful
strategy. In practice, predicting how your decisions actually impact the
kingdom is almost impossible. Why did painting the courtroom with bright colors
negatively affect my standing with the church? How did hosting a birthday party
benefit my army? Why did encouraging trade negatively affect my economy? I constantly
struggled to guess the consequences of my choices. I seemed to rule just as
well when I based all of my decision on the flip of a coin, which made me feel
like my decisions didn’t really matter.

Over the course of your many lives, while trying to maintain
balance in your kingdom, you are tasked with completing a series of royal deeds.
These achievement-like tasks are often vague, asking you to “host a neighboring
kingdom,” or “unmask a traitor.” Unfortunately, you can’t proactively hunt down
these quests. Since the entire game is about answering a series of questions,
you have to wait until you are presented with most of these opportunities. For
example, I couldn’t “find a new world” until an explorer came to me and asked
if I’d fund his expedition. This passive approach to storytelling often left me
feeling helpless as I hurriedly flipped through repeating scenarios until the
game finally decided to give me something new.  

Her Majesty has a couple of interesting moments but largely
follows the formula of the first game and fails to evolve into something
special. I applaud developer Nerial’s drive to innovate with this simplified strategy
adventure, but this collection of mildly interesting moments fails to remain
compelling over the long haul. Maybe the life of a queen isn’t as exciting as
we think.

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