With Game of Thrones on hiatus before its eighth and final season, fans can get their fix of their favorite characters and join in the intrigue with Reigns: Game of Thrones, which was developed by UK-based Nerial and published by Devolver Digital. The announcement of the game in August came as something of a surprise because it’s not often that a media company the size of HBO entrusts the characters and story behind one of its most popular shows to a small independent game studio. At the same time, however, the combination felt like a perfectly natural evolution of the Reigns series. Reigns: Game of Thrones, which was released today, doesn't disappoint.
Reigns was released in 2016 and quickly garnered rave reviews and fans. As king, Reigns presented players with a series of decisions from advisors and subjects that they had to make by swiping an on-screen card left or right, Tinder-style. The simplicity of the mechanic belied a deep story with lots of personality. Those binary decisions had consequences, which could quickly spin out of control leading to your violent overthrow. The complex paths the story could lead as a result of simple swiping left and right set up a clever contrast that’s at the heart of why the game is so fun to play.
In the follow-up, Reigns: Her Majesty, which I reviewed last year, you played as the queen. Her Majesty took the best parts of the original game and added depth. There were more cards, which meant less repetition, and more emphasis on the relationships of the characters, so it felt less like a kingdom simulation. The result was a more story-focused game that drew you into its world and was hard to put down.
The same elements that made Reigns and Her Majesty successes are at play in Reigns: Game of Thrones. There’s a strong emphasis on the characters and story, which will be familiar to anyone who has watched the show on HBO. This time around, the writing is just as solid as in the past but does an excellent job of translating the characters and atmosphere of the show into the game’s format accompanied by the soundtrack from the series, which lends an extra layer of drama to everything.
The art of the original games has been preserved too, which I was glad to see. The characters from the show are recognizable, but so is the art style, which is carried over from the earlier games. The artwork, paired with the strong writing and character development of the original games, fits perfectly with Game of Thrones, making the two feel like a natural match and not a franchise shoe-horned into a white-label game structure. The game is further enhanced by not being too tightly tied to the story told in the series, which gives players something to explore beyond the boundaries of the stories that have been told in the series.
In Reigns: Game of Thrones, you can play as one of several characters that are unlocked as you progress, including Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and others. Along the way, there are a series of mini-games that involve things like jousting, battling enemies, and fighting in taverns. The game also tracks a series of objectives that come up throughout the game, which include 49 royal deeds, 29 different ways your reign can end in death, and a portrait gallery of 60 characters you encounter throughout the game. The number of cards discovered is tracked too. Although the total number of cards is not disclosed in the game, my sense from playing it is that there are many more than in Reigns: Her Majesty, which itself had far more cards than the original game.
It’s been interesting to see Reigns evolve since the original game was released. Follow-ups to successful games that employ a similar formula are hard to get right, but Nerial has managed to improve Reigns with each subsequent release. The latest game remains familiar and fun in the same ways the originals were, but there is added depth, detail, and little touches that have kept the formula for getting old. Add to that the masterstroke of adapting the game to the storyline of Game of Thrones and you’ve got a fantastic game that I hope leads to many new players discovering Nerial's earlier work too.
Reigns: Game of Thrones is available on the App Store for $3.99.