Reigns: a beginner's guide

If you've never heard of the game Reigns before, allow us to introduce you to one of the most popular games of the year. Available for $2.99 in the Google Play Store, Reigns is a game that will likely have you playing for not only for hours on end, but over years and generations — more on that in a bit.

The game is formatted sort of like those Choose Your Own Adventure books you probably remember from your childhood. Load up the game and you're instantly thrown in. You start out as a young king taking control of his kingdom in the first year of his reign. Advisors, citizens and animals appear as cards, coming to you with issues and questions that require a ruling — swipe right for yes, swipe left for no.

But choose wisely, because your decisions will affect one of four aspects of your kingdom: the church, the people, the army or the treasury. They are tracked with meters at the top of the screen, and your goal as king is to ensure no meter becomes entirely empty or full — allow that to happen and your fate is sealed.

It may sound complicated, but it's really not. Your goal is simply to keep things balanced and reign over your land for as long as possible. If — or rather when — you die, the game doesn't end. Instead, you simply take on the role of your successor and take over where the last king left things. But remember, everything is occurring on a linear timeline. Every decision you make is logged by the game, and may well come back affect your fate down the line, so choose wisely.

If we've convinced you already to check out the game, great! Hit up the Google Play Store and get your hands on this game while avoiding any of the spoilers to follow. If you still need some convincing before dropping money on the game, or have some questions regarding the gameplay mechanics, we've broken out this handy guide to maximize the length of your reign.

A guided tour through your first reign as King

To explain Reigns' gameplay mechanics, which is sort of a meshing between Choose Your Own Adventure storytelling and Tinder-style controls, there's no better way than to simply showing a progression through the very first reign, as King Edward the Young. I'll be including commentary along the way to explain my rationale.

Spoilers ahead: No matter how early the content I'm showing you is in the overall arc of the game, if you want the full, going-in-blind experience (highly recommended), stop reading now and just buy this game from the Play Store. It's absolutely worth it.

Still reading? Let's go!

The game opens with you speaking to the "Spirit of the Fallen" who accuses you of usurping his throne. He gives you a heads up about keeping the four powers (marked with the cross, stick figure, sword and dollar sign) balanced to survive. Again, you simply swipe to the right or left to move on to the next card.

So, when I first started playing Reigns, I figured I'd try and be a nice king to my people. When my first card introduced me to Puck the peasant telling me we needed to build a dam, I figured "that's a no brainer" and just went ahead and had it built.

Note the callouts on the screens above. In my haste, I didn't even bother to see how that decision might affect the kingdom's power balance. The people's power went up a bit, but the treasury went down as well, given I had spent the royal family's wealth. This early on in a king's reign, one hasty decision won't have too major an impact on how things play out. But as you progress through different reigns, things do tend to add up or disappear quite quickly if you're not smart.

What's more, the very next card called into question the decision I had just made! And we're just getting started, folks!

"Tweet! Tweet!"

So, the next visitor was… a bird. Not knowing what to make of this, and not seeing any markings above any of the power balances (more on that shortly), I decided to opt with politeness. Again, as you'll discover, this game loves to delves into absurd, or go off on delightfully Non Sequitur tangents.

After slowing down and seeing what the options were for responding to the bird, the game does remind you to take your time and swipe slow to read both responses and see the consequences of your decisions on the kingdom.

Next up, the "Achbishop (sic) of Reeds" asked if he could conduct a mass to the memory of my father. Having not known who exactly my father was in this context, and also noticing that saying 'No' would have an effect on the church and military — you're almost never outright told whether it will be positive or negative — while saying yes would have an effect on the church and the treasury, signified in the call outs above by the dot above each signal. I opted to be fiscally conservative and forgo the mass.

So uh… about that absurdity again. You quickly learn how twisted and dark the humor gets in this game. From determining how to best handle a plague of meowing nuns, to playing fetch with the royal dog for, as I learned, as long as you would like to with seemingly no consequence, to then immediately deciding whether to call in the army to help execute citizens — every new card is a potential twist down a bizarre path. Just another day as a monarch, I suppose.

"There are too many people to execute! I need help from the army."

To the issue of whether to call in the army to help executing citizens… Uh, how about no? Again, looking at the effects on the power balance I noted that saying 'No' would affect the people's power, while saying 'Yes' would affect both the people's power and the army's power. The king decrees 'No'.

"The estuary of the river Drop is a dangerous swamp for travellers. We should sanitize the whole area."

The next card jumps back to the decision to dam the river. It has created a swamp that's apparently dangerous for travellers. I care about people's safety, so sure. Let's sanitize the whole area. No matter the cost.

"The Merchants' Guild is selling goods traditionally produced by the Abbey. Put an end to this."

OK, so here's another important note. The size of the dot above each power category determines how big the effect will be — either positively or negatively. See the callouts in the screen above to see the difference between 'Yes' and 'No' here. I went with 'Yes'.

"My Lord, you can't stop the trade! Please reconsider, even if it means paying a new tax."

Whoa. My treasury took a major hit, but the church was also pretty low, so good call, right?

But now I've annoyed the merchants. Okay, well some damage control via taxation should help my treasury a bit.

"The miners are refusing to dig in the mine. They want a raise."

Again, I've decided to be a man of the people here, so give them a raise!

"Could we dismember Junius Loosetongue? Please? This clown broke down a trebuchet."

Man, this guy again? Always with the killing and dismembering. That said, we are too low on money to be messing with our weapons… Bring him to me now!

"I was playing tennis with a giant. He won"

Haha, oh he's the jester? That's pretty funny. Sure let's just pay the army.

But wait. My treasury...

"An earthquake destroyed a large part of the capital. The City Guard awaits your orders."

An earthquake? Uh-oh. That sounds expensive. Both options show an effect on my treasury.

This might be the end. I guess let's prevent pillaging?

"Your country is ruined my Lord. Merchants and nobility own everything"

So we've reached the end of my first reign, as my treasury has been depleted. You know your king is about to die when both the 'Yes' and 'No' responses are both 'What…' or something similar.

Well, it was a good run while it lasted. Your final card shows how the king died. 16 years for my first reign, not too shabby — I think? And hey, maybe King Robert will do a better job than his predecessor.

How to duel

As you progress through the game, occasionally you will be challenged to a duel. The gameplay itself doesn't change much at all, as you're still either swiping right to attack, or to the left to retreat/dodge. The four trackers at the top are replaced by a rudimentary battle arena, where your attacks and retreats are previewed by swiping and holding the card. Take time when considering your next move.

After completing your first duel, you can ask General Conventon to explain the duel mechanics. Here's what he says:

In other words, it's typically best to mostly be aggressive in duels and swipe to the right. However, if the card hints at your duelling partner planning a nasty attack, you might want to opt for a defensive swipe to the left. If you guess wrong, you might meet an untimely end, but time your defensive move right and you'll get an attack bonus on the next round. Ultimately, duelling seems like a 50/50 mix of strategy and luck.

Completing objectives

Every time a king dies, a new king rises to take his place — with three objectives you should aim to complete during his next reign.

These objectives really range in variety and, occasionally, seem quite absurd. But as you quickly discover once you dive into Reigns, it's a game that's full of wonderful surprises. Occasionally it will come down to your intuition and close reading for clues to figure out when you might be able to complete an objective. Other times, the game will simply throw you down a random path and you're taken on a wild ride towards the conclusion of an objective. All told, there are currently 40 objectives in Reigns.

A common example of an objective you will see is seeking out a new character. Occasionally a card will hint at introducing a new character advisor, so it's typically worth responding affirmatively to such cards. Once you've unlocked a new character, you'll start to regularly hearing from them, signified by new cards being added to your deck. Every new character adds a new layer to the overall game, and not all characters are to be trusted — but on the other hand, you may also earn the opportunity to have certain characters executed for one reason or another. Reigns features 37 unlockable characters.

Effect cards

Occasionally as you play through Reigns, you will trigger an effect. These will affect the game in a multitude of different ways. See the screens above for just a few examples I've run into so far. Once you uncover an effect card, you'll see its icon in one of the four boxes in the bottom right corner for as long as they are in effect. I really don't want to give away too much on them because they are really some of the most surprising and hilarious parts of the game. Given there are four effect slots, they will also stack on top of one another if you let them. They may reset whenever a king dies, they may run out after a set amount of time, or they might remain in effect for as long as you keep playing.

Mistakes will be made

Here's the thing: while your goal in Reigns is to survive for as many years as possible, there might be some Kings that serve for pitifully short reigns. This may be due to your own poor decision making, or it could just be the game throwing you for a loop. In the example section above, looking back, I made some pretty costly mistakes that significantly shortened my reign.

But it's okay! Not every king you play as is going to have a long and fruitful reign. Besides, if you're struggling being a fair and just ruler, maybe it's time to try being a ruthless tyrant. There's no wrong way to play Reigns.

Have you played Reigns?

What have been your favorite moments playing the game? Got any tips we should include in our guide? Let us know in the comments!

Marc Lagace

Marc Lagace was an Apps and Games Editor at Android Central between 2016 and 2020. You can reach out to him on Twitter [@spacelagace.