Reigns: The Council
- Designer: Bruno Faidutti and Herve Marly
- Publisher: Nerial
- Players: 3-6
- Time: ~10 min per Reign (per player)
Reigns: The Council (R:TC) is a new game which is hitting Kickstarter shortly… Well, actually now – the campaign just went live:
This game gets its origin from the popular phone app, Reigns. In the app, you are a monarch (well really a string of monarchs) who have one job: to stay alive as long as possible. Each year, you are presented with a single important decision and you have to decide to choose one of two options for each one. An advisor shows up on a card and then you get to read a little story about whatever is happening in your kingdom. Each decision can affect any or all of the four major attributes in your kingdom (religion, population, military or money) – though you don’t know in which direction or what magnitude until after you make your decision. You do get to see the icons for the areas being affected, and if one if significantly affected, there will be a dot under the icon to show you this fact.
You keep making decisions year by year until one of the four tracks reaches an extreme high or low value. At that point, extremists have a coup, kill the monarch and end your game. Lucky for you, you quickly assume the role of the successor and keep playing another game. As time goes by, you will unlock new cards (Decisions to make) which increase the variety and humor of the game. You will also develop a bit of familiarity with the decisions, and you can use your memory to help you play better. The phone app is a single player game, and it has kept me busy on many a roadtrip or through a soccer rain delay. It’s quick, lighthearted and never fails to bring a laugh or two during the game. R:TC takes this idea and morphs it into a multiplayer game. When I first heard about it, I wasn’t sure how this was going to work, but I liked the app enough that I wanted to give it a go.
The game will be played over a number of Reigns – likely one per player, though the rules say you can play as long or as short as you like. A Reign will last until either one of the attributes reaches an extreme position OR there have been fifteen accepted proposals in that Reign. Whenever the Reign ends, all players score points and then the crown is passed to someone else.
There is a Kingdom board which is placed on the table. The four major attributes each have a line on the board, and the scale goes from -5 to +5. A marker for each starts in the neutral (zero) position at the start of each round. There is a huge deck of event cards, the back of each having a different graphic showing a character or place, and the reverse showing the actual details of how the stats will be affected when the card is accepted or denied.
One player is chosen to be the first Monarch and the rest of the players become the Advisors. Each advisor is dealt a hand of 7 event cards (Proposals). Also, each Advisor gets a Secret Goal card – this card shows two attributes and whether you want them to be positive or negative at the end of the Reign.
In a game round, all the Advisors look through their hand and choose a card which they will propose to the Monarch. The card is placed face down so that the Monarch (and other players) can only see character and the attributes affected. Once all players have chosen a card, each in turn tells the story of their Proposal in order to try to get the Monarch to accept it (or possibly decline it). In the phone app, there is usually a humorous sentence or two to explain the card… In R:TC, you do get a few icons on the reverse side to maybe help you craft a story, but in the end, it’s up to your imagination to flesh out the picture on the card as there is NO FLAVOR TEXT at all on the cards. You are able to say whatever you want, though if you consistently misrepresent your cards, the other players may stop believing you! Additionally, the other Advisors are invited to chime in their thoughts on the proposal as well.
Once all the advisors have made their Proposal, the Monarch now much choose which Proposals to accept and which to decline – the only stipulation being that at least one proposal MUST be accepted. Each accepted Proposal will score one point to the Advisor who played it – take these points from the supply. Next, the rejected proposals are resolved, one at a time, in whichever order the Monarch wishes. A rejected card is flipped over, and the stats are changed according to the numbers in the black bar. If any of the four attribute tokens reaches either end of the track, the Reign immediately ends (more on this down below); otherwise, move onto the next rejected Proposal and do the same. All rejected Proposal cards are placed in the discard pile after they are resolved. Then, start resolving the approved Proposals. Each time a card is flipped over, again adjust the stats, but each accepted Proposal card is kept in a stack near the current Monarch to track how many Proposals he has approved.
The Reign continues so long as an attribute is not at an extreme and you haven’t reached the limit of 15 approved Proposals. Each Advisor draws another card to bring their hand back to 7 and the Reign continues on.
If the Reign ends due to a coup – by having one or more attribute cards reach the max position – the Advisor who played the Proposal card which caused the coup then gets to tell the death story of the Monarch, again using all their powers of imagination. This player will collect one bonus point for each player who laughs while listening to the death story. If the Reign ends due to 15+ accepted proposals, the Monarch is allowed to peacefully abdicate, and no one gets the chance to score bonus points at the expense of the empty throne.
Then, the outgoing Monarch counts the number of accepted Proposals which had been enacted, and he takes 1 VP for each card in that stack. The Advisors now all reveal their Secret Goal cards, and they score 1-5 VPs per attribute that is as shown on their card – you essentially score points equal to the number where the matching marker lies, and you get 5VP if the marker is at the end of the track.
The current monarch chooses another player to be the new Monarch, and the game continues on until all players have had an equal chance to be the Monarch. Points are tallied, and the player who has the most points wins.
My thoughts on the game
The physical implementation of the game worked really well in the first group that tried it with me – of course, we had all played the phone app before, and we had a lot of fun imitating the characters from the game and taking our own riffs at it. Much laughs were had. In the other game, it was with players who had not played the phone app before, and it kinda fell flat.
For me, I love the theme and the idea, but the game itself wants to be a more cohesive experience. Even more so than the phone app, some games have lasted one or two years only… The track on each side only goes to +/- 5, and there are multiple cards in the deck which can affect an attribute by 3 points. Thus, if you get two similarly heavily weighted decisions in the first round, your turn as king is over as soon as you start it!
In the app, as you play, you learn the different characters and their general slant on things – through experience, often by simply seeing the same card over and over, you learn how certain events will affect the game and how certain characters usually portray the possible effects of the card. In the boardgame, there is no constancy. I could be telling the entire truth on one card and be totally lying on the next. There is no telling – and in the end, the whole time as king becomes a guessing game based on the icons represented on the back of the card. As far as the actual game results go, what the other players say basically has no effect on my decision making because they are under no guidelines as to how honest they have to be.
The only thing I’m really sure of is that they’re trying to max out their bonus points at the end of the game based on the two tracks they have on their secret card. And therein lies the issue, because the king never knows that. It might be something if the king could see what each player had as a motivator. Or at least know which attributes the player cared about (or even one of the two) – even if not knowing positive or negative. In this way, there would at least be some sort of rationale to try to read into the player’s statement.
The storytelling part is interesting, and often funny, though some of my less imaginative friends had a harder time using the two visual prompts well in crafting a story. Again, some of this may come from a lack of familiarity with the sort of things the app tells you – but again, there is nothing stopping you from saying whatever you want. And in the end, it doesn’t matter. The king accepts or not, really only knowing for sure which attributes will be affected if the card is accepted. The rest is sheer guesswork. If your group likes telling stories and has the imagination to come up with outlandish proposals, you’ll love this game.
I mean, I can see how you might be able to learn what a certain player is trying to do if he keeps playing the same attribute over and over in a round, but in a 4P game, you’ll likely have 3 chances at a player at most (Due to the 15 card rule), and that’s not enough time to really learn stuff. And, in my experience, the reign often ends much sooner, so you’ll still in the guessing phase when the wheels fall off your reign. I think the game could really be interesting if you at least had a hint at what was motivating the storytellers. You would likely learn something valuable from even the first card from them in a round.
I love the idea of giving more points to the teller of the death story for people that laugh at it – but in the end, once people know that, they simply don’t laugh. At least in our group. Or maybe we’re sucky comedians. In practice, this didn’t turn out to affect the game much at all.
The art is cute, and uses the same graphics found in the phone app. For me, that was one of the things that saved the game. It brought back fond memories of my travails as monarch, and there were a few characters that were new to me, and this kind of made me want to go back to try out the phone app again to see if I could find these new cards.
If you’re looking for a fun storytelling game where the playing/doing/laughing is much more important than the winning, this could be the game for you. Most definitely so if you like the Reigns app. This game is definitely different than the app – but for me, that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t want this do to the same thing because then why would I not just play the app on my phone?! Reigns: The Council has definitely provided plenty of laughs, and I won’t say that I haven’t enjoyed those games… It is a great activity, something to start or end our game sessions with… But, for a “game”, this one falls flat because I don’t feel that there is enough there to make a non-random decision as King. For me, for a game, I’d rather play the app where it feels like I have a chance at learning something from repeated plays and have a chance to use my memory to make meaningful decisions. Here, it’s all guesswork, and that’s not the sort of game that I prefer. On the bright side, it has led to a renaissance of playing the solo game on my phone, and I found out that there was even a new version to buy and play through! For the right gamer, this could be a hoot, and you’ll probably already know by now whether you’re in this group or not… (for evidence of a group which had a lot more fun with this – https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2243715/first-impressions) I’ll stick to cube pushing, area controlling, action selecting and trick taking myself. Plenty of people have told me that I don’t have a lot of imagination, and they might be right.
*Note that I have written about a pre-production copy of the game, received mid July 2019, and the game may have changed since then.
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor