The world of Kazath is in chaos. Our supreme leader, the king, is no more and the different Lords and Ladies that scatter the land are vying for control. Use the influence offered by the realm’s Great Houses to establish your position as the person to lead the country into the future. A war is coming. Will you be on the right side, or will you rise above all others and claim the crown as your own?
Reign is a game made in Wollongong by Australian developers, Garage Games. It is a Kickstarter success, exceeding its $11 000 target with more than 100 backers. Available on their website, Reign takes two to seven players and brings them together to fight over the crown. It is a game of diplomacy and deceit. Players, as a lords or ladies of the Kingdom of Kazath, talk, bargain and negotiate with each other to position themselves strongly for each battle. For it is these skirmishes that will lead one person to victory and the crown.
Negotiating your place in this new world is not a simple act of beating down all competition. Instead, players will find themselves not only fighting for their own interests, but for common interests with their foes. After all, an enemies enemy is a friend. This is how you will gain influence and the Onyx crown.
Each turn starts with players having a number of soldier and event cards in their hand. Soldiers are used as a tool for negotiation and for crushing competing players underfoot. Event cards can be used to manipulate odd of battle in your favour. Bolster your forces or backstab your rivals? These cards will swing the flow of conflict towards or against you and your friends. Using these, players silently bid for the support of Great Houses. What houses players are bidding against is not known until all bids have been placed. This is a cunning excuse to prevent all players from having individual support of houses. Instead players will often find themselves bidding against each other even when there is a house per person. The winner will receive the support of that house while the losers receive nothing.
While winning influence is the key to success, beating the other houses each round alone will not earn you all the influence you will need. Leading a Great House into battle may put you in a position to take the crown, but it is those who lost out during the initial bidding phase who will undoubtedly determine the victors for each round. Near the end of the game, this includes the eventual victors. It is this potential for a collective victory, and the constantly fluctuating alliances, that gives this game an unparalleled diplomatic feeling. You negotiate for the houses who will lead you to the crown, and you negotiate with the other players to let you claim victory.
However, this is where the first problem that we encountered started raising its head. Very few players would ever provide the support which would enable a player to outright win. This could be seen as a funky balancing mechanic where games would generally lead to a tight fight. However, I found that it just felt as though it was stalling the game. Across many games I felt that, although there was a lot I could do, there was only a small pool of correct actions could bring me closer to victory.
Having to rely on other players ensures that being ahead was a sure-fire way of making sure no one will support you. Players will team up to ensure you do not win. This lack of choice meant that each of my games ended only after all players were within striking distance of victory. It also meant that the eventual victor could be dictated entirely by who wins a house in the final round. And then, as the remaining players have nothing to offer those who have already been eliminated, the king could be chosen by luck as much as anything else.
The variety of actions offered by the event cards is extremely satisfying. They enable you to quickly shift alliances, screw armies and bolster your forces. However, this is where I feel Reign could have used a little more polish. There is a wide range in the effectiveness of some of the events and some of the terminology seemed to be inconsistent between the rules and the cards.
There are bits of Reign that I really loved, and I feel that negotiation tops the list. However the manner in which its value falls off in the last couple of rounds always leaves me feeling a little disappointed. I have been asking myself if the win condition is actually where it should be. It is a game where the persistence of the negotiation phases is important, but by setting victory at becoming king, it almost feels as though the game ends prematurely.
As crude as it may sound, I feel that Reign could be enhanced by adding persistent non-game elements. I could imagine this being a fantastic game to be played with players buying in with a couple of dollars each. The king will be the one to take the pool and then determine how some may be shared between players. While I have not tested this kind of variety, I feel it would support the negotiating aspect and encourage players to fight for the kings favour in the long run, creating an environment where creating long term alliances could be just as valuable.
What sort of collection does Reign belong in? I would say that those that enjoy the player to player interaction will love playing Reign. For those that are after a more guided experience; this may not be their game. Players need to talk, they need to be willing to build alliances which are as a stable as a house of cards. I loved the interaction that Reign facilitated, and as such it will become a regular in my library.
I think that if you haven’t played a game like this before, you should certainly give it a shot. I don’t think that it will tickle everyone’s fancy; it is a unique game that aims to tell (successfully so) a tale of backdoor dealings, alliances forged and shattered, and a king newly crowned. Will you be crowned? Or will you see yourself thrust to the side in a coup that will be remembered for all of time.