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Reigns: Her Majesty shows that it’s not easy being queen — but it sure is fun. It’s developer Nerial and publisher Devolver Digital’s followup to the card-based kingship simulator from 2016, which tasked players with making decisions for the realm based purely on swiping left or right.
Though the mechanics are deceptively simple, you’ll find plenty to unpack in the game. Not only does it investigate themes of power and belief, but secrets and Easter eggs are sprinkled throughout. Reigns: Her Majesty is out now on PC, iOS, and Android.
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What you’ll like
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Her Majesty is similar to the first Reigns in that the stats are all-important; in order to make it through your queenship without losing your head, you have to be money-wise with your finances and make sure the church, army, and populace don’t hate or love you too much. Each decision you make has ramifications — siding with the cardinal will earn you favors with the church, but the army may dislike your partisanship.
However, where the first Reigns relied on swiping the cards to make decisions, Her Majesty introduces a few different systems. For one, each time you ascend to the throne, you’re assigned an astrological symbol which occasionally dictates what special event cards may be triggered. Another is an inventory with items that can be dragged onto the cards for special effects.
The new systems added an interesting dimension to Reigns. Sometimes it’s clear which items work in which situations. Other use cases are more obscure, and you’ll have to sift through clues to discover when it’s appropriate. You’re penalized for randomly trying items, so you’ll have to be careful in your experimentation.
Astrology-based events bring a welcome element of surprise. Perhaps you didn’t make it that far in Sagittarius the first time it came around, so the next time you find yourself under that sign, a new card is waiting for you.
Plenty of personality
Writer Leigh Alexander had a lot of fun with Her Majesty. And not just with the grisly deaths, though those are always entertaining. When you’re not being flung from a jewel-encrusted carriage or crushed to death by a throng of admirers, you’ll encounter interesting characters such as the witch or the scientist.
Where the first Reigns had deals with the devil, Her Majesty incorporates ideas of pagan mysticism, magic, and superstition. You’ll find talking animals, arcane books of spells, and secret names. And sometimes glitchy elements will pop up, or you’ll find cards that break the fourth-wall or reference meta modern-day commentary.
I came out to rule the kingdom, and I’m honestly feeling so attacked right now
Her Majesty — and Reigns — is a first-person game, and you inhabit the role of queen. You’re the one who makes decisions, who agrees or disagrees to requests, who decides which values you prioritize. But you’re also at the mercy of the stats. If you upset too many people, you’ll lose your throne, and your queendom will crumble. It’s imperative that you maintain a good relationship with people in your court. And it can feel like a very personal compromise.
The first time I felt this was when a card came up that told me to smile more. It’s something that women hear all the time from strangers in the street who for some reason feel like their opinion somehow matters. My initial reaction was to aggressively dismiss it — but I realized I couldn’t afford the consequences of saying no. Begrudgingly, I had to agree to what I felt was an invasion of my personal boundaries. This kind of compromise comes up again and again. The church thinks that it’s indecent for you to wear such low-cut dresses, the people want you to be more glamorous, the king questions whether or not you’re serious when you make decisions.
The running commentary really shows how even though you’re the queen, you’re still beholden to the social mores of the day. It’s another way Alexander examines power — in an interview with GamesBeat, she noted that she didn’t want Her Majesty to simply be about “a ruler who’s been gender-swapped.”
Some of the issues you encounter in the game are specific obstacles that women encounter — but whether or not you’re familiar with them, I think any player can appreciate how frustrating it is for their agency to be questioned or for someone to dictate how they should behave or dress. It’s a clever trick that makes you really feel like you’re giving something up in order to play the numbers.
Ruling with style
Like the first Reigns, Her Majesty has a pleasing, minimalist aesthetic with bold colors and geometric shapes. It also has one of my favorite made-up languages, little chirps and weird noises that are expressive despite being gibberish. The soundtrack from Jim Guthrie is unobtrusive for most of the game, but when it swells into the forefront, it sounds like promises of magic and the inexplicable.
What you won’t like
Power is cyclical — and so are some of the cards you’ll have to go through. At certain points, I found myself confidently swiping past cards that I’d read dozens of times before, skimming through them until I got to the one I was waiting for.
This isn’t a deal-breaker, since it contributes to the feeling of déjà vu. You’re playing as a queen reincarnated through the ages, forced to go through the motions, surrounded by people whose petty squabbles and concerns never change no matter what year it is.
The monotonous responses are broken up by one character who, when you know precisely what they’re trying to get you to do, exclaims, “How did you know I would do that? Are you magic, like me?” But even that character isn’t on your wavelength; they say that every time you catch them, evidence that they’re not quite as outside of time as you are.
Though you can quickly work your way through the cards, it’s still sometimes tedious to go through repeat text — especially if you’re trying to unlock all the endings or get to 100-percent completion.
Fans of the first Reigns will certainly have a royal ball with Her Majesty — and it’s a great introduction for new players as well. The inventory system offers shortcuts to trigger events and even ways to get a second chance when you should have died at the stake.
Most of the time, I found the repetition to be meditative and enjoyable. Especially as a mobile game, it’s terrific to be able to pick up and rule for a few minutes (before meeting a gruesome end) at a time. However, sifting through the same text over time may get tiresome for some folks.
It’s a terrific sequel with its own personality that still leverages the fun, minimalistic mechanics.
Reigns: Her Majesty is out on PC, iOS, and Android. The publisher sent us a code for review.
Disclaimer: The writer once adopted a cat from Her Majesty writer Leigh Alexander. Our coverage remains objective.
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