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A Royal Bummer

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Monarchs get all the glory in the history books. They lived lavish lives of luxury, and their daily whims could reshape nations. Like its predecessor, Reigns: Her Majesty examines the lives of medieval rulers, and explores how their impulses allow nations to flourish or bring them to their knees. However, navigating the chaotic social structure of a medieval kingdom is no easy task, and the day-to-day life of a queen is not as glorious as it first appears.

Her Majesty was built with a mobile interface in mind. Players are presented with a series of decisions, such as sending huntsmen on quests to find exotic animal pelts, bailing local dignitaries out of financial jams, and make the final ruling on legal matters. All of your advisors are presented as playing cards that pose simple "yes" or "no" type questions, and you make your decisions by flipping those cards left or right. This simple interface and bite-sized narrative sequences offer a relaxed experience, but the longer I played, the shallower it felt.

Each decision has different effects on your standing in one of four categories: church, populous, military, and finance. If you make a decision that benefits your army, for example, you might end up emptying the coffers or losing face among your loyal followers. You don't want any of these categories to rise too high or low; a strong army can initiate a revolution, and a neglected church can burn you at the stake. When one queen's reign ends, you jump into the role of her successor with no penalty. All of your influence meters are reset, but the decisions of previous queen carry forward.

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In principle, this push-and-pull dynamic is ripe for thoughtful strategy. In practice, predicting how your decisions actually impact the kingdom is almost impossible. Why did painting the courtroom with bright colors negatively affect my standing with the church? How did hosting a birthday party benefit my army? Why did encouraging trade negatively affect my economy? I constantly struggled to guess the consequences of my choices. I seemed to rule just as well when I based all of my decision on the flip of a coin, which made me feel like my decisions didn't really matter.

Over the course of your many lives, while trying to maintain balance in your kingdom, you are tasked with completing a series of royal deeds. These achievement-like tasks are often vague, asking you to "host a neighboring kingdom," or "unmask a traitor." Unfortunately, you can't proactively hunt down these quests. Since the entire game is about answering a series of questions, you have to wait until you are presented with most of these opportunities. For example, I couldn't "find a new world" until an explorer came to me and asked if I'd fund his expedition. This passive approach to storytelling often left me feeling helpless as I hurriedly flipped through repeating scenarios until the game finally decided to give me something new.  

Her Majesty has a couple of interesting moments but largely follows the formula of the first game and fails to evolve into something special. I applaud developer Nerial's drive to innovate with this simplified strategy adventure, but this collection of mildly interesting moments fails to remain compelling over the long haul. Maybe the life of a queen isn't as exciting as we think.

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