Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Or in Westeros’ case, increasingly uncomfortable is the butt that sits upon the Iron Throne. Good thing Reigns: Game of Thrones is a fun reminder that everything in the Seven Kingdoms is miserable, good intentions mean nothing, and all good reigns must come to a violent end.
Out today on iOS and Android devices as well as for the PC, Regins: Game of Thrones is, well, Reigns—the delightfully simple yet compelling monarchy simulator first released by series developer Nerial in 2016—but themed for Game of Thrones. It’s the same ideas and mechanics, with players tasked with seeing how long they can last on the throne by swiping left or right on decisions on things like celebrating your rule with a tourney, supplying your guards with a wage increase or, as it’s Game of Thrones, things like whether or not you’ll ignore pleas from the Night’s Watch that there are killer ice zombies battering down the Wall.
The Game of Thrones trappings are very cute. Reigns’ simple art style does a grand job of replicating adorable versions of your favourite characters, music from the show plays in the background, and the framing device for the multiple runs you take at rulership (as a host of different characters, from the Lannisters, to the Starks, to Daenerys herself) are future visions Melisandre sees in the red flames, a clever conceit.
But aside from that, it’s pretty much Reigns as it has been for the past two years, across what is now multiple spinoffs. You make decisions, try to manage your four metrics of success—in this case, your armies, your relationship with the Faith of the Seven, your people, and the coffers of the Master of Coin—and inevitably when one of those metrics swings too far one way, you meet your end, often in a grisly fashion.
Take my first run as Daenerys, for example. It started out well enough, with the people of King’s Landing cheering me on my name day, my dragons well tended to, and diplomacy ensuring relative peace across the seven kingdoms. Then two ravens showed up: one, from Samwell Tarly, telling me Jon (my...nephew slash lover, I guess?), has gone missing beyond the Wall, and another from Daario in Mereen, informing me the city was about to fall to betrayal. I decided to pick Jon over Daario—Mereen’s an ocean away and Daario’s well, Daario, plus, White Walkers!—so I hopped on Drogon and took my army North, expecting to help find Jon and swipe my way through the ice zombie hordes.
Instead, the game informed me that Daenerys was never seen again, and presumably dead. My reign lasted just three short moons. Oops. It was sudden, sharp, and bleak, which is pretty much Game of Thrones in three words, right there.
I fared a bit better with a run of Lannisters—Tyrion, then Cersei, then Jamie—and delighted in inverting what would inevitably be their decisions should they ever take the Iron Throne in the show’s final season. My Tyrion was wise with his money, caring for his people, and tried to show clemency to his dethroned sister at her trial. My Jamie was a cunning orator, charming crowds with speeches and winning tourneys through martial skill (and the occasional bit of blackmail from my best bud Varys). Cersei was a diplomat, choosing to reach out to Daenerys and her allies and offer aid against the White Walkers, while rebuilding her frayed relationship with the Faith in the wake of that minor incident with an exploding Sept.
Reigns: Game of Thrones revels in letting you imagine bizarre alternate futures for Westeros, and they’re quirky enough that they certainly beat waiting around for actual information about season eight. But all those reigns still ended, as all reigns in Reigns inevitably do, in tragedy and death.
Tyrion ran out of money paying off his family’s debts, so the gold cloaks turned on him and stabbed him in the back, repeatedly. Both Jamie and Cersei, despite their diplomatic know how, faced an uprising from their lords and got tied up to a pole and bludgeoned to death. As simplistic as its swipe-left-swipe-right mechanics are, Reigns quickly teaches you that no matter how good you think you’re doing, your downfall can come out of nowhere in a moment’s notice, and that rule is as much about surviving as long as you can as it is about managing a Kingdom. Which, in the end, makes Game of Thrones the perfect “skin” for its mechanics. The bleak message that you’re not really trying to reign but simply survive as long as you can—and that the end, most of the time, is going to be a miserable and bloody one—is basically the message of the show. Good rulers, bad rulers, cunning ones, kindly ones: In the end, they all meet the great equaliser, in brutal manners or otherwise.
Maybe there is a way to “win” Reigns: Game of Thrones, but for now, I’m pretty content to murder my way through as many Starks, Targaryens, Lannisters, and whatever other houses I need to, to try and find out. After all, that too is perfectly in line with the show’s grim ethos: when you play the Game of Thrones, you win, or you die. Reigns at least lets you have a decent time while doing plenty of the latter.