Now is your chance to grasp power and wealth. The kingdom is in chaos after the Kings death. With no heir to claim the throne the Lords and Ladies of the land conspire with the great houses to take the title. Can you gain the support you need and wear the Onyx Crown?
Reign is a strategic card game for 3-7 players. In it players compete for the support of one of the great houses of Kazath. They use this backing to take and hold the Onyx Crown, and thus control the kingdom. Holding the Onyx Crown isn’t just a win condition. Players in possession of the crown can resolve ties during play, and are responsible for distributing sought-after military cards.
The game revolves around four phases; Influence Phase, Plotting Phase, Combat Phase and Regent Phase. Each phase has a distinct intent, but they all fit together nicely to construct the narrative of warring factions.
In the Influence Phase players bid, using their hand of military and event cards, to take control of one of the Houses. Without the backing of a House, a player cannot claim the Onyx Crown. Houses are bid for by placing corresponding military cards. Some players will be unscrupulous by instead placing event cards, which can help them or hinder other players.
During the Plotting Phase players back themselves, or other players, by adding cards to their armies. This is done either overtly, by placing a card face up, or covertly by placing a card face down. The more military cards you have the better your chances of success in battle, but players must beware. As with the Influence Phase, some cards played may be event cards, which can bode either well or ill.
The Combat Phase is straight forward. Players reveal their forces, perform military card special abilities, resolve events and then total their armies force number. The player with the highest force, and who is backed by a house, takes the Onyx Crown and gains the Regent powers.
For the new Regent, it is time to reward his loyal followers in the Regent Phase. Or not, as the case may be. While the Regent is bound to supply any supporters with at least one military card, the player does not have to abide by any agreements made in the prior phases. Even sneakier, if one of the cards in the Regents army was an event card with a betrayal symbol, they do not have to pass on any cards at all.
Points are awarded in this phase, too, to the Regent and those who backed them. Once one of the players reaches 9 points, the game ends.
It sounds like a complicated process, and in some regards it is. But much of it is expedited by the fact that every task is done using the hand of cards. Cards are used to bid, back and fight, meaning that players are actively spending their military power to gain benefits in other phases.
Since the cards are used to claim houses, there is an intriguing tactical play which occurs. Players rely on sweet talking other players to have their armies bolstered. So even if a player is surging ahead, dominance is never assured. Military superiority is equally dependent on player’s diplomatic skills as it is army construction.
It’s an interesting balancing mechanic, one which is essentially player regulated, and not something that you see in games very often. Not only does this create a fairly even playing field within the game itself, but also excellently captures the theme and creates an engaging experience. Players really feel like a medieval lord when they broker a deal which gains them the upper hand. And while there are a lot of games where theme and mechanics mix, there aren’t a lot like Reign, where the two are so seamlessly integrated.
The great game mechanics are supported by fantastic artwork. There are ten types of military cards, each illustrated with a terrific amount of skill and talent. The house cards, as well as the Onyx Crown, are evocative while being distinct. All the artwork and design does a good job of drawing the players into the Reign world.
Reign can accommodate between three and seven players. While it is good to see a game which supports a higher number of participants, this is also part of its weakness. The game works admirably with three players, but where it really shines is when there are five or more. This is when the wheeling and dealing really comes into its own, and players are given more of a chance to immerse themselves.
Finding, and organising, this many players may prove difficult to some people. Especially those who are part of a small group. A two player mode is in the works, though. If this comes to fruition then this should give Reign more flexibility in when it can be played. Even so, for the ideal experience, this game needs to be run with as many players as possible.
Even with this taken into consideration, Reign is a surprisingly fun and involved game. Even if players don’t have a head for numbers or hand management, they can always fall back on negotiation and striking deals. And because of the level of player involvement in each phase, once a player has been crowned the winner, it is hard for anyone to feel cheated.
Reign would be an excellent addition to anyone’s game collection. It’s varied phases means that it will appeal to a wide variety of players. Players new or inexperienced in modern games will find it easy to learn, while veteran players will enjoy the thrill of locking horns with their peers.