The king is dead. Long live the king! That’s you, by the way. How will you rule your kingdom in Reigns: The Council?
What Is Reigns: The Council?
Reigns: The Council is a party game by Bruno Faidutti and Herve Marle for 3 to 6 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 40 minutes to play, according to the rulebook. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of £28 (about $35USD) for a copy of the base game, or £45 (about $55USD) for the “collector” edition. Or, for true royalty, you could drop £20,000 on a copy with an actual gold-plated crown!
Reigns: The Council is inspired by the Reigns app, which is a solo game about responding to various requests from people in your kingdom. The game’s rules are easy enough for younger players to grasp, though I’d caution that some of the icons representing the proposals may have some more mature themes—fortunately, nothing is explicit so younger kids may not pick up on those. As for the game length, I’ve found that 40 minutes is generally an underestimate, but it will depend on how long it takes players to come up with stories for their proposals—and how long-winded they are. More on that below.
Reigns: The Council Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. My prototype has the base game components, plus a sparkly pink headband crown, which is not the same as what will come in the collector’s edition.
Here’s what comes in the base game:
- Status board
- 4 Status markers (Church, People, Army, Wealth)
- 24 Secret Goal cards
- 236 Proposal cards
- Scoring tokens
The collector’s edition will add:
- Headband Crown
- 10 Memento Mori cards
- Dramatis Personae booklet
- Larger box with sleeve for the crown
- Digital versions of Reigns and Reigns: Her Majesty on Steam
As you can see, the game is primarily a lot of cards, plus a simple status board to track the four pillars of your realm, so I imagine the finished game will look a lot like the prototype, just with higher quality components. The illustrations of the secret goal cards on the Kickstarter page are slightly different from the prototype, but I don’t expect a lot of significant changes.
The proposal cards feature the blocky characters seen in the app, so if you’ve played that then they’ll look familiar. There are a lot of different characters: soldiers, clergy, merchants, foreign visitors, and even some animals. The backs of the proposal cards and the secret goal cards feature more cartoony illustrations that represent various situations.
How to Play Reigns: The Council
You can download a copy of the print and play here if you’d like to try it out for yourself.
The goal of the game is to score the most points by successfully accepting proposals as the king, or by having your proposals accepted and reaching your secret objectives as the advisors.
Place the status board in the center of the table, and start each of the four pillars in the center space. Set the victory point tokens nearby. Shuffle the secret goal cards and the proposal cards.
Choose a player to be king, and deal 7 proposal cards and 1 secret goal card each to the other players, who will be advisors for this round. Players should not show other players their secret goal cards or the results side of their proposal cards.
Each proposal card has a character portrait on the front (along with the icons representing the four pillars). The back shows a few strange icons, and then a results chart: the white line is the results if the proposal is accepted, and the black is the results if the proposal is rejected. Before starting, every player may discard any number of proposal cards and draw back up after consulting their secret goal card.
Once everyone is ready, each of the advisors gives the king a proposal card, making sure to show only the character portrait side to the king. The little icons on the back help the player to explain what the proposal is … though sometimes they can be a little strange. For instance, in the photo above, the card on the left is apparently “We need to buy beer for the goblins,” perhaps. I don’t even know what that one on the right means.
On the fronts of the cards, some of the pillar icons are highlighted, occasionally with a dot below one of them. These indicate which pillars will be affected if you accept the proposal (the dot means a greater effect) but doesn’t show whether those pillars will get stronger or weaker. If you reject the proposal, you don’t know which pillars will be affected.
The king must decide which proposals to accept and which to reject (and must accept at least one). Each player whose proposal was accepted scores 1 point. Then, the king resolves each rejected proposal first, in whatever order they choose, moving the pillars up and down according to the black section on the back, and then discards the cards.
After that, the king resolves each accepted proposal, moving the pillars according to the white section. Accepted proposals are kept in a scoring pile in front of the king. Finally, each advisor draws a new card and makes another proposal.
Of course, life as king isn’t always so simple. Each advisor has a secret goal involving two of the pillars, and if any pillar reaches either the highest or lowest point of the track, the king’s reign ends immediately, and any proposal cards that had not been resolved yet are discarded.
When the king dies, all advisors reveal their secret goal cards and score according to the status of the board. You score points based on how far the relevant pillars have moved in your desired direction (with 5 points if it reached the end). You do not lose points if a pillar went in the opposite direction. In the photo above, the secret goal was for the army and wealth to go up. This player scored 5 points because the army reached its maximum, but did not score for the wealth, which was at -3.
In addition, the player whose proposal resulted in the king’s death gets to tell the story of how the king died. For each player who laughs during this story, the storyteller scores 1 point.
If the king is able to amass 15 accepted proposals by the end of a round without dying, their reign ends in peace.
Whether the king died or ended their reign peacefully, they scores 1 point per accepted proposal in their scoring pile. Then they choose a new king (who hasn’t reigned yet), and a new round starts. Everyone discards their leftover proposals and secret goals.
The game ends when each player has been king once, or when you’re ready to stop. The player with the most points wins; in case of a tie, whoever had the most memorable reign and death wins.
Why You Should Play Reigns: The Council
I’ve played both Reigns and Reigns: Her Majesty on my phone, so when I heard that there would be a tabletop version of it, I was really curious to see how it would play out. The app is for single players and is somewhat narrative-driven. As you play, you swipe left or right to decide whether to accept the various proposals brought before you, and then the various pillars strengthen or weaken based on your decisions. Whenever you die, there’s always a brief explanation of what happened. Also, as you play, certain choices will result in more cards being “shuffled” into the deck, which brings in new characters and situations.
Reigns: The Council adapts the look and feel of the popular solo app and manages to turn it into a multiplayer tabletop game that mixes storytelling, secret objectives, and political maneuvering. The icons on the backs of the cards give just a little hint of what’s going on, but you’re allowed to say whatever you like to the king. You can be honest about how the proposal will affect the pillars, or lie about them. And, of course, you can weigh in on the other proposals, too (even though you don’t know exactly what they’ll do).
As king, your goal is to accept as many proposals as you can while balancing the various pillars so you don’t die. It’s tricky, because every acceptance gives a player a point (and possibly more, if you die). But it’s the only way for you to score, too. Even the order in which you resolve proposals matters, so you’ll have to make your best guesses based on the icons showing (and, if you remember, what players have tried to do in previous rounds).
There are victory points, but it really is a party game and most of the fun is in the interactions and the stories about the proposals—that’s evident from the rule that the storyteller gets points for making people laugh. You can try to play strategically and score the most points, but in the end it’s more fun if you get into the narrative.
That said, I can’t figure out how they expect this to be a 40-minute game, especially with 6 players. When we played a 4-player game at Gen Con, I think we played for around an hour and only two of us had been king at that point. I did play one 5-player game where everyone was king once, but only because we kept dying quickly. Most of the time, we’ll play a few rounds but stop before everyone has been king, just enough to let everyone get some laughs. The more time you spend telling the stories of the proposals, the longer the game will take (but the more entertaining it is). For a 40-minute game, it feels like you’d have to play it almost strictly as a play-cards-and-score game, but I think you’d lose a lot of the enjoyment.
I would recommend Reigns: The Council for groups who want something fairly light, but with a layer of scoring to drive your decisions. It may not be as great for those who are looking for bit more strategy. I like that the proposals are represented with icons because it allows you to be creative about what they mean rather than just reading off a card, but some players found it difficult to come up with explanations. There are ways around that, though. One fun moment was when Rob Huddleston played a card with a cat on it, and just said “meow meow meow meow meow” and then knocked over a water bottle. In my gaming group, Reigns: The Council is a delight to play and always results in a lot of laughter.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Reigns: The Council Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.