#GDEReviews: Reign

#GDEReviews: Reign

The addicting combination of strategy, bluffing, and negotiation will have you talking about Reign long after it's over!

Back Reign on Kickstarter!

Games consist of (at least) two elements: theme and mechanics. Theme is the “story” or “world” of the game, often referred to as “flavor.” Mechanics are the actions, interactions, and relationships in games including things such as space, time, chance, skill, and the mathematics of scoring: rolling dice, odds of sevens, etc. Some games emphasize theme, while others (like Chess) are almost entirely about mechanics. Reign strikes an almost perfect balance between theme and mechanics, creating an immersive, challenging, and (most importantly) FUN experience.

Designed by Garage Games with art by Starcat Games, Reign is a card game of medieval warfare set in the fictional kingdom of Kazath. The king is dead, and a war for succession has begun. Players take on the roles of Lords of Kazath, plotting and fighting alongside and against the other players to earn legitimacy and win the Onyx Crown to be declared Ruler of Kazath!

The Onyx Crown

The Onyx Crown

Players begin with seven cards: five military and two event cards. They will then use these cards, as well as their skills at building alliances to take control of the Onyx Crown, becoming Regent and gaining the special abilities (and responsibilities) that role confers. The game ends when one player has at least nine legitimacy points AND control of the Onyx Crown.

Gameplay is divided into four distinct phases: Influence, Plotting, Combat, and the Regent Phase. There is no Regent in the first round, so the first player will need to be determined randomly.

 

Influence Phase

In terms of mechanics, this is where players discard some of their cards in the hopes of making their remaining cards more valuable. In terms of theme, this is where the lords of Kazath demonstrate their support for the Great Houses, securing the support they need to make a claim.

The Great Houses of Kazath

The Great Houses of Kazath

In order to earn the backing of these powerful houses, the Lords of Kazath must “bid” for their influence. Starting with the first player, each player places their bid face down in front of them. Players can bid any number of military units as long as they all belong to the same house. In subsequent rounds, players may bid on houses controlled by other players. Certain event cards can also be played at this time INSTEAD OF military units. Once all players have bid, the cards are revealed, and the player that bid the highest force for a given house takes control. During this Influence phase, the total force is determined only by the number on the bottom of the card (e.g., Bear Cavalry is worth 5, Sellswords worth 2). After the force is resolved, House Cards featuring the house sigils are distributed to any player who won the bid for that house. The effects of any event card come now into play. Finally, all cards played are discarded.

Lords of Kazath need the backing of one of the Great Houses of Kazath in order to earn legitimacy points. Each Great House has an army of fifteen units of various strengths, represented by cards with “Force” points. Each house has three units each of Peasants, worth one force; Militia, worth two; Archers, worth three; Soldiers, worth four; and Knights, worth five force.

The Elite Units

The Elite Units

In addition to its own unique House Sigil, each house has a modified unit that confers unique abilities to the army it is fighting for. While one house’s elite unit only has a force of one and another’s has a force of five, the different uses of the cards in the influence and combat phases balance out these differences, and an effective strategist can exploit the benefits of their house (and the weaknesses of their opponents’).

House Evergreen

House Evergreen

House Evergreen

House Evergreen’s sigil features a giant tree and winding ivy. Evergreen Peasants are called Treetop Skirmishers, and they gain +2 to their base force of 1 if an event card has been played in combat.

 

House Goldenstag

House Goldenstag

House Goldenstag

House Goldenstag’s sigil features (what else?) a golden stag with dripping antlers. Goldenstag Militia units are Sellswords, who confer a bonus of +2 if in an army controlled by House Goldenstag and +1 if fighting for another house.

 

House Lightbringer

House Lightbringer

House Lightbringer

House Lightbringer is represented by a screaming red phoenix, and its Firebow Archer units fire flaming arrows and are returned to the player’s hand instead of being discarded after combat.

 

House Hammerfast

House Hammerfast

House Hammerfast

House Hammerfast’s gray sigil features two gauntlets wielding a warhammer, and their Soldier units are called Hammerhands. Hammerhands wear visors with no eye openings, swinging their massive hammers to destroy their opponents. They are even more deadly in number, each unit gaining +3 to force for each other Hammerhand in the army.

 

House Frostreave

House Frostreave

House Frostreave

Finally House Frostreave is represented by a scarred roaring polar bear on a blue background. Its elite Bear Cavalry units are the single most powerful military units in the game, earning a +5 force bonus if no other Bear Cavalry units are in their army.

 

A player must have the backing of a Great House in order to take control of the Onyx Crown. So the winning strategy here is to play the highest amount of force you can to ensure the backing of a house, right?

Not so fast!

You’re going to need some of those units in the Combat Phase. But before we get there, we need to develop our strategy and recruit some allies.

 

Plotting Phase

The Plotting Phase is when players make alliances with one another, scheming to get other players to support them by giving them beneficial cards and allowing them to win. This happens in very much the same way a “noble lord” would need to work with and against allies to recruit military units and back the lord with the strongest army and best claim to the throne.

The player who wins the Combat Phase will take control of the Onyx Crown, become the Regent, and earn three legitimacy points. Any player who “backs” the Regent will earn one legitimacy point. While the combat might seem like the most important phase in a game about war, the Combat Round simply consists of revealing and resolving cards. The strategy around who gets which card and who earns what points is largely determined in the Plotting Phase.

Military units are the players’ primary means of winning combat, but any player who earned the backing of a Great House likely had to discard some of their units and are therefore unlikely to win only with the military units that remain in their hand. A player determined to become Regent, therefore, will need to gain the support of other players through interpersonal strategies. These can include bluffing (convincing other players that you have a strong army, and they should back you in order to earn one legitimacy point), negotiation (if you back me this round, I’ll back you the next round, so we both go into the following round with four points), intimidation (if you don’t back me, I’ll make sure you lose the support of your house in the next Influence Phase), and bribery (back me, and I’ll give you an extra portion of the spoils of war!). More on spoils and bribery when we get to the Regent Phase.

The Plotting Phase

The Plotting Phase

Starting with the first player, each player shows support by placing up to one card face up in front of any player with the support of a Great House. This is called the first pass. Next each player may play up to two cards FACE DOWN in front of any number of players with the support of a Great House. A player is considered to be “backing” the last player that they play a card in front of. A player may play all of their cards in front of themselves, but they do not earn an additional legitimacy point if they win. Cards played in the plotting phase make up the army of the player that they are played in front of. This includes event cards, meaning the effects of the event affect the player who ends up with the card in the Combat Phase, not the player who played it in the Plotting Phase. This can be confusing when determining how to play event cards, so keep this distinction in mind.  

 

Combat Phase

The winning army with 23 force points.

The winning army with 23 force points.

All of the bidding and plotting has led up to this moment! Once all players have played their cards for the Plotting Phase, the Combat Round begins. All players shuffle their facedown cards (so they don’t know which cards other players have backed them with) and then reveal their armies simultaneously. Starting with the first player, force is tallied and event cards resolved. Each player determines the order in which event cards in their army are resolved.

In addition to the card-specific modifiers discussed in the Influence section above, armies gain a +1 force modifier for each pair of units that match the Great House that is supporting them. If an army has no units that match their house card, they receive a -4 modifier. At this point players may realize that they bid too high in the Influence phase and no longer have enough (or the right) military to win. Knowing when and how to play a military card is as key to winning battles as the pure force of the card.

Armies Revealed in the Combat Phase

Armies Revealed in the Combat Phase

The player whose army has the highest force score wins three legitimacy points and takes control of the Onyx Crown, becoming the Regent and the first player. Any players who backed the Regent earn one legitimacy point.

 

The Regent Phase

Mechanically, one player won the round by having the most points. Thematically, one lord is crowned Regent by virtue of winning

Beginning with the first player (the current Regent), players draw either two miliary cards or one event card. Any players who played no cards during the Plotting Phase may draw two military cards and one event card.

The Regent then claims the Spoils of War. As discussed in the Plotting phase, these spoils are the Regents most powerful bargaining chip. The Regent draws one military card for every player. The Regent MUST give one of these cards to any player who backed them in the Plotting Phase. The Regent MAY then distribute any cards in their hand as they see fit to fulfill any promises made in the Plotting Phase. These promises are NOT binding, however. The only action required by the Regent is to distribute one card from the spoils to each player who backed them, and if the Regent’s army included a “betrayal” event card (indicated by a red dagger icon), then they are not even required to distribute these cards. A Regent who goes back on too many promises may have difficulty gaining support in future Plotting phases.

After cards have been distributed, players discard down to nine cards and all discarded cards are shuffled back into their respective decks. The next round begins with the Influence Phase.

Regent Rules

Regent Rules

Some special rules now apply to the Regent, most of them are beneficial, but some can be detrimental. The Regent cannot lose their house card in the Influence Phase. However, because instability in the realm is not good for those in power, every time a player gains a new house, the Regent must discard one card from their hand. This is an easy rule to forget, as the Regent has no incentive to remember, and other players may be too focused on bidding for influence, but it’s important for the balance of the game, otherwise the Regent role becomes overpowered. The Regent is the first player in every phase, and they determine the winner in the case of any ties. Regents can also play up to three cards face down in the second pass of the Plotting phase. A good Regent will use these new responsibilities to curry favor from the other players during the Plotting phase.

 

Winning

The Win Condition

The Win Condition

The game is over when one player has at least nine legitimacy points and control of the Onyx Crown. This player is crowned Ruler of Kazath, and the war is over.

 

The endgame of Reign lends itself (rather appropriately) to “kingmaking” among players. Kingmaking is a “metagame” event that happens in many games when a player concludes, “There’s no way I can win, but I can make sure player X doesn’t!” Depending on your game group, “player X” can be the player who won last time, the one who reneged on their promise of spoils, or the tallest player whose opponents can’t help but see as a threat regardless of how cleverly and decently they’ve played! Sorry, I digress.

A successful Reign player is one who can find the balance between being ruthless enough to score force points and honorable enough to receive continued support from other players. A strategy that underscores just how perfectly the theme and the mechanics of Reign work together, as rulers of real and fictitious nations likewise need to strike similar balances among their enemies and allies, roles that change quickly.

The addicting combination of strategy, bluffing, and negotiation will have you talking about the game long after it's over!