Into The Spine of Reigns: Game of Thrones

You’re too late to prevent The Red Wedding, though.

The Reigns series has been around for a few years, but the games have eluded me for the longest time. It’s a series of fantasy-based choose-your-own-adventure games laced with a Tinder makeover. Your choices are tied to left and right swipes, which will dramatically alter your fate and your kingdom. Various resources are listed at the top of the screen (military power, religious faith, the peoples’ love, and wealth), the extremes of which can end your glorious rule.

As you can guess from the title, Reigns: Game of Thrones doesn’t simply slather a dating app onto a typical fantasy setting. Rather, in entwines it with the rich history of the Game of Thrones universe, casting for a wider audience. This gives Reigns a consistent progression system: different storylines unlock familiar faces as new rulers. You start with simply Daenerys Targaryen, who unlocks Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, the latter eventually leads to Cersei Lannister and Sansa Stark, and so forth. These are canonically justified as visions of Melisandre the Red Witch, who’s skimming through possible futures to find a way to survive winter.

And while this progression strikes a chord in the Game of Thrones fandom of my heart, I regret not trying the series sooner. There’s a certain brilliance in taking a modern app concept and contextualizing it with a choose-your-own-adventure story. It’s a simple design—swipe left for ‘no,’ right for ‘yes’—but for newer generations, it’s as intuitive as pressing A to confirm and B to cancel.

Reigns: Game of Thrones is at its best when it remembers this, and at its worst when it opts to give lengthy exposition and reason to its world. The game pushes minimalism to the max, which is a wonderful thing. But that minimalism is counteracted by certain dialogues, choices, and story paths. The game wants to insert its own details and storylines into Westeros’ deep lore. But that’s difficult to do with a single line of NPC dialogue, followed by an equally vague response tied to your left and right swipe. Things become muddy here, as you’re not fully sure what the story is conveying, what it wants you to do, or even what you’re about to choose.

This is one regard in which, as someone new to Reigns, I’m eternally thankful for the Game of Thrones elements. Sure, some characters and stories are fudged around, and these tales exist outside of series canon. But I’m familiar with that world, and I can use general context clues to fill in gaps where the game can’t.

I’m not sure the experience could hold up without that knowledge, and in a way, there’s an entertaining meta layer in remembering every proper noun from the show and connecting its dots with the Reigns storyline. Linking with a separate franchise is a subtle change for Reigns but it helps. It provides a way to tell a story without dumping extraneous details into a fantasy Tinder profile, leaving more room for wit. I’d love to see future iterations lean into that much harder; take the minimalist approach to the extreme, without making it more confusing.

Reigns: Game of Thrones triumphs when it adheres to that philosophy, when minimalist, millennialist concepts converge over a fantasy setting in which backstory both matters and is inconsequential. It’s an interesting tale told five to fifteen minutes at a time, as you either live with or lay with the consequences of your horny swiping. Will you spam acception swipes and see where the game takes you? Reject it all to try to play it safe? Carefully contemplate every action? Admittedly, some jumbled dialogue, confusing swipes, and blindsiding deaths make that contemplation difficult. But when things go right, they go very right. Reigns: Game of Thrones is filled with enough such moments to earn its low price and short, incremental time investments, retaining the benefits of both Westeros and its preceding iterations.

By Dylan Bishop

Freelance journalist from a small town, covering games and nerd culture

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