Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Will Reign: The Card Game reign supreme on Kickstarter?

UPDATE: Reign is back. After the first kickstarter failed Garage Games is back for another try. You can check out reign on kickstarter here:

I'm back with another Kickstarter (p)review. 

This time I'm looking at Reign: The Card Game from Garage Games Australia. I meant to get this up just before their Kickstarter launched but I forgot about the whole Australia thing and time zones. Due to this the kickstarter is live right now and you can head over there and check it out if you like.

Reign is a diplomatic card game for 3-7 players in which you are a lord in a fantasy realm trying to prove your legitimacy for the Onyx crown. The interesting bit is that there is no way you can get there on your own and you will have to use diplomacy to get other players to back your play for Regent each round. As throwing support behind the winning Regent gets you legitimacy points as well there are interesting decisions to be made on which claimant you want to back or if you want to try for the crown yourself.

The copy of Reign I had the pleasure of checking out was a prototype copy of the game. Images in this review reflect that and may not match what the final production copy looks like. That said, the prototype copy I received looks like a completed game and a good looking one.

So what's Reign: The Card Game all about?

Each round players bid using their military cards to try to take control of one of the great houses. Once a player controls a house he then can attempt to become Regent for the round and take the Onyx Crown. If they already have the Crown then they are trying to keep it. 

Once each kingdom is established players start to build claim for the regency by playing military cards. Some of these cards are played openly and some are hidden. The cool part here is that you don't have to play on yourself, you can play cards in support of another player. Actually, if you weren't able to get a kingdom during the auction phase the only way you can play cards is to back another player. Added into this mix are event cards some of which are Betrayal cards.

Once armies are built, the player with the highest Force total wins the Onyx Crown.  They get legitimacy points and everyone who backed them also gets some. The first player to get to 9 legitimacy points while holding the Crown wins.

How exactly do you play?

Set up for Reign depends on the number of players. To keep things cutthroat the number of kingdoms in play is less if there are less players. With 3 or 4 players you use 3 of the 5 cards. 5 or 6 uses 4 house cards and having 7, the max number of players is the only way to get every house in play.

Each house comes with it's own deck of military cards. You shuffle all the military cards from the houses in play together to form a draw deck. Each deck has some overlap but every house is unique. For example the Blue house has the awesome Bear Cavalry.

There's also an event deck that needs to be shuffled and the Onyx Crown card is put in the middle of the table for everyone to drool over. The chosen house cards are also put in the center of the table. Note: players don't pick a colour here. You don't choose to play one house and then you have that house for the whole game. Lastly, each player gets a starting hand of 5 military cards and 2 event cards. 

Each round in Reign is broken into four phases:

Influence - Players blind bid any number of similar coloured military cards face down in front of them. They are doing this to try to gain control of a house for this turn. The colour of the military cards determines which house they will get, if they win the bid. The player with the highest total in a colour gets that house card. All bids are final and you pay whether you win or not. It's interesting to note here that you have to spend your army cards to do this, so you have to be careful not to use up all your resources just when bidding for influence.

Plotting  - This is the meat of the game. Starting from the Regent players, in turn, can play a card face up in front of any player with a house. This doesn't have to be themselves. Then each player gets a chance to play two more cards face down. Again this can be on anyone with a house card. You count as backing whoever the last player was that you played a card on. This is where all the social aspects of the game come in and where diplomacy enters play. Bribes, deals, and threats are all legal here, though none of them are actually binding.

Combat - Now that the cards have been played they are revealed. In order to hide a potential betrayer, all of the face down cards are shuffled before being revealed, so you can blame the other guy when that 1 Strength Peasant comes up and look innocent when a betrayal card is flipped. This reminds me a lot of Battlestar Galactica and it works just as well here. 

Once the cards are revealed their value is calculated. Most cards just give a numerical value between 1 and 5. Some though have special rules that can modify the values. For example those aforementioned Bear Cavalry get a huge bonus if they are the only Bear Cavalry in your army and Firebrand cards return to your hand after combat instead of being discarded. Event cards that were played are also revealed at this time and those can have a huge effect on combat. Many give bonuses but Betrayal cards give crippling penalties to a players army. There is also a bonus for playing sets of cards of the same colour.

The winner of the combat becomes the new Regent. They receive the Onyx Crown and 3 Legitimacy points. Anyone who backed the winner also gets 1 Legitimacy point. This is worth noting as it's actually possible to gain the majority of your points through backing other players.

Regent - This final phase has players drawing new cards. Each player gets to choose between 2 military cards or 1 event card (or both if they chose to play no cards during the plotting phase). The new Regent gets to draw a bunch of cards (equal to the number of players), they then can distribute them as they see fit as long as they give at least one card to each player who backed them this round.

There are some special rules for the Regent. They are the first player each round, they get to determine the outcome of ties and they can play 3 cards during the blind portion of the plotting phase. In addition they face some steep penalties that usually means that they won't hold the regency long. They cannot back other players and they must discard a card every time a house changes hands (which also encourages the other players to participate in the Influence phase and mix things up).

That's pretty much it. Players repeat these phases until one of them has at least 9 legitimacy points and holds the Crown.

What did I think of Reign: The Card Game?

I dig it. Reign: The Card game is a pretty cool game. It's great for nights like our Windsor Gaming Resource events. Social games like this are great for getting to know your fellow gamers. Making new friends and finding out who you can trust, and who you can't. :)

I really like the way that there aren't enough houses to go around and owning a house is a temporary thing, as is being Regent. Each round is completely different and you will go from having a strong chance at taking the crown one turn to being forced to help out a rival the next turn. Mixed in with all of that are the promises; "Sure I'll help you this round, but I want your support next round." I was also very impressed to see in my last game, that not even trying for the Crown until the every end is a valid strategy. We had a player that spent the entire game just backing other players and he ended the game with the highest legitimacy total overall but wasn't able to make that final push for the Crown.

Even the prototype copy of Reign I received looks great. I can only imagine that the actual production version will look even better. I rather like the fact that it's so compact. There's no counters here, no extra bits, just a box and some cards. Though, maybe, counters for keeping track of your current legitimacy wouldn't have been a bad inclusion.

Sadly, I did find a problem with Reign. It does not scale down well. The few three player games I played were not good. I would even go so far as to say one was downright bad. If were up to me, I wouldn't even list 3 players as a legitimate play option. That said, the game gets much better with four and is actually really good with 7. 

Final thoughts:

For me Reign: The Card Game is a public play event game. It's a big group game that you play with both your friends and people you don't know. It's in the same class of games as Werewolf and The Resistance and it has the same problem that those games do, you need a big group of players for it to be really good.

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