Reigns: Three Kingdoms

Review: Reigns: Three Kingdoms

Bringing tabletop games into the digital space is an exciting idea. It’s been happening for decades under the Dungeons and Dragons banner or even more straightforward (but just as successful) iterations of famous titles on mobile devices.

Reigns: Three Kingdoms may not be a replica or exact representation of a tabletop game, but it shares many key features. It isn’t the first in the franchise but brings some refreshed systems.

Whether it’s the card-based dialogue or the combat, the mechanics were a hit-and-miss experience, causing a more puzzling and often repetitive time in front of my PC than I expected.

Reigns: Three Kingdoms Pulls From Real Stories

Watching trailers and seeing screenshots, I was surprised by the premise of Reigns: Three Kingdoms. I hadn’t played a game in the series before, but I recognized the intriguing art style.

“Inspired by the beloved Chinese epic ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms,’ this game thrusts players into the turbulent final years of the Han dynasty.”

To me, that sounds interesting. Maybe I’d even learn a thing or two!?

But I didn’t expect to be pulled into a futuristic setting where you, as the player, are entering a simulation like the Animus from the Assassin’s Creed franchise. From there, you “take control” of an ancient ancestor with several tasks and relationships you must balance as the head of a family and potential Han empire.

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The Three Kingdoms novel is based on stories written in the 14th century, but many of the characterizations and dialogue trees in Reigns: Three Kingdoms feel more modern and use every chance they can to create some fun metacommentary with hints at current cultural references.

The game occasionally points you in the direction of the next storyline, but ultimately, the tale is what you make of it as you click your way through hundreds of dialogue choices.

Left or Right, The Decision is Yours

The basis of the game is a card-based system where you’ll draw random encounters or interactions with townsfolk, your guards, scholars, thieves, and sometimes rival territories or mercenaries.

Meantime, you’re managing “resources” and meters at the top of the page that include food, your military, the people you rule over, and more. Each of these will go up or down depending on your choices during dialogue. It was a fun idea that made me stop and think more than a few times, but during longer runs and further into the game, it became apparent that there needed to be more for things to feel fresh.

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This is where the tabletop feel begins. I enjoyed the randomness early on, feeling like I was meeting new people and juggling many different scenarios and relationships. But as Reigns: Three Kingdoms rolls on, some minor storylines pop up repeatedly.

The main reason I found this to be increasingly tiresome is that you can only make two choices by swiping left or right on the card that is drawn. On top of that, the choices you have also never change. So, for example, if a military member asked me, “Do you like my beard?” I always had two of the same choices that adjusted the same resources at the top of my screen.

If that card or instance is drawn at the wrong time and one of those bars is too low or too high, you’re dead, and you need to start a whole new roguelike run as a new ancestor. Again, it was a concept I didn’t mind, but one that sometimes felt like it lasted no more than 5-10 minutes, depending on my card draw.

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Lastly, regarding the dialogue, I couldn’t role-play my way through the game most of the time. Because the choices never change, I only swiped left or right with my mouse to adjust my resources. I found that the longer the run and the further I got into Reigns: Three Kingdoms, the less I cared about the words I was speaking and exclusively watched my HUD.

Card Battles

This is where I had the most fun in Reigns: Three Kingdoms. But another caveat here: the battles did not happen often enough.

Like the storylines, you’ll be drawn cards that may lead you down the path of battle. Often, this is to take over a new territory and expand your empire. Great idea! It was fun to find that path and interesting to see how I could get there. Each area has varied armies, markets, and local townsfolk, creating a fresh feel each time I entered these new regions.

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The card battles work in a four-card system with three actions to attack your enemy. You push your rotation of fighters left or right as you dish out the damage. Each works like other card-based games with an attack, HP, and sometimes a defence attribute. Combine these successfully, and you have yourself a satisfying victory.

It seems simple, but once Reigns: Three Kingdoms gets going a couple of hours in, these fights take a lot of concentration and more strategy.

But again, I wish they happened more often. I enjoyed building up my army of cards and using them in new ways each time I battled. The frequency does pick up in some runs, but those are few and far between.

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Verdict

Reigns: Three Kingdoms has some great ideas but often fails to create a cohesive experience.

The presentation was excellent overall and sounded fantastic, there’s no doubt. I wish the mechanics, especially the battles, had come together ultimately.

There are some exciting and new approaches to enjoy here; they didn’t quite work for me.

Not Recommended

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PC

Reigns: Three Kingdoms
Review: Reigns: Three Kingdoms
Summary
Reigns: Three Kingdoms has some great ideas but often fails to create a cohesive experience.
Liked
Great art and music
Most characters are interesting and often funny
Battle mechanics are fun and challenging
Didn't Like
Many interactions are far too repetitive
Battles don't happen often enough
Resource management sometimes feels unfair and unbalanced