Reigns: Three Kingdoms review – “Swiping to unite China again and again”

Reigns: Three Kingdoms review – “Swiping to unite China again and again”

I never thought I’d see the day when Zhang Jiao would call me a dolt, but here we are – Devolver Digital’s Reigns: Three Kingdoms is a strategy card game that builds upon its insanely successful predecessors to bring players a fresh experience, this time set in the Han dynasty.

This Netflix exclusive will have you swiping to determine the course of history as you either rise to power or crash and burn in the process. It retains the same art style and simple mechanics as the other titles in the popular series, but does it boast the same appeal?

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The game takes creative liberties with the classic historical epic it’s based on, letting players experience The Romance of the Three Kingdoms in a hilarious and more tongue-in-cheek way. You’ll travel from province to province across China trying to build a loyal following, with various factions pushing their own agendas at you from left and right – at times literally. While the game still follows the general flow of history beginning with the rebellion from the Yellow Turbans, it’s really up to you and the decisions you make as to how the rest of the tale will progress from there.

What makes the game more lighthearted despite the historical ramifications of your decisions is the minimalist art style that each character boasts, along with a simple interface that doesn’t have any complicated menus or buttons you need to master. You’re immediately thrust into the game (catapulted to the past in an odd little simulator from the future), and all you have to do is swipe left or right to determine the fate of the nation like you’re simply prepping for a date.


Each time you die and return to the so-called “simulation”, you get faced with seemingly random encounters where you’ll have to decide everything from whether or not you’ll punish a deserter to how you want to respond to an old lady trying to match you up with a good husband. These may seem insignificant at first, but each decision you make will have lasting consequences throughout your whole reign, indicated by little dots atop symbols on the upper portion of your screen.

Here, you can preview how each decision will affect your run when it comes to supplies, military power, public charisma, and intellectual prowess. The key is to keep everything balanced, as some decisions will subtract from one aspect and add to another. When any single aspect becomes filled to the brim or is reduced to empty, your reign ends – sometimes in a hilarious form of public execution.


There’s an undeniable pull when it comes to dying repeatedly because while the roguelike element will have you starting from scratch each time you die, you’ll still retain your “memories” and the provinces you unlock. You’ll also have various quests you need to accomplish in each region. There’s a fun twist you can discover as you progress through the game – plus, you can also engage in combat using the character cards in your deck each time you need to go to war.

This is actually what made the game even more enjoyable for me. I’ve always been a huge fan of games inspired by the Three Kingdoms – we studied this in school as a kid and I fell in love with the rich history even then. Now, seeing such iconic characters like Cao Cao and Liu Bei painted in a more humorous light is a breath of fresh air, not to mention an absolute thrill when you get to play them as battle cards in combat.

The multiplayer feature, in particular, is a welcome addition here, letting you put your skills to the test against others in turn-based asynchronous PvP. Often as I was going through a new run, I’d wish I could engage in battle more (not every branch leads to one), which is why the multiplayer option to just battle through match after match adds to the overall appeal of the title.

I can’t, for the life of me, understand how such a simple game can be so addictive – the fact that you can just pick it up and play any time you feel like managing a kingdom and then log off when you need to do some adulting is a huge plus too. There’s nothing too mindblowing here, of course, but Reigns: Three Kingdoms is definitely something I’m glad to have on my phone practically for free, especially since I’m already getting great value from my Netflix subscription alone.

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