After listening to a Rains of Castamere-like song playing over the title screen’s castle backdrop, Yes Your Grace starts with a warning. Don’t try to satisfy everyone. Wise words, I would say. Words to live by as a king managing both family and kingdom. And possibly a poignant summation of this game as well.
‘There is little less trouble in governing a family, than a whole kingdom’ – Michel de Montaigne, French Philosopher.
That quote just about sums up Yes, Your Grace; a pixelart management game, with a unique premise. Yes, Your Grace puts you on the throne, literally, and tasks you with every decision, minute or monumental, inconsequential or critical in the running of your kingdom, and also in running your royal family. People invading? Better send soldiers. Castle falling apart? Better get that fixed. Daughters squabbling? Better intervene. A King’s work is never done, and in Yes, Your Grace, you aren’t the type of despot to delegate decisions to your underlings while you carouse and debauch yourself. Oh, no. In Yes, Your Grace, you have to do it all yourself.
You play as King Eryk, a forty-something king with a good noble beard. He has a small but stately kingdom to oversee and a little family to manage. I think of him as a tired and kindly version of Tony Soprano. Manage your family, manage the kingdom. Eryk has a wife, Aurelea, and three troublesome daughters; Lorsulia, the eldest, who likes to sulk on the battlements; Asalia, who’s always sneaking out and getting into scrapes; and Cedani, the youngest, who just gets under your feet demanding one new pet after another.
To a certain extent, the story of Yes, Your Grace is what you make it. Play as a kindly King, happy to help his townsfolk and family, and contentment will go up, but you will quickly run out of gold. When invaders come knocking you will be unable to drive them away. Or play as a ruthless king, protecting your subjects with a strong army, but unable to afford to aid them in any way. You might protect them, but the people will hate you. If you are anything like me, you’ll play somewhere between the two, being kind when you can, and ruthless when it’s necessary.
Everything you do in Yes, Your Grace, is split into turns, or weeks, and this gives structure to the game that allows you to plan and know when taxes and supplies are coming in. It allows time to pass in a realistic way, meaning that petitioners can come back with results, your general can return from excursions and your family can work through problems. But splitting the narrative into weeks is inspired. It means the narrative is presented in a bitesize fashion, never overwhelming, never overstaying its welcome, and always moving on just that little bit. It reminds me of Children of Morta, where every time you returned to your house you had another snippet of story. This does the same thing. It makes the narrative flow, makes decisions feel meaningful, and quickly builds rapport and attachment to the characters.
So, each week you will sit your royal derriere upon the throne and listen to a queue of petitioners. This is where the bulk of the management of your kingdom and your decision-making happens. These petitioners can be merchants wanting to sell you items, or asking for your aid in setting up their business. They can be lords and ladies from neighbouring kingdoms involving you in their political intrigue, a madman raving about being followed, or your own daughters complaining about each other. You will receive pigeons from far off places, negotiating terms for your army or demanding aid in a far-flung village. Your trusty advisor Audry writes everything down and preps a weekly overview for you, but many decisions need to be made on the fly. It’s both stressful and fun.
You must manage gold, food/supplies, the army, and the contentment of your people. Its hard to make contentment go up without spending gold or supplies, but vice versa, hoard your gold and contentment will drop. You have a few tools at your disposal, most notably a general you can send on missions and errands, and a supply of pigeons, you know, for sending secret messages by wing to your aristocratic allies. Nobles can become allies and supply you with an army, but only if you help them solve their problems.
Your decisions have ramifications immediately. In the first few turns, I didn’t pay the crown’s gold for some pompous fool to have a bigger wedding for his daughter, and suddenly people are saying the King is stingy, including my own daughter who snuck out to attend said wedding. It’s mainly the dialogue options that change and it’s all pretty seamlessly done, which means that on a second playthrough, should you feel a little cute that day and make a different decision, the game will accommodate. They are only little changes for the most part, but it makes the decisions you make feel real, and yours.
Sometimes the foreign bank will come to call, but we all know the issues with bankers after Cersei’s dealings in Game of Thrones. The bank lends you funds, but then you are in debt to pay them back. The first time is no big deal, get 50 gold you can use now and just have to pay 50 gold back over 5 weeks, but later there’s interest to be factored in. When you hit week 5 there’s a palpable weight lifted off your shoulders. I am one of those that hate being in debt, and I saw that behaviour reflected in the way I managed my kingdom. I had a week once the bank loan ended, where I only made profit, and this was a great feeling. And this was despite spending money on almost every upgrade and only really disappointing a few subjects.
I am the type to hoard gold in games, from Grand Theft Auto to The Witcher, to every damn Final Fantasy – I finish these games a millionaire, completely unable to spend the money on anything. I have suffered without the weapons and items I need throughout many games, just so that I never run out of funds, and I end up finishing with millions to spare. It’s probably down to some pretty deep-seated issues from my childhood that I should work out in therapy.
In Yes, Your Grace, you must spend money. There is no point in being the type of King who only accumulates wealth, because you will suffer in the other measures of the success of your kingdom. The contentment of your subjects for example will decrease, which makes them less productive, which, you guessed it, makes them pay less in taxes and you get less gold to spend each week. It’s that age-old adage, although probably not as old as medieval castles; you gotta spend money to make money. Or put money out in the world, and you will see it returned. In Yes, Your Grace, this attitude is often rewarded.
After you’ve heard from your petitioners, it’s usually time to explore the map of the castle, and tend to the needs of your family. Some screens allow you to move about as Eryk, while others, like the castle map and management summary screens, are menus where you choose options. Yes, Your Grace is very simple in terms of movement. This is not a game where it’s really needed, so all the focus is instead on the story and management aspects. That said, its a shame exploration is so wildly curtailed.
Instead of walking, you visit different areas of the castle through the menu. Your wife Aurelea might be in your chambers, fretting over your daughters; your daughters might be in the gardens, squabbling or finding slugs. You need to manage your family as well as the kingdom, and it’s probably best to think of the game as two different management games in one. Everything is kept quick and bitesize, and I never had a conversation or events that went on for more than a couple of minutes.
Your family are the ones who drive the plot forward. They are delightful and easily my favourite portion of the game over the management sim. I won’t spoil much past the first few weeks, but before long the plot starts to thicken. Your eldest Lorsulia has been promised to a thug prince of a foreign barbarian kingdom called Radovia, promised on the day of her birth no less. I’m getting the Witcher Netflix vibes. You remember the episode with the Hedgehog knight and the promise of whatever is the first thing you set your eyes upon. It’s got that flavour to it.
When the promise comes due, will you hand over your daughter, or can you find some way to put it off or change the conversation? I didn’t want to give up my daughter to a Radovian thug, so I resisted, even to the point of killing some Radovian raiders. This brought the whole of Radovia down on my head, forcing me into an alliance with another kingdom, who, you guessed it, demanded a marriage to seal the alliance. Trapped between a rock and a hard place, I was forced into making a decision. A marriage to stave off the results of my previous refusal of marriage. Now my daughter hates me, even though I tried my best to save her from a wedding. I have to comfort myself that at least the marriage is to a noble Prince, rather than warmongers.
It’s this type of twist-laden hidden-in-the-greys writing that I love, and Yes, Your Grace is full of it. The plot does follow a few set pieces, (clearly a marriage had to happen) but even there, nothing is straight forward, everything still feels like it came about through a tangled web of decisions and its testament to a complex and well-woven tapestry of decision trees and deft plot-handling from the developers. This is not the end of the intrigue and political machinations that happen during the story. There’s the web of alliances you need to forge in order to protect your kingdom when one alliance goes bad and the closer to home story of your daughters, as well as battles as you get further in.
I seem to always make the wrong decisions. I let my daughter play in the council chamber, and the next dignitary to visit thinks I’m soft. I arrange a fitting marriage of good station for my daughter, and she is upset, but my wife is overjoyed at the match. I try to mitigate between my daughters and now they all hate me instead of each other. Sounds like real life, doesn’t it? Or at least the way real life often goes, which is that you cannot please all of the people all of the time.
And that seems to me the enduring lesson of Yes, Your Grace. You cannot please all of the people, all of the time. It’s impossible. This game is going to appeal to a particular type of gamer who loves a story, or who enjoys management games, or who enjoys playing something very different to your average kill or be killed, fight or shoot gameplay loops. With its simple pixelart graphics and that strange nonsense Sims language they all talk in, the fact there is little to no combat or killing beyond a staged battle or two, I can imagine the target audience is small. But for those where that sounds appealing, for those who wanted to complete Deus Ex on pacifist, or who prefer the Sims to the Witcher, this just might be the game for you. It’s a more refined experience, for the more discerning gamer, but it’s also very single-minded and doesn’t stray far from its core decision-making gameplay.
Yes, Your Grace is a very different sort of game. It has a delightful premise, tasking you with the minutiae of running and managing a kingdom and a royal family. It keeps the mechanics of this simple, where they could so easily become unwieldy, but it lets the ramifications and narrative spin from your decisions in all sorts of interesting ways. However, it is also somewhat bleak in tone and unforgiving in its gameplay. You can run your kingdom into the ground and achieve a Game Over quite quickly, and because it saves each turn, rectifying the situation is nigh on impossible. You are basically forced to restart the whole game.
I am reminded as I try, often unsuccessfully, to manage my family and my subjects and stave off invasion, of Yes, Your Grace’s first message. Don’t try to satisfy everyone. This applies to your petitioners and family, but I think it also applies to the developers and their uncompromising creation. This game will not satisfy everyone, but so what? Instead of doing that, they have catered to a core audience, and to the already diehard fans, who will find within Yes, Your Grace something unique, narratively complex and unwavering in its vision.
Yes, Your Grace is available now on PC and is launching on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch on June 26th, 2020.
Developer: Brave At Night
Publisher: No More Robots
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.