Sometimes you just want to sink into your chair, press a button every few seconds, and rule an entire kingdom.
Developed by Graeme Borland and illustrated by Amy Gerady, Sort the Court! is a game based on the simple premise of answering yes-no questions, which are asked to the player every day. By simply answering yes or no, they are given the power to rule a cast of cute and colorful characters.
Warning: minor spoilers ahead!
Not Taxing Grandma or Selling Souls
In my first playthrough, I took on the role of a benevolent ruler, treating every person with kindness and fair diplomacy. I never even sold my citizens for gold!
The game quickly established three resources: gold, population, and happiness. Each decision you made affected these three numbers everyday. In the first playthrough, I never risked the happiness or health of my citizens, staying away from wizards and demons that came offering a chance at riches. These decisions often led to very high happiness and population, but a riskily low treasury. Sometimes, I would even go negative, but I was happy that this method was still a viable way of playing.
Other titles like Frostpunk would have given brutal repercussions for a stubborn upholding of superfluous things like 'morality'. Sort the Court! always gave outs to emphasize a casual playing experience. If my funds went negative, it would allow me to sell off assets or raise taxes. As a result, no setbacks ever proved to be a major threat to my kingdom, allowing me to sit back and relax.
Low Risk, Low Reward?
Unfortunately, I realized my first playthrough’s style barred off a majority of game's narrative options. When your city reaches a certain size, you attract the attention of the neighboring kingdoms and are given breadcrumbs about a hinted council, but by taking low risks, you are never acquainted with the Council of Crowns, the game’s main mystery.
Since I refused to engage with the Council, the game informed me I had gone through all of its possible content for that playthrough. Though it didn't stop me from continuing to play, all that was left to do was answer its randomly generated questions until I was satisfied. Soon after I had enough of that, I started a new game to explore further and figure out the other possibilities.
Playthrough Two: Electric Boogaloo
On the first go around, I suppressed my growing curiosity. Mysteries were being thrust under my nose at every turn, but I held on for the integrity of the run. This time, I decided to entertain each temptation at least once. As a result, I quickly realized what kind of game Sort the Court! really was.
By refusing to take risks, I had been amplifying my own expectations and excitement of what would happen if I did. However, Sort the Court! is not a powerful, narrative-driven game unlike other decision-making games before it. For example, one character would investigate the occult, claiming the presence of an alien conspiracy. You'd expect a lot of mystery and complexity there, but within a couple days, it was discovered that the aliens were simply looking to settle down.
A similar thing occurred involving the mystery of the Council of Crowns. To test my capability, I was tasked with acting as a mediator between two kingdoms. I sided with one kingdom, and when the other nation came by asking for me to support them instead, I agreed. I was then let into the Council of Crowns for simply getting involved. The induction ceremony took place, and anti-climatically, the game ended once again.
Sort the Court!’s biggest weakness is its choice of the desktop as its designated console. The playstyle lends heavily to a mobile experience, with quick, easily consumable gameplay. But without some tinkering, there’s no way to easily play on a mobile device.
I found that many of my expectations fell short due to playing on a computer. A PC is associated with high quality gameplay, and while Sort the Court! is not a low quality game, it doesn’t do well when compared to other titans of PC play.
Because the majority of the game is based on decision-making and feeling like your decisions matter, the disappointment of discovering that your decisions don’t make too much of an impact is discouraging when sitting down for a session at your desk. Other casual games like Stardew Valley offer a great amount of depth that fits the expectations of a PC setting. When playing Sort the Court! you have to temper your expectations.
Grab Some Tea and Take the Throne
With all my complaints, it might sound like I’m a cranky old gamer ready to whine about anything that comes to mind. You would be right, but I should mention that Sort the Court! was still nonetheless very enjoyable. The quirky character designs were endearing. The custom music, composed by Bogdan Rybek, fit the relaxed gameplay. I easily finished my first playthrough in one session. I only feel that Sort the Court! would fulfill its full potential if it were distributed on the mobile app stores. That said, I would still recommend this free title to anybody looking for a calm game to pass time during quarantine.