Yes, Your Grace review – a glimpse of how it feels to be a leader during a crisis

The developers of Yes, Your Grace could have had little inkling of how timely the release of their game would be on 6 March 2020. Here we are in the middle of a pandemic, with leaders desperately scraping together virus testing kits and ventilators against the clock, and along comes a game in which you play a monarch trying to keep his kingdom functioning in the face of a looming crisis. The fantasy medieval setting might well be far removed from the current events, but the problems are the same – fulfilling the needs of the populace when there are far too few resources to go around.

Yes, Your Grace has had a tortured development. It first emerged as a Kickstarter project in 2014, with an ambitious aim for a 2015 release. But as is so often the way with these projects, things went disastrously wrong – the money ran out, the programmer left, and a subsequent deal with a publisher rapidly went south (as detailed in this anguish-ridden Kickstarter update). But in 2019, No More Robots swooped in to save the game, and around a year later it’s finally out – and a good thing too, as it’s really rather excellent.

You play the king of Davern, who is in a bit of a bind. Years earlier he was attacked by bandits, and rashly promised the bandit leader that he could marry his first-born daughter. To be fair, he had a sword to his throat at the time, so he didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter. Now the bandit is back, and this time he’s got a huge army that’s just weeks away from the kingdom. Meanwhile, Davern is poorly defended, and poor to boot, so the king has to forge alliances with nearby nobles to raise a defending army.

The trouble is that these nobles often have conflicting views, and allying with one means that another might refuse to do business with you. They’re not particularly trustworthy either, and might not always be telling the truth. Meanwhile, every week sees a new queue of petitioners in the Davern throne room, all asking one favour or another, most of which involve begging for some of the kingdom’s ever dwindling stocks of gold and supplies.

Early on in Yes, Your Grace you’re warned that it’s not possible to help everyone, and this is the brilliant conceit at its heart, the thing that makes it so compelling and nerve-wracking. Unlike some run-of-the-mill RPG where you’re merely ticking off side quests from a lengthy to-do list, here every decision has a major impact, and every choice closes down certain paths while opening up others. Even tiny issues can have major consequences. For example, turning away a drunk man who just wants a pair of shoes seems like a no brainer – just another time waster after the king’s money. But much later on you might end up needing the help of that man’s village, and they’re less likely to help out if you turned down his request. Then again, there are some petitioners who are outright con artists, so you have to be constantly vigilant to avoid falling for one of their scams.

Playing Yes, Your Grace feels like you’re constantly balancing on a knife edge. The kingdom’s resources are always running low, and you only have limited time to prepare sufficient defences to protect the castle from the looming enemy army. Often you’ll find yourself turning down legitimate requests for help simply because you don’t have enough gold, supplies or people to help – but this excuse doesn’t satisfy the petitioners, and the kingdom’s happiness reduces with every call for help that you turn away. If it falls too low, you’ll face dissent, and if you run out of money or supplies, it’s an instant game over. It’s tough to be king, in other words – and played in the current context, I couldn’t help but think about how difficult it is to be a world leader at the moment. In this game – and in the world right now – leading is more about damage limitation and scraping through to the next day than forging a glorious path into the future. I actually felt sorry for Boris Johnson for a brief moment.

Yes, Your Grace also has a wonderful heart beneath its pixelly surface. The characters are sympathetic and believable, and the writing generates a genuine warmth between the king and his family. The king is worried about the future of his three daughters, but he’s under pressure to balance their happiness against the good of the kingdom – and marrying them off could generate much-needed alliances. The choices you make regarding them can have a big impact, and even dictate whether they survive through to the end of the game. But having said that, it’s funny, too – in particular there are some lovely little back and forths between the king and his youngest daughter, who has developed a fascination for unusual pets.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Yes, Your Grace. The pixel art is beautiful, the writing strikes a great balance between pathos and humour, and the compelling story throws up plenty of surprises along the way. At its core, the game is really about balancing spreadsheets, making sure your income exceeds your outgoings – but the layers of story and characterisation piled on top of this make for a wonderful, memorable experience that will stick with me for a long time.

Yes, Your Grace was developed by Brave At Night and is available on PC, with console versions to follow in the future.

Disclosure statement: review code for Yes, Your Grace was provided by No More Robots. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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