I don’t think there’s anyone who would call Game of Thrones — whether we’re talking about the books or the TV show — a relaxing experience. It’s tense and uncomfortable, with plenty of moments to make you wince. But the latest video game spinoff, an Apple Arcade exclusive called Tale of Crows, has a much different vibe. It gives you one of the most difficult jobs in all of Westeros, putting you in charge of the Night’s Watch, guarding a giant wall in a dark, depressing, and dangerous region. Yet, despite this premise, the game has a chill vibe. It’s the kind of thing you can pick up for a few minutes of time just to clear your brain.
Tale of Crows is what’s known as an idle game, which is a genre where most things happen when you aren’t actually playing. It’s kind of like a more complex Tamagotchi. Here, the idea is that you play as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch — you start as the very first commander and eventually take on the role of subsequent leaders over time — who makes important decisions and then waits to see the results. You’ll send out rangers on expeditions to explore, deal with dilemmas at home, and field requests from various kingdoms.
It plays out a bit like a text adventure. The game has three main screens, each with a different function. There’s a map where you can send out search parties on various tasks. That might mean clearing out a wildling uprising or investigating strange sounds in a forest. You and the explorers will send ravens back and forth; whenever they reach a critical juncture — say, an impassable snow storm or a mysterious object — you’ll have to give them orders. There’s also a screen that shows the nearby areas around the wall and another that serves as your home base. Here, you’re constantly bombarded with questions and demands, dealing with everything from food shortages to magic-induced madness.
All of these decisions take time. When you send a raven off to one of the ranger parties, there’s nothing else you can do but wait for a response. The game doesn’t actually tell you how long it will be, but you can track progress from the map screen. For the past few days, I’ve been checking in with Tale of Crows every hour or so, and there’s always something for me to do. It’s a nice slow burn. While the game is simple, the story unfolds at a steady rhythm, as you learn more about your brothers and allies as well as the many mysteries around the wall. As an added bonus, you don’t even need to know much about Game of Thrones to enjoy it. Tale of Crows stands on its own fairly well.
Even though most of the game boils down to text and menus, Tale of Crows is incredibly striking visually. It’s a whole new way of looking at Westeros. Each area is rendered as a sort of low-poly diorama. It takes places you’ve probably seen many times before — whether in the lavish HBO production or in your imagination while reading the books — and turns them into beautiful little digital sculptures. It’s fun just moving them around with your finger on the touchscreen.
Tale of Crows isn’t the kind of game that will absorb you for hours at a time. You can’t binge it. But it occupies a nice space; it’s a distraction for a few minutes at a time, but it’s also something to think about during idle moments of the day. And like Reigns: Game of Thrones, it’s an unexpected yet fascinating way to explore the world of Game of Thrones. It’s probably the only time that fending off White Walkers will be soothing.
Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows is available now for Apple Arcade subscribers.