In spare minutes during the last day or so I’ve been trying to get my head around Thea: The Awakening [official site]. It’s a “turn-based strategic survival game.” It feels at times like a crossover between Civilization and my beloved NEO Scavenger, in that it’s a 4X but one in which you only ever have a single village and in which individual villagers have real value. But then its combat plays out as a card game designed by a programmer who worked on The Witcher 3’s Gwent, and your exploration of its world is marked by choose-your-own tales of Slavic mythology.
It is interesting. It seems quite good. And it left Early Access last Friday.
The initial setup is that you’re a fallen god aiming for re-ascendance. You pick from two randomly unlocked gods when you begin playing and then unlock their abilities and more gods through play. It’s a game in which you’ll die a lot, but your god-progress is persistent.
You’ll die a lot because you’ll begin with a single village containing just a handful of residents, and a single expedition crew with only a few members. You assign your villagers at home to gather food and materials and to start crafting clothing, while your expedition force can either go uncover territory, fight monsters and have magical adventures or – more usefully in the early game – head to a forest to collect more firewood. It’s extremely easy to get carried away with adventuring and end up with too few supplies to survive, or for your small band of explorers to simply become injured in a fight and be unable to recover from their wounds.
That means you’ll cherish individual people in a way uncommon in strategy games. It also means staying home is a valid playstyle, and there’s plenty of depth to the research trees and crafting recipes to make that a worthwhile experience.
You’ll only ever have that single village, but as your population grows – individual villagers have names and stats and occasionally give birth to children, much like real humans – it becomes more tempting to commit expeditions to the further reaches of the world. This leads to encounters with procedurally positioned storylets, in which you’ll either end up battling magical forces or making tricky decisions that can lead to grand rewards or dooming curses.
I’ve not played it nearly enough to know whether all these different systems add up to something cohesive, but I like what it’s trying to be. Thea is available for Windows via Steam and Humble for £12.