Thea: The Awakening [official site] is a turn-based game of survival and strategy set in a dark world of Slavic myths. As a group of humans, you have emerged from an era of bad times and must regrow your village into something resembling a society. In the conclusion of this two-part diary, Brendan loses control. You can read part one of the Thea diary here.
Bucket Girl is dead. The village came under attack by bears, wolves and ‘hulking rats’. They savaged her in the card-based foray. She survived the battle, only to die of the wounds a day later. It was a dark time for the citizens of Bilge Finger. She is survived by her widower Bogart McTrout and her other widower, Funky Frida. The game is sad for me, offering its condolences in the form of a dialogue box. “And so more souls go to the beyond,” it says. “+1 XP”.
This was just the first person to meet her maker in my playthrough of Thea: The Awakening, the turn-based, card combat, not-exactly-a-4X fantasy survival game. Many more would follow. Up until this point I had been very fortunate. I had gathered countless wooden logs, innumerable carrots and I had just been joined by a glut of new villagers, including the ThE bOnE mOtHeR, who I quickly decided was the village’s chosen one.
But things have taken a dark turn. To commemorate Bucket Girl’s death I build a smithy out of some bones we have gathered. I have just researched this smithy, so I am keen to see what it does. According to the menu, it gives a chance that a demon might appear and join my townsmen in co-operative good spirit. Just as The Bone Crew, that famous crowd of ne’er-do-wells and adventurers, leaves for another expedition, a black cat is spotted wandering around the village. The game seems to be making a big deal of this, interrupting me with a prompt about the possibilities. Could this be the blacksmith demon I yearn for?
Right. It's just a cat. +2 XP.
The Bone Crew leave town again. They are after a ‘divine quest’ – one of the game’s lore-heavy stories, full of dialogue boxes and decisions. A mute oracle meets them in a tower and opens a passage into an unknown challenge. This is it, the big leagues. What will it be this time? Goblins? Ents? Our swords are ready, let’s be having you.
But when the Bone Crew enter the dungeon, they are faced with a manifestation of their own god, Zorya. The very god I am supposed to be playing as right now. I can’t fight myself, that would be mad, so I opt to have a chinwag with her using the ‘social conflict’ option. As before, this presents the Crew with a card game. The god’s skills at formal debating turn out to be unparalleled. ThE bOnE mOtHeR gets into an argument with a bird. The bird wins.
We are sent reeling from the challenge, and the game tells us to come back when we are not a band of gormless fools. This is bad news. In the fantasy world of Thea, being bad at social encounters physically hurts. Joe Stinkman, our roguish scavenger, dies after leaving the tower, obviously deeply hurt by the god’s words. I retreat the whole crew, trying to set up camp. We run straight into a group of undead. Only then do I discover that I can’t camp – I’ve used too many actions. Without camping, the warriors of the Bone Crew get no chance to heal and this greatly increases the chance that someone with severe wounds will die. The skeletons and unliving hulkmen seize their chance and attack the group, killing Mayle Gaze and Puts-You-In-Stew – two of my finest fighters.
As we recover from the loss, we finally set up camp. But this snowballing disaster will not end. ThE bOnE mOtHeR is badly hurt. I am despondent. I imagine the other survivors of the tower looking at her with disdain. You were supposed to lead us to salvation, great mother of bones, not get us all killed in a heated discussion with our own god! The whole camp is one dying body, gasping its last ragged breaths. Whimsical Wally the dashing knight is bleeding profusely, somehow surviving on 0/12 HP. Facekicker Pat is severely hurt, with just one hit point left. Stone Toes and Murderbritches are the healthiest, they are still clutching the group’s fiercest weapons. In the morning, ThE bOnE mOtHeR finally dies. That’s when the skeletons come again to finish what they started.
Six turns later, Stone Toes and Murderbritches slink back into Bilge Finger. The Bone Crew left as an expedition of 8 - warriors, scoundrels and heroes all ready to follow the Queen of Bones. Only two of them have come back. Pat and Wally died badly, in a botched game of combat cards. Most of the weapons and equipment used by all the other warriors was destroyed and abandoned in the fruit-filled woods along with their corpses. We left the bodies because the game just evaporates them after someone dies, piling them underneath stones. But we left the equipment behind because it was too heavy for the surviving pair to carry. Stone Toes and Murderbritches made sure they salvaged the best armours and trinkets. At least now they are both heavily armoured killing machines, tempered by the most disastrous expedition in our history so far.
It has been a bad few turns for the people of Bilge Finger, our population boom has been wasted on a stupid quest and there are still posses of undead rambling around outside the gates. But lo, what arrives over yonder horizon, slouching toward our town? (What icon has appeared on the dropdown bar at the top of the screen?) It’s a giant dragon spider. Just when all was lost, the demon smithy has actually worked, bringing not another cat but a friendly monster to our side. I must give him a ferocious name, one that will echo through the ages, one that will strike fear into the hearts and minds of our enemies, a name that will send ripples of terror throughout eternity!
Yes. Cuddlefluff Jr. That feels right.
The spider is a sign. This is no time to sit around, feeling sorry for ourselves. The Bone Crew may have fallen but the expeditions must go on. Under the direction of Stone Toes and our new spider ally, we forge a new group - Da Revenge Crew. It’s a tight knit squad of six killers. The last child of Bilge Finger has finally come of age and she has signed up to come with us. I can already tell that Sharp Lozza will be an asset to the team.
As they leave, perhaps waving their goodbyes to those villagers that remain – the gatherers, the craftspeople – I can see red shadows gathering on the hexy horizon...
But Da Revenge Gang isn’t worried about that. They head north, revealing parts of the map and picking up random loot found in giant footprints and tree stumps and having a jolly time. They spot a rat lair and decide to murder everything inside. What a delightful romp. It’s great going pillaging with your friends. But the fun does not last long. I don’t know what triggered the event that undid their northward march and brought the gang to their knees. Maybe they went too far from home, maybe they should have waited until daytime before travelling, to get a better view of their surroundings (the game shrouds everything beyond a few spaces when night falls). Whatever the case, we weren’t expecting the shadow creatures to attack.
They lurched over us, the game told us, in a giant cloud. We are given the option of sacrificing one of the party so the rest can leave with their lives. But this the Da Revenge Gang – we look out for each other, we are not going to let some shadowthings get between us. Friendship conquers all!
Three of the gang die in the subsequent fight.
But Stone Toes and Murderbritches are still alive for now, thank the merciless gods. And Plop The Whizzo, one of my first villagers, is still with them. They run back towards their hometown as fast as possible, quickly forgetting about friendship. Personally, my only regret is that my new pet spider died in the onslaught. Cuddlefluff Jr, we hardly knew ye.
But the beeline to home means cutting through goblin rider turf. This enemy has been a constant threat my entire game and I have had to avoid this area of the map despite its riches for fear of the riders that appear. Sure enough, the trio of survivors is spotted by a rider and he gives instant pursuit between presses of the ‘next turn’ button. He is either maliciously chasing us or randomly heading in this direction, completely unaware of how frightening he is being.
Either way, I start shedding the equipment the trio salvaged from their dead colleagues, trying to get the survivors to move more than two spaces each turn. It works. The gang reach home, safe and s-- wait… there's only four people left in town? What happened!?
♫ FLASHBACK ♫ FLASHBACK ♫ FLASHBACK ♫
Da Revenge Gang leave town, perhaps waving their goodbyes to those villagers that remain. Good luck, proud warriors! Don’t worry about us. Those red clumps at the borders of the valley are probably just rain.
Within a few turns the town is totally surrounded by lurking gangs of bees, bats, and zombies.
After probing the town, three successive waves of enemies crash against the walls, slaughtering the inhabitants, workers, gatherers, smiths… they all get crushed, bashed and sliced. Stab King, the man I designated Chieftain, is killed in the melee. Beardman also succumbs to his wounds. Shonks Diggity also dies, murdered by a bee. After a few turns, the raids seem to end. If they could, maybe the villagers would dare to breathe a sigh of relief.
Oh. That’s okay, we can get through this if we ju--
Right, that’s bad, but it could be wor--
Oh ye rueful Slavic gods, why have you forsaken us?
Bilge Finger is now a cursed, poisoned, haunted shadow of its former self. In the heady days of 50 turns ago we were a booming town of 18 people. Today, as the three survivors of Da Revenge Gang’s doomed northern march come home, perhaps expecting the warmth and comfort of their old friends, there are just four villagers left. Funky Frida and Bogart McTrout, the two widowers of Bucket Girl, are somehow still alive. Pot Hulk, one of our decent craftspeople has cheated death and clings nervously to her golden hammer. Bog Queen Sally, a gatherer of vegetables who I forgot even existed, is also still breathing. How can we possibly recover from this?
Wait, what’s this in the construction menu?
Of course! If we build a cabbage patch, we’ll find some children in it! How did I not consider this sooner? I am so silly. We invest without hesitation in the new field and start scouring it every turn for babies. Slavic gods willing, the village will soon be growing again, slowly but surely.
But the rot of Bilge Finger goes too deep to be cured by some cabbage children. I understand that now. The darkness of Thea - it isn’t just the zombies and the bees and the shadow creatures and the contemptuous moles. We too are products of the long night. If these cabbage children are to be pure, good and decent folk, they must exist in a new world – a world without Da Revenge Gang and the Bone Crew… a world without Stone Toes and Murderbritches. It is time to say goodbye to the old ways, with a final sacrifice.
Stone Toes gathers the citizens. Funky Frida, she says, with a voice that sounds suspiciously like my own. You must stay behind. You are the only one who knows how to gather and craft. The rest of us are rubbish.
Okay, says Frida, with an identical voice, maybe a slightly higher pitch. I will do that.
As for the rest of us, says Stone Toes. We are going after those damned goblin riders, once and for all.
Off they march into the east, possibly cheering, to where the goblins and other bad things live. I have named this suicide mission Ur Deathsquad. They destroy one goblin rider poaching in our lands and march on, toward the goblin settlement. This is where it ends.
The squad tramps into the settlement and commits to a fierce cardy battle with the goblin boss. In these battles of cards and arithmetic, there is a chance to mulligan your hand when you start, getting a new combination. I get a bad hand of cards, so I decide to shuffle for another draw. This turns out to be a mistake. All the best attacking cards are in the tactics pile and all the weaker cards are in the attackers pile. I won’t go into Thea’s incredibly dull card game mechanics but I will explain that this is bad. The goblin boss brutalises Plop the Whizzo, who is not at all equipped for this. He also kills Bog Queen Sally in the most summary manner, and in a final act of barbarism he finishes off Ur Deathsquad’s leader, Stone Toes. Fearless Stone Toes, first of her name, last of her name, the only person with her name. All three of these characters die after the battle.
The others camp to recover, remaining a single hex away from the village. But a second goblin rider comes up and hems them in. This is it... we must decide – go for the boss again in a sneak attack, or take our chances with the boarback rider?
Bravely, we sneak back into the goblin camp. The boss must be defeated at all costs, I reason, he is at the top of the hierarchy. If we kill him, the others will respect us. That’s goblins, right? This time we are going to approach it stealthily, even though the number of skulls beside each option on the event prompt tells me there is no difference in terms of our chances. The cards come up, the fight begins – ah, it’s my old foe, the abstract concept of stealth.
It is a close battle. Both stealth and myself are down to our last cards. But my last card is none other than Murderbritches – seasoned warrior, first of her name, etc. And she knows how to do something sneaking doesn’t – leech health from her foes. All those deaths and retreats have garnered Murderbritches with the best weaponry, the heaviest armour, the most twinkling trinkets. She was forged for this moment. With 1 HP left, she sucks the lifeforce out of the platonic form known as ‘sneaking’. The battle is won. The goblin king, we are told in a subsequent dialogue box, has been assassinated.
After the battle, the trio are wounded and weary. They face the goblin rider who has come up on the hexes behind them. Despite the fact we just killed his boss, the goblin does not appear to be respecting them. The last of the Deathsquad prepare themselves (I prepare them) and consider their short lives (I consider it for them). Get ready, says Murderbritches, sounding a lot like my inner monologue. Today, we fight for Bilge Fingerrrrrr!
Nobody knows what happened to that last trio of heroes. But some say when you pass the village of Bilge Finger, a strange and eerie settlement in a misty and remote valley, you can hear the cabbagey laughs of children behind the walls. And if you peer closely at the gates you can see, standing guard, ghostly figures with terrible scars.
The mist descends. A whisper travels on the wind...