Thea: The Awakening
Reviewed by: Shaun Hughes
Developed By: MuHa Games
Published By: Monster Couch
Category: Strategy, Board Game, Role-Playing, Adventure
Release Date: 01.02.2019
There is an understated beauty to reviewing that is rarely spoken about. In some cases, it is even a taboo subject. Many a gamer believe that a reviewer should be impartial and well-versed in a whole host of games from a variety of genres in order to provide the best review for the consumer. There is a lot of merit to this, and I can understand the reasoning behind it. Unfortunately, we live in a world where time is money and the average reviewer cannot possibly know the best of each genre and how they all compare.
When Thea: The Awakening was presented to me for review, I was open-minded if a little skeptical that it would do any more than confirm what I thought I already knew: these games aren’t for me. Dripping in Slavic myth, of which I know very little about, Thea: The Awakening is a turn-based strategic survival game developed by MuHa Games and published by Monster Couch. The Nintendo eShop listing states that ‘You are their last and only true hope!’ The use of ‘their’ is in reference to a rather small selection of survivors who live to tell the tale of ‘The Darkness’ which left the world in a state of disrepair.
An apocalyptic wasteland awaits as you load the tutorial, and as extensive as it is, I still didn’t catch it all. There is a lot to take in during the early stages of Thea, and if the time isn’t taken to gain a true understanding of the mechanics, it can make any success in the game short-lived. Once the fairly well-executed tutorial is complete, you are free to embark upon a journey through the land, securing any support you can and discovering more about this post-apocalyptic world.
A top-down board game
Much like many of the other games within this genre, Thea plays out in a similar manner to that of a top-down board game. You move your characters around the map within a set number of moves i.e. 4 steps, and during each move, you aim to uncover another part of the map which is engulfed in fog and see what lies within. There are all manner of events awaiting you, and each has its impact upon the game. From enemies to defeat using the relatively complex battle card system to raiding uninhabited camps for the loot left behind, there are many different things to uncover. You are introduced to these events using on-screen text prompts which, although there to serve a purpose, are fairly uninspiring. A cutscene or two would not have gone amiss and would have offered a level of immersion that I often feel these ‘digital board games’ are lacking.
As each event is presented to you, the dialogue offers you an element of choice: continue to pursue the line of enquiry selected or back off to preserve health and energy. Highlighting continue can yield just reward, with weapons, food and the like being provided. It can also result in combat, which is the crux of this title outside of the act of surviving itself. This is the unique element of Thea: The Awakening, and will most definitely divide opinion. Whilst games like Total War allow you to witness the fighting first-hand and make decisions on the fly, Thea offers up what it itself describes as a ‘unique combat system based on a complex card battle game.’
Interesting and inventive
The card system provides you with a randomly generated set of cards which, for one free turn at the beginning of combat, you can decide to swap for another random deck. The cards consist of your survivors ready to fight, which in a style similar to Top Trumps, they are preloaded with attack and defence scores, as well as special abilities. You then need to present said cards in a manner that makes use of the unique abilities of your troop to defeat the enemy faction.
I found the card system to be an interesting and inventive take on the genre, and was an engaging affair. This defied all my predisposed ideas about the system itself, which is a credit to the developers. I know strategists themselves, whilst potentially looking for a more detailed and action-orientated approach, will still feel the combat is befitting of the genre.
Further and further away from sanctuary
With a lack of experience with these titles, I found Thea: The Awakening to be both complex and challenging. With the rogue-like nature of the game, the world could generate with rather difficult opening plays. This doesn’t happen often, but the early stages are tricky whilst you assemble a merry band of survivors. I died a lot during the first few hours. This was mainly due to my gung-ho approach to proceedings: steaming forward and encountering as much as I could do strengthen my squad. All this meant was I found myself further and further away from sanctuary, and could not access all that my gatherers had stored for me back at camp.
It took time to learn from my mistakes but when I did, it resulted in a much more successful playthrough. Subsequently, I enjoyed the game all the more and it is fair to say I am pleased to have been able to experience this strategy-based game from MuHa Games.
Outside of the aforementioned lack of engagement with the storyline, I found that everything that Thea: The Awakening does, it does with conviction and decorum. It may not be as complex as some of its competitors, and the rogue-like elements will certainly be better suited to some than others, but developers MuHa Games have done extremely well to provide an engaging turn-based strategy game on a budget. Development is already well underway for a sequel, such is the success and promise of the original, and I recommend giving it some attention. The Nintendo Switch’s handheld capabilities make it all the more appealing, and I know some will feel right at home here.
3.5 out of 5