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About the Story
Lady Thalia is back in London and back to her old tricks, putting up with Britain’s social elite by day so she can steal from them by night. But that doesn’t mean things are easy, what with her husband back from abroad and a new detective hot on her trail. Still, she’s not going to let those little things distract her from pulling off the heist of her career, even if she needs a bit of help to do it…
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2023
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Number of Reviews: 3
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Lady Thalia thrives on the central but gentle hypocrisy of the heist, subverting wryly the high society classiness in which it so eagerly luxuriates. Calibrated here in a floating Edwardian vibe, not actual Edwardianism but more the multicolored memory of it a la Vita Sackville-West and Christopher Isherwood with a touch of PG Wodehouse, we follow a gentlewoman thief as she performs a series of dashing escapades with, with enough care, dazzling panache. In each installment, it is this panache, your quest to live up to it, that takes center stage, with the actual prizes themselves handwaved away; indeed, in this game, we are treated with an amusing scene where Lady Thalia takes a moment to admit the Masterpiece of Moldavia is a decent artwork, on the whole, when you actually look at it. Perhaps that’s why, presented with several opportunities in the denouements and confrontations on offer to proffer a grand theory of our thieving, we end up with just the liking of it, with husband-in-law Oscar and his beau joining the escapades this time round simply for the lark of it. It’s a game, and it’s happy that way.
This laissez flair accords with our journey through the series so far, with jaunty little jobs whirlwinding through a disposable series of backdrop characters, caricatured for efficiency: “She is, however, given to amusing herself with petty cruelties, and she has it out for you in particular for having the temerity to move in her social circles while not having so much as one title.” Mostly, these games care more about its tight circle of principals, the tete a tete of Thalia et Mel, even to the extent that when a character does become important enough to disrupt the dance, they recede easily back into the background, like the Rose of Rocroi’s Baron d’Acanthe, whose climactic denouement is rather clipped, even somewhat brutish, as opposed to the philosophical camp of the aristocracy reclaiming its heirlooms that could have lavished a villainous moonlight duel in Paris.
To a degree, Masterpiece of Moldavia follows suit, with a set of incidental characters with more clues than character. Each one is given just enough of a type to color the conversation puzzle you have to press them through: “He is the sort of man who dresses as if he were going hunting even when he is in fact attending a poetry reading. (To his credit, unlike many such men he does actually go hunting sometimes.) His great passion is dog breeding, and he is only too happy to tell you about it.” This is a fairly standard Victorian archetype, though usually the obsession is oriented more towards horses than dogs? ““Oh, she’s quite well, thank you,” he says, and then goes on to tell you how his daughters are, and then somehow segues into a description of a horse he’s thinking of buying.” Ahp, there we go, we’re checking all the boxes, could fit in a George Eliot novel now. Even among the characters that matter, this stay-on-your-feet hospitality keeps dramatic reveals more to the tone of Thalia than Melpomene: “The three of you all sit down, and you explain that you are Lady Thalia, the thief who has been bedevilling high society for the past several years. / “I say,” says Oscar, “well done! I’ve read about some of her— er, your— exploits in the papers. I particularly liked the one at old Fanshaw’s dinner party. Foolish of him to have a priceless vase as a centrepiece anyway, I thought. What if someone had knocked it over?” / He’s off on a tangent—as usual—but it is rather flattering to know he was paying attention.” Don’t you just hate it when you try to tell your husband that you’re a legendary art thief behind some of Europe’s most notorious crimes, and he prattles on about vases? Explaining oneself to a spouse so drains the romance of being.
This expediency works well for Lady Thalia’s focused choreography, using its charm smartly to accentuate important observations, to-the-point hinting leavened with little helpings of humor: ““He has a locked safe in a locked room whose keys he keeps in his locked desk,” Herbert says. “Rather a lock of locks. Er, lot of lots.” He waves a hand. “You know what I mean.” (He’s getting drunker by the minute, evidently.)” Many clues abound, and Lady Thalia is keen that you notice, neatly highlighting what matters to you with crisp efficiency. Thinking about space through a thief’s lens helps make a home of the breezier tone, infusing character within the forward momentum by casing each place you enter: “You head for the Northern Egyptian Gallery (which is the part of the Egyptian gallery at the northern end of the museum; nothing to do with the geography of the country itself). The fresco won’t be there, of course, but it is close to the museum’s back rooms, which you are hoping to get a look at.” We follow on from this fixed intent through a maze of backrooms that underscores the British Museum more as a bustling workplace than as a vault of our most iconic antiquities. I’ve been to the British Museum a number of times before, and I’ve never really thought of it so geographically; it’s such an overwhelming cavalcade of magnificent historical excess that you lose the sense of place or continuity, mesmerized as imperially intended by the gaudy heaping of humanity’s treasures; but of course, we’re not here to see any of that: it’s precisely this precision that keeps Lady Thalia on its rails, a series of mechanisms that function no matter how you bumble over them, gleaming all the while with characterization so direct that it feels like a punchline: “Gwen, with her motorcycle, is waiting nearby. She has pressed upon you a portable radio device of her own invention.”
These traits could add up to a perfunctory entry in the series, but that’s avoided by a notable escalation in ambition. In Seraskier Sapphires we thieved alone, in Rose of Rocroi we held an uneasy alliance with Mel, and now we have a veritable heist team, working in tandem and switching characters in an elaborate multistage heist that incorporates numerous rounds of interconnected iteration, all of which compounds in your experience on the night as your plans are pitched against a new villain and an ever more uncertain alliance with Mel. This complexity is kept accessible through an admirable balancing act; in perhaps one of the strongest testaments to the quality craftsmanship, rather than feel intimidating or tedious, the centerpiece heist races you along quickly through setpieces, with rapid immediate goals popping up constantly in a revolving setup-resolve-setup sequence: “Luckily, Mel has very good reflexes and immediately throws herself hard to the right, dragging the nose of the cart towards the door. You barely manage to keep a hand on the fresco as the cart tips slightly and the back end clips a glass display case with a loud CRACK! But the fresco and the cart are both intact and that’s what matters. Mel kicks open the next door a split second before the cart sails through. / You’ve emerged back into the western supply room, which means you’re almost to your destination. Unfortunately the guards have caught on to your plan and have beaten you here. They form an ominous line blocking the exit to the workshop beyond.” A problem emerges, so you take a calculated risk, and before you can feel horror or relief you’re stressed to the next problem. Crucially, you can’t fail, preventing a hard hangup from quelling the adrenaline rush; rather, the game tabulates a score which keeps the stakes without haranguing you with them. Rather than undermine the skill of the heist, it takes teachable moments as a positive rather than a punishment, a testament to which is the fact that in this game, the third in the series, I’ve finally managed to gel enough with the internal train of logic that I got my first perfect heist and finished with 35/39 points, despite having made rather a mess in previous entries. Lady Thalia offers a compelling model of how to hone skill without screeching halt skillchecks.
It’s not just the gameplay that’s more ambitious in this entry. We are treated to emotive twists derived from satisfying character arcs several games in the making: ““It’s just… I thought about it last night and I realised I didn’t want to arrest you.” She huffs out something resembling a laugh. “That sounds daft, doesn’t it? But, I mean, I could have caught you last spring. I could have caught you in France. I could, in fact, have turned you down when you asked me to help you steal the fresco and arrested you on the spot. You must have noticed I was letting an awful lot of opportunities slip by. Scotland Yard certainly noticed. So in the end I had to admit to myself that, well, my heart just wasn’t in it.”” Rather than settle for sitcomesque inert eternity, as might be tempting for a serial game, we’re instead dialed into thoughtful progressions that build on previous entries to celebrate a richness and vibrancy of characters whom you have come to know in rounder, more robust ways. Indeed, Lady Thalia is ready to throw everything out the window in search of genuine development, with an epilogue moving us away even from the core concept of thieving, an excitement about new possibilities of the formula kickstarted by Margaret’s invitation to start sleuthing rather than heisting: “But in the moment that she asked you, you were sure it was the right thing to do, and you’ll have to trust that instinct. And after all, aren’t you always in search of new adventures?” While it likely won’t be too much of a left turn, after all we’ve been doing some legwork for Scotland Yard already, this enthusiastic progression demonstrates the arc of Lady Thalia as a series rather than a series of. There’s strong identity here to remain recognizable, but it’s not trapped by its roots. Still, whatever the future may hold, I’m sure it’ll involve checking books for a code.
At its core, Lady Thalia is a cleverly assembled gauntlet of character-driven heisting, emphasizing the human aspect of the places through which you escapade, heists driven by empathy and curiosity that those you subvert lack. Through witticisms that zip you through setups to carefully orchestrated chaos that forces you to improvise on the job to the understated but emotive character dramas that underwrite our motivations, Lady Thalia has always been, from its very first entry, a neatly designed experience, and the Masterpiece of Moldavia is a masterclass in amping up the ambition organically through earned development of thematics and gameplay schematics. For the last several years, Lady Thalia has been a Spring Thing highlight, and we find it this year in its finest form.
This is a Twine game, that’s a mix of historical, crime and social niceties. It’s the latest in a series featuring gentlewoman thief Lady Thalia. I can’t recall if I’ve played any other others. This game is perfectly playable by people unfamiliar with the others.
I really enjoyed it. The writing was strong, and the mix of game play elements worked well. There are four acts to the story, so you get a sense of progress. It took me about an hour to play through in total, and I read pretty quickly for reference.
Some of the elements involved social interaction, and conversations. And this was very well implemented. Others were more of a traditional crime heist. Even almost a maze element at one point. Which I didn’t make the best job of, but had fun. Everything leads up to a dramatic ending, but along the way there are unexpected developments, new foes to encounter, and intrigue to uncover. Even during the heist you have many options of how to approach it, e.g. what route to take, how to interact with things, how to respond to problems that occur. It’s just delightful.
If you like Jeeves and Wooster stories, or Arsene Lupin, do check this out. And even if you’re not familiar with them but enjoy a good interactive story it’s a good one.
This is the third Lady Thalia game; the series in general focuses around a three-pronged conversation system where you take different attitudes, as well as physical preparation for thefts.
This game focuses on the introduction of a new nemesis detective, as well as a resolution of the overarching plotline of your former nemesis, and heavily involves your husband as well.
I had a rocky start with this one. The intro heavily emphasizes your open marriage/lavender marriage, and it brought into my mind a lot of real-world experiences that were quite a bit less glamorous than those implied in the game. In addition, I found myself constantly at odds with the conversation system, not picking up on the social cues that indicate which line of approach would be best; possibly I just have brain fog after just coming back from a trip.
But the quality of the writing and characters is always, to me, solid, and as the game went on I became invested in the string of characters and situations and actions. The involvement of the husband and his lover made the game more interesting, putting you in a teaching role, which is a natural extension of the overall character arc. And unlike some others who reviewed the game, I found Mel's change of heart (Spoiler - click to show)fairly understandable; if your enemy is consistently more encouraging and relatable than your employer, who wouldn't have second thoughts about their career?
I also preferred the later mechanical segments that focused more on varying your approach rather than having 'one true' approach, as well as the 'slow finesse vs brute force' options in the physical preparation.
Overall, this one isn't my favorite Lady Thalia game, but I'd consider it one of the headliners of Spring Thing, and am glad to have it.
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Average member rating: (4 ratings)
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