My cursor pauses, thoughtfully, above the castle map. I'm running calculations in my head, cross-referencing with a chart of my young queen's mood. I make my decision. With a gesture and a click, I consign her to spend her weekend off attending court.
I take a bite of my bagel, and watch her picture load as we begin our next week together. Her face is sad, yet obedient. The girl has become Yielding. "Yesss," I mutter, dropping crumbs of bread down the front of my dressing gown. "Let's put you to WORK."
But first, let's examine our queen's lineage. Long Live the Queen is a game of guiding a 15-year-old girl through to her coronation in exactly 40 weeks' time. It belongs to the rare genre of the life sim, the most (in)famous of which is the breathtakingly amoral Princess Maker 2.
Princess Maker 2 has players controlling every aspect of their magical foster-daughter's life, slowly building up an entire PowerPoint presentation's worth of stats and skills while ultimately journeying towards a baffling number of endings that include her becoming one of five different kinds of sex worker, marrying you (her Dad), or perhaps falling short of all of this and arriving at "bar wench". As it happens, to become a Queen in that game, your little girl will need exactly 499 points of Charisma. End the game with 500 points or more? You're a sexy, and utterly powerless, Royal Concubine.
All of which is relevant to discussion of Long Live the Queen, because in many ways it represents an appealing, modern update to genre. Here's a game that works more expertly with the darkness and humour inherent in managing a teenage girl, not least because you're playing her, but also because it never draws out her suffering, rather working with binary outcomes of her being either blissfully ignorant or DEAD! Game over. It's also a faster game, with each play-through taking just a couple of hours, and it couches your management of her stats in difficult decisions and a deadly, clue-studded, branching plot.
So how does it play? Most of your interaction is in deciding which classes your new Queen studies each week - from Accounting to Dancing, from Meditation to Naval Warfare - though her learning is governed by her mood, the sliders of which you can tweak, agonisingly slowly, by picking her weekend activity. Escaping the Castle will make her +2 Wilful, but +1 Lonely, for example, and a Wilful Queen is great at studying military and magical matters. But is that really how you should be spending your time, with the dance next week?
So much of the fun in Long Live the Queen is in discovery, so I'll give just one example of how your stats then play into the plot proper. Early on, one of your Dukes, Banion, requests that you intercede in Ixion invasions in your territory. If your Queen has just a scrap of Foreign Affairs, she'll know that actually, Banion's sister invaded Ixion first, opening up new conversation options. Here, if you choose to negotiate with the Ixionites, not only will you get the conversation option of punishing the Duchess, but you'll also get to decide how to do it: by making her a commoner, forcing her to marry an Ixionite, or executing her.
Not all of the decisions you make will be quite so Game of Thrones - perhaps you'll be deciding what to do with a gift of chocolate, or what your printing press should make - but all of these decisions are agonising. The game is a stoic opponent, always ready to make an example of an ignorant little royal. And this is the game - the satisfying upward mobility of your character, mixed with tense little tests of both her and you. You'll definitely die before you see the end of the game, but even this is lightened by a collect-'em-all set of kawaii death badges, each depicting one of the game's 11 deaths. Cracked your skull? Check. Blown yourself up? Check. There's even a death by horrific tentacled monster, though - if you can believe it - it's a noble take on the anime trope.
And on your first few deaths, you'll be back with a new game as fast as you can navigate the main menu. This time, of course, you're forewarned of all the events, and all the skills you need. How could you possibly lose? Yet lose you will, laughing as you die even earlier from a trap you blindly walked around the first time. Then you'll probably try an entirely different kind of Queen, as creative, or athletic, or magical as your first was educated, and track the different paths of the plot with glee.
And then, like I did, after six hours and about five play-throughs, you'll probably come up against an oppressive brick wall.
The fact is that wandering through the plot of Long Live the Queen, blithely making mistakes on the assumption you'll do better the second or third time, is wonderful. Trying to actually do better is a byzantine process involving either heavy use of a guide or incredible persistence.
I tried both and don't recommend either. A guide causes the smoke, mirrors and not inconsiderable sparkle of the game give way to a monumentally depressing series of arbitrary checks. But persistence is worse, because so many of the most important checks in Long Live the Queen are curveballs that arrive at mach 10, shattering your bat, hands and will to keep playing.
A naval battle is coming, so you train Naval Warfare, put on your Military outfit, and make sure you're wealthy enough to hire extra soldiers. Job done! Except the fateful day comes, and you drown because you didn't have Climbing high enough to climb to the crow's nest. The game is full of these tiny, unpredictable moments that are hilarious the first time around, then aggravating, then simply unfair. When writing this review, I didn't have to fact-check using the game's wiki. I have an 800-word notepad file of my own increasingly frustrated notes, which helped, but couldn't keep me from a tantrum of uninstallation.
But assuming you're either more patient than I am, or know when to quit, there's no taking the first few hours of Long Live the Queen away from it. This is a lovingly crafted game that's almost certainly unlike anything you've ever played. For lots of people, a game that offers a bonus to Falconry if you're depressed will be worth the price of entry alone, no matter the endgame. For everybody else, I'd strongly recommend The Yawhg: a shorter, denser life-sim, with a beautiful multiplayer component that drags the genre into the 21st century.