Deck building games have always held a niche corner of the market. A small but dedicated group of fans rave about the enjoyment they have, and why everyone should give them a go. Titles such as; Hearthstone, Gwent and Slay the Spire top the list. Gwent is a game that I’ve invested plenty of time in, so when a twist on the genre appeared on the horizon, in the form of Signs of the Sojourner, I had to give it a go.
Developed by Echodog Games and published by Digerati Distribution, Signs of the Sojourner is a deck building game with a distinct twist on the standard approach. The normal requirement to collect orcs, skeletons and other deadly forces is discarded. Instead, it is replaced by conversations and the people you encounter. It’s a delightfully heartfelt title that will make you think about life’s smaller questions and the relationships with those around you.
Signs of the Sojourner is a tale of redemption and trying your hardest.
Relying heavily on many of the core concepts found in other deck builders; this requires much planning and a lot of luck. The normal 1V1 all-out battle is replaced by a conversation. The dialogue of this interaction is never seen, instead you are told whether its outcome was positive or negative. A white or black mark is given to highlight the results. At the start you are told how many of each will be needed to end the chat, this indicates if you will get the outcome you’ll want. Too many black marks are not a good thing, and you’ll want to avoid this.
Yet, avoiding it is impossible and you soon learn that making everyone happy is an unobtainable task. You’ll quickly come to terms with the limitations placed upon you. You realise as the game evolves that this is a key concept, and it makes up an essential part of the story.
The plot revolves around an unnamed hero and his best friend, Elias. Your mother has recently passed, leaving you with few belongings and her shop in the desert town of Bartow. The store has no products to sell, and the town is slowly dying. The only way to stop this is to join the caravan of traders that your mother associated with. You must travel the land, talking to the people, and trying to gather items to trade. If you fail in your quest, the caravan will stop coming to Bartow and that will be disastrous for both your shop and the town.
Travelling is tiring, and conversations build decks.
Decks comprise special abilities and coloured shapes on each side. Blue diamonds, orange circles, purple squares and so forth. The aim is simple, match the previous symbol with the one on the left of your card. If you can’t it’s a mismatch and you get the dreaded black mark. Too many black marks will stop you from a positive interaction, and you’ll fail to get information or products for the store. The caravan goes on a set route, and the further you travel from home, the more complicated it gets.
This is where it becomes interesting. As conversations end, you must select an experience learned from that moment. You can add new colours to your pile, abilities, or stick with your hand by picking an identical card. The further you travel, the more you will need to change to appease people. By the end of your trip, you will be a different person, more rounded with the ability to speak to a wider audience. It was a genius way for Echodog Games to push their ideology in a standoffish way.
To make things tougher, fatigue cards come into play. These end conversations immediately, and show that a tired person is irrational and antisocial. Again, it was a fantastic way to express a real-life situation simply and concisely.
Signs of the Sojourner is all about emotion and people.
I’m sure you now understand that Signs of the Sojourner is about the emotion of the situation, and the people you interact with. This is shown beautifully in the hand-drawn images of each person you see. A warm colour palette represents both the desert world you live in, but also the sincere relationships that you build. The encounters that are had on each journey have a Visual Novel style. Characters appear on the screen as a fixed image, bright and bold and interesting to look at. Each town and location is unique, breathing life into this slow-paced affair.
This is supported with an emotionally laced soundtrack. The imagery always displays a cheery disposition, yet the audio works alongside the text to deliver the outcome of each conversation. This continues the visual novel similarities and makes it easy to recognise failure and success. I loved the variety in the music and the wholesome nature, even when it played out sombre minor tones.
Tough to learn, but fun to master.
There is no doubting it, this isn’t an easy game to get your head around. With so many cards to select, routes to take, and decisions to make, it takes some getting used to. Fortunately, once you understand the fundamentals, it’s great fun learning to master the finer points. A thorough tutorial can confuse, but once you work through it, you’ll find a title that is a joy to play.
This hybrid deck building game is packed with replay value. Many endings require different friendships to bloom. You will concentrate your efforts in a different area of the map, hoping for a different outcome. There are some wonderful alternative finales to this title, and I strongly recommend spending the time trying to observe them all. If you are a completionist, you must experience every finish to get the 100% status. That will take time and will be beyond some players.
Is the Signs of the Sojourner worth your time?
If you love deck building games, then you’ll find a unique and fascinating title when you play Signs of the Sojourner. If you’ve never tried the genre, then I suggest that this could be a great place to start. A touching story mixes brilliantly with challenging game mechanics to create a standout game. I recommend you take a gamble and buy a copy here! Will the town of Bartow and your shop falter, or will you be a success on the road? Choose your deck, hope for some luck, and build long-lasting relationships.