Most card games (read all) are about a duel. You play against an opponent, trying to counter his deck, and by beating him improve your own. Signs Of The Sojourner switches that formula around. It’s still a card game, but this time you are working in concert with the NPC, trying to compliment his cards so that you can finish a conversation, and get the result you want. But does taking the competition out of card games work? Let’s find out.
What interested me about Signs Of Sojourner was its focus on language and speech. I am a bibliophile, and language has always intrigued me. To see a game, that focused on the art of talking people is not only novel, it’s also very opportune in today’s world, where some struggle to connect to others, while others focus way more on the syntax than context.
Story & Narrative
You start the game as a kid of a Sojourner, a wayfarer, a traveler, who goes from town to town as part of a caravan collecting odds and ends so she can sell them in her own store back home. Your mom has just kicked the bucket, and it has come down to you to take her place in the caravan. It’s a somber beginning to be sure. And you immediately feel the burden of stepping into your mother’s shoes and the responsibility of doing well. You do have the support of your childhood friend, but even he is doubtful whether you are ready to take on the new role. If you don’t do well, then you and your town run the risk of getting dropped from the caravan, which not only means bad luck for your store but also for other merchants in town.
In your travels, you will travel to different cities, and meet several people. Some would be friendly, some would be aloof, some would be strict, others would be curt, some would be humans, others could be androids. All of these emotions/tones are translated to icons on cards. And every time you talk to them, you need to manage those tones, so you can have a fruitful conversation with them.
Gameplay & Mechanics
A thread of conversation starts with the NPC playing a card, followed by you playing another. The aim of the game is to match the tone of the cards played by the NPC, and hope that he matches yours in return. Match enough, and you get a positive reply. Fail, and the NPC responds with disappointment, anger, or just plain indifference. Each conversation gives you a few chances to fail, and you have to succeed a certain number of times, to build your relationship and/or get what you want from them.
Success or failures, after every conversation you will get a chance to replace one of your cards from your deck, with a card that the NPC played during the conversation. This is important because while you start the game with a deck made of limited emotions, different people that you meet will have different emotions and tones, that you would need to match. Some cards will also have special abilities, like showing the hand that the NPC currently holds, or duplicating the hand that was just played and so on. You will also earn Fatigue cards, the longer you are on the road, these cards don’t match with any emotions/tones and can really pile up towards the end of a route. The only way to get rid of fatigue cards is to head back home, and end that current route.
It’s nice little play on how actual conversation happens. Not only do you need to understand what kind of person you are talking to, but you also need to be able to respond to them in the like. It puts a new spin on the phrase, “Playing Your Cards Right.”. But why do you need to have a positive conversation with NPCs you meet?
For the most part, you would need something from them. Sometimes it will be information, more frequently it will be articles that you can take back home. Sometimes, they will tell you of places that are not on the caravan route, and you would have a decision to make on whether to stay with the group or take the road less traveled. Staying with the caravan may mean better relations with Nadine (the leader of the caravan), but flying solo will let you travel to a hidden oasis where you can find the dates your best friend requested. And these decisions have repercussions. Future routes are affected by what you decided to do and say on your current one. It might be a small game, but Signs Of Sojourner can really feel alive and changing in its short game time.
And the game-time is short. A single playthrough takes about 5 hours if done leisurely, and about 2 when done with time in mind. Much of it is down to the fact that each playthrough is limited to just 5 caravan runs. Once the 5 runs are finished, you can’t pry the different routes and people you have found with the new deck that you have built. Which is a shame, because you lose your entire deck and start from scratch when you start a new game, a big No-No for card games. Short game time and consequently limited interactions also mean that you won’t be able to meet all the people or visit all the places in one playthrough. This means each of your playthroughs would need to be geared towards different decision paths if you want to get the entire experience. It took me about 5 playthroughs to 100% the interactions, but it could be lesser if you are more prudent with your decisions.
Visuals, Performance & Sound
I think what I hate the most in the game, is that you can’t build one deck to rule them all. You have to think about which characters you want to focus on pleasing before you start your playthrough and then really dial into that. I think that works for card games, where I need different decks for different playstyles, but in such games, I have the choice of switching my deck before every match, but in Sign Of The Sojourner, I have just the one deck, which resets after every playthrough.
While the game may have cut out on scope and quality of life improvements, it holds back no punched when it comes to the art and the music in the game. Signs Of The Sojourner has a very paintbrush art style, with vibrant colors and characters which stand out. Each place that you visit during your travels, not only has its own color palette, but also its own soundtrack, which is on point every time. In fact, the soundtrack of the game is so good, I would recommend you replace it with the Lo-Fi music that you listen to while working/studying.
I played the game on a Mac Book Pro, and ran into no issues what so ever. Some of the steam achievements didn’t pop for me, but I have put them down to pre-launch bugs primarily, and an indie dev team secondarily. The game itself ran without any glitches or stuttering, and honestly, I am a little surprised by that.
Signs Of The Sojourner started as an Indie Go Go project. It wasn’t able to achieve its maximum funding, but it did enough to get a game out. That limited funding shows in the features, and the mechanics of the game. In that it reminds me of another game, I reviewed a few years ago, Hands Of Fate. A game with a limited budget, a new dev team but a very interesting core idea. Of course, Hands Of Fate got a sequel, which improved upon the original in almost every way. I hope Signs Of The Sojourner heads the same way. In its sequel, I would like to see more lines from the player (hopefully voice acted), even deeper mechanics surrounding the emotion cards, and a way to build a more permanent deck of cards, and of course some kind of mode, where I can talk to people after I am done with the story.
Signs Of The Sojourner shows promise. It takes a fundamental activity of having conversations and converts it into a non-competitive card game. And behind all the lack of polish, one has to agree that there is something there. They just need more money and some voice acting to get it right the next time. It’s a great pick for anyone who wants to try out something different.