Deck-building adventures are commonplace in video games these days, with all sorts of frantic battles against a myriad of different creatures taking place through the power of cards. It’s a genre I’ve always appreciated, with my experiences with it allowing me to build fantasy settlements, take down deadly beasts, and even ‘fight in tight spaces’ in karate-like showdowns – it lends itself well to a lot of neat ideas and there’s plenty of room for creativity within the gameplay mechanics. Signs of the Sojourner is a fine example of that, with its deck-building experience based around the art of conversation.
Sounds intriguing, right? Well, Signs of the Sojourner also makes for a charming and engaging gameplay experience, and one that I didn’t expect to enjoy quite as much as I did.
Players take on the role of a nameless merchant who, following the death of their mother, decides to help run the family shop along with their old buddy Elias. Of course, you need interesting stock to keep a shop afloat, so it’s lucky that you’re also part of a caravan route that travels between different towns to try and find unique items to sell. It’s through these travels that Signs of the Sojourner’s experience is fleshed out, with your interactions with the many folk you encounter and the way that you converse with them determining how events will play out for both the protagonist and the shop.
It’s a neat little concept and one that adds a very personal touch to the overall narrative. This isn’t some big adventure about saving the world or protecting your town from some evil threat, but rather a heartfelt tale about looking after something that was so precious to someone you love. Of course, whilst your mother might no longer be around, you’ll learn more about her and the relationships she shared with others through the endearing interactions you’ll share with those who knew her. It really is quite lovely.
You’ll also forge relationships of your own with the people you encounter, with these interactions shaping out the events of the game. This is where Signs of the Sojourner’s deck-building mechanics come into play.
The interactions you share with others all take place via a simple card game. Each player will take turns to play cards that have symbols marked on each side, with the goal being to have the card you play match the symbol of the right hand side of the card your opponent just played (cards are played out from left to right). These symbols can match different tones of conversation though, be that stubbornness, a diplomatic approach, or even open-minded kindness – trying to swerve conversations to adhere to these different approaches takes some planning from the player in utilising the right cards, but can also be determined by the cards that your opponent (and I’m using that term loosely given the peaceful theme of the game) plays to you.
It might sound a little complicated, but the mechanics themselves are easy enough to understand when playing. Of course, like a lot of these deck-building games, it’s a case of it being ‘easy to play but difficult to master’. Whilst matching up symbols is straightforward, there are other things to take into consideration in order to play out conversations in a successful manner. You’ll come across cards that’ll give you special boosts for example, such as being able to shuffle the deck to play two cards in one turn or even play two cards at once, whilst you can also protect the flow of your conversation by playing four matching symbols in a row. There are also fatigue cards that will be added to your deck that will simply bring conversations to an end, which is always a pain when you’re trying to learn something from a character or get an item from them for your shop. They’re a bit of a pain, but at the same time can be used to get out of a conversation you’re not interested in if used strategically – it doesn’t pay off to chat to EVERYONE in Signs of the Sojourner, after all…
It all comes together nicely to make for a genuinely addictive experience, whilst the fact that you’ll discard a card out of your deck and earn a new one at the end of each conversation means your deck is constantly evolving to allow for deeper conversations with different characters. That being said, there were times where I felt that my deck layout could leave me a little hindered. You’ll only have a limited amount of cards in your deck at a time and sometimes they simply won’t match up that efficiently with a character you’re interacting with. It means you can expect plenty of failed conversations during your adventure that could feel a bit random and out of your control.
There is a learning curve to the whole experience though, whilst Signs of the Sojourner is also designed to be played through multiple times thanks to its branching narrative paths and the relationships you can forge with the characters you meet. My first run through took close to three hours to complete, whilst subsequent playthroughs took a little less time thanks to my better understanding of the mechanics.
I genuinely wanted to keep completing playthroughs too, with Signs of the Sojourner’s tale offering more than enough to keep me invested in the experience. There’s something very ‘human’ about the interactions you share and the resolutions that unfold in the game, so seeing how different events played out kept me hooked in. Add to that the fact that the card game itself is genuinely fun to invest yourself in and it all pieces together to make for an enjoyable experience.
Signs of the Sojourner’s creative card-based conversations make for a unique and satisfying mechanic that compliments the very endearing narrative. There’s just something mighty satisfying about seeing a successful conversation play out the way you want it to, whilst the ‘easy to play but difficult to master’ nature of the gameplay ensures it never grows stagnant as you progress.
There were a few frustrating moments here and there where I felt at odds with the game and couldn’t succeed in conversations due to the random nature of the deck-building, but it didn’t cause enough issues to deter from what is otherwise a warm-hearted and memorable experience. Signs of the Sojourner really does something different with the genre, but what it does is entertaining throughout.
Developer: Echodog Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Click here to visit the official website.