Signs of the Sojourner Review
Signs of the Sojourner presents us with a unique twist on deck-building: in genre-staples like Slay the Spire, the objective is to build a deck that’ll get you through the game’s challenges, whatever they might be; Signs of the Sojourner, on the other hand, offers no path to regular victory—it’s a game of compromises, where instead of enemies you have conversation partners, people who do their best to hold a conversation with you. Often, though, there are differences between you and them that simply can’t be reconciled.
Let’s take a few steps back to examine how exactly the game works—you play as a roving merchant who, having inherited his mother’s business, must work to keep it afloat. You set out in a caravan to visit nearby cities and towns, aiming to make connections with people here and there so that you may stock your store with attractive goods and learn more about your mother’s story. This is done by engaging in conversations which are represented by a card game where you and the person/thing you’re talking to must match symbols in order to chat—they’ll always try to match your symbols, but often won’t have the cards required to do so.
Chain enough successes—or failures—and the conversation comes to an end, usually with some form of consequence (such as acquiring an item or discovering a new location on the map). Having finished a conversation, you can choose one out of three cards from your partner’s deck; interacting with the same person (or others that share their deck symbols) is a virtuous cycle that in turn makes it easier for you to converse with them, as if, in repeating your attempts, you grow closer, at the expense of becoming less capable of conversation with different-minded people. Chatting to that old friend of yours might not be the same, now that you’ve both matured and grown apart, and this is well conveyed by the game’s mechanics. Likewise, stick only to your old self and you risk not making any new acquaintances.
The simple mechanics are quickly expanded upon by the addition of new symbols (you start with only triangle and circle cards, but soon meet people who only match with squares or lozenges) and unique card abilities, such as Chatter, which lets you play a second card consecutively, or Clarify, which shows you your partner’s hand. The real choice lies in which symbols to take and prioritize: unlike other card games, there isn’t a single deck that fits all situations; it’s quite the opposite, in fact, and building a deck feels more like trying to plug the holes in a sinking boat than building a well-oiled machine with which to defeat your foes.
The game explores its theme well by defining what symbols different people have: a caravaneer that is wary of you might have a deck with symbols that are difficult to find; a dog will match with any symbol you throw at them, making it (nearly) impossible to not bond with them; your childhood friend will have the same deck symbols as you begin with. There are many more tidbits woven into the core deckbuilding loop that makes it a good representation of conversations, such as a fatigue card you get the longer you stay on the road, which doesn’t match with any symbol and can ruin a conversation when stacked in large numbers. Guaranteed failure is as true in the game as it is in life, and this is often frustrating: I just want to learn this new thing, or befriend this person, but I *can’t*. There are more holes to plug than you have hands, and so, to win you must also lose.
Signs of the Sojourner represents its theme very well, perhaps too well—failure being inevitable is something not everyone is comfortable with when playing games. Go into the game expecting to miss many, many things; there’s certainly no way to see every story and become friends with every person in any single playthrough. But know also that to lose is to win elsewhere.