Signs of the Sojourner
Developer: Echodog Games
Publisher: Echodog Games
Review Context: I have a soft spot in my heart for card games! Whenever I see a game try to implement cards in an interesting way I want to play that game.
Date of Playthrough: May 10, 2020
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-9700F CPU @ 3.00GHz
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER
Disclosure: This review is based off of a review copy provided for free.
Signs of the Sojourner, developed by Echodog games, is a game that drew my attention due to the use of cards in conversations to help tell a story. As someone who enjoys playing the various card games out in the video game universe, I was really looking forward to playing this experience to see all of the various strategies to use in a game like this, as well as the story itself. Signs of the Sojourner took many twists and turns for me.
Right at the beginning of my journey the game sets up the story of you taking over your mom’s store and explains the card element of conversations and how to match cards together. The overall concept of the game is to go on a set of five caravan trips, visit various towns to have conversations and ultimately bring back goods to your town of Bartow to sell at your store, formerly your mom’s store. While you are out on the caravan the store’ is ran by your friend Elias. The odd aspect of Signs of the Sojourner is that you have no defined name, a design decision likely made to make the game feel a little more personable.
The card aspect of the game is implemented in a very easy to understand way at the surface, as each card has a shape symbol on the left and right side and you have to match these symbols to have a successful conversation. Each symbol has emotions attached to them in the tooltip, but explanation about their impact or choice of which symbols to use beyond simply matching the cards is curiously missing from the entire game. Matching these symbols are not easy throughout your caravan journey, as you only get a deck limit of ten cards, and after each conversation you have to replace one card. Even if the intent was for the player to try to pick certain symbols for different emotions, the deck limitations don’t really allow that kind of flexibility for your conversations. Every conversations allows a certain amount of mismatch mistakes amd a number of matches that need to be achieved along the conversation bar for it to be considered a successful, “concordant” conversation. A “discordant” conversation is if you get too many mismatches and the conversation ends abruptly and more negatively.
Even though the deck card limit is tiny, there is still enough to play with in the beginning of each caravan journey and many variations. There are many ability keywords for cards in this game that can trigger various abilities. A card ability called “Observe” allows you to view the cards of the person you are talking to, plus there many other abilities, I personally feel Observe is the best ability in the game, as that ability will cause you to have more successful conversations. There are other useful abilities, and as you play you’ll start to figure out a way to play your cards more efficiently and it will tap into your card gaming skills at various points.
The expansive nature of your caravan journey on the map is both a blessing and a curse. As you meet new people you’ll learn about their knowledge and experiences with your mom, causing very meaningful conversations to occur. Some conversations will unlock new locations and/or paths to existing locations. This is where the Signs of the Sojourner experience turns from enjoyable to frustrating and head-scratching. Every town on the map of your caravan journey has various people to talk to, with all of them having different symbols next to their portraits that denote what card symbols you need to have successful conversations with them. The locations in the upper half of the map contain completely different symbols than the bottom, so you are almost guaranteed to not be successful, since your deck contains only the card symbols from the beginning locations of the game. After playing through the game a second time I came to the conclusion that this game requires specific decision making by the player to have an enjoyable and cohesive experience with the narrative that isn’t explained well the first time.
The game loop of the game is you have a calendar and only a certain amount of days on a caravan trip until you need to return back to your store with goods to sell. Traveling from place to place can get you bonuses through special events on roads, but on a negative side you can get tired and fatigued. Fatigue cards get added to your deck that are essentially blank and you want to avoid drawing them and they accumulate the further you travel. The combination of a ten card deck limit, fatigue cards, traveling long distances on the map to get those fatigue cards, and the time the game expects you to travel on the calendar before you return is crippling. By the time you hit your second caravan trip you will have chunks of calendar left and feel forced to travel to places that have card symbols you don’t have while adding more useless fatigue cards, or feel punished if you return early because the game always warns you. After you return to Bartow you sell goods automatically and the sold goods can sometimes get you new route rewards, You do get item requests in the game for certain location, but the game design really limits what you can get done in time successfully. In my second playthrough, I played the game cautiously, didn’t extend myself too much with fatigue, and came home to Bartow earlier than the game wanted, but also had upwards of four to five successful concordant conversations across the game’s five total caravan trips with multiple people on the map that really changed the experience. Although the game doesn’t have a “Game Over” fail state, the ending in my second playthrough was definitely better than my first ending. Unfortunately, I attribute my “bad ending” in my first playthrough to rough game design more than anything else. On a positive note, the different endings make me feel this game should consider implementing some rogue-lite mechanics to get people to play the game multiple times.
Don’t get me wrong, Signs of the Sojourner is a beautiful and colorful game with a nice soundtrack in the background. Even though the card game implementation is a bit rough, Echodog has definitely developed something with a solid framework. The storytelling is the game’s greatest strength, as most of all the conversations were tied back to your mom with interesting character illustrations. One of the more puzzling aspects of the game is the fact that you never speak words, as you only use the cards, so there is no back and forth in that way. I would like to see tweaks happen to the game, as I feel the current state of the game is likely going to lead to a bad first playthrough due to the deck limitations and implied forceful exploration/travel on the map. If the deck limit is increased from ten to fifteen and the fatigue card mechanic is tweaked to be a bit less or removed, only then do I feel Signs of the Sojourner can stand tall as a game I can recommend without frustration. The potential for a better game experience exists.
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