In Signs of the Sojourner, I take the role of someone who’s just lost their mom and is taking on her business. That’s a big set of shoes to fill, and I’m walking into a world where people knew my mother. They had different opinions on who she was and what she meant, and I have to decide who to listen to and what conclusions to come to on my own.
Right now, Signs of the Sojourner is in alpha testing. The game is being created by three person studio Echodog Games, with help from collaborators, including writing from Where the Water Tastes Like Wine and Pathologic 2’s Kevin Snow. Signs of the Sojourner is looking to raise $50,000 through IndieGoGo, but there’s a free demo that shows a decent chunk of gameplay, as well as what the title is trying to accomplish.
Signs of the Sojourner stands out by taking an intriguing approach to conversations. There’s some dialogue, sure, but it’s all about big strokes and framing the conversation. The smaller, more nuanced parts of a conversation are handled via card mechanics.
Instead of mechanics like “charge” or “lifesteal,” I have cards with tags like “chatter,” “observe,” and “accommodate.” The longer I spend on the road, the more “fatigue” cards I get, which are essentially duds that take up a valuable slot in my inventory.
When I talk to someone, we exchange cards back and forth. Each card is book-ended with a set of symbols, like a triangle or an O. I need to keep the chain going. The more I agree with someone, the more I build up a buffer of shields, which mean disagreements don’t hit me as hard. The more I disagree with someone, the less we communicate. That’s not always expressed through anger or a burned bridge; sometimes we just walk away quietly frustrated and having learned nothing.
Every conversation changes my perspective a bit. I’m forced to drop one card and replace it with another from a selection. Sometimes, this means I’m able to communicate with more people, and I feel socially adroit. Other times, I walk into a conversation and I’m just lost at sea. They’re throwing me a set of cards I have no answer for, and as a result, we can’t communicate.
It’s a good way to express the absolute alien awkwardness of meeting someone from far outside your usual social circle and just bombing an initial conversation, without having to draw out every specific detail.
Sometimes, I’m talking to a neighbor who moved away from home, and he’s trying to give me advice on how to handle myself on the road. I’m still getting used to being away from my hometown, and I can’t throw any cards at him; we simply don’t connect. I pull a card from the encounter, and when I speak to an old colleague — and vague enemy — of my mom’s, I’m able to use that card to navigate through a tricky topic a little more easily. It mimics the feeling of stumbling, adapting, and learning to feel my way through a new social environment.
When a conversation is unsuccessful, I watch a combination of cards fall apart, and a NPC gives me a short, irritated line. I don’t know how exactly I tanked the conversation there, and I could read a dozen lines that fell flat into the blanks. The important thing becomes whether we’re able to agree and build a sequence, or whether the conversation just veers into a ditch.
I’m interested to see how development on Signs of the Sojourner progresses. It’s an experimental, weird mechanic for a game that works quite well, even though I have to use my own imagination to fill in the blanks of how a particular talk may have gone down. Growing up isn’t easy, and while deckbuilding is usually used for combat, it’s neat to see that system adapt to a whole new context.