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A pixelized apartment, colored in purple and pinks. Image: Deconstructeam/Devolver Digital

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The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood offers a magical new take on deck building

From the creators of The Red Strings Club

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Fate is funny, isn’t it? There’s no certainty — of fate or free will — and yet humans have spent our existence debating deterministic beliefs. Throughout history and culture, in art and literature, we’ve imagined worlds determined by destiny. What is weaving the fabric of one’s life? Or is it that our destinies are made up of the tiny decisions we make each day, a series of fates that change every second we’re alive?

These are the themes that developer Deconstructeam keeps coming back to: In Gods Will Be Watching, it’s the fate of the universe; in The Red Strings Club, it’s the nature of happiness; and now, with The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood, Deconstructeam contemplates the power of destiny. The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is a story told through tarot deck building and dialogue. Fortuna is a fortune-telling human turned witch who’s been in exile on an asteroid for 200 years; she foretold the fate of her coven of witches and was punished for the implications. Stuck by herself for two centuries, Fortuna calls in the help of an otherworldly being, forbidden by the coven, to escape. This being, called a Behemoth, gives Fortuna back her magic in the form of a new tarot-like deck, which is built over the course of the game, but for a price — that price is determined by choices made throughout The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood.

Fortuna in a food truck saying “I’m going to start preparing dinner.” Image: Deconstructeam/Devolver Digital

As Fortuna, I make decisions about her life and what matters to her, all of which impact the game’s trajectory. I quickly learn that Fortuna’s card readings are not just telling the future, but shaping it — and a large part of the story lies in understanding and contemplating that power. It’s an interesting causal relationship between the visions I have of the future and the series of events they create.

The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood’s story is laid out in dialogue with the Behemoth and a bevy of witches that come to visit the asteroid. The fate — or maybe it’s destiny — of the coven is an expansive political drama (including an election) tied up in personal friendship and love. The first hour or so is slow, but a web of witches quickly tangled me up — I was soon gobbling up their drama and helping them understand themselves and their community. The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood may have some pacing problems, but its characters and their messy knot of relationships are enough to intrigue. The writing of the character relationships in all their diversity makes The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood what it is, a standout of the game as a whole. The characters drive the game even through several lagging sections; these people and creatures are complicated, sincere, and thoughtfully written.

The tarot cards are a fascinating storytelling device, one I’m able to shape myself in The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood’s deck building sections. The Behemoth is core to this process. He awards the ability to create cards; I can pull together a background, a character, and several decorations. Combining all three creates a card that can be interpreted in a few different ways — each card will have a few different keywords tied to it, and those keywords will then influence the options of interpretation. Once these three main parts are chosen, The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood lets me customize the way the card looks. This part is pure aesthetic, but still a creative way to get me invested in the deck. In terms of sheer variety and creative flexibility, Deconstructeam has pulled off an impressive feat. After creating a deck, I use these cards to better understand the other witches, their hopes for the future, and the paths their lives are taking — as I interpret the next turn in the story, I’m also changing it with each pull.

An ornamented deer creature called Yu-enia Image: Deconstructeam/Devolver Digital

In the end, however, tarot cards are as random as any other deck: If it’s not in the cards, as they say, it’s not in the cards. You might be wondering: If I pull a card and make a decision that alters the game in some way I don’t like, can’t I just reload the game? No, actually. When a card gets pulled, you simply have to run with it, no matter the outcome; that’s fate, and the ability to wipe that clean doesn’t make sense in a game like this. There were times when I was playing and regretted a decision I made or begrudgingly accepted a tarot reading that wasn’t ideal, but I think that frustration or regret is part of what makes The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood feel weighty. The limitations Deconstructeam has imposed drive home the idea of inevitability

Even as I dig into the intricacies of the deck building systems, the game’s pacing issues continue — particularly in one portion that requires me to go through a certain amount of in-game days to proceed. Taking on the politics of The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood’s world means campaigning for roughly 30 or so day cycles, talking to characters to better understand what the witchy world has been going through while in isolation. I was able to make a reading ahead of this section that made me question why Fortuna even had to progress in such a way, making this portion of the game feel dragged out for no reason. It felt, at some points, like cycles for the sake of length, and I think a tighter experience may have had more impact.

I played through The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood once, but it’s clear that it’s a game with a lot of different paths and outcomes. Though fate may be determined, The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood’s ever-branching story has many conclusions.

The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood was released on Aug. 16 on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Devolver Digital. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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