Signs of the Sojourner is not the game I need right now.
I say this because Echodog Games’ card-based conversation simulator feels overwhelming in the times of COVID-19. I promised myself that I was going to leave to world’s ongoing viral pandemic out of any game reviews I do because I believe that video gaming should be kept free of the influence of COVID, aside from news of game delays.
Playing Signs of the Sojourner replicates the arts of connections and conversation left me feeling lonely and in need of the genuine human connection that’s all but gone in my life for the past several months.
To its credit, Signs of the Sojourner excels at crafting its story. You are a nameless cat-like protagonist who finds themselves having to take over the family business of import/export after the passing of your mother. The early realization is that your well-travelled mother lived quite the life outside of the dying little town you reside in when not on the road. She was part of a caravan of traders who scour a diverse world of towns and cities to both give and take.
You’ll quickly realize that much like you; the protagonist doesn’t know anything about their mother, aside from stories of the journies she made as part of the caravan. And that’s where the connection element of Signs of the Sojourner comes to play. Characters that reside in your town, as well as those you’ll meet on the road, made genuine connections with your mom — they remember stories about her as well as clues to her character.
Your job is also to make genuine connections with those characters not only to keep your shop open with the items they trade to you but also to learn more of your mother with the stories they share.
Signs of the Sojourner‘s story is one that’s told in a way where it doesn’t bog you down with lore that’s something oversaturated in detail. It’s simply a case of learning a part of the story through success or missing out on it through failure. It can be daunting and triggering, but it’s pretty chill for the most part. So long as you keep your store running, you’ll progress forward.
However, along with the five trips you take in the game, you’ll come across timed events that will make or break the connection you’ve formed with characters. They’ll ask you to do something for them, and you won’t always have the time to do so. It’s a major bummer when you realize you’re going to let them down, but it’s also a very real part of life.
And that’s where Signs of the Sojourner burned me out. I get the sense that the game wants me to feel the weariness of life on the road and the helplessness of my dying town, as well as the general human desire for successful connection and communication with others, but I just don’t have the spoons for it these days, you know?
Signs of improvement
The card game elements of Signs of the Sojourner functions ironically much in the way Mexican Train plays out. You have domino-like cards with symbols that you need to match. Each unique conversation has types of symbols that will dominate that conversation. Your job is to match a set amount of cards without incurring a set number of mismatches. Several cards also have abilities that add a second layer of consideration and skill to the game. Trust me, you want to get those skill cards as early as you can.
The card game itself is quick to learn and very chill. It’s an interesting play on gamifying human connection. But there are some improvements I’d love to see come to the game. First of all, the small deck size of ten cards becomes constraining — especially when the game starts using useless “fatigue” cards to steal your playable cards. You’ll acquire these fatigue cards as you try to travel too far or achieve too many objectives. I had one playthrough where I stretched myself so thin on my second voyage, I was almost always guaranteed to get a had that was held back by useless cards. This meant that I was forced to go home a failure.
Don’t get me wrong, the system of gaining fatigue is one that simulates travelling well, but I feel that it takes itself a little too seriously. There are randomly occurring opportunities to stop and read your mom’s journals to remove one of these cards, but a rest feature that also removes one that I could choose at any time would be nice.
There are also times I find myself wishing I had a side deck. After every conversation, you are forced to add a card from a randomly-generated handful of cards. But you have to give up one already in your deck to make room. I feel like this leads to a lot of instances where you lose the ability to connect with people you had no problem doing so before. It would be nice to see an element where you could build an additional deck or two for use when you want to go interact with certain NPCs.
Signs of the Sojourner is without question an incredible human connection simulator. It benefits greatly from a story that is robust and charming without burying you in detail. You’re certain to feel a range of emotions for which the game wants you to experience. Its card game is one that is unique to itself but would stand well to grow from some further refinement.