Signs of the Sojourner review – playing cards in faraway places

Card games typically pit players against each other. Signs of the Sojourner is more like matching dominoes, asking players to lay out their cards to map conversations with those they meet along the road. The game follows a travelling trader who follows their mother’s routes after her death, crisscrossing the continent to bring goods home to their village shop. Every stop is a chance to meet new people, take in the sights, and help others out.

The place descriptions are the game’s high point, evoking that traveller’s high of feeling out of place and full of wonder. This world is tough, ravaged by climate change, but its inhabitants are compassionate and resourceful. Events happen according to a calendar schedule, whether you’re there to witness them or not. You can’t do everything, but locals will chat about what you missed – and the game lasts only a few hours, so you are welcome to explore again in a fresh save.

Your deck of cards determines how you relate to those you meet, and it’s constantly changing. Every conversation offers a new card, topic or phrase that replaces an old one. Just as slang spreads through a community or you begin to see things differently by hanging out with a different crowd, new cards offer opportunities to rub along better with those whose company you seek. But this can alienate you from those you leave at home, especially when useless fatigue cards start filling up the deck from long journeys.

Boiling conversations down to a card game doesn’t always work perfectly. But it evokes the material unfamiliarity of faraway places, and the learning inherent in travel. Plus, failing in conversations doesn’t mean failing entirely; you move on, with a little sting of awkwardness and maybe a small gap in your travelling salesperson’s inventory.

With real travel compromised right now, tagging along with Signs of the Sojourner’s caravan is one way to experience the sights and smells of new streets.

Signs of the Sojourner is out now; £15.49.

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