Dialogue is a hallmark of RPGs. Whether you’re recruiting a gang of sexy aliens to your cause or haggling with a merchant over some life-saving elixir, talking to people is a core part of embodying your role. But few games dig deep into making conversations meaningful, and even fewer are actually about those conversations. Signs of the Sojourner tells the story of a road trip with a purpose primarily through conversations, and in the process, it becomes one of the best games ever about the joy and pain of human connection. And since it’s leaving Xbox Game Pass at the end of August, you really need to get to playing it as soon as you can.
Signs of the Sojourner is a deck-building card game, but not the kind you’re used to. Games like Griftlands mechanize conversations with cards, but in that case, a conversation is just another kind of battle. Here, there’s no attacking or defending, only listening and being heard.
Your deck in Signs of the Sojourner is pathetically small compared to sprawling games like Slay the Spire. Here, you start and end with just 10 cards. Each card has a symbol on the left and right. To have a conversation, you match your card’s left-hand symbol to the right-hand symbol of the card your conversation partner just played, forming a chain. It’s a simple system with a lot of thematic depth. These symbols aren’t just shapes — each one represents a conversational tone or perspective, like empathy, logic, and creativity.
Signs of the Sojourner gives you only a tiny amount of information about your next conversation. You’re shown which symbols a person has in their deck, not how many there are of each or in what order. From there, it’s up to you to make the conversation work. The conversation system isn’t made to be mastered. It’s made to be explored.
Match enough cards and you both walk away happy; otherwise, the person you’re talking to is unsatisfied. Each time you finish a conversation, no matter its outcome, you replace one of your cards with one from your partner’s deck. You can’t choose not to take a card, because you can’t choose which experiences change you.
The long and winding road
Just like in life, picking up new perspectives and attitudes necessarily means leaving some behind. That’s not a bad thing! It’s how we grow. But when that growth moves us further from the people we care about, it can be painful, even if it’s the only way to move forward.
The story of Signs of the Sojourner involves leaving home for the first time. You’re joining a caravan to gather products for the shop you inherited from your mom and run with your best friend, Elias. The life of your shop, and your entire tiny town, depend on you.
Your journey takes you across a vibrantly illustrated map to towns you’ve never seen. Each one has its own local drama, from dueling picklers to homesick androids. On your first few stops, people are like the ones you grew up with, and conversations are fairly easy. Before long, new symbols start to appear. The first time you talk to some people, it’s impossible to win — you just don’t have the perspective to connect with them. But after a few painful attempts, you can build up enough matching cards to see things their way, and the thrill of finding common ground is as great as slaying any RPG dragon.
At the end of each trip in Signs of the Sojourner, you return home. If you’re gathering cards to help you on the road, you’ll be left with fewer things to say to your friend Elias. You may end the game having nothing in common with the person who used to be closest to you.
That’s hard to reconcile. If you hadn’t joined the caravan, your shop would have collapsed. Now you’ve secured its future and lost your connection to your past.
You can’t go home again
If, like me, you struggle to connect with other people, Signs of the Sojourner can feel like an unpleasant mirror of your own troubles. You can do your best to meet people where they are and still end up failing. You can look back and second guess the things you’ve said, replaying the conversation in your mind until it’s perfect and rehearsing to make the next one go better. You can do those things and it won’t make a difference, because sometimes two people just see the world a different way, and conversations between friends can turn sour.
But it’s also cathartic. The feeling approaches triumph when you break through to someone you’ve only ever butted heads with, or help a new friend with a seemingly impossible problem. In those moments, you can forget the problems back home and get lost in the intoxication of connection and discovery.
This mix of frustration and elation makes Signs of the Sojourner unique. There’s not always a path to victory, and victory isn’t even the right word. Signs of the Sojourner is not about winning. It’s about having conversations. It’s about connecting or failing to connect with another person who has their own preferences and desires. And just like that process is in real life, it’s messy.
No matter what happens, the trip goes on. Life goes on. Chances are, that conversation didn’t end your relationship, and anyway, the caravan is moving on to new places with new people. Some of them may even hear you in a way you haven’t been heard before.
Signs of the Sojourner leaves Xbox Game Pass on August 31, 2022.