Nowhere Prophet is a post-apocalyptic trip with a soul

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A large dog-like creature had been sniffing around our camp while we slept. The road hadn’t been kind to us and our food supplies were running low. Truth be told, my own altruistic streak was responsible for most of our problems; we’d picked up stragglers and waifs wherever we found them, and had far too many mouths to feed.

But this dog-thing was not joining us, it was trying to steal from us. One of my medics reckoned he knew how to deal with it, no confrontation necessary. To my surprise, he got a group together and simply dragged its bulk away from the camp, and then tipped it into a ravine.

As far as I can tell, it remained passive right up until the moment it hit the floor. Nowhere Prophet is a beautiful game set in a strange and ugly world.

It’s not our world, though much of it is recognisable. Your convoy is made up of people who look human, and their job titles might be familiar. Over there is a scout, that lady is a warrior monk and here are a couple of raiders and hermits. Oh, and that guy with the mask and the gold hanging from his ears? He’s a Shifty Opportunist.

Not a conventional job title, Shifty Opportunist, I’ll grant you that but it takes all sorts in this world gone bad. He’s a useful chap to have around. In combat, he’ll benefit from the misfortune of his allies, boosting his own stats every time one of his companions falls. I assume he’s scavenging armour and weapons from them as they bleed out and, yeah, maybe that’s not very noble, but it makes him pretty formidable when our backs are against the wall.

Forget the opportunist for now though. Ignore his shifty ways. Nowhere Prophet is not, on the whole, a game about taking advantage of others. It’s a game about protecting your people as you try to lead them to safety.

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In that sense, it reminds me of The Banner Saga, although it has card battles instead of isometric tactical encounters. But the distinction isn’t that simple because Nowhere Prophet’s cards are people. Or at least some of them are.

Every person in your convoy has a card associated with them. They’re not just a name, an icon on the screen and a mouth to feed, they’re also the forces you draw from your deck and play from your hand during combat. That Shifty Opportunist? He joined us after a random encounter in which I saved his skin.

There are other cards as well, attached to your own player character, the leader of the convoy. Broadly speaking, these are divided into equipment and orders. You might be able to snipe at an enemy card, doing a set amount of damage that either takes it out of the fight for good, or wounds it allowing your own squad to take it out. And all of this is happening on an actual map of sorts.

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In truth, those maps are just a couple of columns where you can place cards, but there are obstacles scattered around that your units can use for cover, and it’s a much more vivid depiction of small-scale skirmishing than I expect from a card game. The interface is clean and efficient, and there’s a tactile pleasure in unleashing attacks and dropping cards into combat.

One of the strengths of Nowhere Prophet, informing the combat as well as the rest, is the writing. There’s so much flavour it could be your new favourite cuisine.

What could have been a standard post-disaster blend of Mad Max, Fallout and more Mad Max turns out to be a weird blend of spiritual crises and technology infused with a madness that might be divine or might be infernal. It’s strange and the strangeness is attractive, informing the gorgeous art as well as the words.

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The overworld reminds me of FTL. It’s a randomised path of nodes, each representing an encounter and sometimes with clues as to what that encounter might involve. Paths branch and criss-cross, and the further you move from the central route, the more likely you are to stumble across rewarding but difficult encounters. Many of these are mini text adventures with just two or three choices that can lead to rewards, punishments or combat scenarios. Others are settlements with markets, or meetings with teachers, trainers and sages.

As you travel, you need to manage a few resources. Batteries are your currency, food is the fuel that keeps your people moving, and then there are traits such as altruism, measured in numbers.

I think a lot about my altruism rating.

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Remember when I said that Nowhere Prophet isn’t a game about taking advantage of others? There’s a possibility I’ve been playing it all wrong.

It’s certainly reasonable to play as a benevolent leader, avoiding conflict where possible but throwing down the gauntlet whenever you encounter raiders or beasts taking advantage of those weaker than themselves. That’s how I play and it feels right. But it isn’t. Not really, because all of my people die before I can get them to safety. I fail them by trying to help everybody else.

Perhaps I need to start thinking more like the Shifty Opportunist, increasing the long-term chances of survival by capitalising on the failures of others. That’s a possibility too.

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It’s still in early access, sold through itch.io and coming to Steam later this year, but even though I’ve played for many hours, I’ve only scratched the surface. There are more than a hundred cards still to discover and I’ve not even started to dig through some of the more wicked options.

I was sure Slay The Spire would be my favourite card game of 2018 but Nowhere Prophet is a definite contender. The great thing is, they’re both taking some of the repetition and randomisation of roguelikes, and combining that with deck-building and roleplaying in completely different ways. There’s not just room for both; they both feel essential already.

You can find out more on the official site, or buy into early access through itch.io.

21 Comments

  1. Blowfeld81 says:

    Thanks for pointing me in this game’s direction.

    Loved the hell out of Monster Slayers and Slay The Spire, who are both excellent single player deck building games for themselves. This will be my next addiction!

  2. abstrarie says:

    I was so onboard with this…until you said early access. No sale! I hope I remember this when it proper releases in 2 or 3 years or whatever.

    • democritus says:

      Heh. That’s perfectly valid. I usually have the same attitude. However Early Access allows you to affect the game’s development if you want. Finished games usually have less room for that sort of thing.

      That said: you could subscribe to the newsletter to not miss the final release. I generally send out an email about every two months…

      Also if you’ve got any questions: let me know!

      • April March says:

        I don’t buy games that aren’t done either, but I did subscribe to your newsletter. Your game looks great and I’ll be keeping an eye on it. Best of luck.

      • abstrarie says:

        I appreciate the response! But as a fellow creative person (with no notable works to speak of) I very much have a “fuck the people” attitude. The people don’t know what they want until you give it to them and their vision can cloud your own. I liked the good old days of once something was in the can, it was done and over with (although I do appreciate the modern ability to patch bugs, though that has dropped the quality of testing significantly). If it’s flawed, it’s flawed. Onto the next thing! Maybe that is why I don’t do this stuff for a living. Hmmmm.

        Anyway, I see the merit of your chosen path and hope it works out! I will keep an eye on this!

        • democritus says:

          Yeah, I get where you’re coming from too, abstrarie. For me it goes like this: I’m making this game for myself, yes. It’s a game I want to exist. But I’m also making this game for other people to play, and I’m not other people. After over 3 years working on this thing I am unable to judge the game like a player would.

          And Early Access allows me to get that valued player feedback while I still have enough time and space to actually let it affect the game beyond simple balancing issues. Also it has the added benefit of finally getting some reaction from the outside world on this thing I’ve been slaving over for so long.

          In either case, I think both are completely valid approaches. I’m just very happy I went with an Early Access model. It’s been working well for me.

  3. quotidian says:

    This got me excited, but then I remembered getting excited about Skyshine’s Bedlam for the exact same reasons (Banner Saga with a Mad Max vibe) and being a bit let down. Bedlam wasn’t bad, but it did serve a reminder that what makes Banner Saga really special is the story and the lore more so than the combat. It’ll be interesting to see if they can make it work with a different combat system.

    • democritus says:

      Haha. I totally get that feeling. When Bedlam was announced I was both excited and horrified. Here’s a game that looks to be very close to what I’m doing – oh no. But also: This looks cool and I want to play it.

      I did play far less of it than I thought I would, but I still think Bedlam is a nice game. However Banner Saga still comes first, and I get what you mean that Banner Saga stood on the strength of it’s lore and characters.

      And to be honest – Nowhere Prophet is different. It’s a roguelike so that makes a straightforward narrative difficult. There’s still an interesting world to discover but since your convoy is very flexible it’s hard to create memorable characters beyond smaller arcs. It’s more like the vibe of Banner Saga is there.

      If you’re unsure, you can check out a few let’s plays/streams. I’ve collected some of them over on a YouTube playlist, which you can check out here:

      So I hope that helps, even if that probably means that the game isn’t for you :)

  4. Joey Fudgepants says:

    I also generally avoid early access, but I took a chance on Slay the Spire and have had a lot of fun playing it. I might take a chance on this one too, since it looks really good.

    • democritus says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I’ve yet to check out Slay the Spire, but I really must. If you don’t want to go for the Early Access, do sign up for the newsletter to stay in the loop. That way you’ll know when it is released “for real” :)

  5. Elgarion says:

    Your description makes me think of Frost, the very good deck builder from Studio des Ténèbres. It was quite stylish and deep for a little game.
    Link to the steam page of Frost
    link to store.steampowered.com

    • Riaktion says:

      Thanks for the recommendation! Always looking for single player deck builders / card games! So thanks again! :)

      • Elgarion says:

        You’re very welcome ! I think it’s worth the try and I hope you’ll enjoy it as I did. There is a demo on the Steam page, but I guess you already saw it.

  6. Riaktion says:

    I have a no early access policy these days, not because I have been stung by it, just prefer to buy and play the full finished game :)

    I have gone to their website and signed up to the newsletter though, so hopefully they’ll keep me posted and I can keep tabs on it that way.

    • democritus says:

      Thanks for signing up. It’s what I recommend when people aren’t up for Early Access, even though there’s some cool backer options. Anyway, I’m usually sending out a newsletter every 2 months or something and I’ll definitely let you know once the game is done for real.

  7. ji_ji says:

    Gave it a try on your recommendation, and I’m loving it! Really polished for an early access game.

    The artwork and roleplaying elements give it an advantage over “Slay The Spire” for me, even if I am finding it a bit tougher. Definitely a pair of games that fit well together in my library to scratch that card game itch.

    • democritus says:

      Really happy to hear you’re enjoying the game. If you’ve got any feedback for the game, let me know! I’m always looking for player input!

      • ji_ji says:

        I do actually have a couple of questions:

        When I choose my hand at the start of an encounter are cards swapped out or discarded? The description says I am choosing cards to swap out, but I’ve noticed that it shows that cards have been discarded when combat starts.

        I’ve also noticed that the prophet/MC has a class (Firebrand) does this mean more classes can be unlocked/are in development?

        • democritus says:

          When replacing cards at the start of combat: it should replace them – i.e. shuffle them back into your deck. If that’s not happening, then that’s a bug I need to take care of.

          And yes: There’s more classes in development. This monday I released the first update with an unlockable class: THE TOWER. Find out more here:

          link to sharkbombs.itch.io