The Cards Don’t Lie: First Impressions of Nowhere Prophet

During PAX East 2019, one of the games I went hands on with was Nowhere Prophet; this game was a bit of a secret at the show- I was whisked away behind the No More Robots booth to try it out, away from the inquisitive crowds.

The game’s existence wasn’t a secret; Nowhere Prophet has been in development for a few years by Sharkbomb Studios- the ink on a few contracts weren’t quite dry in time for PAX East, however, and the game’s big publisher announcement was being saved for mid-April- here we are, and here we have a shiny new roguelike RPG.

To give a quick overview of the game, you’re the titular prophet, and you’ve been given a revelation through technological means; somehow, a crashed satellite has beamed information about a crypt of treasure and knowledge from before the cataclysm that ended the world- it’s a little bit Mad Max and a little bit Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

The prophet you play as, quite naturally, accrues disciples; as you take actions in the game, you influence their view of you, their level of hope, and all this changes how you can deal with upcoming scenarios. For instance, are you merciful? You might attract followers who are into that- followers whose own empathy enables them to gain the trust of others and avoid battles.

As you travel the world, you have to keep careful track of your resources- sure, there’s currency (batteries) and food to worry about, but your followers also need hope- the longer you travel, the wearier they grow. You can’t just go to the hope store to make everybody feel better- you need to make good decisions that make the people believe in you. Or you could just share luxury resources with them, which also have interesting effects in the rest of the game.

The core gameplay centers on turn-based battles on a board that is wonderfully reminiscent of my favorite card game, Scrolls; you the player have two sets of cards- your follower cards, and your leader cards. The follower cards are quite literally the followers who believe in your prophecies and will fight by your side, and each has their own unique set of abilities. Here, the game borrows from Hearthstone; in each turn, you have more energy to play higher level cards (or extra low-level cards- whatever floats your boat). What makes the game stand out, however, is that you really don’t want your cards getting injured once you place them on the battlefield. If a unit gets knocked out in a single battle, it needs to be healed- if you use it again and it takes enough damage, you’ll lose it for the rest of the game.

The leader cards are your own prophet’s abilities; at lower levels they do simple things, like buffing your own units or dealing damage directly to your opponent (which, by the way, is your main goal in battle- the fight between followers is to protect the leader). At higher levels, they’re a bit more complex- you wind up with cards that cause damage to everything, which call for careful strategy and balance the game in pretty fascinating ways- think of it like the Blue Shell from Mario Kart.

While the game’s not finished, it has a lot of little clear quality of life touches that I’ve found other in-development strategy games to be lacking- for instance, the game lets you know when there are no more moves that you can make and pushes you to end your turn. Is this a big deal? No- but I’ve found a surprising number of turn-based games that fail to include this tiny, helpful feature. The game’s tooltips are informative and give you a good idea of what each card does- even though it’s a roguelike, the experience overall feels pretty fair.

In between battles, you’ll be managing your followers, choosing where to take the road next (rather like in FTL: Faster than Light) and handling story scenarios. For instance, you may encounter slave traders on the road- will you fight them, or become their customers? I’m pretty sure I remember that particular scenario being in the aforementioned FTL, and it’s pretty interestingly handled here- but make no mistake, this game’s no FTL clone, as the slice I’ve played has thus far done a great job at utilizing its setting and story.

Indeed, what stuck out immediately to me about this game was its aesthetic and setting- it draws inspiration from Indian art and culture; which parts of India in particular? It’s a big subcontinent and I’m not entirely sure of where the inspiration comes from- and I’m not really qualified to say. If any of our readers from India would like to chime in I’d welcome your thoughts in the comments below.

The game’s setting has been described as “Indian dustpunk”; while it’s taking a lot of visual and story inspiration from India, it’s also postapocalyptic with some cyberpunk elements. What does India look like after a world ending cataclysm? Who gets to live, and how, and what industries pop up? Life, for the characters in this game, needs to go on; the game speculates on these things through its story and characters, and I’m looking forward to seeing how all the stories will pan out in the finished version of the game.

Right now, Nowhere Prophet is still in beta; stick with us as we’ll be keeping a close eye on this one. What do you think about Nowhere Prophet– does this roguelike card/board game catch your eye? Have you been playing in beta? Hit us up in the comments below, and be sure to check out our Nowhere Prophet interview from PAX East 2019. Nowhere Prophet will be released on Mac, Windows and Linux this summer.

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