Nowhere Prophet is a solo card game that borrows its foundations from popular card games like Magic: The Gathering and is set within the narrative pacing and RPG sensibilities of Dungeons & Dragons. It caters to a niche for sure, but it manages to do so very well. It is a soundly designed tabletop experience that fits comfortably on Xbox One and has the quality dynamic presentation expected of a video game.
Designing a tabletop game is difficult, perhaps more so than putting a video game together. At least with a video game there are a few things a developer can learn where the sum of parts come together to create a worthwhile experience, even when there are faults in the core gameplay. A tabletop game on the other hand needs to be mechanically sound and as close to perfect as possible, and importantly it needs to resonate with players in such a way that a variety of games are possible.
From a player perspective, tabletop gaming is far more expensive than a video game given the cost of materials involved in putting a physical game together. This is where the unique video game niche of virtual tabletop games can be handy. It’s all about the fun of owning a board game without a giant cardboard box taking up closet space. Board games have translated well into the gaming space, Mario Party being the most prominent example. The Xbox brand hasn’t seen a fair share of virtual board games or tabletop experiences, but a few notable ones do exist such as Culdcept Saga on Xbox 360. In similar fashion Nowhere Prophet satisfies this card game niche quite nicely, and has the presentation to back it up as a worthy title on your HD 4K-powered machine.
Nowhere Prophet as a card game is incredibly and dauntingly deep for sure. Thankfully the game is designed to help you learn most of the tricks of the trade in a scaffolded manner. Right from the main menu you can access the digital rulebook which isn’t too text and jargon-heavy, and so makes for helpful reading to new players, even working as a handy refresher to experienced players. Once you get into the game the first run is designed to walk you through the main segments which make up Nowhere Prophet as a “game”, while also tying in with some convincing world and lore-building.
Every good D&D-inspired experience needs to have an interesting lore and backdrop for players to contextualise the card playing experience, and Nowhere Prophet succeeds at providing a fascinating setting in planet Soma – a barren and harsh desert planet infused with post-modern Hinduism. The style is very much desert-punk Indian with memorable electronica music to match the overall style and theme. The art style is strong too, especially in the character designs and overall presentation of the game world. It really feels like a hand-crafted card game has come to life on a canvas.
As the name implies, the basic story of the game involves a prophet (which would be you, the player) leading a convoy of followers to a mysterious promised land where all their hopes and dreams will come through. Of course, this involves surviving the harsh conditions of the planet as you make your way forward and try to keep as many of your followers alive as possible.
The actual game itself has two segments, the first being the travel segments which are where the D&D narrative style and RPG elements come in. There are choices to be made as you travel on the map and these can lead to battles or even new allies and rewards. The camp and marketplace provide a sandbox of character and convoy customisation where you can fiddle around your deck of cards. Which is where the second gameplay segment arrives: card battles.
The objective of the card battles is quite simple: defeat the leader of the convoy. Now, this isn’t as simple as aiming all your attacks at the convoy leader because they also have a band of followers at their disposal. It’s about strategically creating an opening through the enemy line in order to deal large damage to the convoy leader. Having a simple objective helps since the actual card mechanics can be quite intricate.
Basically, it’s about carefully making use of energy points to play the right cards, be it members of your convoy in battle or any of the other buff cards available. The environment also adds a layer of strategy here. This can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be, and thankfully Nowhere Prophet accommodates a range of playstyles and strategies, and so you can be a master defensive strategist or go in guns blazing as long as you build the right deck of cards for your style.
The game is a rogue-like, which means each run and journey will have a different narrative style and even a different style of battles. It helps with the solo experience the game is aiming for, and it makes it replayable like any good board game on a slow Sunday afternoon. The only setback here is that some of the battles can take ages depending on who you end up fighting, and so it’s really about having the patience and ensuring that you are part of the intended audience for this sort of thing.
Nowhere Prophet on Xbox One is a quality experience for what it intends to do, even if it is a bit of an acquired taste. It is soundly designed as a single player card game and will certainly appeal to its intended audience. However, many may well find the experience to be too daunting and time-consuming, if not a little hard to stay motivated in given the absence of a social aspect.