Thoughts on Nowhere Prophet

Digital versions of collectible card games are a bit of a cliché these day; scarcely any IP seems safe from being melted down and cast into yet another Hearthstone clone. It’s easy to write all of them off as blatant cash-grabs that force players to repeatedly spend money to fill collections routinely phased into obsolesce. But Nowhere Prophet, by Sharkbomb Studios, aims to buck the trend and avoid the “collectible arms race,” and in doing so it manages to stand out both through its take on the genre’s conventions and its stylish Indian-inspired post-apocalyptic aesthetic. Nowhere Prophet is far more than just a fresh coat of paint—in true post-apocalyptic fashion it has broken the genre down into scrap and welded its conventions on top of a different chassis altogether.

A typical CCG centers around a pool of cards which are always available to put into a deck and used. Games tend to be isolated affairs, and while a card may be destroyed a single match, it remains intact for use again in a future one. Progression requires finding new, typically rarer and more powerful, cards that either replace older ones or offer new strategies and thus require adjustment to the player’s deck. Nowhere Prophet, however, chooses to break with this traditional mechanic, patterning itself after roguelikes rather than collectible card games.

Instead of a permanent hoard, Nowhere Prophet bases its gameplay a transient pool of cards and ties individual matches together in an extended a campaign. Players begin with a standard deck and randomly gain new cards as they go. Importantly, cards that are defeated in one match do not return pristine for use in the next one—after its first “death” the card becomes “wounded,” decreasing its effectiveness in subsequent matches, and any wounded card that is defeated is destroyed permanently. This crucial difference in attitude gives Nowhere Prophet a unique voice, despite familiar moment-to-moment gameplay.

Of course, an interesting take on a concept is only as good as the follow-through. So, fair warning: Nowhere Prophet is in “First Access,” and while promising, it is rough around the edges. Its mechanics are solid, the novel meshing seamlessly with the familiar they build upon, but the user interface is merely serviceable and clearly waiting for a few additional polish passes. AI opponents are competent and often challenging, but seem to regularly make questionable strategic decisions, even skipping actions or wasting cards. But despite these issues, the game feels cohesive, demonstrates a firm grasp of how the parts work together in service of the whole, and presents a strong art and sound direction that refreshingly draws influence from something other than the American Wild West. Nowhere Prophet is currently available only on itch.io, and is well worth following as it approaches wider release.