Nowhere Prophet is a fun card-based battle through the apocalypse

I had a quick go on the beta for Nowhere Prophet this weekend, and it has me intrigued. It’s being published by No More Robots, who are also behind the trippy 1990s-internet-simulator Hypnospace Outlaw, and it’s the magnum opus of one Martin Nerurkar, who’s been working on the game since 2014.

The thing that immediately stands out about Nowhere Prophet is the sublime art – I really love the character designs, made with solid blocks of colour and thick black lines. It really makes the game stand out and, more importantly, gives an extra reason to collect the beautifully illustrated cards the game is based around.

Well, they’re not cards, exactly – your deck is made up of your ‘followers’, and you’re a prophet in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by rogue machines and feral tribes. The aim is to lead your followers across the desert, while making sure that you keep topped up on food and ‘hope’, the latter being boosted when you supply luxury goods like tea to your convoy.

There are several routes through the desert, and the terrain affects how much food your convoy consumes between stops: trudging through sand, for example, takes longer and uses more food than heading down a road, but the rewards – and dangers – of heading off road tend to be greater. And, this being the post-apocalypse, awful things tend to happen on the way, like people falling ill or surprise attacks from weird beasts. Like Sunless Skies, you’re given a range of options for dealing with these problems, with some having a higher chance of success than others. Your core stats for various personality aspects, like ‘Believer’ and ‘Altruist’ have an effect on the odds.

Then you have the battles themselves, in which the aim is to defeat the enemy leader. The basic gameplay sees you drawing followers from your convoy deck and then placing them on the battlefield, with the caveat that they can’t actually attack until the next turn. You can attack the enemy leader at any time, but you can only attack enemy followers if they are in the front line of circles. Likewise, your followers can only attack if they’re on the frontline.

Then you have the separate ‘leader’ deck, which contains all sorts of fancy modifiers and powerful attacks, like hitting every enemy follower in a column. As your character levels up, you can add more powerful cards to your leader deck while, importantly, destroying the less useful cards to streamline your deck.

If all that sounds a bit complicated, that’s because it is – although in a good way. I barely scratched the surface of the strategies on offer in my short time with the game. There are huge possibilities here for refining your deck and tweaking your play style. But there’s also a big emphasis on pure survival. If one of your followers is knocked out in a battle, they become ‘wounded’, and can only be healed at one of the safe encampments scattered through the desert. You can still use them when they’re wounded, but if they’re defeated again, they die and are permanently removed from your deck. Combined with the scarcity of food in the desert and the constant danger of running out of supplies, it means Nowhere Prophet becomes a tense game where you’re always just about scraping by as you eke out an existence in the wasteland. Compelling stuff.

I’m looking forward to trying out the full game when it’s released in the summer – there’s no fixed release date yet, but it will be coming to PC, Mac and Linux, and you can find out more about the game on the official website.