I get to crafting my first tarot card. Ahead of me lies a series of choices about how I want to lay out my card. Perhaps I go traditional and use a knight situated on a battlefield. Or maybe a piloted mech located in the stars? Is this game truly letting me place a dominatrix at the Opera? Whatever I choose, I finish with my deck and am once more reminded I am controlling a witch isolated from humanity in my house floating on an asteroid in space. I am excited. I am enthralled and immersed in the world of The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood
Developed by Essays on Empathy creator Deconstructeam and published by Devolver Digital, The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is a freshly announced game with plenty of promise. Players control Fortuna, an individual who has had her tarot deck taken from her before being banished from civilisation. Until one night she summons a God.
This God then slowly helps her build a new tarot deck to one day take up tarot readings again in the hopes to find a greater sense of purpose once more. Your journey will see many eventual visits from different witches and extra-terrestrial beings from across the universe for you to get to know and provide readings for. You’ll even experience flashbacks, providing insight into Fortuna’s earlier life as a human on Earth and bear witness to some incredible writing in the process. In my early hour-long demo of the game, I’ve already got but a taste of this, begging for more.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood largely boils down to a narrative deck-builder with no combat. Players embark on a moving narrative journey where difficulty looks to thankfully be of little concern. Abaramar, the name of the Behemoth God you’ve awoken, helps you craft these cards. To craft a card you need one of the four elements of magic: air, water, earth and fire. How much you have of any of these elements at a given time determines the cards you can craft and what imagery appears on them.
Whilst conducting a reading for the many individuals you’ll meet, the elemental DNA of the card you’ve made can then leave you with several options for how to present your findings. Maybe Fortuna sees great tragedy awaiting the person on the other side of the table. Perhaps they see great riches and fortune. It’s up to players to decide this in dialogue choice format, and how players choose to do so can influence a character’s actions and feelings towards you. Leave a good impression and you may just go barreling down a branch of the narrative that you are after.
Pivoting away from combat and focusing on the strength of storytelling is a promising concept for the deck-builder genre, and it’s something we’ve started to see in more recent years with titles such as last year’s I Was a Teenage Excolonist. There is something of a challenging barrier that can come with the genre. Sometimes luck of the draw goes against your favour and you’re dealt a bad hand, failing combat and then ending your run. In titles like The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood, you paint your story and it’s instead in the many variations in its narrative that you find replayability. That, along with the witchy, existential tarot skin leaves many possibilities.
That very skin thus far isn’t necessarily unique but still quite revitalising for the genre. The cards you’ll get to craft are whimsical and downright weird. To create a card players must choose a Sphere (your card’s backdrop), Arcane (the character and subject of the card) and a Symbol (the props or items accompanying the character). Each of these parts of the card has lore behind them, meaning when you blend these all together, fantastical results occur. The real world, fantasy and even science-fiction can combine, making for vivid but captivating stories told through your cards. Just one possibility is a dominatrix situated in front of a door labelled ‘The Forbidden Door to Pleasure,’ a room that, when entered, leaves the subject with an eye-opening year-spanning orgasm. I’m not kidding.
The toolset is quite diverse in creating your cards. You can pan the greater image of the Sphere, trying to find the best spot to situate your scene. Elements can be duplicated, flipped and tweaked in size to your liking. Moving all these about, trying to create the picture-perfect scene is magical and engaging, adding a more personal element of a deck-builder experience where you’d otherwise just be given a card without much choice.
There’s also plenty to write home about for the art style, creating very captivating pixel art that really brings a scene to life. High detailing draws out engaging physical quirks that make a character all the more visually interesting to look at and get to know. Environments such as Fortuna’s house are bursting with personality as you notice curious witchy objects and tapestry detailing while shots of a sunset on Earth have a wide array of colours, leaving you in awe.
Backing all these strong vibes and gameplay is some already stellar writing, something I’m not all that surprised (but still thrilled about) coming from the talented group at Deconstructeam. My very favourite moment of the demo came in exploring some of Fortuna’s human life. She’s on the road with her sister and a friend in a food truck. When it reaches sunset, they pull over for the night, set up shop and get talking.
Here, they all have raw and human discussions about the big and little things in life. They talk about how they all want to be better people. Happier. Healthier. How they want to consume, attend rallies, and live and breathe ethically. However, despite their efforts, it’s always inevitably lining the pockets of someone else richer, morally uglier, and more evil than them. I teared up at this moment, feeling painfully kindred with the writing here. This type of precise, heartfelt writing can only come from those hard done in society, but with the system working against them. I say that without a stutter because as a trans person in a very troubling time, it too is my experience.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood doesn’t yet have a release date besides the fact it is releasing on Nintendo Switch and PC sometime this year. It came from nowhere and it has quickly become one of my most anticipated titles of 2023. Fans of moving narratives and oh-so-good deck-building mechanics look to be in for a real treat.