When I downloaded Devolver’s new deck-building game, The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood, to my Switch, I thought I was getting a spooky little vintage-looking Pokemon-style card-collecting game I could play with half my attention while I listened to podcasts. What I got was a deeply moving piece of interactive fiction that explores depression, gender, community, and personal vs. collective responsibility set against an enchanting magical space backdrop. I cried multiple times playing CWS, even as I crafted the coolest tarot deck I’ve ever seen.
In CWS, you play as Fortuna, a witch with the power of divination who’s living alone on a tiny house on an asteroid because she’s been exiled from her coven for a thousand years. In a move of pure desperation, Fortuna breaks another coven rule and summons a Behemoth named Ábramar to help her figure out how to handle the coven. Fortuna is outraged, she’s violent, and she’s deeply, deeply depressed. (Just a word of warning that this game looks adorable, and is very sweet, but also includes mentions of suicide and self-harm.)
Ábramar helps Fortuna start re-building her own tarot deck because hers was seized by her coven before they exiled her. You choose your own sphere (background), arcane (main icon) and symbols (minor embellishments) for each card — and, like all deck-builders, your choices get more powerful, exciting, and artistic the more you play. Elements like Air, Water, Earth, and Fire are also associated with each card (and each decision you make with it), but that mechanic is a little hard to explain and much easier to just understand, intuitively, as you play.
Once you’ve got your deck going, Ábramar opens up access for other witches to visit you, which is how Fortuna learns what’s happening inside the coven and way out there in the universe. Each character who visits has a compelling backstory, and their struggles require you to make decisions during your readings that shape the story in significant ways. The game also only auto-saves, so you can’t go back and undo your magic, something that frustrated the heck out of me at first, but that was when I was only still paying half-attention, before this dang game came for my whole heart. Fortuna meets a witch with gender dysphoria, a witch struggling majorly with her mental health, a witch battling chronic illness; a witch mourning a devastating death; in fact, almost all of Fortuna’s visitors have highly relatable grown-up problems you get to help them address. You build relationships as you build your deck, and that’s just as rewarding as crafting your own tarot cards.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood’s soundtrack is melancholy and enchanting. The graphics are old school cool. And it’s just as accessible for noobs like me as it is, I’m sure, for real witches with loads of experience with the tarot. Devolver didn’t mess around with all the symbols and metaphors and iconology; clearly a lot of intense research went into this project. CWS’ gameplay lasts about seven hours, total, and I’ve now played the game twice with wildly different results. Usually when I play video games, I can’t make myself be a “bad guy.” I always choose the hero route and always steer clear of morally dubious factions. But my play-through of CWS where I behaved like an absolute dick felt completely warranted, based on what Fortuna’s dealing with, and also wildly cathartic to me, a real life woman full of feminist rage at corrupt institutions.
The Cosmic Wheel Sisterhood is queer spooky season catnip and it’s now available on Nintendo Switch and Steam.