Developers: Daniel Mullins games
Publishers: Devolver Digital
platforms: Personal Computer
It’s rare that a game grabs your attention from the start menu, but then again, Inscryption is a rare game in many ways. Load Inscryption for the first time, and after seeing the fake loading screen, your right index finger will be briefly confused as you press the New Game button to no avail.
This is because there are no new games in Inscryption. There is only a game. About bones, blood and ritual sacrifices. He played against blinking eyes and withered hands that impatiently pound on the table and sometimes do … other things. Instead, you should click “Continue” because you’ve been playing for a while now and all you can do is continue. You don’t have to think about alternatives.
Let’s continue then. You are sitting on a stool in some remote shack, clutching a card fan in a trembling hand. Each card has a picture of a forest animal. Across the table stands a shadow-shrouded figure who speaks in a heartbreaking hum like Lucifer’s refrigerator. Between you is a board on which they play cards. The guests always start their turn, so you can play as a squirrel. The squirrel is good for nothing, except as an offering for your next card. Sacrifice a squirrel and use the blood to play a stoat. The stoat will talk to you, tell you to play along. Listen stoat.
You’ve run out of moves, so ring the bell. The move will resolve and the game will return to you. On this new turn, you may draw one card from your hand or from the Squirrel deck. Draw a squirrel and place it on the board. Now sacrifice the squirrel and stoat (who will protest) and use the two blood tokens you get to play Wolf.
Allow the move again. The wolf will either attack the animal played in front of it or, if there is no animal, directly at your opponent, after which it will deal damage. Damage is calculated over a set of gauges that rebalance as damage is exchanged. Deal enough damage to your opponent beyond your own damage level and you will win and be able to progress. If you lose, let’s not dwell on what happens if you lose. You will know in due time.
What’s a lot to take? Everything is fine. Feel free to take a break. Yes, you can leave the table if you are not in the middle of a match. Stretch your legs, inspect the cockpit. Admire the crisp pixels of the many items in the room. Fumble with the safe in the corner. Move the hands of the cuckoo clock behind you. Flip through the rulebook to better understand the cards in your hand. Didn’t the stoat say anything about a set of rules? That it can somehow help you get out of this room?
Why not sit down while you think about it? Move your figure to the next point on the map. You can get the chance to get some new cards, like the ant, whose damage stacks with every ant you have in play, or the viper, whose venomous sting instantly kills any animal in front of it. Or you can find much-needed items that will give you disposable equipment, like bottled squirrels that you can add to your hand at any time, or scissors that you can use to cut one of your opponent’s cards. .
Fight enough battles and your opponent will reveal one of his myriad personalities. In these special encounters, you’ll take on enemies like the Prospector, who can turn your cards into useless chunks of gold. Playing through these battles will test your deck handling skills to the limit. But you should be happy with your progress. Few ever get that far.
Winning these meetings can be sweet. But the scent is fleeting. We’re not done yet, not even close. There is much more for you to discover. Perhaps you prefer to build your army out of bones, an alternative type of resource that increases every time one of your animals is killed. Or maybe you’ll use stone altars found throughout the desert, sacrificing one animal to transfer its power to another. Or perhaps you become a skin merchant, collecting those inert cards from a hunter and pitting your opponent against a deck full of worthless skins until you can sell them to the merchant for superpowered cards.
Down and down goes the rabbit hole, it extends from the board into the cockpit itself. They are inextricably linked, you see. The board will lead you to clues in the world that will lead you to more powerful cards that will take you back to the board. With each new clue, your strength increases to the point where you can create unstoppable cards that border on breaking the game. In fact, if there’s a faux pas on your opponent’s part, it’s that he puts too much potential power into your hand and the game runs away from him as soon as you get past a certain point.
But you don’t mind too much, do you? Admit it, you like it here. You love those blinking eyes across the table. You like the terrible atmosphere, the palpable threat of consequences if you lose. You love the feel of blood and bones as they glide across your fingertips, cards that chatter and argue and complain as you play them. You will find it exciting, perhaps even a little funny. Your hands are shaking not from fear, but from excitement.
So why not pull up the stool and play that tricky little game again? Enjoy its dark tones and immerse yourself in its deep and ever-changing decks. I’ll be there with you, hiding in the dark. After all, there is nothing like it.