developers: Daniel Mullins Games
Publishers: Return 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. Launch Inscryption for the first time, and after sitting through a fake loading screen, your right index finger will briefly be puzzled as you fruitlessly tap the “New Game” button.
That’s because there are no new games on Inscryption. Only the game remains. The one of the bones and the blood and the ritual sacrifice. The one who played against the blinking eyes and withered hands that impatiently bang on the table and sometimes do… other things. Instead, he should press continue, because he has already been playing for some time and continuing is all he can do. Alternatives can’t bear to think.
Let’s continue then. You sit on a stool in a secluded shack, a fan of cards clutched in your trembling hand. Each card represents a forest animal. Across the table is a shadowy figure, speaking with a soul-shattering buzz, like Lucifer’s fridge. Between you there is a board on which the cards are played. Guests always start the turn, so you can play chipmunk. The squirrel serves no purpose except as an offering for your next card. Sacrifice the squirrel and use the blood to make an ermine. The ermine will talk to you, it will tell you to play along. Listen to the ermine.
You no longer have moves, so ring the bell. The turn will be resolved and the game will return to you. For this new turn you can draw a card, either from your hand or from a deck of squirrels. Draw a squirrel and place it on the board. Now sacrifice the squirrel and stoat (which will protest) and use the two blood tokens you receive to play Wolf.
Resolve the turn again. The Wolf will attack either an animal played in front of it, or if there is no animal, directly at your opponent, dealing damage. Damage is counted on a series of scales, which will rebalance as damage is traded. Deal enough damage to your opponent above your own damage level, and you will win and be able to progress. If you lose, well, let’s not get into what happens if you lose. You will know in due time.
What is that much to take in? That’s fine. Feel free to take a break. Yes, you can get up from the table, as long as you are not in the middle of a match. Stretch your legs, take a look around the cabin. Admire the crisp pixels of the many objects in the room. Play with the safe in the corner. Move the cuckoo clock hands behind you. Flip through the rule book to better learn the cards in your hand. Didn’t the stoat say something about the rule book? That I could somehow help you escape from this room?
Why don’t you sit back while you think about it? Move your figure to the next point on the map. You might get a chance to get some new cards, like the ant, whose damage stacks for every ant you have in play, or the viper, whose venomous bite will instantly kill any animal in front of it. Or you can find some much-needed supplies that give you some unique equipment, like squirrels in a bottle that you can add to your hand at any time, or a pair of scissors that you can use to cut up one of your opponent’s cards. .
Get through enough battles and your opponent will reveal one of their myriad personalities. These special encounters will have you facing off against enemies like the Prospector, who can turn your cards into useless chunks of gold. Getting through these battles will test your deck-handling skills to the limit. But you should feel good about your progress. Few go that far.
Victory in these matches can taste sweet. But the taste 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 from bones, an alternative type of resource that increases every time one of your animals dies. Or perhaps you make use of the stone altars found in the desert, sacrificing one animal to give its power to another. Or maybe you become a fur trader, gathering these inert trapper cards and taking on your opponent with a deck full of useless fur until you can sell them to the merchant for extra powerful cards.
Down and down goes the rabbit hole, stretching from the dash to the cockpit itself. The two are inextricably linked, you see. The board will lead you to clues in the world, which will lead you to more powerful cards, which will lead you back to the board. With each new clue, your power increases, to the point where you can create unstoppable cards that are about to break the game. In fact, if there’s an oversight on your opponent’s part, it’s that he puts too much potential power into your hand, the game slips away from him once you get past a certain point.
But you don’t care too much, do you? Admit it, you like it here. You like those blinking eyes across the table. You like the terrible atmosphere, the palpable threat of consequences if you lose. You like the feel of blood and bone as they slip through your fingertips, the cards that chatter, argue and complain as you play them. You’ll find it exciting, maybe even a little fun. Your hands are not trembling with fear, but with excitement.
So why don’t you pull up your stool and have another round of this twisted little game? Enjoy its dark tones and delve into its deep and ever-changing decks. I’ll be there with you, lurking in the dark. After all, there is nothing like it.