Inscryption review

Inscryption is a creepy card game that has managed to climb head and shoulders above the pack this year, and it’s one of those games you need to check out before 2021 comes to a close. It’s a card game where sometimes the cards talk back, you can merge cards together, plus try and devise plans to escape from the predicament you find yourself in.

Inscryption is full of surprises, and things keep getting weirder as you play. At the heart of the game is a card game with animals on them, each animal has points, defence and other attributes and it’s your job to inflict enough damage on your opponent before they do the same to you. Lose more than twice, and you’ll get strangled.

The game starts off with you in the dark. Something has clearly gone wrong and you find yourself a prisoner. You play the game from the first-person perspective and at first, all you see are piercing, evil eyes in the dark, followed by a game of cards, which you are prompted to play. Why? We won’t really know, but the eyes across the table don’t look friendly, so for the time being it’s best just to follow along and play nice. You appear to be in a cabin in the woods, stuck with this madman, with only the cards for the company.

Inbetween goes you are welcome to get up from your seat and have a look around, only try not to touch anything, and definitely don’t try to leave the cabin, otherwise, the being with piercing eyes is going to get mad, leading to bad things happening. It’s all very sinister and dark, but there’s humour weaved through the game too.

The graphics, the audio, the environment, the first-person perspective, it all adds up to a very unsettling experience. This is by Devolver Digital, and you can tell from the tone and the artwork. Everything builds up around you, creeps you out including the fiery eyes and the distorted, freaking warble of the person, or things sitting opposite playing with you. It’s not a gaming experience you will forget quickly.

The card game itself is fairly simple, but also very tactical. You have a couple of cards in your hand when you start, and you have to place them down at a cost of blood or bones. To place down better cards you will likely have to sacrifice weaker cards, but this cost brings greater attacking benefits, and ultimately you want to inflict enough damage on your opponent. For each attack damage point, a small weight will be placed on the scales, and it’s your job to tip the scales entirely in your favour and take down your opponent.

Each card is an animal or object of some kind, for example, a Snake, Wolf, Mantis, Cat, Magpie and things that can block your opponents like a rock or wood. Not all of your creatures will survive the battle as you sacrifice along the way and accrue the resources you need in blood and bones. The objective of placing cards down is to inflict damage on your opponent, however, they can place down blocking cards which will soak up that damage.

In between the games, you’ll have a chance to power up your cards, splice them together or sacrifice them in order to gain an advantage. There are also items given to you in bottles, like a stash of bones or spare squirrel cards. There’s the little campfire that allows you to upgrade the card’s health or attack, but it can be risky if you decide to do this… It’s all about balancing the risk vs the reward. If this is all sounding a little out there, well, it is, but it gets easier once you get in the game and get your head wrapped around the cards and the concepts.

There are bonus items too, for example, a set of pliers you can use to tip the scales in your favour. I was thinking, “Oh, OK, you are simply going to place the pliers on the scales…”, but no, actually you pull out one of your own teeth to tip the scales. It’s these inventive, sometimes disgusting, but imaginative gameplay elements that allow Inscription to stand out from the crowd in the card game space.

The game starts out looking very simple, but there’s real depth to the game that’s simple to pick up and play, but hard to master, which is everything you want in a game. There’s a small barrier to entry in understanding what the cards means and the rules, but you are taken through a decent tutorial to learn the ropes. After a few hours of play, the game starts to open up and make much more sense, as you get to grips with the cards and how they interact with each other. As you play new elements open up on the map, and also surprising story elements will appear too. Try and avoid spoilers and experience it for yourself if you can.

Inscryption is a surprising game, with twists and turns not only in the plot but also in the gameplay and mechanics. Things start out as a simple creepy card game but buckle up as things get super strange. It’s one of a number of stands out indie hits in 2021, and definitely something you should seek out to play before the end of the year as I have a feeling this is going to be on a few games of the year lists in the next few weeks.

Developer: Daniel Mullins
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PC
Release Date: 19th October 2021