I enjoy playing card games. Something about the exciting tactical nature about them whilst maintaining a rather slow and relaxed pace makes them very appealing for me. My card game of choice is Yu-Gi-Oh and while I wouldn’t consider myself a competitive player by any stretch I do keep up to date with news and information about the game and the new reveals it has as it develops. As a result of this you can imagine that Inscryption immediately caught my eye. Not only was it a card game but it was a horror-based card game, a very interesting premise, and it was created by Daniel Mullins, the genius creator and his team that previously made games such as Pony Island and The Hex. Now while I am far more familiar with his work on Pony Island many still love all of his titles so the question remains, does Inscryption match up to the genius of previous Daniel Mullins games? Let’s find out!
The story of Inscyption sees you awaken in a mysterious, dark cabin with no real understanding on who you are or where exactly you have found yourself. Well… it doesn’t actually start like that but… well it’s complicated, and spoilery, so I’ll just leave it at that. Across the table from where you are sitting you find your playing companion, a set of sinister glowing eyes. From here it is simply the case of playing the card game that this mystery figure has set up for you as it becomes a mix of a lane-based strategy card game with the decision making and map traversal mechanics of a tabletop DnD-style campaign. While there is of course far more to the story than meets the eye, you can even step away from the table at any time and explore the cabin around you, going any further than that will lead into spoiler territory so I will not elaborate any further. It must be said however that despite the simplistic sounding story it is a far more interconnected and expansive narrative that extends even outside of the game to an ARG that is associated with Inscryption. It’s all very mysterious and while it does lose the pacing a little bit by the end of the adventure it’s certainly a story that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
Presentation-wise this game is absolutely dripping with atmosphere from the dark but slightly pixellated graphics to the quiet and ambient soundtrack that helps to bring about both a sense of calm and unease at the same time. Perhaps it’s just me being odd but I actually really enjoyed the background melodies as they are extremely relaxing despite being used to create a sense of dread during your playtime. The character models you encounter are well made and even the cards you play have a really distinct and rustic look to them that makes it feel as though this could very well be a real card game. While there is no voice acting I still really enjoyed the dialogue between characters, including the witty remarks by some of your own cards talking to you! There is more to talk about of course but again due to spoilers I can’t say much else aside from the graphical style presented in this game are very distinct and that I enjoyed every moment my eyes are ears were treated in this experience.
In terms of gameplay it’s actually a bit difficult to describe a genre that Inscryption fits into. It of course is a virtual card game but there are so many other portions of the experience, Escape Room elements, puzzle-game aspects and even RPG mechanics that I can only classify it as a completely unique type of game. The card game itself, the main bulk of the title, is a fun and surprisingly deep experience that can give you a variety of ways to tackle it. Usually in a single player only card game there aren’t too many strategies you can utilise during your adventure as you are funnelled down a distinct path as new things open up for you however Inscryption works around this by granting rogue-like elements to help diversify the gameplay and make it so that you absolutely have to adapt and overcome in order to succeed in your adventure leading to a variety of strategies for you to try out. Do you want to focus on a bone-deck that relies upon a unique corpse mechanic to get out lots of creatures or are you focused on sacrificing small creatures to bring out larger monsters? The different ways you can go about this are staggering and random elements such as totems that change how the game is played and unique encounters on your map make it a far more replayable experience than you might imagine. The card game is a simple affair with you controlling several lanes and having to play cards from both your deck and an unlimited supply of sacrificial squirrels in order to attack your opponent directly and destroy their creatures in order to damage them enough and win. It actually plays most similarly to early Yu-Gi-Oh from what I found and as such I was right in my element. It was a supremely relaxing experience despite all the tense atmospheric moments and the boss battles that took place used unique mechanics to change up the dynamic of the game to make it an exciting and interesting gameplay distinction. Overall I really enjoyed this card game and wouldn’t mind it being adapted to a real-world equivalent but again there is FAR more to this experience that I simply cannot say. Just be prepared to have the rules… changed.
Now for the negatives. While the game is very clearly trying to go for a horror vibe and it initially is successful in doing so I actually didn’t find the game all that scary as it went on. Atmospheric? Sure. Unnerving? At times yes. However it eventually became rather routine and, the biggest failure of a horror title, relaxing. I don’t say this to make it seem as though the game fails in what it set out to do as horror is simply one of the many aspects that this game relies upon, I just wouldn’t call it a good horror game if someone was asking me about it. I also felt as though the game at times suffered from a lack of good pacing as it screamed to the end at breakneck speed once it hit a certain point. I’m sure that elements of the experience outside of the game itself such as the ARG would help to explain and quantify exactly what happened and how they developed the way they did however from within the game it just seemed as though it wanted to hurry along to the end after a point without giving much explanation as to how it was coming to that conclusion. Finally if you are not a card game fan then while the other elements are indeed present in this title you will absolutely have to still content with the card game as being the main component you need to initially get past which may put more people off. As a card game fan I really enjoyed this but I can absolutely see why this may be a turn off for many people.
All in all then I really enjoyed my time with Inscryption. It’s not perfect and I’m not too sure how it stands in the grand scheme of other Daniel Mullin games but from my experience I found it to be an utterly unique and greatly enjoyable experience. For those who are a fan of unique game experiences, and especially those into the card game scene, this is an absolute treat that you must try out. I can’t wait to see if this is made into a real card game down the road, you can bet I will be opening packs hoping to pull a rare Mantis God card.