Inscryption, the (Card) Game for Your Life

Inscryption – the roguelike card game that has become a gaming staple since its release back in October last year from the popular mind of Daniel Mullings – the creator of two other great games (The Hex and Pony Island) – and has become a novelty in gaming since 2021. Inscryption is a Mantis god among Ring worms, per sae. If you don’t get that reference, chances are you have not yet played the game, and if you haven’t, I highly recommend you do. In my opinion, Inscryption is one of the greatest games of 2021, and is still a great game today thanks to the recent release of its first DLC: Kaycee’s mod.

Inscryption’s opening is perfect to show off the themes of the game. It starts with an unknown voice and an old-style pixel title screen appears, one that looks very similar to the old Pokémon or other generic RPG games. After pressing any key and moving to the main menu, it is almost second nature to press the ‘new game’ button, but that button seems to be broken. And since the other buttons are just the settings and to exit, the player has no choice but to continue from the last save, even though they have never played the game before. Once the game loads, the 2D game from before has been completely replaced with the player sitting across from a figure shrouded in darkness. The player then begins to play a twisted card game as their life supposedly hangs in the balance. This cold opening to the game is beautifully crafted, leaving the player confused and intrigued right out the gate. The card game is, at a base level, not too hard to understand. You play cards by sacrificing other cards. Each card has a health stat which causes the creature to die when it reaches zero, and a power stat, which is used to ‘attack’ your adversary or their creatures. Certain creatures can have things called ‘Sigils’ that can be described as effects, modifying how that card works and acts. You deal enough damage to them, you win. You take too much damage, you lose. Speaking of losing…

Image: Devolver Digital

Even though you might not be a bad player, you will still most likely lose. Losing a single battle isn’t too big of a deal, your adversary is lenient enough to let you live with minimal consequences. But if you lose again, they drag you to another room for an…. unfortunate fate. Instead of the ordinary, and very commonly used, game over, the player is forced to make themselves a ‘Deathcard’. A Deathcard is a card made from various aspects of other cards from your current deck, making it custom to your playstyle. These cards can then be found randomly on your journey next time. This mechanic is very innovative. I don’t remember any other game having a function like this. Most games, if you lose, you simply have a ‘game over’, ‘you are dead’, or a slight variation of that, and then the game restarts like nothing happened. In Inscryption, though, it is embraced. Your Deathcard’s are not shown as a reminder of your mistakes. They are instead, depending on your choices, a tool used to advance further than you have before. After your choices are made and a flash of a camera blinds your vision, you’re back sitting down at the table, and you start again like almost nothing happened— aside from some slight comments from your adversary.

As the game progresses, the further and further you get and more and more secrets of the cabin get uncovered, and several more allies reveal themselves to you. These allies come in the form of several talking cards, and it seems they’re trapped here like you are. These talking cards are hidden all throughout the cabin, and although it seems they want to help you, they seem to be hiding something. I remember when I first played the games demo a couple months before it was released, and I was able to meet some of the cards before the demo expired, I wasn’t sure what they were supposed to represent. I assumed they were other victims, but as I got the real game and played on and on, their true intentions were revealed in a surprising twist that I personally thought was very clever. The cards each have their own personality, which are all unique. Some of them you love, and some of them you love to hate.

A unique thing I like about this game is the way the gameplay changes. Several things always stay the same, mainly the fact that it is a card game, but several things change as you progress. The different games are almost alternate versions of each other: they all share some baseline features but have several mechanics that vary between each of them. With each of their different gimmicks, characters, and playstyles, it gives a nice fresh breath of air to the gameplay, which sometimes can feel repetitive. Especially if you’re not particularly good at a section so you must repeat it again and again.

Image: Devolver Digital

Inscryption has begun to get so popular, people have been trying to recreate the game in real life. The community around the game was able to get the images for the cards and print them in real life to play a similar version. It’s not possible to create it exactly in game of course, the way cards are created and destroyed in the game is both impossible to do or would be ridiculously expensive, but some people have gotten close. A streamer by the name of LeshyIrl (Leshy being a character from the game) has created his own version. Featuring similar cards, boards, and even masks from the original game, plus an incredibly large and impressive number of items he made himself. He can interact with viewers, doing various action and playing cards for them at their request. All the while there are hundreds of other people who can contribute and assist the player through the chat function, watching along. I, too, have a deck of Inscryption cards that I printed out from online and made myself, but I haven’t yet had the chance to play with them yet. But still, watching what others play and make out of passion of the game is still very enjoyable.

Inscryption may seem like a simple, though still complex, game on the surface, but it holds many secrets. Like for example, not too long ago it was discovered that pressing a specific key prompt on a certain screen opened an old-style command prompt window. And after [Look at game theory episode for a reminder] This discovery it started to send people down a rabbit hole Sending investigative players to explore several of Daniel Mullings older games, abandoned projects, morse code through light flashes, and other stuff impressively complex, including someone digging up a box found deep in the forest just like in the game. The popular channel ‘Game Theory’ did a video series cracking the mysteries that are very in depth. I highly recommend you check that out.

All in all, Inscryption is a prized gem from the indie scene of 2021. Providing simple yet fun gameplay, an intriguing story with surprising depth and enjoyable characters and secrets. This is a game I highly recommend to any card game — or gaming in general — enjoyer, and a game I was truly sad when I discovered that I had completed it. Fortunately, not long after the game was finished, a free small DLC was released for it: Kaycee’s mod. This added an additional option for playing, allowing you to play over the first section of the game with new encounters and challenges. I personally found this quite enjoyable. And I can’t wait for whatever project Daniel Mullings releases next.

By TheVoidSearcher

When TheVoidSearcher isn't writing stories or correcting people grammar, he's often playing whatever game suits him at the time.

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