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Inscryption Review

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Writing about Inscryption is a betrayal of Inscryption. I almost want to adopt the first rules of Fight Club and leave the review empty. I’d just staple a blood-scrawled note to the page saying ‘play it already’. 

What can we say about Inscryption that wouldn’t cheapen the experience of finding it and playing it yourself? Let’s just say that it’s an unwashed visitor, elbowing its way into your home. It tosses some muddy cards onto the table and demands you play. 

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It wouldn’t be ruining much, we suppose, to say that Inscryption is a roguelike deckbuilder. You start with a deck, and that deck gets bigger as you earn cards to fill it. The cards are all animals: lost beasts of the forests and mangled chimeras. They are played onto a grid, and that grid represents the lanes of columns that they attack in.

You face off against Leshy, a masked Old Man of the Forest who has you captured. His beady eyes stare at you from across the board, as you socket each animal into their slots. He places his own animals, which work their way down the board, and your aim is to deal enough damage to Leshy so that the encounter is won and you can move onward.

It’s not too dissimilar to other CCGs, particularly lane-based iterations. Attack chips away at health, and a lack of life sends your animal to the graveyard. But part of the macabre genius is in the theming – bloody sacrifices pay for cards, for example – while the remainder of that genius comes from design touches. Numerous sigils on the cards cause fantastic effects, and cards can be fused, spliced and upgraded to create awful new beasts. 

You progress upwards on a game board after each battle, scrawled on a scroll which represents some kind of hellish journey, each stop representing a different event. Fur trappers, sacrificial altars and combat await. Leshy dons different masks to represent the people you encounter, and the effect is of playing a role-playing game with a serial killer. 

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The mood is as thick as treacle. The soundtrack buzzes like a mosquito trapped in a microphone’s casing. The life-points that you amass and lose are represented as teeth ripped from your own mouth. Inscryption is one of the most oppressive and claustrophobic games we’ve played, yet we must have Stockholm Syndrome as we want everyone to experience it too. What a mood Inscryption is.

And it’s so head-spinningly clever, too. Let us pick one and reveal its detail, just so we can convey the brilliance of Inscryption: when you lose, you’re given a ‘Deathcard’. This card is a Frankenstein’s Monster of all the costs, stats and sigils from cards that you earned, and you can choose the body parts that construct it. With the Deathcard made, it’s one that you can earn from future runs. You even get to manually name it. We had a Deathcard called Cecil return to us multiple times, and he was a game-winner that we were always happy to encounter.

Our next steps in the review are difficult. Because the card game we have described is a sliver of what makes Inscryption surprising, blursed and brilliant. But that brilliance has to be found if you want it to retain its magic. 

Just know that the game board is a tiny part of Inscryption’s world. The designers’ eyes wander to the area surrounding the game board, and what else might be in the room. Then the eyes wander to the nature of the game that you are playing; Inscryption becomes a meta nightmare that makes you scared to even be playing it. And then the eyes wander further, exploring whether the card game is the main game of Inscryption at all. The rug gets pulled from beneath you, and is revealed to be a bloody pelt.

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We know how frustrating this review sounds, and how slippery a game Inscryption seems to be. But if you have any interest in CCGs and deckbuilders then you should show no hesitation in purchasing and unboxing it, layer by layer, over the course of its playthrough. If you yearn to be surprised by the games you play, or wish that gaming could push at its boundaries more, then grab a ticket and get in line. And if you simply love exquisitely designed, important games that might resonate over the next few decades, then you should join the queue for Inscryption too.

We refuse to give you more information than we already have. Inscryption diminishes the more you know about it, so arrive completely blind if you can. Just know that we haven’t been this thrilled by a game for a long time, and we want to quicken the heart of as many people as possible by recommending it.

Buy Inscryption, then pass it on. Keep the bloody chain going. Pay it forward.

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