A Tabletop Game On a Computer: “Inscryption”

The first boss of the game, The Prospector. The game features a retro-pixelated screen.

The first boss of the game, The Prospector. The game features a retro-pixelated screen.

The player opens the game to a retro-pixelated screen before the main menu is displayed. The option to start a new game is missing, meaning the game can only be “continued.” This puts the player immediately into the game itself. 

The player’s character appears in a cabin, and a pair of eyes appear in the darkness. He says that it has been a while since he last played and said he is excited to begin playing again. 

The game is played on a table with a wooden piece to move around the board. There is a scale and a bell to the player’s left with two decks of cards to the player’s right. 

“Inscryption” was made by Daniel Mullins. It was released on October 19, 2021, but the gaming community did not immediately notice it. However, in late November, the game picked up attention as people started to appreciate how well-structured the game is. And once internet celebrities began playing it, reviews went up, and nominations and awards followed.

The Mechanics 

“Inscryption” is a fusion of tabletop games and “Dungeons and Dragons” while also using styles from all gaming eras to make its dark, retro aesthetic. “Battles” are like a tabletop card game, overseen by a man in the darkness dubbed the Game Master.

The gameplay has many mechanics introduced later on and may spoil further sections of the game, but the basics boil down to this: each creature played on your field requires blood points. To gain blood points, you must sacrifice other creatures you have played on your side of the field. To do this, you have two decks: one of the only squirrels and one of the creatures you have collected. 

Squirrels are a free card to play on the field that gives you blood when sacrificed. This means you have a way of getting creatures on the field at the start of the game. This is combined with sigils, effects that can be possessed by certain cards, which make up the core way to win the battles (by reaching six damage on a damage scale to your left.)

But, unlike the systems used for hit points for many other games, it is a scale with two sides. So if your opponent hits you for five damage and you hit for five damage back, the scales are even, which essentially resets each player’s health.  

The “tink” sound of the weights hitting the scales has been stuck in my mind from either losing or barely scraping by. This immerses the player and gives them a closer experience to what the developer wants the player to feel.

Aiding in this, the man in the dark speaks and tells you stories about the world you play in the game you are playing. He also tries to immerse you in his world by wearing masks representing what boss you fight or character you encounter.

Along with the sacrifice tool, cards on the board appear to shake and shiver in fear and gain a surprised or almost pain-like expression when actually sacrificed. 

The Story

This world, although simple on the surface, has a level of detail beneath that reveals that this game is different. 

The first major clue to this can be found in one of the player’s starting four, named a stoat. But unlike every other card, this one speaks. 

Oddly enough, after sacrificing him in the first game, the next time he is picked into the player’s hand, he speaks, saying that what you did was the right play, but he didn’t like it. This shows the card remembers being sacrificed and seemingly felt the pain of being sacrificed. 

This is only one of three cards that speak like this, the other two being found by solving puzzles in the cabin. 

Despite this, the man in the darkness says to ignore the cards and that you should just keep playing the game. When you walk around to find more clues, you see small puzzles scattered around the cabin. 

My Take 

The game “Inscyption” is one of, if not the best, solo gaming experiences I have had. It immersed me like no other and made me feel like I was part of the game during certain segments. I was able to play it from start to finish in twelve hours. 

In all my years of playing games, I have never had to think about turn-based combat like this. I was endlessly entertained by having to find ways out of seemingly impossible scenarios using all of these mechanics to my advantage. The mechanics make the core gameplay fun and most importantly, difficult. 

But, the game does have some minor flaws. For example, some segments of the game can feel like a dead-end, and there is no way to complete the game without reading the dialogue. 

The biggest issue with the game for me is the very noticeable difficulty drop-off in the second half, which made the game tedious at some points. Luckily, this drop is important and adds some nuance to the story. 

Additionally, we don’t learn much about the characters, making the game’s mysteries more complex. 

I was able to finish this game in three days, so suffice to say, I was hooked. I recommend this game to anyone who enjoys tabletop card games but may not be able to meet up with friends or has lost interest in the games they regularly play.

And to anyone who plays, keep an eye out for the man in the dark.