The Inscryption demo is currently available as part of Steam Next Fest, a showcase similar to Nintendo Indie World. It’s the second game from Daniel Mullins Games (creator of Pony Island), and it’s been on my radar since the trailer dropped.
The Inscryption demo is pretty generous in length and gives you a good idea of what to expect of the full game – here are my quick thoughts.
Inscryption Demo: Part Deck-Builder, Part … Escape Room?
Frantic Deck-Building Gameplay
Inscryption is kind of a deck-builder/escape room hybrid, and it comes across as pretty simple, at least to start with. The aim is to beat your mysterious opponent (more on him in a minute) by adding weights to a scale until its tips over. You deal damage by playing animal cards, and each animal has its own HP and attack power.
The interesting game mechanics kick in after you lose a match. You’ll reset, starting where you left off – but this time, your opponent will introduce new gameplay element. For example, bone tokens are introduced – these are a different kind of currency and will give you the opportunity to play new types of cards, switching up your strategy.
I’m mostly impressed by how much it feels like an actual, physical deck builder. There’s something incredibly tactile about this game, and after a year and a half of playing card games with friends remotely and mourning how ‘digital’ they feel, I found it really satisfying to play.
I didn’t get to experience much of the escape room puzzles during the Inscryption demo – there’s a cuckoo clock to chime, a safe to break into, and so on. It seems like the aim of the game is to unlock the door and get out of there.
A Creeping Sense of Impending Doom
What I really want to talk about is how creepy your opponent is. He’s essentially a pair of eyes – the rest of him is hidden in shadow. Still, there’s something quite frightening about him. If you get up from your chair and walk around the room, he watches you with an intensity that made me not want to go near him (or look in his direction).
Right from the beginning, one of the animal cards (the stoat) begins to talk to you. You get the impression the stoat is trying to help, which makes putting him down on the board to be killed by your opponent slightly more painful.
Inscryption breaks the fourth wall a little, which I like – it subverts expectations in a way that is pretty foreboding.
Satisfying Clunking Sounds
This sounds weird, but I’m a sucker for a really satisfying ‘clunk’ sound (like poker chips clanking together, that kind of thing). The vivid ‘clunk’ of the bone tokens dropping onto the board is one of the best in-game noises I’ve heard for a while. In fact, I kept wanting to sacrifice cards to get bone tokens purely for this reason.
In fact, Inscryption’s sound design is excellent in general. It feels tactile to play largely because of the noises – the clinking of a glass bottle, the plunking of your character token moving across the board.
The music is creepy without being annoying, and the occasional distortion stops you from being able to relax while you play – it’s a constant reminder of present danger, and the need to escape.
Even if you decide to take your time picking a card to play, it’s actually pretty fast moving. Everything from switching your POV to placing a card to moving around the room is frantic, a double-speed rush that gives the game urgency.
Even examining cards can feel a bit oppressive as your character’s hands tremble slightly throughout (understandably, given the thing sitting on the opposite side of the table).
I like a deck builder because of the mechanics – I like the methodical stacking of new tactics, the exhilaration when you pull out the right combination of cards. I don’t think I have ever in my life been keen to play a deck builder because I’m desperate to find out what the story is behind it. That alone makes me want to play more.
You can officially call me intrigued. Inscryption is a weird game to pin down, but maybe that’s the point.
It arrives on Steam on the 17th of October – if you’re after something different, it’s well worth downloading the Inscryption demo.