There’s a certain tactile magic to trading card games. The beautiful illustrations, the flavor text, the color palettes. It’s a potent mix, especially when almost all of them are adapted from or paired with a larger IP like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. These are the elements that draw us in, and after some investment, it’s the gameplay, collecting, and community that make us stay.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but nothing has ever sounded more fucking lame to me than the latter. Cool drawings of monsters? Hell yeah, sign me up. Having to meet and hang out with antisocial strangers? Learning a bunch of contrived, constantly changing rules? Staying ahead of some deck obsoletion curve? Doing fucking mental math? Not in a million years.
This has always been my dilemma. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved collecting all types of these cards. But every crack I take at actually using them as intended, I almost immediately lose interest. Even with digital versions that forgo the chunks of laminated cardboard, it feels as though there’s even less incentive with the physical collecting aspect now subtracted.
Then I found Inscryption.
When the initial buzz first became apparent in early 2021, I was quick to disregard it as another run-of-the-mill deckbuilder. It wasn’t until I’d seen actual gameplay that everything started to click. This is a game made exactly for people like me. It takes the essential components that make up the average TCG, and boils them down to their most simplistic, core functions. Is this number higher than the other number? Great, then it beats the other number. Rarely is it ever more complex than that.
It also makes the entire chase of deck building almost null save for some new game plus challenges towards the end. Being a roguelike, you hit the ground running with whatever hand you’re dealt, collecting loose additional cards as you go. You’re not forced to do hours of homework and ponder over what sets to choose from, you’re thrown to the wolves. Here’s what you got, figure it out. Repeated runs are crucial to learning the ropes of this process, but it’s so fluid and genuinely fun you never consciously clock it. The way it should be!
The description thus far may sound to some like all of the immersion and nuance present in typical TCGs has been sapped entirely, leaving you with a smoothed over, bumper-bowling version of the usual fare. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as the narrative is truly what binds it all together. It’s not the conceit you’re almost always asked of with these things, to buy into the fantasy lore that exists within the hokey, intangible world of the cards. Rather you, yourself, are directly at the center of it all as an unwilling participant, kidnapped by some fucked up freak in the woods, forced to play rounds of this macabre card game against your captor in some remote cabin. Think Misery if Kathy Bates spent the whole movie forcing James Caan to get super into Magic with her.
The cards themselves are also an aesthetic all their own that are perfectly in tune with the rest of the game. You’re not gonna be dealing with Grokgnarr the Destroyer or some other pulp fantasy horseshit, it’s like – squirrels and bugs. Stuff that you can actually find outside. As the meta escalates, you’ll encounter things like birds, bears, and wolves, all stylized in this vaguely gothic manner that serves to complement the rest of the game. Something about being held captive in a cabin, forced to play with drawings of rats? Just plain works.
As if the premise of this alone wasn’t enough to carry a decent 10 hours or more, the story delves further and further into new, bizarre territory that simply cannot be anticipated. The fourth wall is smashed to pieces, rebuilt, and smashed again. It’s a marvel. I’d be remiss, however, to allot this praise without also noting that this often ambitious, occasionally genre-bending experimentation does not come without missteps and growing pains. Stark transitions in story and gameplay can be jarring to some, and a hard stomp on the brakes of momentum to others. For me, that change of pace flung my ass clean outta the windshield and onto the pavement. So keep in mind a proverbial seat belt and open mind is imperative for getting the most out of your experience.
In conclusion, if you’re sick of beating your head against the wall when it comes to the world of funny little rectangles with words and drawings, look no further than Inscryption. By the umpteenth hour of charging headlong into a new run, things will be so quietly and efficiently cemented in your mind that you’ll forget you ever had to learn it. It just comes to you. A far cry from the seemingly endless research and rulebook scrubbing of other contemporary card games.
Inscryption might be for you if:
- You want all the pleasures of the TCG experience without any nerd-ass academia
- You’re into roguelikes
- Harbor a deep-seeded sadism for small rodents
It might not be for you if:
- You get off on doing homework
- Are expecting linear, traditional narrative & gameplay
- Do not harbor a deep-seeded sadism for small rodents
You can get Inscryption on PC, PlayStation 4 & 5, or Nintendo Switch.