Inscryption Brings Outright Horror to the Deckbuilder Table

In mid-June, I, like many of you, was glued to my couch watching E3 coverage. I was soaking in the sights and sounds of the games that I would be writing about for the next year and then some. One trailer really caught my eye: Inscryption. A dark and dreary deckbuilder from Daniel Mullins, the creator of The Hex and Pony Island. I dig his work. I dig it hard. I reached out to Mullins and hoped against hope that he would let me into the grace of Inscryption’s closed beta. He’s a super nice guy, and let me in. Props to you Daniel, now I’m going to write words about your game!

Inscryption will feel instantly familiar to fans of recent deckbuilders like Blood Card, Slay the Spire, or Night of the Full Moon. It’s comforting settling in to play a game of cards. Inscryption is different in the sense that you’re not slaying a spire or trying to fight off death. You’re actually in a quiet cabin on a stormy night. Your opponent is cloaked in shadows; their eyes the only part of them visible. This is far from a friendly card game, even though your host wants you to think it is. I say that it’s similar to other deckbuilders and it is in a sense. You have a deck of cards, and playing them does damage to the other cards.

If there are no cards to damage, you’ll knock the teeth out of your opponent with a sickly crack. Oh, did I not mention that? In Inscryption, the goal is to collect enough of your opponent’s teeth to tip the scales sitting on the edge of the table. If their side of the scales hits the bottom, you’ve won. You’ll continue on to your next opponent, who is also your first opponent, and all subsequent opponents. It’s all the one person. They’re using phony accents or wearing goofy masks, but it’s always them. You’re the only two in the cabin, after all.

The game board plays out pretty simply. There is a piece you move to different areas. The areas can contain combats, shrines, items, powerups, etc. As the game is still in closed beta I can’t and won’t really get into the different areas that you can visit on the map. The battles are the main attraction, with your not-so-gracious host putting on their accents and showing up to do violence. The learning curve is steep. I found myself getting thrashed pretty handily. In a game like Slay the Spire, I could save back potions for difficult sections and I never really thought about them. In Inscryption, I realized that the items you can receive are for the most part not rare, and they should be used for combat.

One of the items that I’m pretty sure I can talk about is a pair of pliers. That’s right, in a game where you have to tip the scales with teeth, what better way to get the balance in your favor than to forcefully remove one of your own teeth and put it on the other player’s side of the scale? The screen goes red and there is an audible crunch as you remove your tooth. Anything to get that little bit of an edge. The card battles in Inscryption go down like a junkyard dog fight. It’s underhanded, messy, and bloody. You need to get the edge wherever you can. It ratchets up the tension of the battles to a wire-tight pitch when you know that losing means…

Well, what does losing mean? The host of the house murders you. It’s not implied, it’s not hinted at, they tell you. They are going to kill you. Before you die, you’re allowed to pick the attributes one-by-one from the cards you may have accumulated during your run. After picking the attributes, the host will take a photo of you before killing you. This picture and the attributes you picked will go on a death card, which you’ll also name. It will be added to the pool of cards that can be found on subsequent runs.

Inscryption has so much more going on that I want to talk about, but I refuse to ruin it for you. If you like deckbuilders, you’re gonna absolutely love this game. You can wishlist it here.