Inkulinati Review – When Dogs Had Swords

Inkulinati Review

Medieval art is beautiful. It’s also as weird as any meme you’d find on the internet today. Just look at antique depictions of human babies and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Inkulinati is an entire game based on that idea. Inkulinati introduces a world where medieval monks doodling in the margins becomes an epic struggle for life and death. And you know what? You’ll manage to play a pretty fun strategy game on the way.

On the Margins

Maybe it’s because I just played Pentiment, but I am so in the pocket for stories about Medieval illuminators. Pentiment made me cry; Inkulinati is a little bit more tongue in cheek. Instead of deciding what hidden symbolism should be in your art, you will be figuring out which weird animal is most likely to bring your opponent to heel. You paint them onto the battlefield (which basically amounts to a roguelike deckbuilder), and watch them tear their different colored counterparts to shreds.

You ever seen the weird animals in the margins of medieval manuscripts? They’re filled with doodles of strange creatures, surreal snails and fish and rabbits. All of this is done in a faux medieval style. All the images are made of geometric cels, like on a stained glass window, and given a vibrant color to make them pop. The challenges you face are all on yellowed parchment paper, and every move made is narrated in flowing cursive that fills the page. This is a game that literally wants you to get lost in a book.

I’m frontloading all this graphics talk because that’s a big part of the appeal of Inkulinati. How many roguelike deck builders are there on steam? Like a bajillion. I have played them all. And not a one of them looks like this. That’s clearly by design, and if I didn’t like watching cute critters beat the ink out of each other, I probably wouldn’t have been so deeply drawn in.

Between the Lines

That’s all nice, but you probably want to know what you do in Inkulinati. You are a master of the secret art of bringing ink to life, secretly battling the other Inkulinati in the pages of books. You do this through a unique turn based strategy battler. There are shades of deckbuilders, like Slay the Spire, but there are enough rules, enough strange particularities, that I’m willing to call it one of a kind. Your roster of creatures is relatively small, and you don’t have to randomly draw them. Your force on the battlefield can be made of any of your militant menagerie.

The challenge comes in the position. Inkulinati is more a game of where you are in the arena of combat than a game of killer combos. Some of the levels feel like something out of (the original) Donkey Kong. The bunny archers and dog spearmean will have to make their way across a 2D space, but there are often ladders that can change their elevation. In fact, you can block access to ladders with your guys, and be blocked in turn. And your Inklumanatus is represented in the battle, and has some disruptive moves of their own.

There’s also the apocalypse. I don’t know what to make of this ludonarratively, but after a while you will go into a kind of sudden death. This can manifest as a number of new environmental challenges, from fire to storms. I found that the apocalypse was often just what I needed to wind back the clock and get back in the game. Once the novelty of the graphics has worn off, that careful attention to balance is what will keep you going.

Historical Documents

I didn’t know if I would recommend Inkulinati when I was first playing it. But it grew on me. You will quickly see a lot of what the game has to offer. There aren’t that many things to unlock. There’s not really a campaign. You can do a one on one battle or a roguelike tower a la classic arcade fighting games. You will see all that the game has to offer pretty quickly.

But I wasn’t counting on how strong the actual strategy game is. This is the first release from Yaza Games, but they seem like a team with some fresh ideas and the vision to implement them. Daedalic Entertainment publishes a lot of novel strategy titles that fail to hold your attention for long. Inkulinati earns its place in your library with its depth.

***PC code provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Deep strategic combat
  • Medieval art style
  • Balanced units

The Bad

  • Won’t take you long
  • More depth, less breadth