One game that has grabbed my attention every time I’ve seen it during a games showcase is Inkulinati. It features hand-drawn ye-old illustrations of creatures and characters that do battle across a piece of parchment. The inspiration comes from 700-year-old real-life medieval marginalia, but this game features 2020 battle mechanics. It’s a turn-based strategy game, but also reminded me heavily of card games like Magic the Gathering, but it’s the humour and style that make this game stand out from the competition. 

The battle takes place across a piece of parchment, sometimes in a direct line, other times there are stairs leading to vantage points above. Whatever it is, it is hand-drawn. As you play out the battle the parchment shall also be inked with words telling of every move and action as if you’re playing out the scripture of some famous battle between sworn nemesis.

The goal is to deplete the health points of your opponent’s character which will most likely be hidden behind units like you protect your King in a game of chess. 

After five turns (on normal difficulty) a fire will begin moving in from both sides of the parchment causing both players to need to move their characters inwards and leading to a fast finish.

See that vine? No, thats a fire! Run!

See that vine? No, thats a fire! Run!

At the start of a battle, you’ll have a certain amount of ink points to spend and you’ll be able to use those to initiate special attacks and actions, or, as is more likely on your first turn, draw a character. This will cost a certain amount of ink and there’s a handful of choices for you to pick from that’ll only grow as you continue to play the game.

In the demo, you start with a basic swordsman, spearsman, archer and a donkey as the main options. The swordsman can deal the most damage but has less range, whereas the archer obviously has more range but will deal less damage. 

You can perform one action with each of your characters during your turn as long as they weren’t drawn into existence that turn.

Each round is actually called a ‘chapter’ in the game. It was just easier to write rounds, I’m sorry

Each round is actually called a ‘chapter’ in the game. It was just easier to write rounds, I’m sorry

The donkey I mentioned earlier is a great example of the kind of game Inkulinati is: deep mechanically, with a great lot of humour. That donkey can stick its trumpet up its bum to paralyse enemies — because of course, it can. And why not, it works. 

Playing on normal difficulty I found myself losing the first couple of battles in a row. I was trying to play defensively for a few rounds before going in for the attack but it doesn’t work so well when a fire spawns in round five and forces you to play aggressively or burn up in flames.

There’s a full motion video to kick-off the battle and I hope the full game features many of these

There’s a full motion video to kick-off the battle and I hope the full game features many of these

There’s a lot more choice and tactic involved than you may notice at first. For instance, choosing when to save ink or spend it on moves like the archers triple shot could make or break a round. You also have the placement of your units. There are ink blots on the parchment that award the player standing on them at the start of a round extra ink, but often standing on a splot meant leaving that character open for an attack.

In the full game, it seems you’ll progress through a campaign unlocking different units and special moves your characters hand can perform. These moves can get your units on the battlefield out of danger by physically moving them across the parchment, or you can thump the parchment right on top of an enemy for some easy damage. Of course, there’s an ink cost and each move will go on several round cooldowns after use.

After spending nearly an hour with the Inkulinati demo I was hooked. Each time I lost I wanted to reload straight back in and I can already see myself getting stuck into trying different loadouts of special moves and units. It’s a truly creative game with a really unique and wonderful art style, paired with a great sense of humour Inkulinati is doing all the right things to stand out. 

If you want to check out Inkulinati, there is currently a demo available via Steam as part of PAX Online.