In the margins of medieval manuscripts, a tiny war rages on. Inkulinati places players in the hands of a scribe who is able to control their drawings through the use of living ink. Command various animals, creatures and beasts across the page in turn-based combat through the use of tiny self-portraits known as the Inkulinati while amassing fortune and fame.
Undoubtedly the most alluring aspect of the game is the beautiful adaptation of ancient manuscripts, complete with the odd yet charming marginal illustrations. There is quite the menagerie of animals and oddities to add to your ranks over the course of a match, sporting their own armory of weapons and abilities to boot. Spear-wielding foxes, rabbit archers, feline bishops and even men-devouring snails etch the page as you bring them to life to fight in your name. I enjoyed being able to mix and match not only my arsenal, but divulging in the humor of pairing up a bow-toting bunny with a donkey playing a trumpet from his rear. It’s crass and profane, which is perfect for mimicking the comedic stylings of medieval marginalia.
Currently there are three modes to take part in, those being the Academy, Duels and the single-player Journey. The Academy is a tutorial section that teaches you basic to intermediate strategy, and is a good starting point even for those familiar with turn-based strategy games. Duels is a custom battle mode that allows you to practice against the AI, with everything unlocked to play around with including map options and other combat toggles. It is here you can also engage in local multiplayer if you wish to cross pens with your pals.
Most of your time is likely to be spent within the Journey mode, Inkulinati’s version of a single player campaign. After selecting a difficulty, players will choose their Inkulinati master and their starting army to lead their inky inquisition. Each Journey is semi-randomized, and encounters are selected via a map that culminates into a boss battle against an Inkulinati Master. I always enjoy when games such as these give me the opportunity to influence my adventure, being able to choose to fight elite enemies or visit shop encounters as I please.
Combat takes place in turns, meaning that after you decide on a movement or action the enemy will have an opportunity to respond. The main fighting is done through the use of small drawings brought to life by a resource called Living Ink, and creatures will cost various amounts of ink based typically on their strength. Most attacks also feature a dexterity meter, which is a small mini-game where you try to stop a needle on a high number to increase the damage dealt. This mostly served to keep me engaged with every attack, which I found to be a mildly amusing inclusion even if rather simple.
The Inkulinati itself however differs slightly, being able to take multiple actions on the same turn referred to as “hand actions.” These actions allow you to manipulate the battlefield by moving drawings around, generating new drawings, applying buffs/debuffs or in some circumstances, attacking enemy drawings directly. A lot of strategy is required when choosing these actions, and with practice can turn what would appear to be a losing battle into your favor.
One of the more unique aspects of battle is the Boredom system, which adds a temporary cost to units after they are used in battle. This means that if I were to use my rabbit archer three times in one fight, their boredom would increase by that much, increasing their cost in the next battle from five ink to eight. Refraining from using said unit will slowly deplete boredom, as well as engaging in battles without your Inkulinati present. This system incentivises widening your army and using various beasts to your bidding, but can be a bit brutal in the early game. If you only have a few drawings to your name, the boredom can rack up quickly, but this issue eases out once you get your roster going.
With charming visuals harking back to 700-year-old manuscript illustrations, Inkulinati is just as much eye candy as it is a fun turn-based strategy game. Carefully planning out my attacks and constructing an army of strange and humorous creatures is rewarding, and keeps me looking forward to my next sketch-based scuffle as the game develops further.
Inkulinati releases in early access on January 31, 2023.