On the surface, Inscryption is just like any other deck builder. But there’s a lot more going on in this game than meets the eye.  What starts as a creepy card game turns into an intense, horror-driven game that leaves you wondering at the end, “What just happened?”

This review will be spoiler-free, as there are parts of the story you need to experience. But I can say that this experience isn’t like anything else I’ve ever played. You’re dropped right into the game without much explanation. You find yourself trapped in a cabin, playing a card game against a stranger masked by darkness, and only his eyes shine through. After a brief introduction to how the card game works, you play a few rounds. The game is pretty straightforward. Different creatures make up your hand. Some are sacrifice cards, meaning you play them to be killed by your other cards. And some are more powerful cards. Cards that do damage will have a blood cost or a bone cost on them, meaning that you will need to sacrifice as many creatures as the blood or bone cost indicates. 

Strategy is a big part of the game, as you learn that the playing field is a bit like a chess board. Certain animals you play with can do more damage than others, and some have special attacks that you use to your advantage. You win a round by dealing a certain amount of damage to your opponent. Enemy cards and obstacles will block the damage your cards deal. The damage dealt is depicted by teeth on a scale. If the scale tips in your favor, you win. If not, well, we’ll get to that in a bit.

If you read that last paragraph and had to do a doubletake, you’re not alone. The point system is indeed teeth, and what’s even more bizarre is that you can pull out a tooth to offset the scales. When you do, the screen shakes, and you hear crunching sounds while the antagonist tells you he’s surprised you went that far. And honestly, that’s mild compared to how dark this game gets. Then, the game starts unveiling some of the mysteries as the cards talk to you, giving clues on how to beat your opponent and where and how to get additional cards. At one point, the stranger suggests walking around the room and exploring. This is where you’ll find opportunities to acquire other cards to add to your deck by unlocking puzzles from clues that the cards give you.

If you’re defeated twice during a game, the stranger reaches out from the shadows, grabs you, and throws you into a room. He takes a picture of you before he kills you and turns you into a card that can be used in your next game session. This is an interesting way to build your deck, as you control the attributes added to the card. You can even name the card. 

After you beat the boss, the story takes a twist. You unlock several different video clips and discover the real story around Inscryption. As I stated, I won’t go into spoilers, but the next section that follows is more of a top-down, RPG style card game. It’s a game within a game. You’ll unlock more video clips as you go along and start to see the real charm of the game, the horror story that lies under the gameplay. 

If I had one complaint, it would be that the pacing could have been a bit faster. I died a lot, and starting over was frustrating. Making a mistake is costly, but it plays into the overall intense feel of the game