Inkulinati is imaginative, playful and strategic as it builds on colorful ancient memes to provide a strategy puzzler that has the most artistic vibe of any game we’ve seen in awhile. While the art isn’t uniquely rendered, gorgeously deep or unique in any way beyond its ability to
While in early access, Inkulinati has impressed us since launch with how beautiful the art is brought to life and the artistic style of how the game plays out. There’s a lot to like here and the early access game is on PC Game Pass (as of this early review) so definitely worth a look there if anything in this review interests you.
This review is of the early access version, update 3 (late August 2023).
Art to Life
The fun of the game is the art style. The characters are all drawn beautifully with rich color and really respect the roots of the marginalia. Doodles, scribbles and notes in the margins of books. Medieval marginalia often includes all kinds of silly doodles within the margins of medieval books. Often including animals fighting, lots of jokes and other silly type of humor.
Inkulinati takes that and brings it to life in a puzzle/strategy game mix that comes together very nicely. You have a book canvas, units that you can place on the canvas and a mixture of ways to defeat enemies ranging from direct assaults to pushing them off a ledge.
It’s really not all that simple, though. It’s surprisingly deep and original. Later in the game different positions for instance have a specific environmental hazard on the board. You’ll also need to do a lot of reading on each of the units, especially later on to find what they’re capable of.
You’re engaged in fictional paper battle with another hand who also draws units on the map and takes their turn. It’s compelling and fun and provides a sense that you’re really teeing off against someone else, even if it’s the AI.
The game is similar, it’s a turn-based strategy game, but wew is it unique as well. You’re fighting within the margins of a book. You’ve got limited places to put units on maps, especially early on. You’re managing your ink, your units, where they’re positioned, your hand and then attacks / pushes.
There’s a ton of units that all have general analogies to common ones like mages, healers, fighters, etc. There’s a lot of environmental effects and you’re also dealing with an enemy who has the same hand powers as you which you have to account for.
There’s duels and journey mode. You can setup custom fights if you’re not happy with the campaign and the campaign really lets you open up and customize your unit mix as you go through.
Very Polished for Early Access
Inkulinati has been out on Early Access for a while as of this early access review. From its launched, which I experience, to its third update which is out now, it has evolved greatly and gained a lot of polish.
The first update really did a great job of polishing up the balance and adjusting HP and abilities to be more consistent (and fair). The second update provided more QoL updates and lots of new content. The most recent update (as of this early access review) featured a lot of new creatures and content for the game.
That gives me a lot of hope that Yaza will continue to develop and pour a lot of love into this really neat game.
A few issues with the game. While they do add more characters and more variety only serves to make the game more complicated, you can find yourself drawing the same donkeys over and over again. That can be a bit fatiguing after a while.
There’s a lot of unfair feeling situations that can arise in the game when it comes to pushing. You can slide the enemy out of the game rather quickly and they can do the same to you if you’re not careful with your formations. I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing but it could be a bit annoying.
Inkulinati is one of 2023’s most unique, charming, artistic games and one of the best strategy games of the year so far and it hasn’t even released yet. If you’re into turn based strategy, give Inkulinati a look, even in Early Access it’s a well-polished masterpiece that’s going to enshrine itself in top lists for decades to come.
It’s nice too that the story is more or less two people drawing giggling to each other. That really comes through in the game.
Quick Note: A review key was provided for this game, but this review was based off of the Xbox PC Game Pass version.