developers: Daniel Mullins Games
Editors: Return Digital
platforms: personal computer
It’s rare for a game to grab your attention from the start menu, but then again, Incryption is a weird game in many ways. Fire up Incryption for the first time, and after sitting through a fake loading screen, your right index finger will briefly twitch as you unsuccessfully tap the “New Game” button.
That’s because there are no new games in Incryption. Only the game remains. The one of the bones and the blood and the ritual sacrifice. The one who played against the blinking eyes and withered hands that impatiently pound the table and sometimes do… other things. Instead, he should press continue, because he’s already been playing for a while and continuing is all he can do. The alternatives do not bear thinking.
Let’s continue then. You sit on a stool in a shack in a secluded spot, a fan of cards clutched in your trembling hand. Each card represents a forest animal. Across the table is a figure cloaked in shadow, speaking with a soul-shaking hum, like Lucifer’s refrigerator. Between you there is a board on which cards are played. The guests always start their turn, so you can play squirrel. The squirrel is good for nothing, except as an offering for your next card. Sacrifice the squirrel and use the blood to make a stoat. The stoat will talk to you, it will tell you to play along. Listen to the stoat.
You have no more moves, so ring the bell. The turn will be resolved and the game will return to you. For this new turn you can draw a card, either from your hand or from a deck of squirrels. Draw a squirrel and put it on the board. Now sacrifice the squirrel and stoat (which will protest) and use the two blood tokens you receive to play the wolf.
Resolve the turn again. The Wolf will attack either an animal played in front of it, or if there is no animal, directly at your opponent, dealing damage. Damage is counted on a series of scales, which will rebalance as damage is traded. Deal enough damage to your opponent above your own damage level, and you win and can progress. If you lose, well, let’s not dwell on what happens if you lose. You will know in due time.
What is that a lot to take in? That’s ok. Feel free to take a break. Yes, you can get up from the table, as long as you’re not in the middle of a match. Stretch your legs, take a look at the cockpit. Admire the crispy pixels of the many objects in the room. Play with the safe in the corner. Move the cuckoo clock hands behind you. Flip through the rulebook to better learn the cards in your hand. Didn’t the stoat say something about the rule book? That I could somehow help you escape from this room?
Why don’t you sit down again while you think about it? Move your figure to the next point on the map. You might get a chance to get some new cards, like the ant, whose damage stacks for each ant you have in play, or the viper, whose venomous bite will instantly kill any animal in front of it. Or you might find some much-needed supplies that give you some unique equipment, like squirrels in a bottle that you can add to your hand at any time, or a pair of scissors that you can use to cut up one of your opponent’s cards. .
Beat enough battles and your opponent will reveal one of their myriad personalities. These special encounters will have you up against enemies like the Prospector, who can turn your cards into useless chunks of gold. Getting through these battles will test your deck handling skills to the limit. But you should feel good about your progress. Few go that far.
Victory in these encounters can taste sweet. But the taste is fleeting. We’re not done yet, not even close. There is much more for you to discover. Perhaps you prefer to build your army from bones, an alternative type of resource that increases each time one of your animals dies. Or perhaps you make use of the stone altars found in the desert, sacrificing one animal to give its power to another. Or maybe you become a fur dealer, gathering these inert cards from the trapper and facing your opponent with a deck full of useless furs until you can sell them to the dealer for extra powerful cards.
Down and down goes the rabbit hole, stretching from the dash to the cabin itself. The two are inextricably linked, you see. The board will lead you to clues in the world, which will lead you to more powerful cards, which will lead you back to the board. With each new clue, your power increases, to the point where you can create unstoppable cards that are about to break the game. In fact, if there’s an oversight on your opponent’s part, it’s that they put too much potential power into your hand, the game slips away from them once you get past a certain point.
But you don’t care too much, do you? Admit it, you like it here. You like those blinking eyes across the table. You like the terrible atmosphere, the palpable threat of consequences if you lose. You like the feel of blood and bone slipping through your fingertips, the cards chattering and arguing and complaining as you play them. You will find it exciting, maybe even a little funny. Your hands are not shaking with fear, but with excitement.
So why don’t you pull up your stool and have another round of this twisted little game? Enjoy its dark tones and delve into its deep and ever-changing decks. I’ll be there with you, lurking in the dark. After all, there is nothing like it.