It is the last day of the RPS advent calendar. That’s it. It all led to this door, a wooden cabin door that is a bit difficult to open. Wait, when did you put a pair of pliers in your pocket?
Our game of the year 2021 is Inscryption. Of course it is.
Alice Bee: When we look back at some of our other games of the year, it’s not really surprising that Inscryption hit the top spot on the calendar this year. It is very US Type of game: weird, gloomy, interesting, innovative. A deck building game that is both a great example of the genre and a subversion of it. A puzzle game that does strange, unsettling things. A story game that breaks the fourth wall. A lonely cabin with a stranger who challenges you to play a game against him. But where are you? How did you come here? Why is that one card talking to you?
I’m still not very good at inscryption. I’m generally not that good at card fighters because I’m too impulsive to play strategically to come up with plans that will pay off well in the future. All of my RPG character builds are based on how much damage they deal out. But the Inscryption card game is really only a small part of it, and it’s surprisingly forgiving. There are weird and terrible ways to win that aren’t related to gaming. And of course losing is also part of it. Uncomfortable, but somehow necessary to experience.
If you’ve played Daniel Mullins’ previous games (Pony Island and The Hex), you’re a little better prepared for Inscryption but still don’t know what to expect. Because sometimes you have to look up from the game on the table in front of you. And that can be Yes, really terrible.
Encryption provides that sense of presence, of actually play Maps that you will find hard to find elsewhere.
Alice0: I think I would be perfectly happy if Inscryption was smaller and focused on the first section. I could even be happier. While the twists and turns and the growth are nice, the opening is so strong that the rest feels anti-climatic and starts to pull. As good as Inscryption is, I think I would remember it better if the opening section was a little longer than the credits. It’s good mind.
Ed: Encryption is something special. As someone who often lacks patience for numbers on cardboard rectangles, this is the only card game that has captivated me, and for one simple reason. Namely: because it feels really good to play. Not so much the rules – although they are still quick and snappy and good – but more in a physical sense. You’re forced to play a card game in a dark booth against your will, which is a creepy premise, but it’s your relationship with these cards that brings the troubled atmosphere to life. Some cards ask for your help while you crush others in abominations. Sacrifices have to be made, mate, sorry. And sometimes you have to get up from your table to get things for your crazy master / enemy.
Encryption provides that sense of presence, of actually play Maps that you will find hard to find elsewhere. And where would you rather be in this festive season than in the company of murderous eyes and bulky hands?
Imogen: Encryption has many layers. The first is a nice card coating and there is a creepy escape room underneath. This is all you really should know before playing it because as you go deeper the game opens up to something completely new. And while these things are all very funny on the surface, it’s the little inconsistencies and creepy snippets in these layers that intrigued me most – a glass of ominous smear, an oddly placed binary code, comments from your kidnapper that even hint at you are confused about part of this situation.
This is exactly why I insisted on having a notepad next to me all the time while playing. I followed the weird, those tiny details that I was sure would pop up somewhere and explain something. After I finished the game, I was left with a page of notes that didn’t really mean much, and only a few of my clues helped in the end. I’ve played it again since then, looking for more in-game answers and found a few spots that I missed, but certainly not all. But that’s so fascinating. For the first time in a while I don’t feel compelled to google what I’ve missed, I want to find secret things myself! Are there still secrets? The ignorance only makes it more exciting.
Catherine: When I first played Inscryption as part of the Steam Next Fest Demo Bonanza in October, I knew it was something special. In a way, this wasn’t entirely surprising to me as developer Daniel Mullins’ two previous games, Pony Island and The Hex, were also close to me. But as Alice Bee mentioned above, even that affinity for anything Mullins-related didn’t really prepare me for how deep Inscryption goes into the rabbit hole of the meta-narrative, and I truly loved every second of it.
2021 was an unusual year for games. With many of the big blockbusters either falling short of expectations or slipping into next year due to further delays caused by the pandemic, the feeling of constantly being surprised and enthusiastic about what I’m playing was in short supply this year. In a way, it’s been a great year for indies to be the center of attention, but even some of my favorites from that year like Chicory: A Colorful Tale, Elec Head, Ynglet, Mini Motorways, Narita Boy, and Olija (which unfortunately fail it’s not on the Advent calendar this year, but they’re all great and definitely worth tracking down), all falling into the same familiar, semi-predictable patterns drilled into us by their respective genres. I would still fight for each and every one of them, but Inscryption was the one that made my heart beat a little bit faster, the one I really didn’t know what was going to happen next, and the one that kept my brain busy rent-free, too when I’ve been away from my PC for a day. That is exactly what I want from my Game of the Year, and Inscryption has it in abundance.
The card game itself may seem too easy to die-hard deck builders and CC fans, but the way it builds on its own meta as the game progresses, twisting and undermining its own rules as you peel off the layers, is one of the greatest feats. It’s not just the story that keeps you going, but the card game that teaches you and then tests you with such a nifty pocket-player design that you could almost swear it’s a bit magical. Actually delete that. It is Magic for me and a really worthy winner of our GOTY 2021.
Hayden: Like the others, I knew early on that Inscryption was a special game. The spooky atmosphere and ever-growing mystery of what the hell is going on and why this card is talking to you creates an intriguing and spooky premise in the best way possible. For all the tension and horror, however, Inscryption is one hell of a brilliant CCG.
The strength of any CCG is its ability to discover synergies between cards. As you open packs (or find them hidden in a somber shack), you’ll see strategies creeping into your deck. After a short while you will find that you can make infinite sacrifices and play these Urayuli to really destroy your opponent when you combine the squirrel cards with this totem. Finding these powerful combinations is what really makes a good CCG, and Inscryption delivers in spades.
However, strategies never last long in encryption. As Katharine mentions, there are many quick rule changes or meta-shifts that will crush your deck and force you to adapt during a battle. It’s tough so you’ll lose a lot before fighting your way to the bloody end. In fact, changing the rules and giving bosses an edge may seem completely unfair. Well, it’s unfair and Leshy is a bloodthirsty, merciless monster who wants to win. By undermining expectations and actively bending the rules to make the game more difficult, Inscryption’s CCG continues to evolve along with its narrative to create an anti-genre synergy that I adored.