Inkulinati is one of those games that I didn’t know I wanted until I laid eyes on it. Seriously, if you’d told me that a strategy game based on the margin drawings in medieval literature would look so fun to play, I’m not sure I would have been able to process what you were saying, much less pictured it. I got the chance to see Inkulinati thanks to Daedalic Entertainment, and I can safely say this art design really works.
Originally funded on Kickstarter, the game comes from Polish indie studio Yaza Games, and it’s set to launch on Steam sometime in 2021. The odd title refers to a group of people who battle it out with each other via Living Ink creatures drawn on the margins of medieval literature. If you’ve ever seen those strange medieval drawings of upright horses or dogs wearing clothes, the characters in the game look just like that.
These old doodles — known as “marginalia,” I learned from the game’s creators — include some very strange creatures, all of which will now be able to battle each other. Dogs carrying lances, bunnies carrying swords and shields bigger than they are, donkeys with trumpets very fittingly lodged up their asses… I’m told all of these things have some basis in historical marginalia found in 700-year-old manuscripts.
Inkulinati gameplay is your typical turn-based strategy, in which squads of around four-to-seven characters duke it out on opposing pages and the goal can often be to knock the other players off the book. It looks a bit like Darkest Dungeon, only not quite so… Darkest Dungeon. Players will seemingly be able to use battlefield obstacles to their advantage, collect on-page ink blots in order to create more fighters or power up their existing ones, and face environmental hazards like fire and water.
The game will have both a single-player campaign and a multiplayer component. You can customize your squad based on the map (or I suppose I should say page) you’ll be fighting on and what kind of fighters you’ll be facing.
While the gameplay strategy looks serious, the animations more than make up for it. The little ink drawings attack each other in the silliest ways. A rabbit showing its butt to an opponent is a legitimate attack — just let that sink in for a moment. Snails can spit acid and eat humans. Some of them aren’t even real animals: One of the fighters is an arm-snake with little legs wielding various weapons and I can’t come up with a better description than that. Yaza Games plan to have around 50 beasts in the final game, and several are still in development.
The Inkulinati you play as — meaning the person who is drawing the Living Ink creatures to life in-game — can also interfere with their opponents directly, by smashing their hands down on the other drawings. The single-player campaign casts the player as a fledgling Inkulinati building their own army of Ink creatures, and the player will be able to customize their own Ink avatar. Some of the opponents you’ll face include Death and Dante Alighieri.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the ink drawings is that there are real drawings showing them battling each other. You can see some in the trailer. A rep from Yaza Games told me they even presented their drawn beasts to experts in historical marginalia, who were surprised but happy to see the real-life drawings represented so accurately — though one hopes they mean that in the static sense and not in the “beating each other off of the pages of the book” sense.
Yaza Games explained that they did have to leave out some of the weirder, more inappropriate things they found in the margins of manuscripts, in the interest of keeping the game’s absurd internal consistency. And it works — whatever else you can say about the subject matter, it’s just funny to watch a rabbit attack an opponent on the opposite page by showing its butt to them.
The gameplay of Inkulinati looks typical of any turn-based strategy game, but the artwork and characters are what distinguish it, as you’ve probably guessed just by looking at it. This is a game that will live and die based on its visual charm and humor, and we’ll have to see if the game is as delightful in action as it looks.