I have a huge soft spot for digital card games of pretty much any variety, as is evidenced by the fact that they come up in about every third review I write here. So trust me when I tell you that the latest entry to the genre, “Inscryption,” is really, really special.

“Inscryption” is a pretty simple card battling game, but around its shadowy, pixelated edges, it has much more going on.

In “Inscryption,” you’re dropped into a dark and shadowy cabin. Your captor is cloaked in darkness with just his eyes cutting through the gloom, and he wants to play a card game. It’s a simple, but sinister-feeling game where you play creatures by sacrificing weaker ones in order to kill your opponent’s creatures and damage them. In your deck is a Stoat card, which unlike every other card, can talk to you. It warns you about what you’re getting into, a first tantalizing hint that there’s something more going on with the game.

As the game progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that something’s not quite right with the world around you—and not just for the creepy card-playing captor. You’re invited to get up and explore the cabin—only to find that the front door is locked tight—and when you inevitably lose your first play-through, you’ll be met with an untimely end and be served up with another shot to beat the captor.

It has a level of intentionality that’s absent in many other games. Every scene and interaction that the game presents feels lovingly crafted to evoke a sense of uneasiness with the setting—which would make plenty of sense given your character’s predicament. There’s masterful lighting that seems to cast everything—including your captor/opponent—in inky black shadows. The sounds are as if everything is coming from an old-school synthesizer for an extra eerie effect and careful framing of the camera in each scene helps add to the mystery and feeling that there’s something out of reach.

The low-fi old-school feeling of the whole game has this found-footage aesthetic, akin to movies like “The Blair Witch Project.” It’s as if the entirety of the game, from the card game and setting to the bounds of the videogame itself, are a mystery.

There is just something so delightful about playing a game like this. It draws you in and invites you to stick around and discover where everything is going. Outside of the games, the captor allows you to get up and walk around one of the cabin’s two rooms. There’s a cuckoo clock, stacks of figurines, a carved squirrel statute holding a knife, a safe and many other odds and ends to poke around in. Some might provide you with extra cards, while others might answer questions or raise new ones.

Of course, at the core of this game is still a relatively simplistic card battling game where you manage your side of the board by sacrificing lesser creatures—mostly squirrels—to play more powerful creatures against your opponent in a race to quite literally tip the scales. It’s a far cry from the more sophisticated card battlers that I’ve written about already—“Slay the Spire” and “Monster Train” (which just got an excellent release on Switch) are my favorites, in case you were wondering—but the simplicity also helps you master the game faster.

With comparatively fewer cards and upgrades along the way, it makes it more inviting to dig into powerful combos that can help you defeat your opponent in the first turn, but also more accessible to newcomers to the genre.

In each run through of the game, you’ll be making decisions about what kind of upgrades and challenges you’ll face along the way — which is represented in a treasure map-style map that the captor unfurls across the table. It’s as if the captor is playing the role of dungeon master in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, telling a story of walking through some mysterious woods. And along the way, you’ll run into special bosses where the captor may don a wooden mask — the first one you run into is the prospector — that add additional theming to both the board and the game.

Like the shadows that veil your opponent, there’s also a lot more below the surface here than is first suggested. If you’re already sold on the game and are interested in trying it out, I’d suggest stopping right here before I even begin to hint at any spoilers. Also, there’s a free demo available.

Ok. Still around? So, talking about it in the lightest of terms, after besting your mysterious opponent the framework of the game … opens up in a lot of really interesting directions adding on new layers of gameplay with some interesting twists. I’m still not certain whether those layers are more compelling than the everything I talked about above, but it comes with a similar feeling of intention and creativity that makes it so great. I’m not sure that “Inscryption” will replace my go-to card battling games that have consumed so many lazy afternoons and flights, but it’s a truly special game that blends the card battling into a greater, meaningful and engaging story in a way that no other game in this genre has done. For that reason, it stands out as a unique and masterful addition to my favorite genre of games.

Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at matt.a.buxton@gmail.com.

Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at matt.a.buxton@gmail.com.

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