Inkulinati illustrates something that medievalists have known for a while: old manuscripts are really, really weird. While it’s tempting to think of monastic scribes as stolid, studious clergymen, they actually filled their tomes with illustrations of dogs with shields, rabbits riding snails and weaponized flatus, among other things. Inkulinati is an ambitiously illustrated strategy game that brings this medieval marginalia to life in a gorgeous and imaginative package.
I saw Inkulinati’s dev team, Yaza Games, show off the title during a digital press conference on March 18. While Yaza has shown off bits and pieces of Inkulinati ever since the game’s pre-alpha back in 2018, it’s now nearing completion, and will launch on Steam later this year. A console release should follow in 2022.
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The best way to get a feel for Inkulinati is to watch one of the game’s trailers, as it will show you the hand-drawn art style, the turn-based strategy gameplay and the offbeat sense of humor. If you’ve ever wanted to lead a team of rabbits with swords, dogs with bows and donkeys with bagpipes, this is, at long last, the game you’ve been waiting for.
Here’s the basic setup: You take control of a Master of the Living Ink, who can control the artwork on the page of a medieval manuscript. At the other end of the book is another Master, protected by his or her own army of illustrations. The two of you do battle, using your animals’ skills, in addition to your own ability to manipulate the structure of the page. You can push enemies right out of a manuscript, call for intervention from a outside the book, or even pray directly to God for inspiration. (Remember: Most medieval manuscripts were explicitly religious in nature.)
Players will have two options for playing Inkulinati. The campaign mode pits you against increasingly difficult opponents in a series of standalone maps. You’ll follow a narrative along the way. Alternatively, you can challenge other players in one-on-one battles. There’s no co-op mode, since Yaza wanted the game to feel a little more adversarial.
Wojciech Janas, a game designer at Yaza, explained that they want the title to appeal to both strategy gamers and medievalists. (This is not as large a gap as you might think; Assassin’s Creed and Age of Empires have both pulled off similar tricks.) In fact, Yaza has been working with a Polish medievalist, Łukasz Kozak, in order to make sure that they get both the art style and gameplay conventions correct.
“He’s [consulting about] everything we put in the game,” said Janas. “When we have something new, we show it to him … [he tells us] if we are good, in a sense of mechanics, if it fits the meaning of the marginalia.
“At the beginning, we had to change a lot after the meetings,” Janas continued. “From the last meeting, everything was good.”
Janas also explained that the game will star some of our favorite medieval figures, including Hildegard of Bingen, St. Francis of Assisi and Dante Alighieri.
While Inkulinati seems like a niche game, it’s a niche that’s been waiting patiently for something exactly like this to come along. Tom’s Guide will check back with Inkulinati once it’s a little closer to release.