Inkulinati has charmed me with its devouring snails and tooting donkey bards

(Image credit: Daedalic Entertainment)

In Inkulinati, I'm absolutely obliterating the opposing side with a snail called Sir Andrew that I drew onto the page just moments before. My shelled unit is utterly deadly when it gets close to an enemy thanks to its special Maw attack, which can devour adjacent foes or objects. Sir Andrew may not be able to move very far (being a snail, and all), but I get tactical and try to consume as many beasts on the other team to secure my victory. It's during this battle that I realize just how much fun I'm having in what is one of the most unique strategy games I've played in a long time. 

What gives Inkulinati, from developer Yaza Games, its unique edge is the fact that it takes place on the pages of a medieval manuscript. As an Inkulinati, you can use what's known as Living Ink to draw your own army made up of different beasts - from bunny archers to dog soldiers, and more. In the turn-based strategy game, you can take on wild encounters that see you try to wipe out all the enemy creatures on the page. There are also duels to try against a fellow Inkulinati who must be killed off in order to win - not unlike the king on a chessboard. The ink-based art of fighting is satisfying to master, and with plenty of playful humor packed in that captures the wonderfully weird illustrations of the medieval period, Inkulinati's early access release is definitely worth your time.

Marginal victory  


(Image credit: Daedalic Entertainment)

Manuscripts from the medieval period have always fascinated me. From the distinctive illustrations to the hand-written text neatly scribed across pages, it's often what can be seen decorating the marginala that gives a personal touch and makes history really come alive. Artifacts from the distant past can often feel so far removed from the life we know now. But when you see a drawing of bizarre, sometimes humorously suggestive creatures, it's easier to picture a real, living and breathing person doodling away after long hours creating manuscripts. It's why the concept for Inkulinati immediately piqued my interest. 

While it's a novel idea in itself, the way Yaza Games brings the medieval manuscripts to life and successfully transforms them into an engaging platform for a challenging strategy game is excellent. It's as creative as it is inventive, and each fight I take on keeps me on my toes thanks to random events and various battlefield elements that can pop up on the page. To begin, I pay a visit to the academy, which is essentially a suite of tutorial chapters. It's recommended that you try this out before you get stuck into your journey as an Inkulinati, and you'll likely need to in order to get the hang of it. 

As an Inkulinati, I have a set amount of Living Ink I can use during duels to draw up to five beasts, with each one requiring a different amount of ink. During a turn, I can switch to each unit and perform an action, whether that be moving to a new position, attacking, pushing another unit (a personal favorite that can be used to shove an enemy off the edge of the page), or taking a nap to recover ink. Once all of the units are napping, the enemy's turn begins. In duels, the main aim is to kill off the other Inklunati, which also means protecting my own at all costs. As well as being able to draw units, the Inkulinati can also perform Hand Actions, which never get old. These actions see their large hand appear over the manuscript and use their finger to move units, or literally swat at a poor foe to inflict damage.



(Image credit: Daedalic Entertainment)

The core Journey mode takes place across maps, with each one offering a great amount of variety. I'm faced with multiple scenarios, such as wild beasts encounters that see me fight with set units already placed on the page, along with Elite beast encounters that challenge me with a tougher enemy. Some maps will also give you different paths to take, but they all ultimately lead you to face a duel. I can even choose my own Inkulinati from three different characters before the journey begins, with the option of changing up their name, creature type, and the color I want my team to wear. I opt for the most peculiar character of the three: A blue Yoda-like figure by the default name of Loony. 

Various factors come into play during battles, such as obstacles, random occurrences, and opposing units that make every encounter feel fresh and challenging in different ways. If I fail to beat the opposing team and all my beasts die, I lose a quill which is akin to a life. Once all of my quills have run out, my journey is at an end, which also gives it a roguelite quality since every journey is ever-changing. There are, however,difficulty settings if you want to ease yourself into the experience before upping the ante. 

While it's only just launched in Early Access, Inkulinati is well worth checking out. It so brilliantly brings to life the wonderfully unusual medieval versions of animals and lets you put their quirks to your advantage; from donkey bards that can inflict headaches by farting through a horn, to spear-wielding spaniels and cat-like bishops. The manuscript pages also set an inventive stage for a satisfying strategy challenge that'll keep you coming back for more. 

Inkulinati is out now in Early Access on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox Game Pass. For more great releases to look out for, check out our roundup of the most exciting upcoming indie games. 

Heather Wald
Senior staff writer

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.