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If you enjoyed Pentiment, Inkulinati’s cheeky ink-based strategy is a great history lesson

Medieval mayhem

I loved Obsidian’s medieval mystery Pentiment when it released last November, and part of my admiration was for its incredible art style. It was like the dev team had nicked a bunch of 16th-century manuscripts, scanned the delicate pages, and then fully animated them to life.

Pentiment was clearly made by a team who had a deep love for the time period, and the same can be said for Inkulinati, a 2D turn-based strategy game that also uses illuminated medieval drawings. But Yaza Games have taken a bit of a different direction with Inkulinati's vibe by adding a whole heap of cheeky humour. You wouldn't think it would suit the stuffy nature of religious manuscripts, but actually those monks were pretty cheeky blokes, and Inkulinati's humour is done in a way that stays completely loyal to the source material, fart jokes and all.

Here’s a quick history lesson. It turns out that a daily routine of praying, manuscript writing, and more praying would make European medieval monks kinda bored. These monks, also known as illuminators, would sometimes draw silly little cartoons in the margins of their manuscript pages, like little in-jokes that the other monks would understand. Usually animal related, they might feature rabbits holding swords, lute-playing donkeys, human-eating snails; you know, daft monk stuff.

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Where Pentiment’s art syle is used to reflect the time period, Yaka Games are really embracing the humour that these monks from the Middle ages had with Inkulinati. Its childish jokes come straight from the hundreds of medieval marginalia the team has pored over and brought to brilliant, animated reality. And these monks were RUDE. I wonder what the 16th-century monks would say if they saw their memes being brought to life 700 years later.

This cheekiness carries through to gameplay too. Inkulinati is a turn-based strategy, where you take on the role of an illuminator who uses magical ‘living ink’ to paint doodles and bring them to life. The creatures you draw act as your miniature army, which you use to defeat other illuminators' armies. The first illuminator to bring the other down to zero points wins. It's a monk vs monk throwdown via ink and quill.

I honestly find the combat a little finicky so far. I've not spent a whole lotta time with the game yet, and Inkulinati asks you to understand its many rules relatively quickly. After only three battles to grasp the basic strategic plays, you’re thrust into your first boss fight against your teacher, an illuminator master. No pressure then. The game is currently in Early Access after launching earlier this week, so with feedback and time these issues with balancing will be ironed out - so I'm not fretting too much. But the one thing Yaza Games nail from the get-go is the animation and humour.

There are cute little rabbit soldiers holding giant swords, donkey bards who can disorientate enemies by shoving a trumpet up their ass and playing it, ugly little gargoyle creatures that can explode, hitting nearby foes, and uppity bishop cats who boost units in battle through prayer. I love Sir Snail - the deadliest of all - who can one-shot kill a troop in one giant munch. When you hit enemies, they give out a screech and fall to the floor in an undignified slump complete with a lovely, inky squelch noise.

There’s something super Monty Python about the vibe, especially when the illuminator gets involved with their special abilities. They can paint more reinforcements, move troops around the field, and crush enemy units. When you pick these options a giant photorealistic hand looms into battle, acting out your wishes. I love summoning the illuminator to aggressively poke enemy units, as the hand hovers for a moment over the unsuspecting troop until the deadly prod is unleashed, causing them to yelp in annoyance.

Inkulinati is pretty different for a strategy game, and I’m loving the characteristics of the game more than actually playing it at the moment. Maybe I just need a little more time to wrap my head around its systems - like when it's the best time strategically fart. You can find Inkulinati over on Steam and it’s part of the Xbox Game Pass.

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