Gameplay Explained with Basic Tips
Pay attention to the scales, the game board setup, and the rules of what happens at each “event” space (item bag, trapper, trader, sigil sacrifice altar, bone lord altar, etc.) – the “core mechanics” of the game that happen underneath those extra rules are easily missed, and are often obfuscated by rules modifiers.
Like, as one tip that’s not really a spoiler (but it’s an important starting point): play happens in order from YOUR left to right on the board (regardless of the side – so your opponents creatures will attack you starting from your left as well). So if you and the opponent have multiple sigils in play that would interact (e.g. Burrower, Bifurcated/Trifurcated, Move and Death Touch all on the board at once), you can control those interactions by placing cards in specific spots.
For a more specific example: if you have an enemy blocker card with low health and Burrow, and you already have a high-damage card out that you don’t want to “waste” the attack of by killing the blocker, then play another attacking card to the left of your big hitter so that the new card will attack first and trigger Burrow. And you can use the same knowledge defensively too – if you have a card with Move, and a big attack coming at you next turn, then you can play the Move card such that it will attack an empty space on your turn and then move at the end of your turn to block the incoming attack… On the other hand, if you play the same card opposite the attacker, it’s just going to move at the end of your turn and not be in position to block; which may or may not be what you want to achieve.
Learning things like that is how you really advance – yes there’s meta-progression in the cabin, and it’s possible to “brute force” the early stage of the game with things like items or making powerful death cards. But that only works because the early levels are (believe it or not!) heavily heavily rigged in your favour.
It certainly doesn’t appear so at first glance; but once the rules change and the game opens up (after truly defeating the opponent on the other side of the table), you’ll see how lop-sided and on-rails the game as you currently know it really is. It’s basically a series of lock-and-key puzzles (they’re cleverly disguised to appear like the opponent is reacting to you, but after a few hundred or thousand repetitions you can see how they’re fixed patterns and conditions), and there are plenty of ways to either control the RNG or bend the rules/situation heavily in your favour.
The game is hard because it’s obfuscated; not because you’re powerless. At least, that’s true for most of the game; the opponent realistically does start out more powerful than you are but that balance very quickly shifts over your first couple of runs – if you can figure out how to use the powers that you have. They’re not all intuitive; and some of the fights (remember, the fights are really puzzles!) are downright cheeky in how they subvert your expectations.
But the good news is that the more you understand about the game, the more and more fun it becomes to solve the puzzles and progress; you’ll start doing big-brain plays and making decks (or individual cards) that are just horrifically overpowered… not including the ones you can find that are already designed to start out broken and only get better/worse from there.
Inscryption is a game within a game – there’s the card battle game that you have to win to progress, and the wider narrative game that is the “real” story. They each feed into each other, so learning to read the board and the rules in play so that you can figure out what’s gonna happen on the next turn (and either counter it, work around it or just get your own win condition to proceed first) is going to be the key skill required for true progress.
Remember though that the game picks 2 cards at random from your deck at each stage – just loading up on tons of powerful cards is no guarantee that you’ll make an amazing death card. In fact, I once had the game pull both my grizzly cards for the cost, a ringworm and a pelt for the damage and health, and for the sigils it gave me the option of aquatic or flying.
Death cards can be used to “brute force” the game but they’re unreliable. It’s much easier to create powerful cards through the run using reliable methods – and that has the advantage of teaching you how to spot powerful combos, which you’ll be doing well past the point where death cards can get you to.