Monks didn't really have much entertainment back in the middle ages. With a life of serious devotion to God through religious studies, rigorous manuscript writing, and praying, I assumed they didn't have much time for anything else. Well, Yaza Games' Inkulinati (opens in new tab) has taught me an important history lesson.
It turns out that medieval monks not only had time for a bit of fun but also fancied themselves as comedians. These monks, also known as illuminators, would decorate the margins of their manuscripts with little cartoons, in-jokes that other monks would get. Inkulinati has been inspired by these cheeky paintings and has adapted them into a comedic, turn-based strategy game.
You take on the role of an omnipresent medieval illuminator who uses magical ink to bring their painted doodles to life. Quill in hand, these colourful creatures act as units in your army which you use to defeat other opponents. Your goal as a monk is to defeat all your competitors and become a master illuminator, and Polish studio Yaza Games are embracing the surprising weird humour behind these delicate drawings.
"Imagine a group of medieval monks sitting down in monasteries around the 1300s," says Yaza Games' lead designer Wojtek Janas. "They're writing books by hand with beautiful cursive writings and fancy borders. And then, you notice a crazy drawing on the margins of the page, in which dogs and rabbits wage war, animals playing trumpets that are stuck-up their bottoms, or a lady picking penises from a tree (yep, that's a real thing (opens in new tab)). Those crazy scenes, they are called marginalia, and when our lead artist Dorota Halicka showed them to us for the first time, we knew that we had to make a game built around them."
Yaza Games wanted to recreate not only the art but the character and humour that these monks from the Middle ages had. There are Donkeys who can disorientate enemies by playing the trumpet through their bum, bishop cats who can give boosts in battle through prayer, and the most deadly unit alive—the man-eating snail. There's definitely a Monty Python sense of comedy, but there's more to these doodles than odd humour.
"These drawings they have their own stories, meaning behind them" explains Yaza Games' Michal Napora. "Back in medieval times, rabbits were symbols of pureness, cuteness, and helplessness. You can see them surrounding Jesus in some paintings. But in the marginalia world, rabbits were fearless warriors, killing people, torturing them, charging at armies, and riding lions! They were machines of terror, like fury Van Diesels!
"As I’m saying all of this, I realise that marginalia are similar to our memes. They are medieval memes, visual gags that you just 'get'. These illuminators would’ve loved Reddit."
Illuminators have more involvement than just contributing to meme history, they also have a banquet of special actions that they can use in battle. Illuminators can paint reinforcements and draw obstacles for enemies to overcome, they can also be summoned to crush particularly tricky foes, their fist hovering over the parchment before it comes crashing down on an unsuspecting creature.
Living ink is the main recourse and you'll need it if you want to draw more units. To get more liquid life, you'll need to collect the ink from the enemies you can defeat to fuel your inkpot. As you defeat a foe, black ink will spray across the screen in triumph. With each battle, a story is written within the manuscript to celebrate all the epic events on the battlefield, documenting your victories. It's great that monks where such avid scribes otherwise Inkulimati might not have been as historically accurate as it is.
"Thanks to great libraries all over the world, there are many medieval manuscripts that have been digitized and are available online for everyone to read," says Yaza Games' artist Dorota Halicka. "Our main source of inspiration are European handwritten manuscripts of 11th to 14th centuries."
Yaza Games has also had help from their medieval consultant, Lukasz Kozak who runs the Discarding Images (opens in new tab) group online. "He always gives us great advice on the ideas that we have for certain units," Halicka says. "Do they fit the style and character, how they looked and how they were portrayed in medieval scripts. He helps us make sure our designs fit the medieval 'lore' and memes of those days."
Inkulinati (opens in new tab) is looking to be a humorous homage into the eccentric world of monk-memes and is set to release sometime in "A.D. 2022".