Behind The Box Cover – Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon
There are some of these larger campaign games, Sword & Sorcery, Gloomhaven, and Tainted Grail, that can be hard to get a review done quickly. That’s simply because you need to play several chapters or scenarios to really get an idea of the game. So I’m going to start a new series of almost reviews called Behind The Box Cover. I will come back and do a TableTopTake later, but the idea is to get something out there on the game faster.
I’m going to start with Tainted Grail which I’ve just started playing. I did an unboxing and some game play on the Malts and Meeples Youtube Channel, so I’ll have the videos in here at the bottom so you can watch them. But I’ve only done about 30-45 minutes of game play in the videos and I’ve done the learn to play scenario that comes in the box to teach you the mechanics so you don’t need to read the rule book fully in order get the game onto the table.
Tainted Grail is a massive story driven game where you are playing in the land of Avalon. This isn’t some grand Arthurian adventure, though, Avalon is a land between realms which King Arthur and his knights fought for and claimed inch by inch, and that was 500 years ago. They erected Menhir, statues that can drive back the Wyrdness that corrupts the land, but now the Menhir are starting to fail and the land of Avalon is being claimed again by the Wyrdness. So, you’re some adventurer who was tasked with going out and finding a way to save Avalon? Not quite. There were more heroic people than you out there and they went off first to make it to Kamelot, but they haven’t come back. You’re part of the b team, those who weren’t quite good enough to go the first time, and you’re just hoping to find some answer.
What drew me into this game originally was the setting. The grim fantasy nature of trying to survive this darker version of Arthurian Legend just seemed fascinating. It wasn’t the standard sword and sorcery (not just the game, but that genre of fantasy) fantasy setting where you were epic heroes, in this game, you’re just barely more than being some guy. So while you are going to be the main character of the story, you might not be considered heroic to those in the lands. Plus, the fact that this is so driven by the setting and the story in the setting is awesome. There is so much text, I’m not sure how many total different location cards there are, but there are a ton of them, and the exploration journal is massive in which you read story. Compared to some other campaign games that I’ve played, this one is much more focused on the story.
But let’s talk a little bit about how the game works. During the day, you have a certain number of action points that you can take that then reset every day. You can either move around, explore a location or do some sort of special action. The game has a fun mechanic where you can push yourself for more actions on a given day, but that tires you out so you can’t do as much the following day. It’s one of those mechanics that makes sense in the game thematically because it makes sense in the real world. If you push yourself too hard one day, you’re not going to be up for doing as much the next day. What I also like about the things you can do during the day is that they aren’t that difficult, you’re mainly going to be moving and exploring locations. The rules for those things are straight forward.
Let’s talk a little bit more about exploring. Exploring really drives the game as it helps you figure out where you need to find things and brings the story together. When you explore a location you get to delve into the massive book that contains all of the story, and the book is massive. And with exploring, you might be able to do several different things, or if you have certain statuses or are a certain character, it’ll unlock different things for you. For example, in my first play, had I been playing Maggot instead of Arev, I could have done something different at the second location I explored. Or when I took an exploration action in the first day, I ended up getting a status for it. The fact that the story will branch and change depending on the statuses that you have, and because of choices you make, you might get a different ending to the campaign, that is awesome, and a testament to the writing that Awaken Realms put into the game.
I think that the other thing I should talk about is the encounters. This, being such a story driven game, seems like it should have some more focus on dice rolling, kind of the normal ameritrash style mechanics. But, we don’t have those at all. Combat and Diplomatic encounters is really focused on an interesting card play mechanic. When you go into an encounter, you draw a hand of cards and you play them down chaining symbols together. These, depending on the move can give you more damage or could allow you some card draw or another affect like ignoring damage in an attack. It makes combat and diplomacy much more of a puzzle to solve, and there are a lot of times when you don’t need to solve the puzzle, you need to escape and taking an opportunity attack is going to be better than taking damage, especially if you’re low on food, because when you’re dead, you could restart to the last save point, or you could just need to restart the game. This is a mechanic that some people might not love, but I think it has a bit of a Gloomhaven feel, mainly for the fact that you’re using cards, but it’s really about creating this combat or diplomacy set-up where it can chain into what you need.
So I’m already able to talk about a lot of stuff, because the mechanics are well thought out and I have already experienced a number of them, but since it’s such a story driven game, I want to get through Chapter 1 before I really determine how well I like the game. Right now, through the limited play and tutorial, I have it rated as a 9.5-10 out of 10, and I think it’ll stay around there, but will the grim nature of the story eventually wear out it’s welcome, we’ll have to see. I believe that Awaken Realms is going to do some sort of retail release, because this game was a kickstarter and if you didn’t get in on that or the late pledge, you can’t get back in on it between waves, but if you like heavy story driven games where the story really matters, I’d say that Tainted Grail is going to be solid for you, like it is for me. The combat/diplomacy might be a bit trickier to get into, because it’s different than your normal ameritrash mechanics.
If you were part of the game and have played your kickstarter copy or gotten your kickstarter copy, what do you think of the game so far? If you weren’t part of the kickstarter, with reviews and the game getting talked about, what do you think about it? Do you wish you’d gotten it?
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