Join us for a fancy party at the Netherfield Estate and try and find the most eligible most eligible bachelor and get married in the end. Marrying Mr. Darcy is a quick card game set in the world that Jane Austen created, and it can …
Let me start out by saying that rarely do I back a Kickstarter on the first day, and I hemmed and hawed over whether or not I would with Tainted Grail. In the end, because of the feeling I got from the setting, this dark Arthurian Legend style game, I decided to jump into the Kickstarter day one knowing nothing else able the company Awaken Realms except for maybe having heard of Lords of Hellas by then. I then anxiously waited for basically a year before it was delivered and a full year from when it was Kickstarted and when I played it the first time. I saw people gushing over it on Facebook, and I wondered if I had built it up too much in my head. You’ll get to find that out below, but I know there are games or movies that I’ve hyped up too much before that have just fell flat for me.
In Tainted Grail you take on the roles of 1 to 4 characters, these characters aren’t your typical heroes, they are the B-Team. You’re deeply flawed characters with an iffy backstory and something that is a negative for you. When the A-Team, those people from the farmhold of Caunacht who were more skilled and more important than you went missing, you were tasked to find them. It wouldn’t have been that big an issue, but the Wyrdness is starting to take back the land and the Menhir, statues that Arthur and his knights erected to drive back the Wyrdness, are going out. Can you find a way to save the lands of Avalon and keep the Wyrdness at bay, or will it fall? That’s the story of the game, the mechanics for most of the game aren’t that difficult. In it, you spend energy to explore locations move around the lands of Avalon and light the Menhir, but all of this is while you are trying to balance finding the resources you need to keep the Menhir going and fighting off monsters and convince hostile villages and farmholds that you means no harm. And when you fight or do a diplomatic encounter, the game changes. You are now in a tactical card playing phase where you are looking to change together cards to do damage, use abilities on those cards, and most importantly, leave yourself in position where you aren’t taking to much damage. It’s a giant puzzle to figure out as you chain moves together to take out monsters or string words and stories together to convince those doubting people.
Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon is split up into 15 chapters and each chapter can go between half an hour and probably up to two or so hours, maybe even longer as I’m in Chapter 2 and I’ve been playing for an hour and fifteen minutes, but I’m also streaming it (Here on Youtube). I think, if I had hit a couple more ideal battles, I’d be in a much better position, but you can check that out. So there is some luck in how long it takes, do you explore in the right direction, do you not find too difficult encounters, things like that. And I think that there is a little bit of early scaling that might not be quite correctly paced, I’ll talk about that in a second when I talk about some issues. But it really is this massive branching story which is even more impressive. I believe even as early as Chapter 3, depending on what you picked in Chapter 2, the game can branch into different parts of narrative and how you choose to solve everything. So this 30+ hours of game play is replayable as you can pick different paths to take, which ism extremely impressive to me. If I were playing with more than a single character, that would make a difference as well for me. I am really digging that piece of the game.
So, let’s talk about my first negative for the game quickly, and I hinted at it before, I feel like the monsters level slightly too fast. I get that this is a grim dark setting and it’s supposed to be hard. In Chapter 1, you have the first tier of monsters, I’m not going to say level 1 monsters, because some of them are a lot harder than others, in level 2, I added in tier 2 monsters, and maybe because of how I went about the game, I wasn’t able to level up my character as much, but right now I’m running away from 90% of the encounters that I face just to get as little damage as possible. I think either having more tiers of monsters or adding in a partial grouping of tier 2 monsters and encounters, and then finishing adding them in chapter 3 and slowing down that progression a little bit would still keep the game hard, but I’d only be running from 67% of them instead of most of them. And some of that is my fault as well, I am the type of poker player where I want to see the flop at least with almost any hand, and I know that’s not a good strategy, so I often hang in combat for a round and then drop out when I should just know to drop out right away, but I want to see if I can draw that one card that will help me crack the puzzle and win the encounter. This is a minor negative.
My other negative and this one is slightly larger, is that when you die you have to restart the game. If you’re smart, I’m not, you have a nice save sheet that you can use between chapters to save the game and come back, but I’m not smart, and people who are playing multiple chapters at a time are going to have the same issue. I wish that it was an official rule that you have to save between every chapter so that when you die you can restart the chapter. This game is really tough, and if I’m in chapter 8, I don’t want to start again at Chapter 1, even though I’ll know how to rush through it. Or, better yet, I wish that the beginning of each chapter told you how to reset the world, so yes, you might have to reset your character or take a hit to your character, but to be able to have a starting option for each chapter so that you don’t have to replay would be nice, because it would mean that if you are playing through, you’d be able to quickly get into the game again if you die. It could also work if you don’t want to do Chapter 1 again and get to where it branches faster, you’d be able to do that, because Chapter 1 is a bit of a prologue. Now, I just came up with a solution for some of my issues, and I’ll have to go back and implement that for myself, save at the end of every chapter, but it would be nice to have something more official.
Next, I want to talk about some things that others have brought up as negatives. It’s the time that the Menhir are lit and the amount of food that you need. People have claimed, and I can see why, that the game forces you to farm for certain things, you need to farm food so that you can eat every night, not become exhausted, and heal and have your terror go down (eating is good). But you also want to be exploring and doing other things not just farming food. The same with the Menhir. You need some resources, probably magic, so that you are going to need to farm that. One of the characters can produce their own magic, so that’s good for them, but the one that I’m playing actually needs an extra magic because of his flaw, so I need to farm even more magic. But all of that said, neither of those things are negatives for me. First, my character can produce food if I really need it in a pinch, so while it does take up energy to do that so I can’t do as much in terms of exploring and traveling I always have that option. It also is fine, because we knew the game was going to be like that going into it, or if people paid attention to the kickstarter and rules and so many things, it was obvious that this game was going to be tough to survive. The grind is going to be part of it, and I feel like most of the grind isn’t even that grindy, because it is going to drop you into a combat which is such a fun puzzle to try and figure out that it doesn’t just feel like wasted time. Though, as you can see, I think that the encounter level does go a bit fast. Mainly, this piece of the game is very thematic, and the Menhir running down it adds to the stress of the game, and you can do things to play in more of a story mode, and I think there are interesting ways that you could “cheat” if you wanted it to be purely story mode, but that would lose some of the challenge and tension of the game.
But there are so many good things about the game, let’s start with the Exploration Journal. This thing is massive, and it has so much story in it. You feel like you’re always jumping into it, and there are so many options and statuses that come from it, that I don’t think it would ever be possible to get them all or read through all of it in a single game, and I love that. Plus, that then makes it really replayable. It also makes the world really immersive. All of the locations that you can go have a lot of history and depth built into them, and I’ve started running into side quests and things to explore that might create a more interesting story and more history that can be unlocked so that I can fully understand the world. And there are going to be two more expansions to the game, one before and one after the time frame of the base game, so I’m going to unlock the world history. I also can see, because of the amount of exploration how it would be fun to just be the keeper of the book, almost a game master, and lead other people through the journey so they aren’t getting spoiled to.
The encounter system, both combat and diplomatic, I really like as well. I’ve called it a puzzle and it really is. Cards connect on various keys and open up other various keys (I’m going to mainly give combat as the example), and you are trying to chain those together in the best way possible. The first card you play down is always free and doesn’t have to connect to anything, but ideally it does so that it’s not a wasted card, but it might be that you need to put it into play in order to combo something onto it later. Because some cards have a symbol that allows you to chain it together as a bonus move, and you can chain multiple of those together and hopefully in the first round take it out. It’s also a puzzle though because various levels of damage changes how the monsters responds to you. So if you’ve done 0-2 damage to them, they might hit you for one damage, but if you’ve done 6 and they need 7 damage they might run away. So, you won’t want to hit 7 damage, but it might be 6 damage on the monster means you get 3 wounds, so that isn’t ideal, so you’re trying to set-up a combo so that you can rush to the finish from 2 damage. I really enjoy the puzzle nature of it, and diplomacy works similar as well, but now you’re trying to move it up using different skills.
Finally the characters, that’s the last thing I want to talk about. I love how different they are. There are six skills and each character has a different set-up of those skills. That means, that Beor, for example, is great a combat at the start, but horrible at dealing with diplomatic encounters. Arev is a more balanced character. Beyond that, each character has their own unique upgrade cards for combat and diplomacy, now if you’ll see them, who knows, but that allows them to feel more thematically developed in terms of characters. I also like that each type of character, there are four archetypes that will be showing up throughout the base game and expansions, has their own combat and diplomacy for that archetype. Finally, each character has something unique that they can do, an action that is unique only to them. In Arev, that’s that he can always find some food, one food for two actions. But to balance that out they have a weakness as well. Arev’s is that he needs one more magic than required to light a Menhir. If a Menhir doesn’t have a requirement for magic, there’s not a requirement for a single magic because of Arev, that offers your own unique challenges for playing each character and adjusts how you can deal with certain encounters for combat and diplomacy or what options you might choose in exploration.
Overall, you can probably tell that I really like the game. Is it a perfect game, no, there is no such thing as a perfect game, my favorite game of all time, Gloomhaven, isn’t a perfect game. But Tainted Grail is an amazing game. I think that it might not work for someone people because it might be too dark in the story, but I think a lot of people are going to love it, and with it shooting up the lists on BGG, it is clearly being enjoyed by those who have it. The story part works so well, and the mechanics are actually quite simple for how large a game it is. Even if someone doesn’t like the story element of it, they can tune that out if other players love it and just hunt down combat and other encounters for their character. This is a really well done game that looks beautiful on the table.
Overall Grade: A+
Gamer Grade: A+
Casual Grade: B+
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From the deepest depth of the earth, you can hear the clang of the hammers as the players in this game forge their own dice to get more energy and more points. Dice Forge is a pretty fast dice game where your dice change throughout the game, in something that I haven’t really seen before. Can you get the right cards and faces of the dice so that you will be able to score the most points?
As I said, Dice Forge is a dice crafting game. At the start of the game each player has two dice with removable sides. The two dice are different, one with more of one crystal type and the other one with the other. And then a lot of gold. You use the crystals to buy cards that give you various actions that you can do or they give you points. The coins are used, and this is the most exciting part of the game, for buying sides of dice. The dice, you can pop a face off and put a new face on that gives you more money, points, or crystals. You play through a certain number of rounds and then the person with the most points from cards and scoring points during the game is the winner.
There most important thing to talk about is the dice. This seems like it could have been a gimmick that might not have worked that well, but it actually works really well. The dice are engineered extremely well, and you actually have to snap the face of the dice out and snap a new one in, and in several plays and plays of copies that have had more than a few plays, the dice are holding up well. Now, the tray for storing the dice sides that you’re going to put on, I think that it’s an interesting idea, but the sides are just sitting in there, and I don’t think that works as well that well, because a jostles can knock them loose, and moving the box can certainly mess that up even more. But the dice themselves are awesome, and making the best dice you possibly can is where the fun really comes in.
One of the mechanical things that I really like about the game is that you aren’t just rolling the dice on your turn. You roll the dice every turn, however, you can only spend what you’ve collected on your turn. So you have tracks where you are keeping track of how much gold you have as well as the crystals and points. So when you roll, you’re tracking it there, this should help give players something to do when it isn’t your turn, and because you’re only getting a roll of the dice when it is your turn, you should be able to start planning some. Now, that changes with two players, but in a multiplayer game, when you’re rolling on the turn previous to yours, you should have a plan already somewhat in place.
Let’s talk a bit about the card piece. I think that the cards work fine in this game. They are mainly going to give you points or the ability to manipulate what you have. This game has a fantasy theme on it and it’s mainly on the cards. However, that theme doesn’t really come through. I like that there is a theme, because there really isn’t any reason to have one, other than to make the game more aesthetically pleasing. The cards, however, they feel lackluster compared to the dice and changing the dice face. They are basically just another way to spend resources. I wish that it was more about the interesting dice side changing part of the game, but I understand that it would cost a whole lot more to change the cards into something more or to make more faces to add to the dice or even more of the dice.
Now, I called this a fast game, and it is. It says 45 minutes, in a two player game, it should take less time than that, but I played a four player game, and it took longer. I know some of that was the players I was playing with as two of them can have some to all the analysis paralysis on their turns. But I do think that a teaching game with four people is going to take longer than the 45 minutes, even though the game isn’t that difficult. Dice Forge, I think, is a good length and a good way to introduce engine building and resource management to new gamers. The tactile nature of the dice faces is really nice in the game and it’s going to draw people in to want to check out the game. And then, they did a good job with a simple game that will work well for lots of levels of gamers.
Overall, I like Dice Forge. I think that it does something really new and unique. I think that the game has good turn decision making, it doesn’t have long term planning because you don’t know what resources you’ll roll, but that helps keep the game something that is easier to introduce new gamers to. Dice Forge isn’t on my shelf, but that’s because I know people who have it, otherwise it probably would be for the ease of play and dice forging which is just a lot of fun.
Overall Grade: B
Gamer Grade: B-
Casual Grade: A-
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This was a game that I was originally introduced to at GenCon, I got to play a quick little bit of a self led two player demo. A few months later it showed up at a local game shop and I was looking at it every time that I came in, thinking that I really need to buy the game, and I finally pulled the trigger. I got to play it again already and it didn’t dissappoint.
Draftosaurus is a game that the best way I can describe it is half way between Sushi Go! and a roll and write game. In Draftosaurus, you are building a dino park. To do this, you are grabbing 6 dino meeples (dineeples or deeples) as is everyone else. Then whomever is the first player rolls the die, this determines where you can place the dino meeple. It might be in the forest or the desert or on the restroom side or gift shop side of your dino park or in an empty pen or a pen without a T-Rex. But, if you’re the person who rolled the dice, you can place your dino where ever you want. You pass your dinos to the left and repeat the process with a new person being the first player. You do this until all 6 dino meeples have been drafted, and then you do it for another 6 dino meeples. Then you count up your score, which is based off of the pens. Some of the pens want pairs of dinos, you get points in other pens for having more different dinos or more dinos of the same type. And there are more ways to score on the board, plus the board is two sides which has even more ways to score.
This game is small and a lot of fun. The real star of the game is the dino meeples, they look amazing, and the T-Rex looks different than the Stegosaurus which looks different than any of the others. Just playing around with those is fun, though, this game which is light and easy enough to teach kids, the dino meeples are supposed to be hidden in your hand, so they are somewhat small, but with six of them, it might be harder for a younger kid to be able to hold them all. The game also says it is for 8+ because of the size of the meeples, I think that younger kids could play it, but the dino meeples are a choking hazard, so don’t let them use it unsupervised, if they like to stick things in their mouth.
Draftosaurus also plays extremely fast. You’d drafting a total of 12 dino meeples and then adding up a score. And because you’re drafting at the same time, it’s only twelve times of drafting no matter how many people you have. They say on the box that the game takes 15 minutes, and I think that is on the longer end of how fast the game should go. Maybe if you have a really tough decision it’ll make a pick take a little bit longer, but generally you pick, reveal and place, and pass, and you can do that in 30-45 seconds. That means that when you do play Draftosaurus, you can play again, and in fact, the rule book suggests that you play the summer side and then the winter side to get an overall score to determine who can build the best park.
Let’s talk a little bit about the scoring. I wish that this game came with score sheets. The scoring isn’t complex, but you’re having to hold multiple numbers in your head, adding them together, and if you get distracted, like I can, then you have to start over again. Or if someone asks a question about scoring when you’re doing your scoring. With a score pad and a pencil, you’d be able to make the scoring go a whole lot faster, and it would make the game a little bit easier. Then, even a younger kid would be able to do the scoring, holding the numbers in your head, keeping track of which pens of yours you’ve scored, that could be a bit much. I might actually spend time designing a score sheet if there isn’t one already on Board Game Geek, that I can print off an laminate in order to make scoring easier and I think scoring a pen at a time makes it more exciting at the end. That’s a minor quibble to how the game works and one that I can adjust myself. The actual ways that the pens score is interesting and it doesn’t feel like there is really an overpowered method for scoring and you have to adjust depending on what dino meeples you are getting.
Overall, this is a really good game. It’s a good fast filler and has a lot of replayability. The choices are good enough for a gamer, but it is definitely for that mind clearing filler that can be played with kids, played with family, or played at a game night. I do think that the game works best over two players, I played at two players the first time, but it isn’t bad at two players either, it’s just better at more. I haven’t played the two sides back to back, but I think that would even be the best, around 20 minutes, get a quick filler in and it mitigates a bit of the luck from scoring, just because it is so random. But you really need to pay some attention to stuff being passed and be ready to pivot when you need to.
Overall Grade: B+
Gamer Grade: C
Casual Grade: A-
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